A few weeks ago, in the middle of the night, I had a bit of meltdown. The reason isn’t really important now, as everything sorted itself out pretty quickly, but it did mean I spent a restless night and an exhausted day with a cloud of something depressing hanging over me.

During that day, I played the album ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac. I don’t quite know why I picked that album to listen to on Spotify, but I have a feeling it’s to do with a tweet by Caitlin Moran and the fact that Benn’s dad plays it quite a lot in the car. It was an album that I knew all the songs to, without ever actually realising I did. (It turns out that my mum played it a lot when she was expecting me. Apparently, babies retain a memory of music they heard in the womb, even if they don’t realise it.) The songs are pretty familiar to lots of people my age, even if it’s not cool to admit that they are.

What’s brilliant about the album, even if you’re not a fan, is that the songs ‘read’ like the chapters in a novel. Everyone has heard the stories about the complicated love lives of the musicians, which is pretty brilliantly discussed in this joke:

The whole album  is bittersweet and you can imagine that recording it wasn’t a comfortable thing to do. Despite this, it’s a brilliant album with so much contained in its brief 40-minute playing time. There are songs of despair and pessimism on the album, but the most well-known are the ones full of optimism and spirit; everyone knows ‘Go Your Own Way’ and ‘Don’t Stop’. I think the song most people my age know of is ‘Dreams’, after its cover by the Corrs (which I listened to before writing this piece and, oh my words, is that a dated piece of work. All 90s electro-drum beat and bad eye makeup on poor, beautiful Andrea Corr in the video.)  But ‘Dreams’ as it stands is a beautiful song.

What I’ve found interesting since thinking about this album is that it’s cool to worship Stevie Nicks (particularly amongst young women), but it’s not cool to like Fleetwood Mac. I wonder why this is?

Anyway, after a frustrating day of listening to the album on Spotify, what with its endless adverts and missing tracks, Benn decided to buy the album for me for my birthday. And I’ve been listening to it pretty solidly ever since.


Debbie Harry’s Guide to Success

So, I turned 28 last Wednesday. This doesn’t really bother me, as I have never really been squeamish about my age (some may argue that I’m still young enough for it not to be an issue, but then I don’t think age should ever be an issue.)

It’s remarkable when I look back at the last ten years and what’s happened in my life. But I can’t shake off the feeling that I’m not quite where I should be. I never intended, at this junction, to be a teacher. I was so sure I was going to be a writer for a national magazine or newspaper. But at the crucial moment, I lost all confidence. I chose a different path. And although I’m successful in that career path I chose, it’s not ultimately where I think I will be for the rest of my life.

Sometimes, I think the boat has passed and that I am destined to stay on the same course. But then I think back to the statement at the start of this blogpost and think, “Why should I be held back?” Also, I then remember that Debbie Harry didn’t hit the big time until she was 31. I have three years left until I reach that.

Debbie Harry toiled for years until Blondie became big. I sort of do that now, what with the blog, the occasional freelancing and so on. I mean, I’m not saying I could be as big as Blondie (I’d never be so arrogant or assume so much- also my singing is horrendous), but I think Ms Harry can be an inspiration when I’m in the deepest depths of my despair.

I would love to finally have the confidence in my ‘novel’ ideas to actually get them down on paper and be really happy with what I produce. When I tell people the storyline, they always seem interested, but I can’t put down the thought that they’re feigning interest just to be polite. That nasty, vicious voice of self-doubt and self-loathing creeps in. FYI, it sounds a lot like a Disney villain. Ursula, to be exact.

To be honest, there’s not a lot I can do about it, except try and defeat the self-doubt and octopus lady voice. I need to get writing, rather than just talking about writing. I need to start asking around, offering freelance ideas. I need to be proactive, even though it’s uncomfortable. I should also stop putting the word ‘novel’ in inverted commas. How can anyone else take my ideas seriously if I don’t?

In short, I need to play Blondie really, really loudly and imagine I’m Debbie Harry.

Why I hate ‘banter’

There’s been a lot going on this week, centred around the closing of the Uni Lad website and really, Eva Wiseman sums it up pretty perfectly in this article. But it also made me think about my own view of ‘banter’, a term I really, really hate.

Remember this woman from The Fast Show?

Yeah, that’s the 90’s version of ‘but it’s only banter!’ You can also add ‘Well, it’s not very PC, but…‘, ‘I’m not being funny, but…’ It’s used as an excuse to cover up when someone says something bullying/offensive. I really hate how it’s become a blanket excuse for bad behaviour.

Interestingly, it’s a predominantly male saying; I can’t think of a time when I’ve heard a girl or woman use the phrase. I hear men and teenage boys using it all the time and they clearly think it’s acceptable. Made a rude remark to a girl? It’s banter. Made an off-colour joke that you know might get you into trouble? It’s banter. Upset someone with an out-of-order comment? Banter. And it’s becoming acceptable. It’s seen as a catch-all excuse that is designed to get someone off the hook and it’s not on.

The sensible thing, really, if someone has said something they shouldn’t is to just apologise. By claiming the banter defence, they’re probably going to irritate the person on the receiving end more and look pretty arrogant. By saying it’s banter, the person in the wrong is saying that their target is being over-sensitive and humourless. It shifts the blame. What’s worse is that it’s becoming acceptable. People are just carrying on, afraid that if they try and counter the argument, they look like party poopers in a glorious band of male bonding and humour.

But if banter is becoming an acceptable defence to unacceptable behaviour, what does that say about us?

Reading Fiction

I’m reading a lot of fiction at the moment and this, for me, is odd. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, particularly biographies. I have a slight penchant for dead queens and Hollywood starlets of the Golden Age. (I also tend to like my subjects tragic and glamorous. Not sure why; I’m sure there’s something in it. Marie Antoinette and Jean Harlow are favourites.) Anyway, I’m trying to write some fiction of my own and, alongside factual research, I’m reading lots of fiction.

I read about 55 books a year, roughly, and I have a book that I list the titles of what I read. I also tend to have two books on the go: a paperback to read in the bath and either a hardback or a book on the Kindle. At the moment, the ‘bath’ book is When God was a Rabbit and the book on my Kindle is The Night Circus. I’m not fully immersed in either, to be honest. I find that a lot of writers write children badly- they are too precocious or too adult in the way they speak- and I’m having problems with this in both books. I’m also finding that The Night Circus is a book that would much rather be a film by Tim Burton than a novel. It’s highly stylised and I’m sure it will make a beautiful film, but I can’t ‘settle’ into it as a book. It’s odd, but I can’t explain it any better! I also don’t like that it’s written in present tense, but set in the past.

I think because I read so much non-fiction, I find the unpredictability of fiction difficult. If I pick up a biography, I know that the subject will more than likely die at the end and I’m interested in the person enough to pick up a book about them in the first place. Compared to this, fiction is more of a gamble.

What’s really odd is that as a child, I was a voracious reader of fiction. Non-fiction didn’t interest me in the slightest, apart from Anne Frank’s Diary and books about pets I was soon to acquire. Like one of my all-time favourite characters, Matilda, I quickly read most of the children’s fiction section (that I was interested in) in the library that we visited and moved onto to adult books at quite a young age. I wasn’t precocious, I was just curious. And Matilda was a role model of sorts, as she spoke like a real child. A telepathic, genius child who enjoyed reading Steinbeck at the age of six perhaps, but still a kid.

So, what’s changed in me that I dislike fiction so much? Do I need to retrain my brain? Am I lazy? I dislike the uncertainty of fiction, especially when very little is written in the blurb. I’m tired, I need something I can read easily (a lot of non-fiction is not easy reading though.) I also think my training as a writer of non-fiction is to blame; you read and write so much of it that it becomes second nature. Is there something wrong with me? Can I, and should I, do something to change my reading habits? I’ve also not read a great deal of ‘classic’ fiction- I’m not a fan of Austen, I find Dickens too long winded and I much prefer Emily and Anne to Charlotte Bronte. I feel like a fraud of an English teacher.

This year, I’ve also read Revolutionary Road, which is pretty depressing and claustrophobic (but the film is surprisingly faithful to the book) and The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, which has led me to fall head over heels with her work- I’ve not wanted to read so much of an author since I discovered Roald Dahl aged six. I enjoyed the complex narrative and found it fairly easy to get hooked into the story, despite the story working backwards. Strangely, I didn’t hate this.

So, I suppose I need to give fiction more of a chance to ‘settle’ before judging it and to accept that there is good fiction and bad fiction and that by reading both, I’ll hopefully discover a style I like that I can write in myself. If there are any suggestions for what I should read, give me a shout!

What’s the matter with Lana Del Rey?

I have had ‘Video Games’ stuck in my head for the last week. I don’t particularly like it, but there it is. I’ve not really paid attention to the hype; I was vaguely aware of her on Jools Holland a few months ago and I knew that ‘Video Games’ was a cooler song to say you liked than, say, ‘Moves Like Jagger’ (some people have no taste. I love that song.) But this week, the hype has upped ridiculously, due to the release of her new album ‘Born to Die.’ Although I don’t care for the song, or Del Rey’s persona, I’ve been pretty puzzled by the vitriol she attracts. There are whole websites dedicated to dismissing her.

I understand that if someone becomes successful (and it looks like ‘Born to Die’ will be the number 1 album  in the UK this week), criticism invariably follows. But some of the stuff I’ve seen this week has been utterly ridiculous. You’d think, if people hated her so much, they’d stop talking about her; maybe the online critics doth protest too much. After all, it’s much cooler to hate something everyone else loves, right?

The main criticisms seem to be as follows:

1) She’s changed her name from plain old Lizzy Grant to Lana Del Rey. This is apparently proof of the fact that she’s fake and should be dismissed instantly. But there hasn’t been outrage at the name changes of Stefanie Germanotta (Lady Gaga) or Myra Amos (Tori Amos). Hell, even Caitlin Moran was given a different name at birth- no one questions the validity of her writing because of this. And forgive me, for I’m a bit young to remember, but nobody was doubting the work of David Bowie, Prince or Freddie Mercury because they changed their names, were they? Show business has always been about creating and maintaining alternate images, so I don’t get the sudden anger in this particular case.

2) She’s from a rich family, she hasn’t had to try as hard; her dad was able to financially back her career. Lots of singers have been fortunate enough to be born into well-off families. Lady Gaga was sent to very exclusive New York schools. Beyonce attended stage school, which her parents probably paid for. Parents generally support their offspring, it’s kind of a given thing, right? Whilst Lana Del Rey’s dad might have gone above and beyond in the supporting stakes, it’s really no different to those parents who encouraged their children to be in the Mickey Mouse Club (Britney, Christina and Justin, to name a few.)

3) She’s changed her face! Those aren’t her lips! Why are we discussing this? Is she famous because she might’ve got collagen injections? No, there must be more to it. She signed up to a better record label to the one she was with before, who saw something they could market and ultimately make money from. It’s not because she had fillers put in her face.  (And yes, I’m guilty of discussing her facial change. It’s only after looking at stuff on the internet that I’ve come to these conclusions. I feel bad.) Loads of singers have plastic surgery. Cher changed her nose, loads of singers had breast implants. It’s not unusual in this day and age, is it?

4) She doesn’t write her own songs! Neither does Beyonce. Or Britney.

So, really, those are pretty shallow reasons to hate someone and declare them ‘fake’, right? I mean, I don’t really like the whole ‘gangster/Nancy Sinatra’ look she’s going for and I really dislike some of the lyrics in her songs, as they seem to be trading on a whole schtick where her entire life centres around the man in her life, rather than being a person in her own right. That disturbs me, as I thought we’d moved away from a lot of those sentiments.

But I can’t deny that ‘Video Games’ is catchy. I wish it wasn’t, but seeing as I’ve spent the week humming it and I’ve watched the video a couple of times, it clearly has something. And Lana Del Rey can sing, although whether that’s after it’s been played with in a studio and not as her voice actually is is debatable. But really, at the end of the day, she’s just a young woman who is succeeding in a career that not everyone could cope with and that is very hard to achieve. So, you know, maybe it’s just jealousy.

I do think ‘Born to Die’ is a terrible title for an album though. It smacks of teenage goth.