Wednesday, 31 December 2014

End Of The Year Quiz!






That's me on Christmas Day. Yes, I look awkward. The dress is from H & M. The tights are just-tights. They're the punctuation to the outfit. The choker is from Dunns Jewellery, a really cute little handmade jewellery place. And yeah, that's a blue streak in my hair. Blue, purple, red hair extensions-fun mixing them up.

Anyway, here's the end of year quiz.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you'd never done before?

Started a blog. Got a Twitter. Got a Tumblr. Found my OTP-Destiel, in case you were wondering. Got a black canopy for my bed. Got coloured hair extensions. Got my writing published professionally. Made a lot of new friends. Started taking anti-depressants. Appeared in a professional play. Got involved with more social activism. Met people I really admire and love. Sorted a lot of things about my future out. Started educating myself, along with only being in school two days a week. Worked out a little more of who I want to be. Started writing a diary almost every day.

2. Did you keep your New Year's Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Didn't make any last time-apart from maybe to keep going and still be here this time next year-and this year, not making any resolutions-more just deciding what I want to accomplish and then accomplishing it.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes.

5. What countries did you visit?

Tenerife. It was amazing. Next year, I'm hopeful to visit Tenerife again, Italy and the United States.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Hopefully, something definite on a novel I'm working on. More writing published. Hopefully, to interview some people. To do more social activism. To keep growing creatively. And a person.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched on your memory and why?

3rd July-my grandma passed away.
18th December-got somewhere I'd wanted to be for a while.
28th December-someone I knew of and liked passed away.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting my writing published. Being in a play. Taking control of my OCD. Getting closer to where I want to be. Working on my novel. And discovering more about me.

9. What was your biggest failure of the year?

Probably not freaking out as much.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Yep. Depression, OCD, anxiety-and flu and tonsillitis and stuff.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

Some of my jewellery and my DFTBA shirt. But definitely some of my T-shirts and skirts. And my trilby hat. Absolutely love my black trilby hat.

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

My family's. My friends. For putting up with me. My parents, particularly. My cousins. And my grandfather. Also, my friends who listen and laugh me out of things. Also, organizations that are willing to listen to me and let me get involved. And definitely Bethany Lamont and Fleur for their friendship, kindness and help! Oh and Briana Bailey at Germ, for being so willing to help me! And special mention to Flossa, for our cool email exchanges-may there be more in the future!

13. Where did most of your money go?

Clothes, books, music.

14. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Getting writing published, Doll Hospital, Holy Glitter Zine, Tenerife, the person I like, Destiel, Sherlock Season 3, the Supernatural musical, getting closer to where I want to be, getting better, feeling happier-a lot.

15. What song will always remind you of 2014?

Jeez, can't choose just one.

Cha-Ching ('Til We Grow Older) by Imagine Dragons
First Love Never Die by Soko
Teenage Rebellion by the Gaslight Anthem
All of the Stars by Ed Sheeran
New Tile Floor by Farewell Continental
Boom Clap by Charli XCX
Youth by Daughter
You Suck by Abigail Breslin
Blank Space by Taylor Swift

16. Compared to this time last year, you are:

Happier?

Definitely, definitely, yes.

Richer?

Yes.

Thinner?

Yep.

17. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Honestly? Not really sure. Yeah, pathetic.

18. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Panicking.

19. How will you be spending Christmas?

Already spent it. Spent it at home with my family. Visited my granddad, saw all the kids playing. Spent it at home, eating Christmas dinner and surrounded by my presents. And Facetiming with my cousins.

20. Did you fall in love in 2014?

*twists hands together, wondering* Don't know...

21. What was your favourite TV programme?

SUPERNATURAL. And Not Going Out. And Sherlock. If we're talking short series, The Missing was awesome too.

22. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't this time last year?

Hmmm. Maybe. Try not to hate anyone but...

23. What was the best book you read?

Cannot choose just one here:

UNHINGED BY A.G. HOWARD
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING BY KARI LUNA
ELEANOR AND PARK BY RAINBOW ROWELL
FANGIRL BY RAINBOW ROWELL
WE WERE LIARS BY E. LOCKHART
EVERYTHING LEADS TO YOU BY NINA LACOUR
IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY BY NED VIZZINI
EVERY DAY BY DAVID LEVITHAN
I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE BY STEPHANIE KUEHNERT
THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE BY ADELE GRIFFIN
ALL CURSE WORKERS BOOKS BY HOLLY BLACK
LEAVING TIME BY JODI PICOULT
THE IRON TRIAL BY CASSANDRA CLARE AND HOLLY BLACK
MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME

And my absolute favourite:

I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN BY JANDY NELSON

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Um *takes a deep breath* Arctic Monkeys, Best Coast, the Dollyrots, the Gaslight Anthem, Candy Hearts, Tigers Jaw, Farewell Continental, Skating Polly, Venus and the Moon, Citizen, Dresses, Daughter, Joy Division, Kate Nash, Metric, Metro Station, MGMT, Passion Pit, One Republic, Natalia Kills, The Naked and Famous, Paper Mache, Switchblade Kittens, the Postal Service, Stars, Sarchasm, We Are Scientists.

25. What was your favourite film this year?

Released this year? The Fault In Our Stars, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Imitation Game, Nightcrawler. Released any other years? Probably Little Miss Sunshine and Stuck In Love. Maybe Carrie and About A Boy. The Help, too.

26. What did you do on your birthday? And how old were you?

I was seventeen and I went out with my parents and then watched Carrie on my actual birthday. Then, a few days later my friends all came over, we got takeout pizza and all watched The Conjuring.

27. What one thing would have made your new year immeasurably more satisfying?

Don't know....reading 100 books?

28. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

Er-at the start, gothic-punk-indie, but now, maybe others would describe me as that, but I just think that I look like me.

29. What kept you sane?

My friends-specially school and drama crew. My other friends too. Flossa, Bethany. Rookie. Online community. Fanfiction. Writing. My family, particularly all my cousins. Sometimes by encouraging my insanity.

30. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Hmm, does Castiel from Supernatural count? Yeah. Him. And Misha Collins. And I kind of have a crush on Lee Mack, to be honest..

31. What political issue stirred you the most?

Police brutality, racism, same-sex marriage, gender rights, gender equality, transgender rights.

32. Whom did you miss?

My grandma. Childhood. My cousins, when they're not there. Someone who went too soon, even if I didn't know her well. And others that I care about.

Happy New Year!










The Whole Playlist Thing: New Year's Eve Playlist

 
 
 
 



So, 2014 has been a pretty-hmm. Changing year for me? And 2015 looks to have a lot more in it for me, too. So, here's my New Year's Eve party playlist that I made for our New Year's Eve celebration:
 
Change of Seasons by Sweet Thing
The Past Six Years by Deaf Havana
Together We'll Ring In The New Year by Motion City Soundtrack
Use Somebody by Kings of Leon
Man On The Moon by R.E.M.
Dear God by XTC
We Will Rock You by Queen
Happy by Best Coast
Cha-Ching ('Til We Grow Older) by Imagine Dragons
Could It Be Another Change? by the Samples
Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five by Paul McCartney and Wings
New Year's Eve by Cabb
Tomorrow by Daughter
Yellow by Coldplay
Starlight by Taylor Swift
We Didn't Start The Fire by Billy Joel
It's Time by Imagine Dragons
Wonderwall by Oasis
Hey Ya by Outkast
The New Year by Death Cab for Cutie


Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Ned Vizzini

                                                                                 


 
 
 
 
 
The day I found out Ned Vizzini had committed suicide was a day that everything had been dragged down. That's what I called the days when a depressive episode hit-a day when things were just so low that I couldn't see them ever climbing their way back up again.
 
I knew who Ned Vizzini was-I knew he was an author. I knew he'd written It's Kind Of A Funny Story which I had on my bookshelf but had never read. I knew he'd had depression. I didn't know much about him but from what I did know, I thought he was cool.
 
I found out about his death on Twitter. It was actually when I was hovering over the Twitter of one of my favourite authors, Hannah Moskowitz, that I read something she'd written that was something like "Please don't let this news about Ned Vizzini be true.." I can vividly remember frowning and typing his name into Twitter. I got a load of similar tweets along with his own Twitter account which I scrolled through. He'd last tweeted about a month beforehand, and most of his tweets made me smile or laugh a little, lifting the heaviness in my chest slightly. I kept thinking that it would turn out to be a hoax, that it would turn out Ned Vizzini was fine, and that everyone's lives would go on.
 
Later that evening, I went online and discovered that Ned Vizzini had committed suicide the previous evening. The tweets had now turned to expressions of grief and devastation, rather than earlier, when everyone had still been in the "Please say this isn't real..." phase.
 
I was shocked. I was shocked that a guy who'd seemed to have such a hilariously witty, brilliantly positive outlook on his life and others could have been struggling with something like this for so long. I was shocked that it could have happened this suddenly. But then maybe I shouldn't have been. Because that's the awful nature of mental illness. It sneaks up on you and grabs you when you're least expecting it sometimes. It's that creature in the dark that finds you just when you think you're safe.
 
I feel awful that I have to write that first, as if mental illness is the only thing Ned Vizzini will ever be associated with. But that's how I found out about him and I suppose, in a lot of ways, it influenced a lot of my views within everything I would go on to find out about him.
 
Ned Vizzini was a writer who started out writing essays for the New York Times which he eventually compiled into the book Teen Angst? Naaah!... The title alone should probably make you want to read it. He also was a YA novelist with his debut novel Be More Chill currently being something I really want to read.
 
But his most famous book is probably It's Kind Of A Funny Story. It's about Craig Gilner who calls a suicide hotline one night after months of depression and ends up spending five days in a psychiatric ward-except it's the adult psychiatric ward and he's fifteen. It's about that and it's about a lot more than that.
 
It's weird that I mentioned Hannah Moskowitz earlier because my reaction to It's Kind Of A Funny Story was pretty similar to my reaction to one of her books-the words won't wrap around the feeling the story slams into you. It's different. It's other. It's something you need, and it's something you want to keep reading, over and over.
 
When I read It's Kind Of A Funny Story this summer, I was low. Really, really low. We were on holiday and I should have been happy. By anyone's count, I should have been happy. Instead, each day, I kept asking question after question about the future because I was scared that if I left it even one more day, everything would collapse in on itself, a tower that couldn't be rebuilt. And when I read It's Kind Of A Funny Story, it kind of felt like meeting up with a best friend you haven't seen in years. That's what it was like, because it felt like this was something that got it.
 
It's always great to find something that gets it. But when you struggle with mental illness, it can be even rarer to find something that reflects exactly what you're going through right at that moment. It's one of the reasons I think Doll Hospital is so necessary. It gives you something. And so does It's Kind Of A Funny Story.
 
Ned Vizzini was a screenwriter, a novelist, and he was brutally honest about his battles with depression and anxiety. He hosted creative writing workshops for years which allowed young writers to get their work published on a blog, he'd often agree to do interviews with students via webcam. He was a guy who was reportedly one of the nicest, funniest people anyone could ever meet.
 
A few days ago, I was looking through the To Write Love On Her Arms blogs and a post about Ned Vizzini written by Ilana Jaffe. She described her reaction when she heard about his suicide:
 
If I'm completely honest at first, I couldn't help but feel a little abandoned. Not by Vizzini as a person; I didn't know him. It would be selfish and ridiculous of me to say and feel such a thing. But it did feel a little like the superhero had just told me the villain would win this time.-Thank You, Ned Vizzini
 
That's similar to how I felt. Even though it's now been a year since his death, I still feel shocked and sad when I think about how and why Ned Vizzini died. I don't wish to make it sound like his death has overshadowed his whole life for me but I suppose in a lot of ways, when someone's life ends in that way, it does affect the way you view their work. Everyone examines it, desperate to know why something like this would happen. And that's when you come to the realization that yes, sometimes the illness wins. But all we can do is try not to let it. And not blame ourselves when we fall down because humans fall down sometimes but we can get back up. As Ilana put it:
 
Now that I've had time to think about it, I'm reminded that, even though he impacted me so deeply, Vizzini was still, well, a human being. And even though he had taken his mental illness and turned it into powerful literature, he was not impervious to hardship. None of us are. We can address our struggles and learn to live with them, but they may not fully disappear. I don't mean this in an "Everything is always going to suck and be awful, so get used to it” kind of way. I mean it to say, rather, “What can we make out of all these broken pieces?”-Thank You, Ned Vizzini

I read his book almost a year after he died and it helped. Even though he was gone, he left something behind that would still help people, still help another kid who felt hopeless and drained and lost. Ned Vizzini helped people. He gave us bits of himself in his beautiful, brilliant, hilarious, real writing and in his candour and honesty and truth about how sometimes humans can fall apart. But then we can put ourselves back together.

Ned Vizzini
 
04/04/81-20/12/13
 
RIP

                         
 
 
 
 

 
 




Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Whole Christmas Eve Playlist Thing




                                                                                   


      MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!
 
It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas by Johnny Mathis
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
Fairytale In New York by the Pogues
Stop the Cavalry by Jona Lewie
All I Want for Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey
I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day by Wizard
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town by the Jackson 5
Do They Know It's Christmas Time? by Band Aid
Twelve Days of Christmas
A Spaceman Came Travelling by Chris de Burgh
Away In A Manger
Silent Night
Wonderful Christmastime by Paul McCartney

                                                           

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Whole Cool Character Thing: Addison Stone

 
 
 
 
It's not a spoiler to say that Addison Stone is dead-it tells you on the first page of the book. In fact, the title kind of gives it away. THE UNFINISHED LIFE OF ADDISON STONE.
 
Addison Stone is an eighteen-year-old artist, visionary who doesn't fit into any category. In fact, her book is made up of memories-of the people who knew her trying to understand her as they did when she was alive. But the clearest impression we can get of Addison is that she's a mystery.
 
Addison is sharp. Addison swings from chandeliers to get a clip uploaded to Youtube and going viral. Addison says what she thinks, to anyone. Addison hears voices no one else can hear. She seems to ghost between the past and the future. And  no one knows if that's another gift or a curse that's driving her insane.
 
Addison is determined. And she gets what she wants, one way or another. She'll take things. She'll steal things. She's in love with the idea of the perfect heist. And she's a genius.
 
But Addison is also on a knife's edge. She's spent time in psychiatric wards. She hears voices no one else can hear. She never knows quite when to stop.
 
When Addison's ex-boyfriend takes things too far in getting back at her, Addison burns his house down.
 
Addison breaks into a museum to steal her own piece of art.
 
Addison Stone could be the epitome of a tortured genius. But she's too happy for that. Except when the voices are there, she relishes life. Life and her own weird perception of it, even when it's a perception everyone else fails to understand.
 
In the first pages, Addison attends a creative writing class. Everyone has to take a turn talking about themselves. Addison simply says "I'm not here yet."
 
And maybe that's the thing about Addison. Maybe she isn't here yet. Or maybe she's here too early. Maybe the world wasn't ready for her but she made it be ready for her, pushed it over the edge into the fire of her paintings and the flames of her creativity. Addison does what she wants. There's no question about it.
 
Addison is contradiction. She buys her family endless gifts, but lives on virtually nothing. She can hate someone one moment, and fall madly in love with them the next. Addison is crazy to many people who might secretly long to be a drop more like her.
 
And so it stands to reason that Addison's death ends up as big  a mystery as her life. And that she may have relished it as much.
 
As her best friend puts it, Addison may have thought she was sailing towards "the most perfect New York death imaginable." Addison was never afraid of anything.
 
The book is told in a weird way, which means a good way. It's written like a biography, but it's fiction. There are photographs of Addison. There are photographs of her art. It's the kind of thing Addison Stone herself might have come up with. Adele Griffin is totally a genius.
 
And we don't get a load of answers to the questions about Addison's life. (We get more questions, more flame-torched questions about what leads to Addison's death.) But that's what real-life biographies are often like. We don't often get an answer. Instead, we're left with more questions.
 
But Addison Stone is a pioneer. Even though she only lives eighteen years, she makes her mark on the world. A confusing, different mark that makes a good deal of her world look at itself a bit differently. She's a firecracker that only burns for a little while before it blazes out.
 
There's a moment where someone says that Addison reminded them of the Keats quote "I need a brighter word for bright, a darker word for dark." She's someone who takes the words about the world, turns them upside down, rips sentences apart and makes her own meanings blaze. And because of that, the art she creates as a result may be truer than anything else.



Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Lindsay Ellis

 
 
 
 
 
Aside from the fact the Nostalgia Chick is the coolest name ever, there are about fifty more reasons to love Lindsay Ellis. OK, I haven't counted but there probably are.
 
Lindsay Ellis came onto the Internet when she won Doug Walker's contest (Doug Walker being the hilarious if-you're-having-a-bad-day-you'll-die-laughing-at-his-videos Nostalgia Critic) to become the Nostalgia Chick-originally, a kind of female counterpart to the Nostalgia Critic, she quickly became an Internet personality in her own right and amassed a huge following of fans. And she's branched out from more than being just the Nostalgia Chick, with her own website ChezApocalypse and her involvement of her friends in her videos, with their own characters and even story arcs. They even wrote a parody of Fifty Shades of Gray-Fifty Shades of Green-and have written another of a YA paranormal-romance. (It's worth checking out. Just-trust me, it's worth checking out.)
 
But one of the reasons I love Lindsay Ellis is how down-to-earth she is. She's hilarious on Twitter (@thelindsayellis, why haven't you checked it out yet?) But more than that, she's straightforwardly honest on her website about various aspects of her life that go beyond commiserating with her fans over being the person who dislikes that one film that everyone else loves. She's talked about how she used to write Phantom of the Opera fanfiction as a teenager which is in fact how she met some of those friends she works with now. (They hung out on message boards and ended up going to NYU together.) So basically, for a lot of people, Lindsay is the embodiment of that trope of One Of Us. The fact she wrote fanfiction just makes her even better. Seriously, too cool.
 
She's also a feminist and isn't hesitant to call out not just other people but also herself on things. (During one of her Phantom-haunted times, she talked about how misogynistic and snobby she felt her and her friends' posts had been on some fanfiction message boards as teenagers. I mean, it was years ago, but Phantom kudos to her, because most people like to bury their Internet past in the back of their Windows 95 pages and pretend that anything bad never happened.) And she's totally fine with calling people out if they're showing ignorance or misogyny, even if that leads to a load of insults fired Twitter-style. (Twitter-style insults and Youtube comments=seeking to tear down the world, one day at a time.)
 
On a more serious note, Lindsay's honest about some of the aspects of her life that most people would keep hidden away behind closed doors. In 2010, she made an award-winning documentary, The A-Word, about the fact she had an abortion and what had led up to the decision. It wasn't something that screamed "Anyone who wouldn't have an abortion hates women!"-it was something that just calmly explained why an abortion was right for her in those circumstances and how even though it was emotionally difficult, she felt she'd made the right decision-and that what might be the right decision isn't always an easy one or the first solution that leaps into your head. When young girls' brains are bombarded with screaming adult voices about pro-choice, pro-life, it can help to see that the only choice you have to make is the one that feels right for you.
 
On another note, after the tragic suicide of Robin Williams earlier this year, Lindsay wrote an almost painfully honest post about her own struggles with depression and about how the common misconceptions of it in the media are harmful and dangerous. All the stereotypical answers are nothing compared to an illness that makes you feel as if you want to curl up and die while your heart goes on beating and your body goes on surviving a life it's not living. As a writer for Doll Hospital, an art and literature journal focusing on mental health, Lindsay's post was highly necessary and important. It pointed out what should be obvious but often isn't; everyone's experience of mental illness is different and there is not a one-size-fits-all cure.
 
But Lindsay never sets herself up as someone who's trying to be important or preach to anyone. She just talks, honestly and candidly, about this stuff that's happened to her. And that's what makes her so listenable. (I think I just made up a word. Coolio.) She's someone who doesn't try to be anything other than herself and that's what makes her cool. She's honest about the fact she makes mistakes and that sometimes, she gets things wrong. And she's honest about what makes her vulnerable. In a world where girls are often encouraged to hide those aspects of their personalities, it's amazing to see that and to see it demonstrated that vulnerability does not decrease someone's strength. It's OK not to be superhuman. It's OK just to be human.
 
On a more hilarious note, Lindsay bills herself as likely to be remembered for being the girl getting hotdogs thrown in her face from a GIF. Just in case you needed another reason to think she was coolio.
 
(I just wrote hotdogs as hotgods. I don't know what that says about me.)



Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Whole Cool Song Thing: Elevator Love Letter by Stars



Someone once described this song as reminding them of a movie that hadn't been made yet, and that's one of the closest descriptions I can find to what it's like.

For me, it's like that moment where two people both get up and say goodbye at the end of a conversation, when both people have something more they want to say. Each person hesitates, with the words on the edge of their lips, knowing that the other person will listen if they say it. They might look at the other one, their eyes flickering back and forth, and wait to see if the words will rise to either of their lips. But then they both turn away, and let the conversation die in the air, and neither of them will know exactly why.

It's that moment when you want to love someone and you're scared to let yourself, or you're scared to let yourself know that you already are.

My eyes cast low
And I don't know how to love
And my hopes are low
And I don't know how to love

You want to have the courage to love someone but you already know you won't. So you tell them and yourself that you can and you will while the voices of your doubts prickle at the back of your mind.

And if she likes, I'll tell her lies
How we'll be in love by the morning
I don't think she'll know
That I'm saying goodbye

Stars are a band that write songs that seem to have beautiful, aching echoes of real life-of how sometimes things collapse in small disasters that only two people see or sometimes someone stops stretching their arm out for something that was in their reach. Elevator Love Letter seems to be that moment you want to run from the truth, whether it's something you want or something you don't. You just want to hide from it, just for a while.

My office glows all night long
It's a nuclear show and the stars are gone
Elevator, elevator, take me home

But there is something to cling onto anyway, for a time. There is something to hold onto, just for a day and hope and hope that it won't end, that this could be the first step towards something you dream of but don't dare to imagine.

Don't go, say you'll stay
Spend a lazy Sunday
I won't take anything away
Don't go, say you'll stay
Spend a lazy Sunday
I won't take anything away

You'll do anything to keep the dream going, to keep it living through the night, even when you don't know how this is going to end. I always listen to this song in the middle of the night, when nobody's awake, and all there is to do is wonder about the future and the past and the way memories sometimes seem to fall out. You don't know how things are going to work out but you cling to the idea that even as your heart beats and your mind flickers in time, it could be about to unfold into something wonderful.

My office glows all night long
It's a nuclear show and the stars are gone
Elevator, elevator, take me home




Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Ferguson: The Michael Brown Case

So today, I wanted to talk a little about Ferguson.

I'm not going to go over and over again what has happened because there are plenty of places where people can learn about the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the story has been repeated again and again in the media. That isn't the main purpose of this blog post. Apologies in advance if I get anything wrong in this blog post-please politely correct me. Also, apologies if this reads as a little shocked and unpolished. I guess things feel that way right now. I also apologize unreservedly if anything in this blog post causes offence to anyone-that's absolutely not my intention but please let me know-politely-if I've inadvertently caused any offence.

I'm not black. I'm not from a low-income background or area. I recognize that I can't speak for those people and I am not in any way attempting to appropriate their problems or to speak for them. But that isn't to say that the events in Ferguson have not affected the way I think about things or even forced me to reassess my view on a lot of topics.

The fact that Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead and has not been indicted for it, is evidence of police brutality. He shot a young man dead. A young man who posed no threat to him. He shot him dead. That is the simple fact of the matter. And now, an eighteen-year-old boy is dead. And Darren Wilson is not being punished for what he's done. The fact that a police officer's first instinct, when confronted with this young man, was to draw his gun and shoot says so much, not just about racism, but about the state of the police force today-because sometimes it seems like we have truly entered a "Shoot first and ask questions later" frame of mind.

The anger and the fear in Ferguson at the moment must be terrifying. I don't know how young children there are attending school. I don't know how people are living there. There were riots all last night, riots that have involved property damage and gunfire. The police have been accused of harming protestors, as they were a few months ago when the shooting first occurred. I can't validate those claims. But the thought of the terror of the innocent people in Ferguson right now is devastating. Imagine those children, young, black children, who will go to bed in that town tonight, knowing that one of their race was shot dead-and it is implied it was because of his race that that was the first course of action resorted to.

But more than that-this was a murder. And that mustn't be forgotten in all of this. There is a young eighteen-year-old boy who is dead. He's dead. He will never live his life. He will never grow up. He will never go to college. He will never get to do any of those things every human being has a right to. Because his life has been taken away from him.

His family have appealed for peace. They are asking for people to refrain from rioting. The last thing they want is the death of their son to lead to more violence.

One thing that disturbed me was Darren Wilson's statement. In this statement, he referred to Michael Brown as "it."

Not a "him." Not a "boy." An "it."

No matter why Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown dead, that comment says everything about how he saw him.

If I've got anything wrong here, please let me know. That's the last thing I want. Just let me know politely and I will change it.

But Michael Brown's body was left in the street for four and a half hours. As if he was a creature, a thing. Not a human being.

That is not right. It is madness that we are having to say "That is wrong." It is madness that every human being on this planet can not see, easily and simply, how terrible that is.

I'm only seventeen. I'm not claiming to be an authority on this case. I'm not claiming to be an authority on any subject. I've got no doubt that I'll make mistakes and that I'm not perfect and that I will handle things the wrong way at times.

But I can promise that I'll try my best. I'll try my best to raise awareness of things like this and I'll try my best to change it. And I don't care how many people tell us there's nothing we can do or that it's useless to try. Because if everyone thinks like that, nothing ever changes. We might fail but we have to at least try to change this atmosphere of hate. This world where an eighteen-year-old gets shot and left to die in the street. A world where that isn't considered murder.

I'm only seventeen but I know that that's wrong and that that isn't the way I want to live.

I'm going to remember Ferguson. And when I have kids, I'm going to tell them about it. I want them to look at it with the same incredulity we now look at segregation schools and park benches, and say "How did that even happen?" And by then, I want it to be something that's inconceivable of happening again. Because I might not be black or low-income or any of the other things that influenced this crime and I'm not trying to speak for them but I can still say that it's wrong.

And that I'll keep saying it's wrong, until something's done about it.

Because people might say it's pointless to try to change things. But look at it this way. If no one does something, you know nothing will change. If even one does something, there is a chance that things will.

It's got to be worth that chance.

                                                   Michael Brown
                                              20/05/96-09/08/2014
                                                     Rest In Peace

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Whole Awesome Organization Thing: Lily Sarah Grace

In retrospect, they probably should have figured it out the first time I walked across a football pitch.

I was five. Everyone else was playing football. Our parents were cheering them on, with my mother passing me chocolate bars and grabbing my hand every time I nearly wandered off because my eyes were glued to my book, and I was trying to crawl into the pages. My cousin tapped my shoulder every time I nearly wandered off without thinking and my mother's eyes were pulled back to me again and again like I was her own personal magnet.

It only happened in a second. My mother looked away for an instant to pass my cousin an orange juice carton and I took a few steps away. I didn't just read. I was one of those people who moved when I read, who ran and skipped and jumped when I got to a part of the story I loved. And I did that then. Unfortunately, when I kept taking steps forward, I walked right onto the pitch. The football pitch where two teams were now charging towards me, with my eyes still trained on the book, totally unaware of the fact I was about to quite probably be crushed to death.

Of course that didn't happen. (I'm not a ghost.) My mother glanced up automatically, found an absence of strange-but-endearing daughter next to her, and staring around frantically, saw me standing in the middle of a pitch with the book still clutched in my hands, screamed my name at the top of her lungs, and charged across the pitch, seizing me under her arm in a move that would later cause my aunt to say that my mother should have been recruited as a team reserve. Apparently, I  never took my eyes off the book the whole time, even as my mother spent the next ten minutes with her arms tight around me and the next week never taking her eyes off me.

That wasn't the first time something like that had happened. And over the years, it definitely wasn't the last. It would definitely have made life a lot easier for my parents if we'd known then that what I had was dyspraxia.

Eventually, I did get that diagnosis (along with a bunch of others. Bargain.) I was finally given the name for the reason I couldn't draw in a straight line (still can't), took two years to be able to trace one third of a map (lines still criss-cross themselves in front of my eyes when I stare at them) and angles were my worst nightmare in maths class. (I don't take maths any more, but angles still make me feel like a five year old confronted with algebra.)

Point of talking about all this-I might not have been skilled with maths, drawing or basic geography (or remembering small things, like not to walk across football pitches. Or leave my bag in the car with my keys, which happened today.) But I was obsessed with stories and music and the weird idea that you could be someone else or somewhere else just through letting your mind drift and piece together a few weird thoughts. I did well with most of the grades I cared about but I always felt like I learnt more from the books I read, and the films I watched, and the music that filled my brain.

This isn't some anti-education crusade-there were classes like English and Philosophy that I loved. I've only been to a couple of schools so I can't judge the general artistic ethos of other schools. Maybe it's just the place I grew up in, but for as long as I can remember being educated, there was a focus on asking questions and using your imagination. Not just in school, either. I grew up with books all around me. My earliest memory is my dad playing guitar. I was in my first play age five with my drama class. There were piano lessons and building dens with my cousins and whenever we went into town, there were people in the streets singing and busking. When I asked my dad how did we know if there was a God when I was six, he said "I don't know. What do you think?" And from the start, I was always writing, writing songs and stories and poems and losing myself in words that formed other worlds for me. Besides the things that, to put it basically, I sucked at, there were other things that made life a lot better.

I was lucky. I went to schools and grew up in a place where the arts were an important thing, things that were seen as valuable. Other kids who have difficulties with some subjects-they don't have that emphasis.

And that's where Lily Sarah Grace comes in.

Lily Sarah Grace is an organization that aims to improve the education of American children by putting more emphasis on the arts and encouraging children to question things-to ask questions and expand their minds through learning. And, you know, actually enjoy themselves, rather than just pass  a lot of tests. They aim to make sure each kid gets to be educated  in the way that works for them and their learning style-not just a generalized plan. How can we generalize learning for kids? We don't expect all kids to have the same favourite book or the same hair or the same eyes or the same job when they get older so why do we expect them to have the same educational needs?

The story behind Lily Sarah Grace is the inspiration for the name. Lily, Sarah and Grace were three sisters who were creative, bright and vibrant-they, no doubt, had great lives ahead of them. Lily and Grace both also happened to have dyslexia. The arts were a huge interest for all three of them and by the sounds of it, they were all very talented with an enthusiasm for learning and living. Tragically, Lily, Sarah and Grace lost their lives three years ago in a house fire, when Lily was nine and Sarah and Grace were seven. There isn't anything I can say to express how terrible this must have been for their family-for all I talk about writing and words, I think there's some things that go beyond that. But with incredible strength, their parents started a charity in their memory-a charity that would focus on the thing these three amazing little girls had loved the most and helping other kids in their education the same way their children had been helped.

I don't think I need to say this is a worthwhile organization. I don't know how many people will even read this or if it will just be something that goes unnoticed in the world. But I'm going to write this because if even one person reads it, and learns about this charity, that's another kid that can be helped. That's another kid that doesn't have to feel stupid or lazy or useless for struggling with something. That's another kid that can find something they love, that makes them feel alive. That's another kid that can be reached, that can be helped in some way, that can be made to see they're worth something. That there's something there for them, a place in the world that's theirs. Another kid who can go on to change the future.

I had a great education but there were times I felt stupid. There were times I felt useless. And there have been times when my thoughts pull me down inside, pull me down so that I feel like curling up in a little ball and hiding away from the world, at the risk of sounding like I'm dripping with teenage angst. But it was writing and acting and music that pulled me up again a lot of the time, too. Even just picking up a pen and scrawling out some words can make me feel as if my thoughts are being put back together, pulled up and onto new paths to different destinations. I can disappear into the cracks of my own world and make myself even more visible in this one.

And if this post even reaches one person and helps pull them up-gives them something to grab onto, something that puts their own thoughts back together-if this post reaches even one kid and gives them something they love, something that makes them feel like they're worth something-then it's done it's job.

Please support Lily Sarah Grace. Support it for all the kids who are going to be building the future.

Lily Sarah Grace

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Whole Outside, Inside Thing

I always smiled at the parties when I was a kid. I could spin around in my own world, my own stories spilling out of my mouth in silent streams, and have countless hands pat my head, ruffle the hair of the little girl who could lose herself in her own world. And I stood and watched them, and I was watching from the outside, even when they hugged me tight, I was watching from the other side of the invisible barrier no one else could see, even as I smiled and didn't know why I felt like crying.

Everyone else is lost in a party of words, their sentences jostling to meet each other. And my own slide in amongst them, little laughs in full stops, in the commas that fall from my mouth, and they laugh and tug me into their conversations, while inside my head my voice is thin, and a whisper that begs to be heard.

On the outside, I'm dancing and inside I'm falling.

I talk about the things that are happening for me; about the fact I'm getting a piece of writing published and Christmas is coming and fairy lights are glittering either side of the pathway I walk. And I think about the fact my eyes are empty when I want them to be full.

On the outside, I'm talking and on the inside, I wish I could be.

One second, the world is opened in front of me and it seems as though each next moment will be laughter, will be words that taste sweet in my mouth, will drape me in everything I want. The next, everything is closing inside my head, and I am curling up in the darkest corner of my skull, huddled away from the rest of the world, even though on the outside I'm laughing as if I will never have to think again.

On the outside, I've got everything, and on the inside, everything's got me.

On the outside, I've got music playing and there's nothing to trip me up in the next verse, and on the inside, the music is clashing out of rhythm inside my skull, and my fists are crashing against my ribcage, screaming for something I want that I don't even know.

When I was a kid, I used to hear about how people thought the world was flat, that Christopher Columbus had been told he would sail off the edge, go spinning off into space, and how he rounded the world and found that there was more of it than anyone had ever known. Me, I wait and dread for the opposite to happen.

On the outside, I'm laughing in the centre of every other word tossed through the air. On the inside, I'm waiting to step off the edge of the world.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The Whole Cool Character Thing: Noah and Jude Sweetwine







I literally cannot choose which character I love more from Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You The Sun, so I have to write about both.

Noah and Jude Sweetwine are twins, inseparable since they were born, but drifted apart at the age of thirteen, after a family tragedy. The past at age thirteen is told by Noah; the present, at age sixteen, is told by Jude. The two twins are, at thirteen, completely different; Noah, introverted, dark, obsessed with art, Jude, outgoing, blonde, and violently against going to CSA, the art school Noah is desperate to get into. Noah is close to their mother. Jude is close to their father.

At sixteen, Jude is obsessed with the supernatural and good-luck charms. Noah is into athletics, and is a popular guy. Jude goes to CSA. Noah doesn't.

Noah hasn't drawn in years. Everything Jude makes breaks.

And they each know the same mysterious model.

You really, really have to read I'll Give You The Sun. I'll go as far as to say it's my favourite I've read this year. And I've read seventy one this year.

It's the little things that make Noah and Jude leap off the page. Jude slips good-luck charms into people's bags. Noah pulls the moon out of the sky for his sister's birthday present.

And it's the way they deal with things that make them real.

Noah is gay and falling in love with the boy next door at thirteen. Brian and him go so well together, clash in a burst of light. They're fantastic together. Each has what the other needs. But they're both afraid, afraid of the repercussions if they're together. And at times, they can be cruel to each other because they're in love and they're thirteen and they're confused about the world.

Jude is hanging around with the boys that torment her brother and the girls she finds boring but when she's with them, she manages to forget all of that. She doesn't want to be that girl that her mother warns her about. At the same time, she does. Noah and Jude are young and vibrant and artistic and they make mistakes because they're young.

But their sibling bond is intense. They have snakes of jealousy, as Noah puts it, curled in their stomachs. But they're tied together. And in some ways, they desperately want to be apart.

I can't quite explain why Noah and Jude stick in my head so much. Perhaps it's because of how achingly real they both are-even in a novel imbued with magical realism, the sheer reality of the way Noah and Jude cope, the way at sixteen, they both try to be invisible. They try to be invisible because of the problems that being visible caused. And they capture that desperate push and pull you feel as a teenager, the desire to belong and the desire to stand out.

And even though they have to find their own identities-go from being NoahandJude to Noah and Jude-I have to write about them together. As far as favourite characters go, I wouldn't choose one over the other.

Friday, 31 October 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Stephen King

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Come on, it's Halloween, this guy's practically mandatory.
 
 To be fair, people have to be pretty much living under rocks not to have heard of Stephen King. (No offence to any rock-dwelling people, you guys are awesome.) But Stephen King is basically one of the Gods of Horror-Writing. If there was an official kingdom of Gods of Horror-Writing, he'd be the one with the trident and the big beard, who could call up storms of screaming children and whole pages of blood-scribbled madness mantras to drive you insane at will.
 
 I had heard of Stephen King for years but I didn't actually start reading him until last year. (In my defence, I originally got him mixed up with the guy who wrote the Da Vinci Code. OK, maybe it's not just the rock-dwellers.) But then I read Carrie.
 
It's weird that the book Stephen King himself has described as one of his least favourites is probably my favourite of his so far. Maybe it's because it's one of the ones that's more relatable to me because it's about teenage girls and that species label could currently, conceivably, in some ways describe me. But maybe it's because the writing in that book creepily conveys the politics of teenage girls so vividly despite the author himself never having been one. I found the scenes in the girls showers and the hysterical abuse from Carrie's mother far scarier than any of the hints of telekinesis and even than the climactic gym scene (which is still a punch in the chest and a mind-screw as to who is the villain, as if a hand has crept inside your chest and rearranged your ribs when you weren't looking.)
 
But anyway, my love for Carrie inspired me to seek out more about Stephen King. It was then that I realised I actually owned his novella The Body, after watching Stand By Me (watch it if you haven't, but don't blame me when you end up dead of dehydration or drowning, found in a puddle of your own tears) and have promptly put it on my To Be Read list. But Stephen King himself is actually pretty interesting.
 
Stephen King describes his "inner dowsing rod" reacting when he found an H. P. Lovecraft novel as a kid and knew that he'd found "home." That made me love the guy straight away. From then on, he reportedly knew he wanted to be a writer and he wanted to write horror stories.
 
The sheer amount of books Stephen King has written is actually pretty hard to believe. (Please don't ask me to count them.) He's had a four-decade long career. For someone who hasn't even been alive for two, it's pretty darn difficult to imagine. And these aren't just any books; he's written some of the most defining horror books, like The Shining, Misery, Carrie-and yes, The Shining might be more famous to some people as the Kubrick film, which is also a pretty good Halloween watch.
 
 
If this guy knocks on your door, hand over the candy without a fight.

 
But Stephen King also has the whole he-didn't-give-up thing going on. He and his family were in such debt before he sold Carrie that he actually disconnected the phone to save money. And then Carrie lifted them out of it overnight. But he's also spoken pretty publicly about his battles with alcoholism and drug addiction and his battle to become sober-not to mention, the effects it's had on his family. (In fact, his addictions have even been reflected in some of his novels.) He was then nearly killed (no, seriously) in 1999 when he was hit by a car when doing nothing more unusual than walking down a road. (For the guy who writes telekinetic schoolgirls, alive-with-ghosts hotels and thumb-cutting nurses, walking down a road would probably have been a surprisingly mundane way to go.) But he's kept on going through all of this, and is still writing books now (I need to read Doctor Sleep, because it's Danny from The Shining grown up and who wouldn't want to read that and he's an alcoholic and that hurts and hurts.)
 
(Interesting tidbit; Stephen King's daughter-in-law happens to be Kelly Braffet, another of my favourite authors-she's married to his son, author Owen King. She was a teenage fangirl of Stephen King's books, apparently, and her books are other things you should definitely read as soon as humanly possible.)
 
But the thing that makes Stephen King really cool to me, is the fact that the guy just sort of-does what he does. He doesn't really make a whole load of fanfare about it, he just writes these amazing books and doesn't even seem to realise how cool and different they actually are. And when I say "just writes", I mean, "just writes." He apparently often does his writing without even any idea of where the story will end-he just starts out with the "what-if" question and some characters and sees where it goes. To someone like me, who actually used to list out what films I needed to watch to properly enjoy summer-no, really-this sounds simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying, like the moment you really want to jump off a cliff, but also have every thought screaming that you'll die, though you know the moment you fall will be like flying.
 
So, this Halloween, read some Stephen King. Trust me, there's a lot to choose from. Just don't go blaming him for your nightmares. (Enough people do that already.)
 
Oh, and one other thing? He appeared as himself in a voice-over role in Stuck In Love. There are no words to describe how much I love Stuck In Love. He's that cool.




Monday, 27 October 2014

The Whole Playlist Thing: Eleanor and Park

                                                                          









                                                                          


                      The songs that remind me of Eleanor and Park lying awake, thinking about each other.
 
What Difference Does It Make? by the Smiths
I Think That We Are Gonna Be Friends by the White Stripes
Bus Stop by Paper Mache
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
Bad by U2
At Seventeen by Janis Ian
What You Wanted by One Republic
Disorder by Joy Division
She's Lost Control by Joy Division
You Could Be Happy by Snow Patrol
You Found Me by the Fray
Cut Here by the Cure
First Love Never Die by Soko
Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Joy Division
                          

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Whole Cool Song Thing: In Between Days by the Cure




Yesterday, I got so old I felt like I could die
Yesterday, I got so old it made me want to cry

Ironically, one of my earliest memories of being a kid is hearing those words about being old.

My mother loves the Cure-one of my first memories is of her holding me and dancing me round the kitchen to this song.(My mum loves the Cure. My dad loves the Smiths. I love both.)

But two of the earliest songs I heard as a kid, apart from the Beatles, were Boys Don't Cry and In Between Days.

In Between Days doesn't always seem to be the first song everyone comes up with when they think of the Cure, but for me, it's always one of the first I skip to when I'm listening to them. There's something longing in the chords, particularly in the chorus-just the way each sound is dragged out, it sounds like someone reaching for something they might never find. Or something they had but know that they can't get back, even when they keep reaching for it all the time.

I know that, looking at the lyrics, the song could be seen as a pretty straightforward love song-or "lost love" song, about driving someone away from you. But the lyrics that always stuck in my head were those first ones:

Yesterday, I got so old I felt like I could die
Yesterday, I got so old it made me want to cry

And then:

Yesterday, I got so scared I shivered like a child
Yesterday, away from you, it froze me deep inside

To me, maybe it's a love song. But it also seems like that first time you make a big mistake in your life-the first time you let someone get away from you or the first time you let your friendship disintegrate. Everyone says that making mistakes is part of growing up, part of getting older. And maybe there's a feeling to making those first mistakes, a feeling that there's no going back from this. It might be the moment I get older or grow up, but there's no going back to before I made those mistakes. And it's a strange feeling, even if it's a good thing. It's strange because maybe there's a part of me that still feels like a child and wants to run back and hide away when mistakes were still things like dropping an ice cream.

To me, the "without you" lines are some of the saddest in the song. While they're probably intended to refer to a love interest, to me, they kind of remind me of the parts of childhood that you lose as you grow up and make your mistakes and become a new version of yourself. You know you had to let go of them-things or memories or people-but you still want them back, still want to cling onto that old version of yourself even when you know it isn't real anymore. In Between Days always reminds me of that moment when I'm in the middle of some problem I'm trying to sort out and I'm getting a temporary breather or we've reached some sort of stalemate for the night and we're going to carry on arguing about it or trying to sort it out the next day and I've just got this time to reflect on the whole thing. And I realise that this is my first big fight or problem or choice and that this is growing up and I can't go back to how it was before. And somehow, even as I feel terrified and unsure and shaky like a little child taking their first steps, it makes me feel older than I've ever felt before.

 And in some ways, that's what this song feels about to me. That moment when you feel like you've already crossed this line into being the next version of you you're going to be and that you can't go back. But in another, you're still caught in between. You're caught between the past and the future, what you want and how you're going to get there, the people you needed and the people you'll need, the person you used to be and the person you're becoming. And maybe you know that you needed to lose some of those things from your past and this might be the best thing in the world for you-but another part of you is clinging on to what's already gone. Because you don't know who this next version of you is going to be without them. And you're scared of what you might find out.

Maybe you're about to become a future version of you. But right now, you're caught in between who you were and you're going to be.

And I know I was wrong
When I said it was true
That it couldn't be me
And be her in between
Without you
Without you




             

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Whole I Met Cassandra Clare and Holly Black Thing

My immediate inclination when posting something like this is just to post that image from Avatar: The Last Airbender of people cheering hysterically but I'll try and describe it more articulately.

OH MY GOD I MET CASSANDRA CLARE AND HOLLY BLACK OH MY GOD AND IT WAS AMAZING

OK, not that articulately.

I love Cassandra Clare's books (for those who don't know, she's the author of the Shadowhunter Chronicles and now the joint author of the Magisterium series with Holly Black) and I read Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles as a kid. (I got them for my eighth birthday and after I read the first one, I had to go and curl up at the end of my parents' bed because they were that creepy and cool). Now, I'm making my way through her Modern Faerie Tales series but I can't wait to read her Curse Workers books-they're set in a MAGIC-WORKER MOBSTER WORLD, Y'ALL. Seriously, could that sound cooler?

And then the other night I went to Cassandra Clare and Holly Black's book talk and signing. This was an experience of such incredible incredibleness that I can't even sum up every inch of it.

But, here's some of the highlights:

Cassie had pink hair and Holly had blue hair. That was just awesome (I HAD BLUE HAIR LAST SUMMER TOO OH MY GOD)

Cassie mentioned Magnus Bane as one of her favourite characters to write. Magnus Bane, for those who don't know, is a sparkly blue-haired warlock who throws parties for his cat's birthday. I don't think I need to say more.

Cassie mentioned that Magnus would be in her next series, the Dark Artifices. THANK THE GODS OF LITERATURE HERE.

When Holly Black was a little girl, her mother used to tell her that the house was haunted. But seriously, how cool is that?

They also answered that their favourite ice creams are salted caramel and cinnamon. I think people underestimate the crucial importance of ice cream flavours.

And then they signed my books and Holly liked my Zombie Killing shirt. And there was talk about

SPOILERS

the Malec breakup and reunion because that was seriously one of the hardest breakups in any book and when I read City of Heavenly Fire, I actually screamed when I found out they got back together. Because they're just beautiful.

So-that was meeting Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. And getting a copy of their new book, Magisterium: The Iron Trial, which is, I swear, one of the best covers ever.

Take a look.
                                                                               
                                                                            
 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Whole Cool Character Thing: Rory Deveaux










Have I mentioned how much I love Maureen Johnson? No, because I apparently neglect the important things in life. (I also have not mentioned my love of the Gaslight Anthem so I need to prioritize more often.)

But yeah, I love Maureen Johnson's books. I love them for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that she produces characters that are amazing. And not in the fantastical, he-is-unrealistically-gorgeous amazing, I mean characters that are just interesting and different and cool, and people you'd like to know.

And one of them is Rory Deveaux.

Rory Deveaux is the protagonist of the Shades of London series, a seventeen-year-old girl who moves from Louisiana to London and starts attending boarding school right as Rippermania strikes London, and a spate of grisly murders break out. And then she-SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS-

Finds out she can see ghosts and that she can help to get rid of them and she finds this amazing organization called the Shades of London that is made up of people like her and there's this guy Stephen who is not the typical YA hero, but he's great and I love him, and I am literally summing up the whole series here and OK, onto Rory.

Originally, I actually put off reading the Shades of London series, because I was worried it would be yet another paranormal-fantasy series. (I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THE GREATNESS OF MAUREEN JOHNSON YET, OK?) And then, I picked the first book up and read it and literally fell in love because of a lot of things, but one of the chief being Rory herself.

Rory is not your typical heroine. She is uprooted from the life she knows well, and finds herself in a British boarding school, knowing not much about British culture and not much about the schoolwork she'll be expected to do. She handles it. She doesn't whine. She just gets on with it and is snarky and cool and smart along with it.

And she has pretty much the same approach when she finds out she can see ghosts.

I don't know every person in the world who's ever seen a ghost, but I can take a bet that pretty much most of them haven't reacted calmly-and to be fair, Rory's a bit freaked out at first. (I think most people are when it's suddenly revealed that the undead are real and they can converse with them. It's like the reverse of your favourite band suddenly tweeting you, it's something you thought would never happen.)

But Rory handles it. And you know what? Rory's gutsy and brave and all that-but she does it WITHOUT having any special abilities. Or at least, none that the other Shades don't have.

SPOILERS

(OK, at least until The Madness Underneath when she's a human terminus but even then it's handled well and she's not just a special snowflake.)

But, that's a key thing. She kind of reminds me of Katniss Everdeen in that respect. She's awesome and gutsy and memorable-but not because she has a load of special powers, and she's the child of Jesus or something. She's just memorable because she's herself because of her own qualities and it's so cool and refreshing and she's awesome.

Oh, and how she handles the whole romance thing? It's not even her main focus. She has a boyfriend for a while, and then she breaks up with him. And I actually love that because it's one of those books that shows that you don't HAVE to be in love at seventeen. You can just like someone a lot. And then you can break up with them and it doesn't mean that it wasn't a special experience but it doesn't have to be THAT MAGICAL FIRST LOVE THAT DEFINES YOUR WHOLE LIFE. Or something.

And then she and SPOILERS Stephen kind of get together and she cares about him, but she doesn't immediately start thinking she's in LOVE with him. She knows she cares for him, likes him-but it's not immediately catapulted into THIS IS THE ONE I WANT TO SPEND MY LIFE WITH. It's just what it is, and at seventeen, that's perfectly fine.

But I love Rory. (One other thing is that she's pretty non-judgemental, which is also awesome, though it might be because from the backstory we've heard so far, she comes from a family that would rival the Tenembaums in weirdness.) She's cool and funny and witty and she holds her own, which I imagine would be pretty difficult when you're fighting ghosts all of a sudden in a country you've never been in before. And where it rains a lot.

I actually met Maureen Johnson and I hadn't read the Shades of London at that stage (I'd read Key to the Golden Firebird which I went on about because it's awesome and you should completely read that too.) I wish I had but then I'd probably have started screaming about how much I love Rory and how I can't wait for the next book-2015 WHAT-and I don't know, probably tried to marry the book or something. So maybe it's a good thing.

But yeah, Rory Deveaux is awesomely cool. And she doesn't even need her special powers to prove it.

(Though they're probably helpful in fighting ghosts.)


                                                                              
I also always picture Rory Deveaux being played by Kat Dennings, for some reason.
                                                             

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Brian Epstein











If anyone deserved to smile more often, it was this guy.



Everyone's heard of the Beatles but less people seem to have heard of Brian Epstein. Ironically, without Brian Epstein, there would be no Beatles.

Brian Epstein is the guy who discovered the Beatles, who shaped their style, and along with George Martin, basically one of the people who made them famous, to the extent that they referred to him as "the Fifth Beatle." He also is the person who discovered Cilla Black.

But the thing about Brian Epstein (I don't know why I keep misspelling his name as Brain. That's the last thing the poor guy needs, to have his name misspelt on top of everything else) is that he had a really hard life. He suffered from depression and was heavily reliant on medications such as sleeping pills which would later prove to be, to put it mildly, a very, very bad idea.

But the chief issue in Brian Epstein's life was that he was gay at a time when homosexuality was prohibited and he lived his professional and personal life in fear of being publicly outed and also battling with self-loathing, and low self-esteem. It was a crime to be gay back then, and it meant a life of hiding and often a life of being alone. It didn't help that John Lennon-who's still my favourite Beatle-apparently frequently made fun of the issue, to remind you that no matter how talented somebody is, they're still just as capable of being an idiot as anybody else.
 Even if you love them as much as I love John Lennon.

We won't talk about this guy right here.


But the thing is, without Brian Epstein, the Beatles would never have got the widespread acclaim they did. It was Epstein's management that led to them donning what would become their signature suits and ties during their early performances on stage. It was Epstein that snagged the meeting with George Martin that led to him agreeing to sign the Beatles. It was Epstein that negotiated their contracts, that looked after their details, and also, apparently, was godfather to John Lennon's son, Julian.

In short, Brian Epstein was pretty indispensable. Which makes it even sadder that the poor guy had such huge issues with self-hatred and depression. He was apparently-as well as being an indispensable manager-a really, genuinely sweet person who always went the extra mile to help people out, even when they showed him absolutely no gratitude for it. Which apparently also happened a few times. (With some of the treatment he was shown, I think Brian showed a lot more patience than me. If anyone had spoken to me the way Lennon did to Epstein, I think I'd have thrown him out on his ear. And his guitar after him.) But Brian was apparently one of those people who was pretty much unfailingly polite and generous and hardworking-which would sadly be something else that would prove pretty much fatal, as overwork was one of the chief things that led him to rely on the sleeping pills so much.

Brian Epstein died at the age of only thirty-two, after an overdose of his sleeping medication. It was never determined whether or not it was accidental, though he apparently died from a build-up of the medication in his system over time, which would imply that he had simply been over-using the pills to cope with stress. His death had a huge impact on the Beatles and was in fact, one of the factors that led to them eventually splitting up.

Brian Epstein's getting more attention these days than he has for a while. The increased focus on his tumultuous personal life recently has led to him becoming more of a person of interest in his own right rather than just as the manager of the Beatles and Cilla Black. But Brian probably would have wanted to be remembered as their manager-his acts were what he believed in and what he devoted his life to. It's sad to remember how young he was when he died and wonder what might have happened if he had lived longer, what else he might have done, what else he might have discovered.

So, next time you hear one of the Beatles' early songs-Please, Please Me, She Loves You, Love Me Do-just remember; if Brian Epstein hadn't heard it first, you might never have done.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Whole Playlist Thing: Sirius Black

 
 
What songs remind me of my first crush/Harry's godfather extraordinaire/first character to totally break my heart?
 
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
Give Me Strength by Snow Patrol
When You Were Young by the Killers
Two of Us by the Beatles
Blindsided by Bon Iver
Conspiracy by Paramore
Don't Call It A Come Back by Motion City Soundtrack
This Place Is A Prison by the Postal Service
Speaking With A Ghost by Citizen
Someday You Will Be Loved by Death Cab for Cutie
Echo by Jason Walker
Bridge To The Other Side by Oliver Boyd and the Remembralls