Monday 20 March 2023



Wrapping up the third biography I've read this year: Spare. This is the autobiography of Prince Harry. 

Like the Depp v. Heard trial, I started out with no interest in this what so ever, but then found myself sucked in after watching an interview with him on Colbert. I thought he came across rather well. Human, British, confident but with humility. 

I am not a monarchist, you can't defend that level of wealth and privilege in a world, and a country, where so many have so little. A country in which food banks outnumber McDonalds, and there is an online map to find your local 'warm room' if you can't afford to heat your home in winter. There is no argument that defends this idea of respecting a person simply because of their family name. We are all individuals and should be judged on our own merit. Harry does make the argument that the royal family contribute to the economy in terms of tourism, but does that wealth go to the common people? Is it feeding people and heating their homes, or is it going into the back pocket of government? 

So, no, I'm not a monarchist, however, given the current abysmal state of British politics, I can't really make the case for a republic either. I don't think it's the monarchy standing in the way of Britain's self-actualisation, government seems to be handling that all by itself. There is the old joke, 'better to have one arsehole in power than a bunch of them.' 

So, I'm fairly ambivalent at the moment. Because of that, and not having a particularly vested interest in the situation one way or another, I don't get angry about it. There isn't an ounce of vitriol in me on the Meghan/Harry issue. I actually really liked her in Suits, and I recognise there's a clash of culture. She admits she didn't go in prepared, didn't do any homework on the royal family, so it's not really a surprise what happened. And, to be honest, I very much believe people have the right to follow their own path. If the situation you find yourself in makes you miserable - change it, in as drastic a way as necessary. I honestly don't see why that makes people so angry. 

As far as the book goes, as a writer I respect anybody who takes the time to put their perspective into words, that others might better understand their point of view and reasoning. I think Harry did that fine. A friend pointed out it was probably ghostwritten, but as someone who has ghostwritten other people's biographies, I know the process, and the words belong to the subject. You spend a lot of time listening to their voice, their stories, recording what they say - a book that is ghostwritten isn't just someone else making stuff up. A good ghostwriter uses the words and nuances of the person speaking. 

Anyway, I thought it was interesting and well written. He had every right to write it, nobody has to read it, but I did and I enjoyed it. He has a good sense of humour, and it came across.

I was studying the art of destruction, and the first thing I learned was that destruction is partially creative. It begins with imagination. Before destroying something, you have to imagine it destroyed, and I was getting very good at imagining the Dales as a smoking hellscape. 

I'm sure many people have had a similar vision.

I'm also sure a lot of people can relate to parts of this. Not the privilege so much, but the sense of being born into a family or situation where you don't quite fit, and however hard you try to mould yourself into what others expect you to be, you never quite achieve it. Happenstance of birth is exactly that, and, as a living, breathing entity upon this planet, you have every right to go in search of your own happiness. No one says you have to stick around and be a spare, whether you're a prince or a pleb. It disturbs me how invested such a large portion of the world is in institutions like the British monarchy and how extremely seriously they take it. I could understand that obsession more if they were invested in the redistribution of wealth, but they're usually more invested in upholding that institution without review or reform.

Enough proselytising. Which ever side of the royal debate you land on, I think this is an interesting biography and easy to read. If it's going to make you mad, don't bother, but if you're curious to hear his side of what happened, go for it. And on we move to another book...

Thursday 16 March 2023

Gentleman Jack


Second of three biographies I've read recently.

Slight spoiler at the end of this one, if you don't already know about her life.

I fully wanted to adore Anne Lister's biography. To leave behind a room full of encoded diaries outlining the steamiest of sapphic sexual liaisons, and to be so thoroughly, completely herself... plus it's narrated by Heather Peace, known for so many wonderful things, but especially Lip Service. I was fully invested in her story, but...

She had a lot of spunk, a huge amount of beautiful arrogance and fire, but she also seemed to channel the worst misogynistic tendencies of her age. What a dualism. An icon of sapphic history, with the same desire to string the girls along, break hearts, and marry primarily for money as a total cad. And a staunch Tory to boot. 

I know, she was a product of her time and station, but that didn't make it any more palatable. 

It's a very thorough biography, but I began to flag a bit in the midsection. It became an ongoing list of how many kisses (orgasms) she'd given to each woman, how good they were, and how often. Salacious at first, but about as interesting as a shopping list by the end. I would have liked to learn a bit more about the world she inhabited, the politics and prejudices of the time. There was a bit of that, but more might have helped to flesh out the story and place Anne within a wider context. Overall though, a very thorough and informative story.

She was certainly a traveller, and on one point you really felt for her. She was officially the first person to complete the ascent of Vignemale, the highest peak in the French Pyrenees. She was up against a rival, the Prince de la Moscowa. She beat him to the top by four days, but, with a little bit of bribery and testosterone, the prince was reported in the world press as having been the first to the summit! This was only corrected in 1968. 

...even today the route that Anne took to the peak of the Vignemale on Tuesday 7th August 1838, is called Prince de la Moscowa.

Thankfully, the Wiki page for the Vignemale clearly sets the record straight, recording Anne Lister as the first person to reach the summit and making no mention at all of Prince de la Moscowa. May he slip into historical obscurity for such a dirty stunt. 

There were some other interesting moments, or synchronicities, I spotted. The book mentioned Nizhny Novgorod, and a visit to the hareems. It was fascinating that she had visited that place, as it was mentioned in the first chapter of Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran. Whereas I had to imagine the hareems, she actually saw one, referring to the inhabitants as 'human animals':

...except in [an] asylum for insanes, I have never seen any sight so melancholy and so  humiliating as this hareem. They are not admitted, or capable of being admitted, into society. How terrible the degradation of one half mankind.

There was also fleeting mention of Prince Pückler, of Pückler Park fame, now on the border of Poland and Germany. I visited the place years ago whilst on a writing retreat. 

She really came into her own in later life, and I suppose I sympathise a little. It can't have been easy in a world where who you married dictated your social status and future prospects. Channelling what, for the time, and even today, were considered masculine traits, it's only natural that her mind would be occupied with the same considerations Mr Darcy went through when considering Elizabeth Bennet. But I liked Darcy a lot more, because he put that consideration aside in the end, whereas Anne appears to have been consumed by it. No matter how much she loved someone in the moment, she was willing to discard them if they didn't earn enough. Maybe that was just an excuse, though. She seemed extremely restless. Seeking the ideal soulmate and perfect companion, so idealised that no one ever quite managed to live up to it. She wanted the money to continue travelling, and she milked her partners for whatever they would give, but perhaps their lack of status was just a convenient excuse she allowed herself to keep looking for 'the one.'

It's a human condition that many would relate to, but it was a little irksome at times, and my interest in her life dwindled a little for that attitude. She wasn't particularly pleasant, though nothing ever said she had to be, and perhaps we don't get all the story from her writings. Perhaps she was giving play to a part of her that liked to over expose, and to play the provocateur. Maybe she was a lot nicer in person. We shall never know. And, either way, it's a hell of a legacy to leave for posterity and we're grateful.

So, the spoiler... she just died.

Seriously, it was a fucking abrupt end to a book.

There she was, climbing the Pyrenees, galivanting through Russia, being taken aghast by pagan Buddhist ways... when she just upped and died. Seems she exercised obsessively and hardly ate a thing, and in the end her body just gave out. But there wasn't much forewarning. I was sitting there waiting for a conclusion and that was pretty much it - The End.

So, uh, I guess to match that sudden finale.


Wednesday 15 March 2023

My Thoughts Exactly


Continuing the book review catch-up. I fucking love Lily Allen. 

I was enjoying Stranger Things and heard that she got engaged to David Harbour (the guys who plays Hopper), which was intriguing. Then fell down an absolute bottomless hole of nostalgia, rediscovering all of her big hits on YouTube, along with some of the lesser known ones (or probably only lesser-known to me because I was already out of the country by then), like Our Time and URL Badman. Plus catchy oldies, like Driving Me Wild... is that SmartArt?

Then I stumbled across the stalker interview on BBC Three, which was disturbing, especially the MET response at the end. Really not an acceptable approach for them to take, it sounds like she had every right to be dissatisfied at that point. 

Anyway, I saw she had a biography out and decided to get the audiobook, narrated by her. I have to admit, I hadn't listened to her music in years, but then I don't really listen to anyone much, not having a radio or keeping up with western pop culture. I occasionally pull up NPR Tiny Desk concerts on YouTube, but my own music collection hasn't been updated in about fifteen years. 

That said, she was a constant backdrop to my mid-twenties. I was 25 when LDN dropped, and The Fear and Not Fair released the year after I left the UK, so I guess I was doing my MA. But it's weird, she's one of those artists who time shifts. I associate her with college. I was at the BRIT school when it first started up, so a few years before Adel, Amy Winehouse and Kate Nash, so unfortunately never met them, but Lily Allen's songs just remind me of a sunny London afternoon. She kind of evokes the spirit of that time in my life, even though she started releasing long after I'd left and moved to Cardiff. I remember really liking all of those songs, and I remember a lot of my female friends laughing when Not Fair came out. It was like every woman had had a relationship like that and thought she was bolshy for having the guts to say it. I think it led to a lot of uncomfortable conversations.

Looking back, nothing she said was that shocking by today's standards, but she was ahead of the curve. It's hard to overstate how hideous British lad culture was in the 90s and early naughties, egos bruised very easily and she had a knack for finding the fragile ones. As a result, the tabloid media absolutely went for her. Every other week it seemed they published a picture of her leaving a party in a bad state. That intensified after the Elton exchange

It was exhausting. Nothing I was saying was particularly controversial or out of the ordinary. But I was a young woman in an industry that preferred its females compliant and subservient, hungry – and preferably a bit cold and shivery on account of not wearing enough clothes. Vulnerable, in other words, and therefore more pliable and easier to get in line, that line being that what sells is youth, sex appeal and a lean bod, with no unsightly flabby female bits: not of body and not of mind. I wanted to rail against all that, but I was also a needy young adult learning how to process everything I was learning. I insisted on not being objectified, and yet, oh God, I minded that I wasn’t being objectified enough. I hated that young female singers were being reduced to objects of desire, and yet I longed to be intensely desired myself. I was twenty-one years old with not much experience under my belt. I was messy, needy, narcissistic, fearful. I was outraged, outspoken, fearless. I was defensive one minute, didn’t give a shit the next.


I don’t think that the men who run the tabloids and who berate me on Twitter like women much. Not just women, either. I think they’re scared of anyone who isn’t like them, who isn’t white and middle class and male. Because those men who run things, they aren’t necessarily cleverer or better than everyone else, but for some reason they’ve managed to make all the rules for hundreds and hundreds of years. No wonder they’re resentful and defensive when the rest of us are angry and have decided that we want a bit of what they’ve got. So it’s like, ‘NO. You can’t have a piece. You’re disgusting, you’ve got a vagina. No, you’re not having any of it, either, because you’re black and you’re a criminal. And you? You’re Asian, you’ve probably got a bomb under there, so you’re not allowed any of it, either. You’re all threatening to me so I’m going to vilify and bully you as much as I can to silence and shame you.’

I don’t want to be silent. Women have been silenced for millennia, and I’m not going to be part of that. I want to speak up, and if that means I sometimes get it wrong, then I should be able to correct myself, apologise, move on and still carry on speaking up. As a woman, I’m not meant to be an angel or a saint or a martyr or to have faultless encyclopaedic answers all the time. I’m a woman only, and, like all women, I don’t ask for special treatment. Like all women, I just ask not to be repressed or silenced.

I’ve never been saintly. I know I’m a narcissist. I can behave badly. I’m capable of self-sabotage and self-destruction. I have a history of mental illness, drug abuse and addictive behaviour. I can be petulant and spoilt, short-tempered and stubborn. But even when I’m deep in foggy, cloudy behaviour, numbing myself with whatever I can, some part of me remains self-aware. I’m hyper hyper self-aware. It’s what has kept me from going under. I’ve sometimes felt like I’ve been drowning and lost and as if I’ve disappeared, but I’ve always stopped myself, even if it’s in a destructive way with drugs, or hospitalisation, from losing it completely.

It was really good to hear what happened in her own words. A lot of women can relate to what she's saying, and she puts it across really eloquently. There was always an honesty in her music, so it makes sense that translates to the page, and people connect with it. 

She went through some really difficult life experiences, and I think that's maybe why people have gone so gooey-eyed over the recent wedding, because she does seem happy and settled. You want good things for someone who has been so persecuted for being feisty. You want them to have a strong base to continue mouthing off, because we like listening to her. She doesn't hold back, and that's inspirational. I think she's always had a lot more love from the British public, and especially women, than the tabloids would have ever let you know. She was well ahead of her time with her music. 

Great biography, worth a read.

[PS, Game of Thrones trivia. Her brother is Alfi Allen who played Theon Greyjoy. Early on she made a song about him and apparently he's never forgiven her!]

Sunday 12 March 2023

Talking Rwandan Folklore


Catching up with my friend Firmin of Perdua Perdua Publishing, and talking Rwandan gods, legends and folklore from Ryangombe to Insibika, Nyabinghi to Ndabaga.

Monday 6 March 2023

Kingdom of the Feared

Right, let the mass book review begin. I know I keep apologising for being so distracted by YouTube lately, but I am still reading (and writing, but more about that later). Some of these might be speed reviews as I run to catch up.

The first book I finished in 2023 was the final instalment of the Kingdom of the Wicked series. Unusually for me, I'd put it on pre-order. I don't read a lot of series, but this one caught my attention for the feisty, unapologetically sexual female protagonist in the first book (Kingdom of the Wicked). I also really enjoyed the second instalment, Kingdom of the Cursed. But this one didn't quite do it for me.

Everything that was so original in the first book seemed to become a bit stale by the third. I'm maybe being completely unjust here, but it felt like a case of the publisher pushing the author for a conclusion the author wasn't entirely ready to tell yet. The sex seemed a bit repetitive and the plot seemed like an afterthought. 

You could join them up there, experience the power of two sins at once. Those body adornments they wear enhance every sensation. Imagine how those pearls would feel as they slid over sensitive flesh, hitting areas of pleasure inside you never dreamed of.

If you do want to explore that concept more, check out Gaijin

You can only keep readers in a state of arousal for so long, and if it's not quite doing it for them, what else you got? 

I know it's all very subjective, and I am looking at this through mature adult eyes. I'm probably not the key audience here. But the main reason I didn't love it was more to do with the character development. Again, a very personal thing, but I get a bit put out by books that turn demons into just misunderstood good guys. Beauty and the Beast syndrome - every guy can be tamed if you just take the time to get to know them properly. To me, it feels a little boring. If that's the case, why make them demons in the first place? Why not just choose any troubled misfit? I feel like, if you're going to go for the seven deadly sins, you really need to play that large. Give a genuine sense of danger and derangement. Sure, it's a YA book, but if it's mature enough to handle erotica, it can handle the rest? 

I don't know. I didn't actively dislike it, but I didn't feel it lived up to the other two books. I found some of the repeated phrases like oh, goddess above, a bit irritating by the end, just because they came up so often. The ending was quite good, I see how everything fits together, just about, and it seems to be the set-up for more books to come, but I think I've had my fill for now. I think it's very difficult on authors to write ongoing series. Often the first couple of books are crammed with fantastic ideas and a huge amount of energy, but the pressure, as with film directors and musicians, to keep pumping out the same standard as quickly as possible is too much to ask. You can either be patient and have a really outstanding book, or you can pressure a writer to keep delivering and get a lot of the same stuff over and over because they haven't had time to imagine something fresh. I'm not saying that's exactly what happened here, it just felt a bit like it might have. 

From this day forward, a curse will sweep through this land. You will forget all but your hate. Love, kindness, every good thing in your world will cease. One day that will change. When you know true happiness, I vow to take whatever you love, too.

I think it's also difficult when you include characters like Circe, who have been so totally owned by other authors, notably Madeline Miller. Once you've met her through Miller's eyes, no other representation quite fits. She was so completely and potently brought to life. 

Anyway, I still like the overall concept. The whole Kingdom of... titles and cover art are delicious. Just needed a little more plot than pleasure.