Thursday, 26 December 2013

Higher levels

Many conservatives bang on about equality of outcome, but what's actually needed is equality of opportunity. And nobody in their right mind could possibly say the UK education system has that just now.

I played Guess Who? with my five-year-old nephew on Christmas Day. It took him a few minutes to get the hang of what kind of questions he had to ask, but after that he was up and away. He could read the names on the board - he got stuck on a couple; he knew the letters, he'd just never heard them pronounced all together before. With English being the horrible, twisted language with no regulated spelling or accents that it is, he's doing great. His parents, my brother and sister-in-law, read to him all the time. But what about less literate parents? Who are dyslexic, or would have been fine with a bit more time or encouragement at school, but it was all going too fast for them? Five-year-old nephew knew all his letters long before he got to school, which made it much easier for him to stick them all together, but I think we need to address adult literacy before we condemn children leaving school unable to read or write.

I'm qualified to teach English as a second language, to any level of proficiency. While I was learning to teach, I thought of a kind of pyramid scheme. Not in the sense of fleecing people for money - I wouldn't be writing this blog if I had - but I thought about it this way:









But not every model is going to work with everyone, and as a teacher you have to be prepared for that. I think most teachers are prepared for that, and I think primary teachers here do a fantastic job of picking up on possible learning difficulties early, when they can be addressed, and if not fixed, worked around. My family has always been lucky to be inspired by earlier generations with a love of learning and the means to pass that on, but that's not true for everyone.

Illiterate does not equal stupid. Being slow at school does not equal stupid. Taking a bit more time to learn something does not equal stupid. Not being academic does not equal stupid. My dad spent literally hours trying to explain negative numbers to me. I just did not get it. He finally hit on a way to explain it that allowed my brain to absorb it - he drew a line on a bit of paper and marked the spaces out on a ruler, with 0 in the middle and hurrah! Bingo! Teachers don't have that kind of time. There has to be parental input somewhere. I refuse to believe the majority of children who struggle at school have parents who don't care - they have parents who genuinely don't know how to help. I explained to an adult friend the difference between it's and its - if you can say "it is" then use it's. SO simple, but nobody had ever put it that way to him before. We'll gloss over the fact that both his parents were teachers, but nobody had given him the key to unlock that door. You can explain most things in a way most people will get. This is why I keep watching Professor Brian Cox because some day he'll hit my brain's physics cord and I'll finally, finally get it. 

I'm going to spend some time trying to develop adult literacy programs in Paisley next year, whether voluntary, paid, or a couple of hours a week in a prison teaching English, either as a foreign or native language. Give them some opportunity, and some outcome. 

For some reason teachers are always under-appreciated, or blamed for bad outcomes, but they can only give opportunities, and on the whole they wholeheartedly do. I've never met a teacher who hasn't knackered themselves trying to make up for bad opportunity. Most opportunity is up to parents, and you can't blame teachers for that. You can't necessarily blame the parents either, because outcome feeds into opportunity just as much as opportunity feeds into outcome. My wee nephews are going to be awesome. I won't have children myself, but I'd like to give a bit forward to the people who will. 

Ultimately a well-educated society is in everyone's interests, and never believe or trust those who try to crush education. Only the badly-educated vote against their own interests. But we need to place a lot less emphasis on academic education and a lot more on practical skills for some children. Not everyone can go to university, and nor should they. We will always need plumbers, carpenters and electricians, and nobody should be made to feel "stupid" because their skills aren't academic. One of my brothers is a highly-proficient IT consultant, brilliant and in demand, and he has far fewer Highers than I do. For people like him academia is meaningless because it's not where his talents lie. We need to start valuing practical skills as much and equally with academic skills, because neither is wrong or bad or pointless. Children shouldn't be told they're failing because they can't pass an exam. Maybe they'll be fixing your car in five years' time. It's all level. It really is.    

Friday, 20 December 2013

Duck what?

In the interests of full disclosure, we don't get Duck Dynasty over here. At least not yet, and not as far as I know. It seems to have got some Americans in a right tizz.

First of all, people claiming to be Christians spouting homophobia should be no surprise to anyone. No doubt they're basing it on Leviticus but unless they're queueing up to stone people who work on Sundays to death, it's really the last refuge of people who want to blame someone else for their own bigotry. You can just find gay people icky all by yourself, you know. You don't have to blame it on God. You're trying to abdicate responsibility for your own feelings. Most of us non-Christians can see that. It's okay. You're allowed to feel that way. But where I lose sympathy with you is when you try to limit other people's rights on the basis of some 2,000-year-old ramblings. Many of the Christians I know are kind, thoughtful people who understand that it's not for them to judge anyone's choices or lifestyle. They are good, compassionate people who don't feel persecuted by gay rights. If your Christian lifestyle is so fragile that two men you've never met and never will getting married causes your whole framework to crumble then you have far bigger problems than same-sex marriage.

I did see an article on Facebook earlier where the writer, standing up for Mr Robertson's right to free speech, which I wholeheartedly uphold, proudly announced he was deleting people's comments if they disagreed with the writer. To see how they liked it. Wow. What the writer was probably too blinkered or stupid to understand is that the other side of free speech is free listening. Too many people interpret the right to free speech as the right to never be disagreed with about anything ever. If you don't want people to disagree with you, don't splash your article all over Facebook. I could turn comments off on this blog (not that it's exactly a hotbed of debate) and wander around thinking you all get my genius and nobody in the whole world disagrees with me and I'm right about everything. It wouldn't be true but I would be free to think that. Inviting people to comment then censoring them because they disagree with you doesn't make a point - it just makes you look like a petty, giggling fool with no courage of your convictions.

For me, Mr Robertson's comments about gay people aren't really so much of a problem as his disgusting observation that black people liked being slaves. None of the frothing anti-gay comments and complaints about the network have touched on that. Leviticus also advocates slavery of course, but nobody seems to want to touch that particular comment with a bargepole. They can't have it both ways. Either eat kosher, sell your mixed fibre clothing and execute people who touch pigskins, or accept that one sentence in one book written thousands of years ago cannot be used to justify oppressing people. And if anyone does think black people liked being slaves, then perhaps the network can divert the funds used to make Duck Dynasty to a recreation of the journey slaves took to America, and everyone who thinks it was all a big laugh can volunteer to join in.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Ghosts of Christmas past

This song reminds me of Christmas four or five years ago. It was used in the BBC's Christmas trailer package thingie, and I was about to meet A, yet another of my pick ups from an online dating site. He was different, though. Of all the men I've picked up in my time, he was without doubt the most insane. But I remember him fondly for a few reasons.

We instantly understood each other, which is a bit frightening when you consider neither of us were exactly a picture of mental health at the time. He was very handsome but so shady. It makes me laugh to think how shady he was, how he'd never answer a direct question, how he didn't really seem to want me to know anything about him, even though I did. I didn't want him to know much about me, but he did. He found out about my phobia of dentists and tormented me mercilessly with gory details of his root canal. I made him watch the news. He was never mad keen on reality.

The main thing about him is that he was honest. He was always honest. He didn't disappear on me because he made it clear from the start he might just not come back. I was fine with that. I've always been fine as long as I know where I stand. It would be interesting to see him again, and not necessarily in a romantic/sexual way. He did pop back into my life occasionally, but last I heard from him was about two years ago. He was back in Dundee, his hometown, and not doing too great. I hope he's okay now.

I know it's highly unlikely he'll ever read this, but on the slim chance he does, A - you're nuts. You know that. But I'm really glad I met you, because we had a connection I've never had before or since, and even though nothing came of it I can say I had that with someone.

And I still have your t-shirt.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Clutha tragedy

I was in Glasgow last night, about five minutes away from the helicopter crash. I didn't see or hear anything, and I'm glad I didn't. I would probably never have slept again. I was in the Central Bar, on the top level of Glasgow Central Station.

I was also in a pub, Lorimers in Bishopton, when those incompetent terrorists tried to blow up Glasgow Airport. I probably shouldn't go to pubs. But thank anything you hold holy or not for incompetent terrorists. You don't want to bump into the competent kind.

As I said in my last post, I was a musician in a previous life. I never played at the Clutha. It's a tiny wee place and I get a bit claustrophobic in tiny wee places that are always so busy, so I never went, but neither did I avoid it. Glasgow musicians are currently moving to set up a tribute night, because there is no better way to pay tribute the to Clutha's heart and soul than with music. If you can get involved - even if you can lend a battered old speaker or amp - please do.

I'm a proud Paisley woman. You don't have to go far to find that out. But Paisley people stand with anybody in bother, and with all my heart and soul I wish all the injured a full and speedy recovery. I wish solace for those who have lost someone. And I wish peace to those who are still waiting to hear if their loved ones are alive or dead. Much as Paisley people swat at Glasgow and jokingly tell it it's rubbish, I hope Paisley stands with me on this. It's not the town I think it is if we don't.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

When I'm not writing I'm a rock star

As well as being an unpublished writer, I'm also a musician. I will never say I'm a failed musician because I'm not. I still write songs and my writing took me in a different direction.

From 1995 to 2001 I was in a band. We were called The Rebel Sweeties and I'm sure if any video of us exists it would prove we were pretty damn rocking. From the perspective and time and age, and discounting the agreement that the only way we could remain friends was to never speak to each other again, it was my privilege to work with such talented and creative people. I don't even care if they wouldn't say that about me. I give Samantha, Gillian and Victoria a big, sweeping 18th century-type bow. You are incredible women, and amazing musicians.

I didn't expect this blog post to be so difficult. I miss those women. Losing The Rebel Sweeties was like losing a relationship. But it just all got too hard.

If I got another band together now, it would be two men and another woman, purely for the vocal harmonies I have going on in my head. I would be the drummer but I don't care if the boys and girl are bassists or guitarists.If anyone's interested let me know. I have several songs ready to go that I don't have the guitar talent to set to music.

Two people read this blog. Pass it on!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Victorian Costumes

I admit I'm a sucker for Victorian costume dramas, and going back a bit further, Jane Austen. I've just watched the most recent BBC versions of Great Expectations and Bleak House, and immediately downloaded the books to my computer Kindle. For I have never read Charles Dickens. I am a disgrace.

I think what I like most about the Dickens TV adaptations is how people struggle so hard to confine their personalities to rigid Victorian values. But at the same time, Dickens can't quite mention the seam of hypocrisy just below the surface. Many upper-class supposedly "respectable" men behaved abominably. One hundred and fifty years later, Michel Faber wrote The Crimson Petal and the White, about a prostitute raised to the heights of being a lady, and ending up reliant on a man in a way she could never have envisaged. And Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, a fond pastiche of Dickens, where everyone is revolting and Mrs Huffam needs a damn good shake, but I still found myself cheering for the idiot main character. That is truly incredible writing.

I also love the ITV adaptation of The Forsyte Saga. I could watch that once a week, even though if ITV went off air I wouldn't notice for weeks, if I noticed at all. Mostly because I think Gina McKee is one of the finest actresses this country, if not the world, has ever produced. I tried to read The Forsyte Saga but it's clear Victorian novels were serialised and the writer paid by the word, because my God it's hard going. Irene doesn't want to marry Soames, doesn't want to marry anyone, but has to for the sake of her fortunes. She suffers to be free, but it's only money that gives her the freedom she craves. It always comes down to money in the end. Having it, getting it, losing it, or waiting for it.

Sadly, I don't think Britain has moved on that much from Victorian times in terms of class or status, and there's certainly still a big dollop of grasping capitalism. Socially, yes, we're getting there. I loathe David Cameron but a Tory leader supporting equal marriage is something truly worth celebrating. I reserve the right to call him bad names for everything else he does, though.

And then there were my ancestors on my grandpa's side, with barely a legitimate child between them. I touched on them not being confined by Victorian values quite so much in an earlier post. Now, that's not to say they weren't a social disgrace - I'm quite sure they were, especially with hardcore Presbyterians running the show - but maybe just getting away from Ireland and its stifling Catholicism was a freedom in itself. In Victorian Scotland just being Catholic was enough to get you treated with total contempt by some, whatever else you did or didn't do, so why not have fun? None of them had any money at all, and they all had horrible jobs. Freedom's where you find it.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Done With Dating

So, I've deleted my online dating account and hung up my pulling pants. I'm done. My future now is chocolate chip cookies and a basket of kittens. But I have some (I hope) humorous tips for anyone deciding to try it for themselves.

1. Do not say "I don't want any fat people/munters/idiots who kant spel!" when you are yourself overweight, no oil painting, or semi-literate. It makes you look like... what's the word I'm searching for here? Oh, yeah. A shallow dick with no sense of irony. Okay, that's more than one word. The English language hasn't got a precise word for that. I bet the Germans do, and it's like 62 letters long.

2. Set your expectations low. Then keep digging.

3. The hot ones don't reply to messages. At least not my messages. Either they're fake profiles or it's related to my needing half a bottle of wine before I was brave enough to contact anyone, resulting in absolute drivel. ... Nah. They're fake. I'm sure of it.

4. Don't pretend to be white when you're not. That really did happen to me. Much as I don't care, and the thought of giving racists a fright when you meet them is always enjoyable, if you're going to lie about something as fundamental as your skin colour then I had no reason to believe anything else you said.

5. Put up a photo. Or my first thought was "Who are you cheating on, then?"

6. Don't send a writer a message saying "Hi how r u u lk gd." It fries our inner editor's synapses and could make us go blind.

7. Try to keep negativity out of your profile. "I'm shambling through my worthless existence with no friends and no direction" is not that attractive. I don't know about other women but I have no experience in talking people down from window ledges, and it's not something I have much interest in learning. Most women won't think "Wow, he's so deep!" they'll think "This guy needs an ambulance." And any woman who's actively looking for a man like that is not a woman you want to meet. Trust me.

8. For God's sake, if you've got kids, don't put photos of them up on a dating site. Really. Yuck.

9. If you have major hardcore fetishes, use major hardcore fetish sites. You're unlikely to find people into cutting, peeing, and playing mummy to a man in a nappy on a general dating site.

10. READ someone's profile before messaging them. A few men could have saved themselves several seconds sending me their cut-and-paste stock opener if they'd read the bit about no racists or homophobes.

So there you have it. Now I'm off out with a big net to catch me some stray kitties.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Panic At The Printers

As mentioned way back in the mists of October, I've written up my family's history for my dad's Christmas. I've been stung by the wait for cover art from my five-year-old nephew, even though I asked my brother to get him to draw a picture of a tree for me at the beginning of September. I decided yesterday I couldn't wait any longer, so uploaded my file to Createspace and chose a cover from their stock suggestions. My artistic ability runs to wonky stick figures - in fact, I could probably draw a tree and pass it off as the work of a five-year-old with no difficulty whatsoever, if only I had some crayons.

Createspace approved my file this morning, so I got to work. I ordered two copies then got to delivery. Being skint, I went for the cheapest option. Expected arrival date: 27th of December.

I really had no clue it would take that long. How naive. I assumed they would have some kind of UK printer, but no. The books have to come from America. I'm unemployed and the next delivery option - for the end of November - is more than I can afford for a couple of weeks. It would still be cheaper than having a local printer do it, but now I'm really worried it's not going to arrive in time. The really annoying thing is that I started this project back in June and I'm still going to be pushed for time. Baws, as we say here in sunny ol' Scotland.

The other thing that made me giggle was because I don't have an ITIN, the US government decide that 30% of my royalties will be belonging to them. Just as well there won't be any royalties, unless some poor soul buys it by accident. But that's something I'll have to think about if I ever decide to self-publish anything someone I've never met might want to read. Sending my passport to the US Embassy doesn't appeal, especially since I can't drive and it's my only form of ID. I'll keep an eye out for £1 bus tickets to London.

Monday, 4 November 2013


I am not a parent. I will never be a parent. I'm making no value judgements on parents or parenting at all with this post.

I was smacked as a kid. Probably most people my age were. A friend posted about it on Facebook, which got me thinking.

My mum would never smack me or my brothers. If it was a smackable offence, we had to wait until my dad got home, which in some cases meant literally hours of terror, sitting in my room waiting to be hit. To a wee kid that seems more like psychological warfare than punishment. Is that what smacking is supposed to be about? I don't know.

My most vivid memory is from when I was eight or nine. My brothers and I all shared a room. They were in bunkbeds, and had a football they were bouncing off the floor to each other so they could catch it. I knew my dad would be angry if he caught them, because he was angry pretty much all the time, so I jumped out of bed, grabbed the ball off them, and hit it under my covers. Of course, when my dad came to tuck us in, one of my brothers (I think the younger one) triumphantly crowed "Fran's got a football in her bed!" My dad tore the covers off, asked what the hell was wrong with me, and told me to get to the living room for my thrashing. Our flat at the time had a bit of a weird layout - you had to walk down the hall, turn right, then turn back on yourself and walk down another long hall to the living room. I remember running along, in floods of tears by now, shouting for my mum and beggng her not to let him hit me. My mum had no clue what was going on, just that her daughter was screaming her head off and scared out of her mind. I don't remember what happened at that point, but my dad didn't smack me. He just took me back to our room, sobbing and terrified and saying over and over again how sorry I was, and told both my brothers, who were crying too by this point, that he hoped they were happy now. He slammed the bedroom door shut and I cried myself to sleep. I never told him what my brothers had been doing.

Is that how you want your kids to feel about you? If so, fair play. As I said, no judgements. Some kids are more sensitive than others, and I'm pretty over-sensitive as a person. If terror is your version of discipline, have at it. Just bear in mind "They'll thank me for it one day!" isn't necessarily true. Do you think if you as an adult did something wrong, it would be fine for you to be put in a room and wait for someone bigger and stronger than you to come in and hit you? If not, why do you think it's acceptable to do that to a child?  If you hit your kids, can I slap you at the supermarket for being rude? If not, why not? Think about it.

Thursday, 31 October 2013


I made it! I made it to 42,719 words, which is the official halfway point of my magnum opus. I'm feeling a lot better about it now, like I've broken the pain barrier. My characters can have one more Very Important Conversation, and then I can unleash all hell.

Watch out, reader(s). I'm coming for ya.

And good luck again to all my NaNoWriMo friends. I know you can all do it. Much love.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Warning: This is a very miserable post.

Last night, I had a trawl through the dating site and realised my options are totally depressing. I'd never claim to be any great catch myself, but really. At 35 I'm left with the dregs. A lot of this I bring on myself, I admit. I don't like children, I don't want a man who's been married before (I've tried it, and I needed a 60,000-tonne cruise ship to carry all his baggage), and I'm a smoker. I don't care about jobs, cars and houses, and a lot of men don't believe that. The number of men on there who think women are obliged to do things for them - everything from having sex with them (see previous post) to shaving their legs - is disgusting. I think men are obliged to not be total pricks to me, but it's never made any difference so far.

I rewrote my profile a bit, because I'm tired of being nice to them. I don't want to hear from men with no photos, because that usually means they're in a relationship of some kind, so I wrote no photo, no reply, and if they messaged me without a photo I'd assume they had reading comprehension problems and still not reply. The messages keep coming. They're special, you see. My requirements don't matter to them, and if they can't even respect my wishes on one, small thing like that why would they respect me at all?

My heart has been broken so many times, and it was only being held together by hope. Last night I cried, because the hope is gone now. I'm stone inside. I've always tried to avoid being bitter, but here I am. I'm bitter because all the good men are gone, to non-smoking women who want babies. Women who are prettier and funnier and kinder and nicer than me. Or they've settled. It's not perfect, but they're happy enough. Good luck to them. I always say I won't settle, but then I realised it's never been an issue because nobody's ever wanted to settle with me anyway. I'm the also-ran, the temporary ego boost, the stop-gap until someone better comes along. I know it's me. I'm the common denominator, but I have no idea what's wrong with me so I can't fix it. I've tried being aloof, I've tried being enthusiastic. I've tried making the first move a few times, and most men are nowhere near as comfortable with that as they like to think. None of it works. I can't give anyone what they want. I'm the dregs they're left with, and that really hurts, because I think I had a lot to offer the right man before I froze and cracked. "You're a really nice girl, but..." will be inscribed on my tombstone.

Freedom comes at a price, and the price is loneliness. I have the most amazing friends and I love and cherish them all. I'm still capable of love, and that's something. But I won't waste any more of it.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Mission: Creep

I belong to a dating site. For some reason a tiny part of my brain keeps telling me there's an awesome man out there who's perfect for me, despite all evidence to the contrary. I don't mean there aren't awesome men out there, because there are - loads of them in fact. They just seem to pass me by.

Two nights ago I got a message from one of them. It was perfectly polite and normal, asking if I'd seen a particular TV programme, and all spelled correctly. I didn't find him attractive but I'll usually respond if I think I can have a decent conversation. I jumped on to his profile. This dating site gives you questions to answer in an attempt to match up personalities but how effective they are I don't know.

For the question "No means...?" he'd answered "A no is just a yes that needs a little more persuading." I went back to his profile and blocked him.

Did he really not consider how reading that would make me feel? What would he do to persuade me? Would it involve drugs? His fists? A knife? Would he follow me home or bombard me with phonecalls, texts or emails? It shows a breath-taking lack of empathy for women. Most women have feared sexual assault at some point in their lives, even if it's not all the time, or even every day, or just in certain situations. Such as being with a man who thinks he's entitled to persuade her to have sex with him. Some men answer that question "No means yes!" and they are rapists. They should be in jail. In fact, I think if my local police force set up a fake account on there they could probably solve some outstanding rape cases. These men are saying women are obligated to have sex with them, they won't take no for an answer, and they're quite willing to admit this, in public, in full view of women they're presumably trying to form a relationship with.

I do think "Yes means yes" would be a more effective anti-rape campaign, simply because too many men are thinking "Well, she didn't say no" when sexually assaulting passed-out girls at parties. It's bad enough that they're rapists without having to listen to their weaselly semantics.

As an aside, another thing that worries me is how prevalent it is in romantic comedies to have men chasing after women who've said no. If I turn a man down, I don't want him showing up at my place of work with flowers, crashing my nights out with friends, or following me down the road in his car. Why do women think this is romantic? Call the police and get an injunction. Or maybe this is a play hard to get thing I don't understand. Women thinking men want to be treated that way. Men thinking women expect them to behave that way. And then those of us who think it's totally creepy behaviour get swamped by people who think this is how it should be.

And that's probably why I'm single.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Breasts and beheadings

Facebook has decided to let beheading videos back on to the site. Link to the BBC article.

I don't want to watch people being beheaded, and if any of my friends posted a link to such a thing they'd be unfriended pretty quickly. However, I am anti-censorship and don't believe such things should be banned from the internet entirely. It wouldn't be possible anyway. Facebook individually has some pretty weird standards, though.

From the article I've linked to:

Its terms and conditions now state that it will remove photos or videos that "glorify violence" in addition to other banned material, including a woman's "fully exposed breast".

So, no tits. Now, there are plenty of places on the internet to see fully exposed breasts, and again that's fine. What puzzles me is how a naked breast is on the same level as glorifying violence.

Facebook has previously removed photos of mastectomy survivors, link to Huffington Post. These images are often posted by women who want to let other people know that there is life after breast cancer, that they're still women, that their bodies are scarred but alive. There are many instances of them removing photos of women breastfeeding. In many cases the photos have been reinstated, or shared by so many people it's impossible for Facebook to remove them all. These photos come from a position of strength, and I'm tired of women's bodies being viewed as weak or objects of lust. I applaud women who use their bodies in any way that isn't all about men. Videos of beheadings come from a position of violence. I don't know how many of these videos show violence against women, and you'll forgive me for not researching it I hope, but statistically some of them will. I would rather have strength than violence.

Ultimately, my issue with this is that the policies make no sense. If Facebook wants to have a blanket ban on nudity and violence, that's absolutely their prerogative. It's their site, and we're just all guests there. I think what's happened is, rather than sitting down and forming a coherent policy, this has been cobbled together as they go along. It puts breastfeeding on the same line as sexual violence. Of course it's possible Facebook users are reporting images of mastectomies and breastfeeding as obscene, in which case they need to be told to shove it and grow up. There's an intelligent policy in there somewhere. It's up to Facebook to find it.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


This has nothing to do with writing.

Just so we're clear.

I'm in my mid-thirties now. I'm single, never been married, and I have no children. The children thing is entirely by choice. God only knows which of my previous disasters I'd still have to see every weekend if I'd had kids. But, I would very much like to get married. I am under no illusions about my suitability for such an arrangement, to go all Jane Austen about it. I'd be a terrible wife, if you accept the definition of "wife", which as far as a lot of men are concerned is "child-bearer, maid and sex slave."

I have personally encountered "My wife doesn't understand me!" It was in a pub, about two years ago. He started chatting to me and the first thing I looked for was a wedding ring. And there it was. That's your first mistake, mister. I don't do married men. Never have, never will. It's bad karma. So, he starts in with the whole "You're a very attractive woman" thing. I said "Isn't your wife an attractive woman?" and he prevaricates and then it turns out he has three children. So, his wife is sitting at home looking after kids this man shot sperm to conceive, while he's out chatting up other women and SHE doesn't understand HIM? Heh. Yeah. I said "Why don't you divorce her, then?" It was like he'd been slapped in the face. Divorce had never occured to him, and why would it? He's got a woman at home pushing out kids and doing all his washing and ironing for him. I can understand it on an unemotional level - I'm free. I don't have a noisy house, I wouldn't make demands on his time, I would be something different and interesting. Until I wasn't interesting or different anymore. One thing I've learned is that in general, men don't stay in relationships that don't suit them anymore. And if they don't suit them, they'll play low and dirty. I'm enough of a bitch to be immune to their manipulative shite, but not every woman is. Especially if she's financially reliant on him. Maybe he didn't really want to marry her, and maybe she didn't really want to marry him. Maybe they settled. They did what was expected of them.

I would not and will not settle. I won't do that. It doesn't interest me. And I think too many people do it. I don't mean it as a criticism. It can be hard to go against the flow and choose to do something different. But I've met so many women who end up trapped in unhappy marriages once they have children. Women with children often work part time, and those that work full time are often hit with huge childcare costs. They simply can't afford to be single, even though I would argue once you have kids you can never really be single again, male or female. At least whatever else happens in my life, I won't be trapped. I will always be free.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

I accidentally started the third book

I thought of a really great character, but there was no way to shoehorn him into the current work in progress. (WIP.) He also doesn't fit in to the very loosely-plotted second book. By "loosely-plotted" I mostly mean firing up Microsoft Word and winging it. I really should outline because I get myself into terrible muddles, but that's boring. I like my characters to tell me where they're going to end up, rather than the other way round. This is very liberating, until they end up in some kind of plot black hole.

Since the third book deals with the theft of a Very Important Thing, I thought there was nobody better to find a thief than another thief. He's gorgeous in a crooked kind of way (crooked in the sense of criminal; he's not at a funny angle or anything) and I intend my female main character to have a bit of a will they/won't they thing going on with him. I might decide it's too tedious and wishy-washy. I spent most of Jane Eyre shouting "Oh, just get ON with it, woman!" and don't wish to inflict the same kind of frustration on my reader(s). Although it would be quite funny to put her through agonies about whether to go for it or not only to find out he's gay. I'm sure I mentioned before I have the evuls.

This hasn't served to kick my current WIP up the arse quite in the way I'd hoped, but at least I got something written. The second book, all 128 words of it, is quite openly glaring at me with undisguised jealousy - or is it contempt? Hard to tell - but at the moment I'm more interested in getting words on a page than being all linear.

The third book was my only realistic shot at NaNoWriMo, too, so that is totally blown. Unless I can come up with another brilliant idea in the next two weeks, which could happen. It won't be anything to do with this series. Three books is quite enough for this lot, thank you. I might try a spin-off, just to be original.

Friday, 11 October 2013

How to spot a scam

I spend a lot of time on an awesome writers' forum, Absolute Write. (AW.) For those of you who have busy lives, which I most certainly do not, here is how the Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check forum works, and some warning signs fledgling writers should look out for.

1. Poster asks innocent, reasonable question about a particular publisher. Perhaps this publisher is new, or doesn't have much information on their website. Sometimes their website is riddled with basic spelling and grammatical errors. Now, if a publisher is offering services to writers, I'd expect them to know how to construct at least two error-free sentences in English, or learn the difference between it's and its. I is a purblisher! Send all you're workings too me!

2. Regular AWers discuss the merits, or not, of a particular publisher. They point out the website errors, or the vast array of genres the publisher accepts. This is not a good sign - legitimate small publishers usually start with one or two genres. It's also not a good sign if they boast about how many books they're publishing. Small presses only take on what they can handle, both in terms of editing and promotion. This is a sign that they make their money selling books to readers, not writers. They may not offer advances, or very small ones, or they may be e-publishers. Small does not in any way equal scam. Usually a trip to a publisher's website can sort a lot of it out. Do they feature their books front and centre, and include links to buy them? Are the submission guidelines there, but not immediately obvious? Is there a testimonials page? You're looking for yes, yes, no here.

Think about it. Do you have any idea who published the book that's in your bag, by your bed, or on your Kindle right now? With the exception of romance and erotica, few people buy books by publisher. They buy them by writer, or by seeing it in a bookshop, or by recommendation. Have you ever gone to a bookshop to buy the latest Random House? Neither have I. Publishers should be almost anonymous to readers. The fact it's in a bookshop tells the reader someone has read the manuscript (MS), loved it, bought it, edited it and sent it out into the world all shiny. If in fact a reader even considers the mechanics of how the book got in front of them; I know I never thought about it much before I started writing. But a website aimed at writers is all about selling to writers not readers. Sure, the writer can sell the book to readers (mum, dad and Auntie Edna), and I'm not suggesting writers should do no promotion whatsoever, but the fact is a writer is one person versus publicity teams, catalogues and salespeople.

3. The publisher's website proudly proclaims "We don't edit!" This may be a controversial statement, but writers who don't think they need edited aren't writers - they're hobbyists. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, as long as they don't fall into the trap some vanity publishers set and then proclaim they're published authors, complete with a book full of spelling mistakes and dreadful grammar. I'm about to "publish" my family history via CreateSpace, and I've had several of my amazing writer friends look over the MS. Now, this is a book that is of interest to precisely seven people, and two of them aren't old enough to read yet. But I still want it to be the best book it can be. There was no need for me to let anyone see it, but I don't want it to be confusing dreck. (Everyone was called Patrick.) Being able to accept criticism is vital to a serious writer. This isn't to say vanity or self-publishing isn't valid - it has a place. There's no need to spend thousands of pounds or dollars to a vanity publisher when Lulu or CreateSpace can do the same thing they will for a very small outlay, if any. CreateSpace will even give you a free ISBN. They don't edit either, but neither do they claim to be legitimate publishers.

4.  Owner of publisher swoops in to AW and posts a vitriolic rebuttal of all the "negativity" going on, and how nobody cares about writers except them and big publishers are teh evuls and nobody takes on new writers anymore. This just isn't true. For big and small legitimate publishers, you have to write well. If you think you have a great MS and nobody understands your genius, and rejections don't make you think "Maybe I need to work a bit harder here" then you're a prime candidate for a vanity publisher. And they know it. Now, some people with genuinely great books can't get agents or publishers to take them on. Like it or not, publishing is a business and despite aspirations to high art, we can't get away from that. But if someone has the acumen and wherewithal to promote a vanity-published book, then they can self-publish just as effectively. Would you like to go with a publisher who thinks so little of you and your work they can't engage with writers without being abusive? Not everyone on AW is a writer - some are editors, publishers, cover artists, graphic designers or agents. Their opinions count, but often the owner will discount what they think, or ask a multiple-published writer "Who are you? What have you published?" when 60 seconds on Google would sort that out. Why would a vanity publisher try to disguise it? If they're genuinely proud of and confident in their business model, and releasing a great product and making a name for themselves, why would they get upset? It's an especially bad sign if they then rush to their website, blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed to castigate everyone involved.

5. Not every clueless publisher is a scam, and not every scammer is clueless. Some of them are well-intentioned but don't know what they're doing. Some know exactly what to say to make a writer feel good. The result for the writer is the same, though. Lost or tied-up books, mess, and stress. If you can't get a legitimate publisher to look at your work, it's time to start again, or write something else. Writers are often sensitive souls and we love what we write, but sometimes we have to accept it's just not working. Just keep going. What's the worst that can happen?    

Thursday, 10 October 2013


Ah, November. A month of general fabulousness. Fireworks. I do love fireworks but every year I stand around in the cutting Arctic wind wishing Guy Fawkes had had his brilliant idea in June, and it's also the month in which I was unleashed on the unsuspecting world. Mwahaha.

But for writers, and their long-suffering friends, partners, spouses, dogs, cats and goldfish, National Novel Writing Month gives November its real sparkle. Of terror. Of fear of failure and the unknown. I've never been particularly disciplined in any area of my life, and my writing is no different, so if I do participate it'll be unofficially, with plenty of chocolate lying around in case of failure. But one of my great skills in life is as a cheerleader. So GOOD LUCK to everyone doing NaNoWriMo, and I hope your book kicks arse.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Why the whole single parent thing is bollocks

So, you'll often read in the right-wing press about how "single mothers" are responsible for the whole horror that is heaped upon society. I've never bought this, and I don't now. To be feminist about it, for every single mother, there's a father who's not around. Now, this may be due to violence, death, or general not-giving-a-fuckedness, but it's really unfair to imply that women randomly get pregnant by any sperm donor going. I've read about men complaining that their pregnant exes are taking up too much of their time or wanting money for abortions, or actually expecting some kind of financial support after the squawling brat is born. Know what could save you all this stress and hassle, men? Wear one single condom. Maybe she's not on the Pill. Think about it.

I don't like children. I really don't. But that's beside the point.

My great-great-great grandma Isabella Stewart (c.1856-1901) was a single mother. In Victorian Scotland. When it was all Presbyterian and stuff. She was a Catholic, so probably didn't care what the Presbyterians thought. Most of my Catholic ancestors were either pregnant when they got married, or had children before they did so. This whole idea of "Victorian ethics" is kinda blown out the water, dontcha think? Maybe it was only Protestants who had Victorian ethics. I dunno.

Men all over the world who want to place the blame on women for their own sexual mistakes are weak, and they are cowards. People have autonomy over their own bodies first and foremost - my body is mine to do as I please with. I choose not to use it to produce children, and that's just as valid as women and men who do decide they want to bring another life in to this world. But except in very limited circumstances, such as rape, refusal to use birth control is a joint deal. It's the whole basis of mysogyny - she made me. I couldn't help it. Well I didn't think she'd get pregnant. But at the same time, women who don't want babies have an equal responsibility to make sure it doesn't happen. If you're lying about your contraception, getting pregnant to trap a man, or deliberately deceiving him to get a tiny human being who's going to puke on you a lot, then hell mend you. I'm constantly amazed at the number of adults who can't have a serious conversation about this. If you can't say the word "condom" without giggling then you're really not emotionally old enough to be having sex.

My point is, there is always a story behind everything. And this whole idea that women were chaste and pure before they got married is bollocks. I notice no such requirement has ever been placed on men. My Isabella could take your grandma any day.

Friday, 4 October 2013

In which there is frustration

Why can't I just WRITE?!

Why do I spend so much time worrying about writing? Every thousand words seems to require an almost endless wrestle with my muse, like I have to repeatedly punch her in the face just to get the tiniest bit of information out of her. Uh... that's my 24 rewatch overdose showing. Sorry 'bout that.

I've now broken the 40,000 word barrier on my magnum opus, and I know exactly how it ends. The ending is going to break hearts and have my reader(s) cursing my name at the horror I've unleashed on my unsuspecting characters. When I last saw them, they were having a friendly chat about Post-It notes and cocktails, and I'm about to ruin their lives. There is a cackling sociopathic side to my personality that finds this amusing, but then I worry that I could go too dark.

Anyway, I should be writing. I won't always talk about writing here. I'll generally rant about whatever I feel like. But mostly writing.