Friday, 27 June 2014

The vegetarian question

There isn't a question really. Just some observations.

Haggis makes me ill. Like proper stomach-churningly ill. But other than that, I don't care if people eat meat.

I'm curious about the cognitive dissonance, though. Why eat cows but not dogs? Pigs but not cats? Sheep but not horses? What is the actual difference?

There isn't one. So as a vegetarian who has never tried to convert anyone, and nor would I, why wonder about that? Well, there's the issue of how meat is raised and slaughtered. Can I have any say in that because I don't eat it? Probably not, but all the fuss about halal meat here recently made me laugh. Because all those people complaining about halal meat rigorously check the source of their £1 chicken, don't they? You can buy a whole chicken. For one earth pound. And not even consider for one moment how that chicken got in the supermarket freezer in front of you. If you were that concerned you wouldn't bother. You would go without chicken. And none of those people complaining have ever bought a kebab at 3am. Noooo.

Halal, kosher, hit round the face with an iron bar. What does it matter how it died? It's dead, and you're eating it. That's all cool - but be aware that the ultimate way to care about animal welfare is to just not eat them, or insist on such high farming standards that you probably couldn't afford meat anyway.

I should be vegan, and I'm not. I'm not a good enough cook, and my life is so unpredictable. Right now I can't eat properly until Tuesday, and probably not even then. I've got no money, and the Lady Madison will always eat before I do. But that's not much of an excuse either. I don't eat or buy honey because I feel sorry for the wee bees, so how hard would it be to chuck eggs, milk and cheese? Since my diet is largely cheese-based, very hard. I need a decent vegan cookbook, and some way of moving my life away from poverty and chaos.

The job I've been offered is working nights and I have no idea how my system and body will cope with that. But it's well-paid, and hopefully I can give Maddie the life she deserves, like a roof over her head and a happily interiwebbed and TiVo-ed mummy, and proper litter. It's hard over here right now. And that wandered off topic.

So yay, eat dead stuff, as long as you know it's dead, and as long as you know it wasn't always. I've been lectured for not eating meat several times - several times more than I've ever lectured anyone for eating it. I think those people probably feel guilty about eating meat and are trying to project their guilt on to me, especially since I genuinely don't care. And the more I say I don't care, the more people insist that I absolutely must. So I'll stop saying it.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Start at the top, or race to the bottom

So, today I went to a creative support company who help you apply for grants/bursaries, find a market for your writing, and support you to go self-employed. Well, that's what I thought. They said they would work with me for 13 weeks with the ultimate goal of self-publishing, because according to them publishers are clue-free and useless, and agents even more so.

I have nothing against self-publishing at all. I know it's not for me because I wouldn't know how to start with publicity, and I don't want to end up as one of the desperados spamming the hell out of people on Twitter and weeping over Just Unfollow. And while I am fully aware there are publishers out there who could use several smacks round the head with Business For Dummies, I don't think it applies universally. I have enormous admiration for writers who go that route, as long as they don't delude themselves into thinking it's the quick way to writing success. Too many do, though.

Agents are much easier to work out than publishers - does s/he charge a fee? If so, run little writer. Not charging upfront fees doesn't guarantee a good agent, or an agent who can connect with your work enough to sell it, or an agent whose work style meshes with yours, but if they charge fees, you run. Given that agents can only eat because they sell things, it would be pretty weird if they took on something they didn't think an editor would buy. And if you're the sort that needs an update every ten minutes, self-publishing is probably the best route for you anyway.

"Everything in publishing takes so long!" said the nice man behind the desk. Let's call him Jimmy, since all Scottish men are called Jimmy. And Jimmy is a nice man - he's well-meaning and I don't doubt for a moment he does everything he can to support people who sign up with him. To be clear, no fees are charged for any of this. He's not asking for £500 to stick your work on a Kindle or anything like that. Jimmy would get no cut of any royalties or any creative input whatsoever. He genuinely believes he's giving the best advice possible, and I'm sure for some it is.

Jimmy told me he'd worked with a poet and poets are pretty much forced to self-publish, so that's totally legitimate. The guy banging out a 250,000 word fantasy epic every three months would probably be better off self-publishing too, but for very different reasons.

I listened to the spiel about how publishers only notice you if your self-published work sells 300,000 copies. Very few self-published titles sell that many. Very few sell 30, once the family and friends are tapped out. When it happens it's news, especially if some supposedly snooty elitist editor turned it down. Did the writer follow the submission instructions properly? Did they send out a mass-mailing addressed to Dear Thingy, with accompanying illustrations and a great big dollop of glitter glue? Was their manuscript printed on My Little Pony paper in purple Comic Sans? Things we will never know.

I'm not suggesting agents or editors never turn down good work, but publishing is a business. If it's the best thing they've ever read but they know 120 people will buy it, they can't say yes. There isn't the slack in the budget for that. Publishing is a marginal business, and the huge successes like JK Rowling and Stephen King might make it look like a megabucks industry, but they're pretty much funding the more humble authors. Authors who'll sell respectably and earn out their advances and get a cheque every six months - maybe a nice cheque - but most writers know they might never be able to quit the day job.

Jimmy's read too many success stories to see the big Amazon graveyard of failures, where hundreds of good books gasp for air under the piles of semi-literate tripe.

Most readers don't have time to wade through the stuff written ALL IN CAPS or an inability to use their, there and they're correctly. Or being told when they leave a bad review that proper grammar and spelling isn't necessary if the story's good. Readers generally care about those things.

I've had a job offer so it's moot anyway, but I wouldn't take up the placement. It might be useful for writers who've exhausted all other avenues, or are writing for niche markets, but it's not what I want for my work. But I wish Jimmy and all those working with him success, however they choose to define it. Because after all, everyone's definition is different. I'd still advise to start at the top, though. Always.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The tipping point

So, I've been wondering for the last few days why men don't get more angry about rape. I don't doubt that there are a sizeable number of men who despise rape, and loathe the idea of being so intimate with someone who doesn't want them with the same ardour.

But here's the thing, from an article in The Guardian: "[T]he former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, said recently about jailed rapists: "Boys will be boys.""

Oh, really? Will they really? So you can say "Sorry, I've got no job and a limited education so I can do what I like to a woman whether she wants me to or not!"? Sure, there are many great benefits to education but don't tell me men with degrees never rape. Men with jobs never rape. Men with our Western ideas of a perfect life - house, car and shiny things - would never violently stick their penis in someone who was crying and fighting them off.

This isn't a female problem. It never was - women have always had the right to wear whatever they want, drink however much they want, flirt, ignore, shut down, or say no. We have always had that right. Always - no ifs, buts, maybes, or desperate justifications. The problem has always been men who don't respect that right.

I think women have done everything they can to insist on respect for our bodies, our physical autonomy, and our reproductive rights. Men have got to do something now. Men have got to stand up and say that being lumped in with the scumbags who rape, hit or sexually abuse women is not acceptable. Men need to be the ones who say they have to make a difference to women who fear male violence, not bring out the standard defence of "But I don't do that!" If a female friend told you that a burglar had broken into her house, or a drunk teenager stole her car, or some scumbag with no manners pushed her out of the queue in the supermarket, would you say "But I don't do that!"? So why do you do that when it comes to sexual assault and rape? Why do you do that when women find the strength to escape an abusive relationship? Why do you do that when two 15-year-old girls are brutally gang-raped and hung from a tree?

Your value as a man is not in the job you do, or the car you drive, or the house you have. I know society might have given you that impression, that all women are looking for is financial security and a nice car, but it's not true. Your value as a man is your innate respect for other human beings, and their rights to believe, do, say, think, or walk however they want. Your value is in how you educate yourselves and your sons and grandsons to not be a dick. Talk to them about sex, talk to them about why young women might fear them, talk to them about porn and the unrealistic expectations. Talk to them about half the human race and that they're not entitled to so much as a conversation, let alone anything else. Tell them yes means yes, not no means no. Passed out drunk is not yes. Tell them popular culture is not always right. It might be excruciating, but do your best. Always just do your best.

Women are hitting a wall now, and too many men are trying to shut us up by threatening us with rape or calling us ugly on social media, just so we'll stop talking; just so we'll stop pointing out how worthless and entitled some men are. And if you, as a man, are ashamed of that then good. Keep being ashamed. But use that shame constructively.

None of us are just body parts.