Top 10 Reasons to Read The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, by someone who is in no way biased

I haven’t slept properly because I spent yesterday in a Magnus Archives-ending bubble, then woke up at 5:30am which is probably not related but also I had at least one dream about [spoiler] so who knows. It’s the Easter holidays now, so I’m officially off the clock academia-wise for a few days, and between Magnus and holiday brain, my words aren’t working. So here’s a post I put together on a lark recently and figured I might as well finish because the world is on fire and I’m empathising with a boat stuck in the Suez Canal (that poor boat driver. I’m never going to feel bad about a work fuckup again. If a boss ever calls me out, I’ll look them dead in the eye and ask: ‘have I held up 12% of the world’s trade?’).

Top 10 Reasons to Read The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes*

*well, my top ten reasons. Yours might be different, but you’ll have to read it to find out, won’t you?

10) Upcycled fashion

9) Dragons that are people

8) Dragons that are dragons

7) Small to medium-sized nods to Real Life Events, although unfortunately none of them are boats stuck in the Suez Canal

6) Irritable psychics

5) Teenagers with ethically questionable levels of responsibility for those around them

4) One My Chemical Romance reference

3) Breakfast meetings

2) Rabbits wearing little harnesses so they can go for a walk

1) Cups of tea in difficult situations

ereader mockup of The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, on a Lilly pad/leaf background
Art by Nell from Instagram!

What more do you need from your fiction, honestly. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of retailers but you should be able to find a copy in most ebook stores or app, including library apps. Actually, while I’ve got you here and have a couple of spare braincells: would you, hypothetically, prefer to consume a hardback print copy of a book or an audiobook version of a book? I’m not saying that this question pertains to the rest of this post but, hypothetically, if it were to pertain to the rest of this post, which would you prefer? Potentially, at some point in the future?

Let me know. Imagine I’ve pasted four eyeball emojis here.


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?)

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.

2020 Has Not Been Completely Shit and Here is Definitive Proof

You heard me. I’d normally consider doing the Indifferent Ignorance awards, but I don’t feel like dedicating time to ignorant people… they are the reason I spent Christmas Day in tier 4. I’m also mindful that it’s important to count our blessings, not our curses, so in this post I’m going to share some of my favourite entertainment and arts discoveries of the year, plus a few personal/family highlights.

Things that blessed my ears in 2020

  • Lauv’s record, which I bought a copy of back in February or so, and kind of became the sound track to early lockdown.
  • Tim Minchin’s record. It’s… not his usual stuff. Some of the songs are sharp and sarcastic, but if you’re looking for more black comedy-philosophy, this album will disappoint. It’s mostly about how much he loves his wife and children. I cried.
  • The news my friend Tatchiana applied for a Master’s degree. MY FRIENDS ARE SO CLEVER YOU GUYS. I don’t even fully understand the topic she’s researching.
  • The Umbrella Academy put a soundtrack out and:
Klaus Hargreeves dancing in a liquor store
from Giphy
  • As well as re-entering the world of academia, Tatchiana introduced me to the Magnus Archives podcast and I guess I’m a fan of horror stories now? I’m kind of late to the party because it’s been running for years and finishes in 2021, but if you like a) creepy stories with the odd god that’s gross and really clever moment, b) short stories that slowly merge into one overarching Story and c) office politics, you’re in for a good time. (Aside: I realised partway through that Martin really reminds me of Arthur from Cabin Pressure. The programmes have nothing in common except that they’re audio, but I can’t unhear it. I don’t know if there’s a Venn diagram of Magnus Archives/Cabin Pressure listeners but if there is: do you hear it too?)

Things that blessed my eyeballs in 2020

  • I finally got around to reading the Noughts and Crosses series (or most of the series? There seems to be more books than I realised), and it is Very Worth the Hype. So’s the TV show.
  • I also got round to Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. It’s very long and a horror novel – this is a theme – both of which usually put me off, but I really got into it. Brilliant last page too.
  • Bill Bailey in Strictly Come Dancing.
  • The news that my cousin and her boyfriend bought a house! A whole entire property in this economy. Epic.
  • Real Life Money by Clare Seal. It’s a memoir-advice book by the lady who runs the My Frugal Year Instagram, and it’s really interesting. If you’re at all into finance, money management and/or consumerism, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t usually love memoirs, or advice-y novels, but this one is non-preachy, well researched and quite important in these uncertain times.
Real Life Money, book by Clare Seal
  • If you want to buy any of these books, by the way, I have a Bookshop account. Every purchase made through my little page earns me one fifth of a penny or suchlike. Am I being shameless? Um yeah, I don’t have a regular job as of Christmas Eve. I’m also on Goodreads if you want to see what else I’m reading and chat about books. One upside of lockdown was spending so much time reading and I am already planning my reading list for next year. So many books, so little time! Speaking of books, the prettiest thing I saw this year was:
  • My book coverrrrrrr. Also, you know, seeing the book available to purchase. I wasn’t sure it was going to be released this year – or ever – and I’m a tiny bit proud of the work that went into it. Not bad going for someone who spent their A Levels wearing a wrist brace and their early-mid twenties dealing with chronic pain, crippling anxiety and on-again-off-again depression, huh.
blue and white illustrated cover of 'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories of Unlikley Heroes' by Francesca Burke, including stars, a large dragon, a skull, moon, swords, a rabbit and a tower
Cover by Nell from Instagram. Click here for book-related joy/info

Things that blessed my ears and my eyeballs in 2020

  • The second series of The Umbrella Academy. I love it. I love it so much. It has everything I want out of TV, plus a Baby Pogo. TRULY WE ARE BLESSED.
  • Videos by A Small Wardrobe on YouTube (I talk more about Patricia’s channel and learning about minimalism here).
  • Videos by Annie, who posts as the Green Witch on YouTube. Sometimes the algorithm suggests videos that you didn’t know you needed. Annie has a witchy YouTube and a nature-y YouTube. They are both very peaceful. Taking 10 minutes to watch calm, nature-y has turned out to be quite good for my brain.
  • In the same vein, I’m thoroughly enjoying videos by The Cottage Fairy.
  • Olive and Mabel.
  • Schitt’s Creek. I know I know, I was late to that too. I cannot recommend a more soul-warming programme. Other TV I’m brilliantly late to: Derry Girls, Nighty Night, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Ghosts.

What have you enjoyed in 2020? You’re allowed to say banana bread and Netflix. You’re allowed to say ‘realising that the friend I checked in with during lockdown never checked in with me, and now I am disengaging.’ You’re allowed to say ‘not having a big, overwhelming Christmas.’ What are you planning for new year’s eve?

GIF of David from 'Schitt's Creek' saying 'I plan on popping a pill, crying a bit and falling asleep early.'

Jut kidding, mostly. I’ll probably have a bath, pour a wee drink, watch the clock to ensure this hellscape actually ends, and get my beauty sleep. I’ve got things to do in 2021! Nothing ostentatious, of course. My plans are mostly to read a lot and maybe bake some more banana bread. But I may as well do them on a full night’s sleep, especially as there is literally nowhere to go. I’ll talk more about that (my plans, not tier bloody 4) in my next post. Probably.

Look after yourselves and happy new year!

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Things I Googled for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, in Order to Look Slightly Competent

I’ve been clearing out some old pieces of paperwork lately (it’s probably more accurate to say I’m always doing it, just at a rate of about one piece of paper per week). One of the scraps I found was a couple of random things I googled when I was writing The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes. I actually started a post about this very topic months ago, so as today is an extra day and should probably be productive, I’ve finished it:

Do violets have a scent?

Um, yes. They smell of… violets.

Can rabbits wear harnesses?

Yep. They look like this.

Can rabbits eat aubergine?

Yes, although the internet advises that one should not over-feed one’s rabbit aubergine.

False imprisonment

That’s it. That’s all I searched. I think it must have been something for The Prince in the Tower, the second of the stories (so were the rabbit questions, actually). I think I was just checking I hadn’t confused false imprisonment with something else. Genuine imprisonment? Who knows.

Is all suede beige?

Not really? Some suede looks more cream and less, well, beige. This was also a question for The Prince in the Tower. I can’t believe I managed to write a novel about all the things I am interested in (magic! Hot weather! Teenage girls saving the world!) and still include my least favourite colour. 

Thus concludes my list. I like to think that without the internet I would have found out the answers, but without the internet the novel would likely still be on my computer collecting dust. Instead, you can read the opening chapters here and the rest by joining my Patreon! That segue was a hint, by the way. Your life will be far richer for knowing why I needed to know if rabbits can wear harnesses. And if you’re reading this and it’s still Leap Day 2020, you’ll get a story commission from me as well as the usual bits and pieces (a character named after you! Name in book thank yous! A book featuring rabbits and/or harnesses!) when you join up. That’s just until 11pm today, though. The real reward, I think we can agree, is the rabbit thing.

rabbit wearing a harness that reads 'police'
Thank you to Bunny Approved for this wonderful image (and useful information)

In which I went to YALC and so did that guy from Game of Thrones apparently

Attending YALC this year was a last minute decision, by which I mean I bought my ticket on the Wednesday and went on the Saturday. I thought it might be nice to visit as a reader, because it’s this heart-warming day of bookish people who are really friendly and polite talking about books with other bookish people who are friendly and polite. It’s also a great place to pick up books on the cheap without resorting to Amazon or ripping off any authors, which I think justifies the train fare and ticket entry. You also rub shoulders with those authors, who are also bookish and friendly and polite. Everyone is just… there for books. IT’S HEAVEN.

(Side note Jason Mamoa was there on Saturday. Not as a guest, apparently he just wandered through on the way to Comic Con downstairs. That is why you should go to YALC.)

I also went to do some work for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, and by work I mean ‘hand out some hastily-designed business cards to the cool indie publishing houses and sit in on the agents’ arena talks’. This was probably less successful, as a) even most indie publishers won’t take unsolicited manuscripts even if they did look up the project, and b) by putting the book on Patreon myself I might have accidentally harmed my chances of it getting picked up by an agent. It was really good to hear more about getting an agent from agents, because it highlighted what I could do if I were to pitch The Princess and the Dragon a second time around. Possibly I should have pitched it as YA, not middle grade, a thought that did not occur to me until I was doing the second big round of edits and realised that it’s not really a middle grade book. Possibly my cover letter could have been stronger. Possibly the agents I pitched to just didn’t, you know, vibe with my weird angry princess and her strangely Catalan-esque kingdom. It’s hard to know for sure when they’re too busy to provide feedback.

Basically, pitching to an agent is as soul destroying as applying for a job, except the process is even slower.

ew from sunshinethekatt.tumblr
(from Tumblr)

That being said, I learnt a lot and I met approximately 473638 different booksellers and agents and publicists. Everyone is so genuinely friendly that even if an agent says something you’re not happy to hear, like ‘the market is kind of saturated with fairy tale retellings’ or ‘if you re-pitch your book, you could just not mention your Patreon’, you don’t particularly mind. Even if I was writing The Princess and the Dragon before all those retellings came out and I’ve never even read any and even if I’ve put more effort into my Patreon than I did most of my GCSEs.  But let’s not dwell on that.

I  popped downstairs to Comic Con for a bit while I was there. It was way too hot and crowded but does have a very cool artists’ alley that’s also probably worth the ticket price. I met a handful of artists I would kill to commission Princess and the Dragon art from. There were a few cosplayers I would commission clothes from. The talent floating around these conventions is intense. If I were genuinely wealthy and needed some artwork made for my house or something, I’d just hang around Comic Con all weekend. Life goals, huh.

 

A Shitty Week ft. the Coolest Illustration I’ve Seen All Year and Probably Ever

Morning. Or, Morning! if you’re feeling perky. I was until I sat down and now it’s just like an earlier version of the two o’clock slump which is not how I was planning my day off.

I’m not sure how many regular/committed readers there are still here, but if you’ve been following my posts as they go out, I suppose there’s an elephant in the room. Well, small dog. Well, small dog no longer in the room. We had Donnie put to sleep the week before last. I know that not everyone is particularly bothered about their pets, but I am not one of those people. Not having him around is strange and horrible and I keep forgetting and looking for a second dog and I’m paranoid Fred is pining and it’s odd only feeding one dog and I miss how he used to bark at literally everything and snore with his eyes open. I don’t miss the last couple of days of his life when it became abundantly clear that he had had enough. A lot of people say they fell guilty for making the decision to end their pet’s life, but I think I couldn’t have lived with myself if we’d made him hang on any longer when he couldn’t really walk and didn’t want to eat anything.

But I’m more interested in remembering the snoring and the ridiculous woofing, so maybe animal euthanasia is a subject for another day.

A non-sequitur that’s actually absolutely relevant if you live inside my head (a non-non-sequitur?): the next chapter of The Prince in the Tower, from The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes is available to patrons today. It’s relevant because a) there’s a dog called Bean in The Prince in the Tower, named after Donnie. He used to do this dancing, jumping thing every time he was about to go for a walk or get fed, so I used to call him a jumping bean. Which became Bean and then Bean Sprout, then Sprout and honestly what is up with pet owners and nicknames. Anyway. Point b) is that I got to hang out with my friend Tatchiana the day before Donnie died and she gave me a very cool illustration from The Princess and the Dragon that was a huge bright spot in an appalling week. Spoiler alert there’s a dragon:

girl facing giant blue dragon in cave

So you guys who aren’t patrons need to become patrons so we can make an ebook from this story and I can commission more artwork because it is seriously the coolest, coolest thing seeing your story interpreted in someone else’s art! It’s very nice knowing that I can support someone else’s work at the same time as doing something fun and promotional for my own work. It feels very eco-system-y. (I am paying Tatchiana for the piece, although she wasn’t convinced I needed to which is very friend-y. When I am feeling less bereaved and more awake we should have a conversation about paying friends for work. It’s a lot like euthanasia in that no one wants to talk about it but we’d probably all be better off if we did. God what a sentence). Oh, I’m also paying Tatchiana using money from Patreon. From your investment in my fairytale. How cool is that? We’re starting to accrue enough to pay my proofreader, Maria, as well. THE PLAN IS WORKING.

You can find links to Tatchiana’s other work here and buy her coffee (please do!) here.

Right, I’ve got patron letters to write and some Etsy orders to package. See you soon.