A Change in Point-of-View

Music: Judie Tzuke–Blackfurs

Big news: I’ve finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin!

I’ve learnt so much about Cephalonia, the fiasco of World War Two, and the passage of post-war civilisation. Gated, backward, quirky island culture was portrayed to a T (I should know). The humour was exactly my jam—from the first scene, during which Dr Iannis extracts a fossilised pea from his deaf patient’s ear. The characters were ridiculed without being trivialised, and the prose provoked thought without choking me on philosophy. I loved the recurring gags, such as the doctor’s system of peeing on his herbs in strict rotation.

Louis de Bernières is a master of bathos.

The eponymous character didn’t appear until over a third of the way through—an interesting decision, considering that the blurb gave me the impression of a love triangle. Yet I think it’s a strength of this book, and of many great works of literature. Note that Jane Austen limits even her ficklest characters to one love interest at a time (open to argument). Fact is, Pelagia is one of the greatest women I’ve ever read—she’s strong, honest, clever and unrelenting, admits temptation, admits regret, admits her morality is mostly circumstantial. Oh, yes, de Bernières pays great attention to the circumstantial! He’s not above beginning a chapter with ‘Dr Iannis was in a terrible mood for no reason other than the fact that it was a very hot day’ (or WTTE). It really is true to life.

Dayum, though. It gets dark. So much for a bittersweet, much-belated note of hope at the end: you only have to Google Cephalonia’s history to find out what the climax is plummeting towards.

Really what I want to discuss, though, is narrative perspective.

I often hear writers talking about which POV to use—first person, third, even second, tense. It can be hard to choose. I understand.

So, De Bernières was writing a massive ass hist fic. His solution to the which-perspective problem? ALL OF THEM. Chapter one is close third person on an unqualified, free-thinking Greek doctor. Chapter two is the first person monologue of Benito Mussolini!

There are chapters of letters showing the passage of time, chapters formatted like a dramatic duologue showing the progression of a relationship; it goes on. In the first half of the contents, seven chapters are entitled ‘L’Homosesuale’. It later becomes clear that these chapters are the sections of an Italian soldier’s ‘confession’ of his role in the war. This makes them easy to group and read in order later on, and see how his path crosses with the islanders.

I loved the thought and craft that went into it all—effortlessly, de Bernières sped up his pacing with a constantly surprising POV, incorporating aspects that broadened the story to far more than a mere romance or a tragic war crime. When you’re reading the POV of a goatherd mistaking bombs for fireworks, and an English parachuter for an angel, you know you’re in deft hands!

Now I talk about POV and me (because I’m self-centred like that). Ever since I started writing, it’s been in third person. I call it my ‘natural voice’; that’s where I feel comfortable. For that reason, I may have entertained a snobbish attitude at some point in my past, and for that I now apologise. I’m only just learning what a tool it can be to employ the right perspective. No POV is more valid, more correct or more effective than any other. It’s simply than different systems work for different books, and must be chosen accordingly.

I can’t believe how long it took me to recognise that! My WIP is in first person. It just is. One of my MCs has no physical presence (hard to explain, but it boils down to the word ‘ghost’). As a third person realistic contemporary writer, I’m soooo out my comfort zone it’s not even funny. But I got this. His first person POV feels so right.

Anyway, enough of me.

Check out this post by JA Goodsell, another #PitchWars hopeful, in which she discusses the merits of both first and third person and why it’s so important to think about your choice. 

Speaking of Pitch Wars, I’m so grateful to Brenda Drake and the team for putting together this enormous contest.❤

I was lucky enough to snag some CPs via #FicFest a few months ago, with whose help I prepared my book for the contest. In submission week I met the Teen Squad (the other underage entrants (oops, that sounded as if PW has an age limit…)), and I’ve read two of their books so far. So. Much. Talent. I just want to squee about how wonderful and supportive this group is, how great it is to spar with GIFs, suss out our male characters’ underwear preferences, blaspheme against dentist appointments. These are real teens with teen worries and teen joys and a seriously good handle of real teen dialogue.

Rant over. It’s cool. I hope I’ll stay in touch with everyone I’ve swapped MSs with over the past three months, because what with my critique group and the #teensquad, I’ve finally found my people.

But hey, always room for more. Do comment your thoughts on de Bernières and/or narrative POV!

Gilmore Girls: The ‘Multi-Faceted Abnormal’

I have this perfect routine with one of my friends. She comes over and cooks lunch, we go in the Jacuzzi and aerobic-dance to ‘Sex On Fire’, then we settle in front of Gilmore Girls with popcorn and carrot sticks. Those days don’t come often now I’m at uni, but they’re a right treat.


Yesterday, after our latest sesh, I ordered GG Series 2 to celebrate. Hitherto my mate has always brought the discs round, but after a think about why I love this show so much, I’ve decided I need my own copies. I mean, it finished in 2007 and people are STILL TALKING ABOUT IT!—surely it’s got to be worth it.

In short, this post is an excuse for a fangirl splurge. With GIFs.


If you haven’t seen GG, here’s a basic description:

Sixteen years ago, Lorelai Gilmore ran away from her privileged/’suffocating’ home with her infant daughter, Rory. Now aged thirty-two, Lorelai is struggling to pay Rory’s fees to a better school. With no other option, she accepts her parents’ financial help in return for Friday night family dinners. The show explores how best friends Lorelai and Rory juggle the small town where they live, the posh new school in the city, and old wounds reopened when Emily Gilmore, Lorelai’s mum, comes back into their lives.


Unlike so many sitcoms where small problems are blown out of proportion, GG deals with them in this beautifully rich, sensitive and light-hearted way. Everything is delighting and believable and delightfully fresh. The Sherman-Palladinos are fabulous screenwriters.


One of the most mentioned things is the dialogue pace. Most TV show scripts are sixty pages, one page per minute. A GG script, for a forty-minute show, is eighty pages long. They speak twice as fast!


I can’t say I catch all the jokes—or even many of them. On a good episode I’d snag maybe 80% of the jokes and wordplay and 25% of the pop culture references. But I’m glad to say that every time I rewatch an episode I pick new things up. But there’s something for every smarty pants: the GG Online Reading List is comprised of a 339 titles—and those are just the ones Rory is spotted reading onscreen.


GG is, fundamentally, a family story between grandmother, mother and daughter. Its intergenerational accessibility must, I feel, be a key factor in its popularity. At any rate, I’m confident I’ll never outgrow it. The characters are intelligent, quirky and lovable, and played by a fabulous cast—it can’t be just me who finds it hard to take my eyes off the screen for fear of missing one of Lorelai’s facial expressions or Rory’s hand gestures.

Me, I’m a sucker for family stories. The key relationship in most of my books (both reading favourites and writing) is a parent-child one. Perhaps that’s a product of my age—though making my own decisions much of the time, I’m still dependent on my parents for ways and means. I don’t resent that, but it affects me.

Series 1 Episode 6: ‘Rory’s Birthday Parties’. Isn’t this cute.

LORELAI: And it’s so hard to believe that at exactly this time many moons ago, I was lying in exactly the same position —

RORY: Oh, boy. Here we go.

LORELAI: Only I had a huge, fat stomach and big fat ankles and I was swearing like a sailor —

RORY: On leave.

LORELAI: On leave — right! And there I was —

RORY: In labor.

LORELAI: And while some have called it the most meaningful experience of your life, to me it was something more akin to doing the splits on a crate of dynamite.

RORY: I wonder if the Waltons ever did this.

LORELAI: And I was screaming and swearing and being surrounded as I was by a hundred prominent doctors, I just assumed there was an actual use for the cup of ice chips they gave me.

RORY: There wasn’t.

LORELAI: But pelting the nurses sure was fun.

RORY: I love you, Mom.

LORELAI: Shh. I’m getting to the part where he sees your head. So there I was…


You can’t talk about Gilmore Girls without acknowledging it as an encyclopaedia of strong female characters. Rory: academic intelligence and common sense. Lorelai: quick-witted, competent as the manager of a local business, not to mention building a life for her sixteen-year-old self from the ground. Emily: assertive, manipulative, party-throwing goddess and maybe even smarter than her offspring. Just like Maggie’s Smith Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, Emily gets some of the best lines.


I love that Rory chooses the job rather than the guy at the end. As for Lorelai, she still wants her happily ever after with the perfect guy. But she’s not prepared to settle for less than the best. Go Lorelai!


Rory introduces herself in the pilot as ‘Lorelai Gilmore’:

“It’s my mother’s name too. She named me after herself. She was lying in the hospital thinking about how men name boys after themselves all the time, you know, so why couldn’t women. She says her feminism just kind of took over. Though personally I think a lot of Demerol also went into that decision.”



I always hesitate to describe Lorelai as a ‘single mother’, simply because the whole town of Stars Hollow is equally as protective and caring over Rory and her Harvard dream. The producers nail the small town feel, the idiosyncratic characters, but most importantly their diverse roots. It’s not hard to find someone to relate to.



What really steals the show is its heartwarming attitude towards humanity. The Gilmore girls might poke fun at everyone they come across (as well as themselves, their questionable clothes, coffee addiction and eating habits), but their deep compassion is so beautifully affecting. Everyone has redeeming features, scenes where they show another side. There are so many dimensions to every face in the Gilmore world, there could easily be a spin-off for every character you see.


Dean, Jess or Logan?

Ugh, hard one. Dean is lovely at the start, but he gets gradually more childish. Jess begins as the misunderstood bad boy, and I felt mostly for Dean during that break-up. Logan was a bit slimy and entitled, though he had his moments. Still, all in all, I’m with Jess. By the end of the show he’d sorted out his life. Shame Dean and Logan had messed with Rory so much she didn’t want to begin anything. I have high hopes for the new series…


Favourite character? Don’t make me…

  • I love the Town Troubadour—he only makes, like, one episode into the script, but he’s always there with a coincidentally sympathetic tune. (Did I mention Carole King’s amazing soundtrack? It’s amazing. I feel fuzzy inside just humming along.)


  • I love Lane—I get her obscure rock music references more often than the film ones. Her conflicts with her mum are so very real, but a perfect foil to Lorelai and Rory.


  • I love Michel—“I will be French, but I will not be happy”; Lorelai: “then you’ll be yourself”


But Luke really takes the biscuit. I never tire of the banter between him and Lorelai. Favourite TV kiss ever—even just because they waited FOUR SEASONS for it. That must be the slowest burning perfect TV romance of all time. They WILL marry and have twins. Please. (Even though she’s like forty by Season 7.) There’s still time…



I am soooo excited. I think it might be worth finally using my free one-month Netflix trial to watch it. (I’ve been waiting years for the perfect opportunity.) High hopes much.


Cybersphere, geek out with me. Why do you love GG? (If you don’t, go watch it.) Who’s your favourite character?

#PitchWars #PimpMyBio

A bio is like the tutu you wore for a dance festival when you were eight. No? Even when you can’t help yourself and try it on and it rips down the front and you cry because you can’t pass it on to your children? Oh, well. Just me, then.



  • I’m Lillian, fractionally British, devastated about Brexit but decidedly savvier about politics than I was a few months ago.
  • I live on an island (it’s a speck on the map, don’t make me point it out).
  • My boyfriend lives in France, my brother is joining a monastery, and my cat dribbles when she purrs.
  • I love prog rock, brass instruments, card games and garish clothing.
  • I work in a B&B, loading dishwashers, setting tables, changing beds and cleaning toilets, and as a band librarian, which involves photocopying, filing and transporting music for thirty musicians.
  • I write YA Contemp. My age falls in the YA category. My age doesn’t matter.

I study maths.

Yes, you may ask what on earth I’m doing entering #PitchWars. No, you may not assume my answer is anything other than my love of writing.*


These are a few of my favourite things (hush, don’t tell the others):


Authors: Eva Ibbotsen, Francoise Sagan, Francis Hardinge, Ursula Le Guin, Wilkie Collins

Bands: King Crimson, Them Crooked Vultures, Santana, Dan Ar Braz, Kayak, Focus, The Grateful Dead, Dvorak, Shostakovich, Mussorgsky

TV Shows: Gilmore Girls, The IT Crowd, Fawlty Towers, Larkrise to Candleford, Red Dwarf

Films: Following, Star Wars, Inglorious Basterds, Lincoln, Anne of Green Gables



(the bulleted list)

  • F/F romance / exploration of female friendship
  • teenage pro athlete
  • unrequited crush on best friend’s brother
  • dual third person POV
  • GG-like mother-daughter relationship (I probably flatter myself with the comparison, but the mum is still my favourite character)
  • island setting
  • complicated sister-brother relationship
  • includes integrated letters, verses, and extracts from MC’s reading
  • virgin hero
  • black Portuguese MC (a key immigrant demographic for the setting)
  • no direct antagonists (because life)

(the explanation)

I decided long ago to write something about a pro teen athlete coping with family poverty and suck-up friends. I grew up with Heather Watson living two doors down from my grandparents, and, a tennis player myself, I went from there (age 12). The book I have now is a complete rewrite of the original, incorporating my subsequent experience as an awkward teenager stinting her own social skills to deal with an unwanted crush. No regrets.

It’s the fourth book I wouldn’t rather die than let the world see, the third that has a proper plot, the second that has a decent wordcount, and the first that I think has the slightest chance of going anywhere.


Someone described it as a love triangle the other day and I was terribly embarrassed.

It’s about two girls navigating the boundaries of their friendship, mkay. Think a lesbian twist on Dawn O’Porter’s PAPER AEROPLANES, complete with island setting, racially diverse MCs and progressively dark implications (you know, drugs, sex, arson, all that jazz).

Love triangle, indeed!


Pick me because I’m the kinda girl who organises her personal wardrobe in a spreadsheet. And pretends she doesn’t still play with Playmobil. And eats frozen fruit like a goring monster. And if you’re my mentor you get free idyllic beach pictures every day.


*Don’t assume I love writing, either. I don’t. I kinda hate the writing part. Editing is way more fun. Word.

Do comment! I’d love to meet other contestants!

Jerusalem: Hymn of England

Today I played at Beamish Museum in a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the hymn ‘Jerusalem’. Beyond doubt, it’s worth a blog post. (Side-note: I can’t seem to keep a consistent tone in my writing today. I hope it isn’t horribly noticeable.)


I’ll begin with its history. Set the scene: 1916. For two long years, war had decimated the youth of Europe. Ypres. Verdun. Loos. Arras.


On Thursday I spent half an hour at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The number of graves–and the number of those unmarked–…

Poet Laureate Robert Bridges had recently edited an anthology of patriotic verse, and rediscovered in it the sixteen lines which serve as a preface to William Blake’s epic poem ‘Milton’. Though passing unnoticed at publication in 1808 and throughout that century, these lines Bridges now gave to the composer Sir Hubert Parry, requesting that he set them to music.

The tune was written, arranged, printed, sung at a campaign meeting by various choral societies of London. The women’s suffrage movement took it up, as did public schools such as Elizabeth College in Guernsey—they speak of it with more ardour than most teenage boys display towards anything (with the possible exception of FIFA). The famous composer Edward Elgar wrote his own orchestration, and so its popularity soared, and became a symbol of English morale.


The Western Front 1916

In 1918, the war ended—and Parry passed away. Since then, Jerusalem has been used by all the major political parties, adopted as the anthem of the Women’s Institute, rugby teams, the hymn book, and the Proms.


I’ve found so many articles about Jerusalem that are focussed almost entirely on Sir Hubert Parry. In the first place, it seems counterproductive to esteem a composer for a single work. I, for one, know none of his earlier music, but since he died two years after Jerusalem became the Georgian equivalent of a number one hit, it rather eclipses the entirety of his previous career. In the second instance, I find it far more interesting to discuss the words of Jerusalem, chiefly because they’re steeped in controversy.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.

The most common interpretation is a religious one. Firstly, it’s important to understand that Jerusalem is a standard metaphor for Heaven in Church of England jargon. This is explored in the two verses: the first Jerusalem, and the second Jerusalem.

The four questions in the first verse are a speculation drawing upon an apocryphal story, in which Jesus visits England during his early years. It follows that if this visit happened, Jesus would have ‘brought’ Heaven to England, representing the first Jerusalem.

Progressing to the second verse, it’s easy to derive parallels from the Book of Revelation. Revelation tells of the glorious second coming of Jesus, just as Blake writes of a new Jerusalem taking root in England.


Angel of the Revelation: Blake was also one of the leading visual artists of the Romantic era.

But was it so idealistic as it sounds? ‘Dark satanic mills’ is often attributed to the Industrial Revolution sweeping England inside out—but, more deeply than that, Blake is attacking the bondage of institutions, organised religion, education, and the corruption inherent in Victorian society.

Does that negate any religious intent? Blake was committed to social change, and he held staunch revolutionary views for which he was at one point charged with treason. But though intensely religious, the real irony lies in the usage of his words, rather than their interpreted meaning: originally defaming the ‘institutions of repression’, his poem has become a symbol of national solidarity and patriotism. It appeals somewhat to the English humour.


Nevertheless, I believe something of Blake’s original intention is yet preserved. The bourgeois generals sending thousands of men to their death in the Great War are analogous to the social shackles of Blake’s Victorian England. Today, the bonds of capitalism and social class loom still on the minds of the English people.

When I watch the crowds of tourists filtering through Beamish Museum stop by the bandstand and pour their voices into the hymn, knowing the words as if writ on their hearts, singing of the Lamb of God though many may be atheists, and ‘England’s pleasant pastures’ though they won’t admit their patriotism even to themselves, I can’t help but think that this song has touched them. Its stirring words, its iconic tune: no wonder they’re trying to make it our national anthem. ‘God Save the Queen’, as MP Toby Perkins argued earlier this year, is the anthem of Britain, but as of now, the country of England has none to officially call our own. None but this one.


If you want to read more about Blake and Jerusalem, here’s a great article.



WARNING: this post contains many lists of three

Brain Salad Surgery–ELP


My first year of study is complete. The past eight months of seemingly impossible proofs, all-nighters writing essays, and days rereading articles (1) about anorexia and heart damage and crying are over. Now I have a whole month without commitments (excluding partying, rehearsals and concerts (2)).

  • So what have I achieved?

Looking back over my notes, I’m struck by how much I’ve learnt. Not piddly school maths, numbers and elementary operations, guided by mark schemes. A year ago this maths would’ve looked like hieroglyphics to my green institutionalised self. Since all year I’ve been feeling a bit useless, a bit narrowly focussed and definitely underachieving (3) in areas I used to have more time for, it’s good to realise that I haven’t wasted my time. I’ve simply channelled it into my degree (well, not as much as I could’ve done).

Other than that, I’ve written a new book, contrived a First on an essay about phonosemantics in my one non-maths module, and got very involved (4) in my jazz band and brass band. I’m the new brass band librarian, and the executive team has huge plans for the band’s fifteenth birthday next year.

  • What are my plans?

Since Friday, I’ve read A LOT, practised my French, played cards, gone swing dancing, marched at Durham Pride, and cooked eggy bread. This summer I have a critique group, a menial part-time job and hopefully some time (5) with my people. I have a new book idea, which I want plotted by July, ready to draft in September at the latest. I have a roadtrip planned for August, so my wages will be going on petrol and a tent.

Perhaps there’ll be a studious post sometime soon. Perhaps not. I think I may revel in this luxurious freedom a while longer, and then do a long post about all the books I’ve read.

Thanks for bearing with me. Happy summer, everyone!

Final count: (5) powers of three


Believe it or not, I have a deep-rooted, close-on-psychotic phobia of cheese. Here’s a once-in-a-lifetime picture of me EATING CHEESE.

Bread and Bathrooms: April Travels

April is nearly over. I hesitate to say I’ve been on holiday, because my revision books followed me like the time you broke your leg and the new puppy just wouldn’t take ‘no walkies’ for an answer. Okay, it was nothing like that.

My journey with a far-too-big suitcase and my boyfriend’s new saxophone passed smoothly. The sax didn’t talk much over lunch, and didn’t pay the bill either (my boyfriend is a musician, but I live in hope), but we bonded over a zealous security search at the airport. Two planes, a bus and a tram later, Simona the Sax and I arrived in Bordeaux.


Simona the Sax

To put this in context, my BF lives in the South of France, about seven hundred kilometres from my uni on the Scottish border. I could talk about LDRs, being eighteen and not seeing your BF for four months at a time, but I’d rather talk about France. Because Bordeaux was beautiful.




I always start here… French toilets haven’t impressed me in the past. Something about squatting over a hole waiting for your own filth to spray your legs seems a tad misogynistic to me. (Its hygiene is contested.) But in Bordeaux, every hundred yards along the river, ‘TOILETTE‘ flashes green from a big panelled box. You step in and a lovely lady explains in both French and English that the door will automatically unlock after fifteen minutes. Then the lift music (or ‘waiting music’, as the French call it) starts up. How nice! Did I mention these toilets are free?

Bordeaux has spent a fortune making the town a pleasant place to be. The river is flanked on the town side by a strip of pedestrian land, including gardens, kiosks, a beautiful fountained plateau called Miroir d’Eau, and an outdoor sports complex with free courts for tennis, football, basketball, racquetball, rollerblading, a massive skatepark and beach volleyball. Never seen a bigger (or cleaner) sandpit. The city is massively cycle-friendly, and cars are often banned from the centre of town.


Miroir d’Eau



Lots of churches. Big ones. Very nice. Just accept that I enjoyed the churches because I’ve seen so many in the past two weeks I’m really regretting not taking any photos.

I loved all the squares, equally with the narrow streets, all beautifully paved—no, tiled. British streets are stone cobbles or concrete slabs. In France the streets are tiled with diamonds. Even the architecture was beautiful. Instead of red brick all the buildings were warm beige and sedimentary, with big windows and four or five floors. But open. It didn’t feel a closed city to me. I’m the first to admit I’m not a city girl. But this city wasn’t claustrophobic. I felt more at home there than I’ve ever felt in any city.


When you spend a whole term’s budget on travel costs to see your SO (and it costs the same just to get home for the holidays), fancy meals are off the menu. But oh, gosh, the bread(s). We more or less lived off bread. And such bread… The mark of the best bread, for me, is when the crust is the best part. The way it breaks in your mouth, the flavour that ekes out with every chew, and how the texture blends with the mie: that is the soul of the bread.

Other than bread, we got our vegetables at the market, window-ate our way through a metric ton of pastries, and waxed extravagant with a tin of chestnuts to make our favourite soup.



Kiwi Christmas Pavlova

There’s a huge student population in Bordeaux, many of them international. We got into a big museum free with my boyfriend’s Erasmus friends, who were German but quite happy switching to English for my sake. The rest of the week we walked the river, enjoyed the sun and went to random soirées with smoking non-English-speaking French musicians.

One afternoon we met up with a New Zealand girl my boyfriend also met through Erasmus. A bunch of transactions led to her spending Christmas at my house in Guernsey, so I knew her, too. Fortunately she wasn’t that constant thirdwheeler totally interrupting our chemistry. We made kiwi pavlova, took her to midnight Mass and talked brass bands and she brought presents for my entire family. It was great to see her again. She’d joined a French drama club, and had to learn her lines for a sketch in which she was breaking up with her boyfriend. She was acting the whole thing as if it were a clown show, and didn’t understand a word. “Now I know why they laughed,” she said once we explained. But I can just see it: the foreign girl with the twangy French accent telling her boyfriend that ‘l’amour, ca ne suffit pas!’ They must’ve doubled up laughing.



We both left Bordeaux this time. Tram, bus, two more planes, another bus, and we found ourselves in Pisa. With my family we drove from Pisa to a villa in the stunning Chianti countryside, where we spent a week visiting Florence, Siena and the local sites. None of us had been to Italy before, but I have a family of language nerds and my boyfriend’s Italian beat them all.


Yes, I’m using the same headings. Yes, as a tourist I always compare toilets. Consult Freud if you must.

One of the nearby towns was San Gimignano, famous for its towers each some two-hundred steps high and just a few metres across. Coming from Guernsey, I’m no stranger to defence towers with walls several feet thick. These were narrow, square and very tall, like breadstick boxes, built as an expression of power but later a near-impregnable defensive strategy. Between 1199 and the end of the medieval period seventy-two towers were built between rivalling families, and a dozen of them still stand today.


Rough translation: ‘What you have in hand is not a fire hydrant and there is no fire on the ground!!!’

That might seem like a tangent, and it was, but in all seriousness I found a couple of wonderful signs in a gelateria bathroom there.


They must’ve had a problem. The floor was drain grating!








Not gonna lie, I was churched out by the end of the week. Must’ve seen at least twenty of them. Big ones, small ones, bright ones covered in frescoes, sad ones with barely the remnants of their former glory. All incredibly impressive, don’t get me wrong. And so very old. Incomprehensibly old. Compared to British history, at any rate, wherein the Dark Ages after the Romans was either lost, regressive, or not interesting enough to go in school history textbooks.


Santa Maria. No image quite captures its scale, ornateness or ridiculousness. But interestingly, the interior décor was sparser than most of the other churches we visited: the greatness on the outside, but inside just peace.

But when we first saw Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence/Firenze, we all stopped and gasped. For want of a better word, its size, its dome and décor and its extravagant decoration were silly. Mad and silly: Florence in three words. We loved that Siena fifty miles south had tried to rival Florence and double the size of its cathedral, but the work was halted due to the Black Death wiping out half the population of Tuscany. The outer walls remain and are now used as a carpark. Tragic, but I love a bit of bathos.


Duomo di Siena. White and green marbled, like Santa Maria, but on a saner scale. You can see the unfinished wing on the right.


So the bread disappointed me. Apparently Pisa withheld salt from the cities inland to maintain control, which resulted in unsalted bread and butter. Even as a palate-cleanser it was unpleasant to swallow. Indeed, Pisa was the only place fish even appeared on the menu.


Found my hero! (Fibonacci)

As a semi-anorexic fussy eater with a phobia of cheese and a hatred of uncooked tomatoes, I struggled in Italy. I really struggled. I’m used to asking for weird things, plain rice or maybe some frozen peas. But it really embarrassed me to see the waiters’ faces when I asked what came without cheese in my selfish English. Even asking for a plate of vegetables didn’t satisfy me, because I’m not at all a fan of aubergine, artichoke, courgette, peppers or any of their relatives. And whoever first put garlic butter with spinach was trying to make me cry. I used up a lot of energy anxiousing myself over my mouthfuls, but did have one or two meals that I enjoyed.

The desserts, however, do deserve a special mention. English desserts are, by and large, almost nauseatingly sweet. French are excessive and complicated. But even the Tuscan pastries full of cream or chocolate mousse were as simple and delicate as you could wish. And very, very light. Would recommend.

Overall, I had more pizza and less ice-cream than I expected.


As I said, Florence was too big and too silly. Pisa was delightful, but a little run-down. Siena was my favourite of the three cities: every street a backbreaking hill, with custom outdoor seating with back legs six inches longer than the front, and a charming quirkiness to its general layout. In the country we spent our hours weaving through the vineyards, following game trails and playing tennis. We saw green lizards, a deer and several wild boars (jeez, they’re massive). A fleet of vintage cars stopped by in the walled village of Monteriggioni, petrol and sexy engines in the sunshine.


We’re backgammon nerds, too. By the way, it’s not a trick. The tower really does lean. The stairs up really screw with your idea of gravity.

One night we went to a local restaurant a few miles down the dirt tracks. The owners, Petra and Mario, did all the waiting, cooking and serving themselves, and chatted between courses about the trove of exciting artefacts lining the walls. As we were leaving, conversation struck up in French, which turned out to be the language of best mutual fluency between us all. It was beautiful, in the dark in the fresh Tuscan countryside, realising that we aren’t an unremarkable family, and that we have this French understanding in common with the restaurant owners in this tiny part of the world. I want to go back there someday.


Now I’m back at university with an eye to my first year final exams. Brits in Britain exclaim over the weather because the weather is to be exclaimed about: it’s seven degrees, blizzarding snow one hour and cloudless sunshine the next. Cold, but fresh. I didn’t want to come back, but I felt curiously uplifted stepping off the train, almost against my will. I like it here.


Lilliano, Tuscany. Closest village to the villa we stayed at.

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A Concerning (read: amoral) Theme in My Reading

Music: Santana—Amore (Sexo)

I was trying to explain why I love Gone With the Wind so much, when it suddenly hit me that half my favourite reads feature truly awful antiheroines empowered by their amorality. Strong statement, I know. It concerns me.

Let’s look at these books, then. I’ve mentioned a couple of them before.gonewiththewind

Scarlett of Gone With the Wind and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair are the epitomes (if more than one are permissible) of self-interest. But while Scarlett has a few sensitivities (notably her unrequited crush for Ashley) that make her an interesting character to invest in, Becky is so utterly unredeemable that it must be a conscious decision on Thackeray’s part. Her biggest crime, beyond unvalidated lies and manipulations, is her neglect of her son. The fact that she continues to be fascinating is a testament to great writing—or perhaps she satisfies the guilty, erotic side of readers’ greed.

A recent favourite was Gone Girl. The unforeseeable twists, the utter divided feeling on both Amy and Nick throughout the narrative, ending with a simultaneous hatred of Amy even while you can’t help but marvel at her sheer genius. It’s just a massive ‘eff you’ to happy endings.

An old favourite dates back to my school story collection. For some years my favourite was Winifred Norling’s The Worst Fifth on Record of 1961, which documents an epidemic of illicit smoking, make-up-wearing and boy-dancing at a conservative boarding school. It transpired that the character, Philippa, who’d been dragged into the affair, was nice, but at any rate some of her contemporaries were awful people. Maybe that book was a guilty pleasure, too, a fresh read compared to many of the admittedly priggish depictions of adolescence on my shelf.


I must mention The Book of Lies, which is set on my own home island. Catherine admits on page one that she pushed her best friend off a cliff, and that she’s amazed she got away with it. The horribleness of the friend, who mentored Catherine in her own image, later goes to explain the action. The second clause is just a delicious admission that she was willing to destroy herself in order to destroy someone else. Immediately, she seems a very human character.

To me, anyway. Others might argue she is sub-human. The thread running through all these books is the amorality of the protagonists. I recently read Francoise Sagan’s A Certain Smile and Bonjour Tristesse and their amoral undercurrent was really quite singular. It was presented in so many ways: as a path to happiness, or at least contentment, as enabling to create adventures and experiences beyond those of the morally conscious—but in the end the character’s apathy fails and leads to her suffering.

These explorations, so often conflicting, are what I love most: ambivalence, self-contradiction and plain confused dismissal of societal morals. These characters don’t reject morality over a lifetime of thought and argument; they simply don’t connect with it. Just as sometimes I struggle to filter what I say, and will more often keep quiet for fear of being unwittingly rude.

That is human, is it not? It is my peculiar interpretation of what it is to be human, at any rate—as I assume I am, if anybody is.

In any case, it explains why I have such a penchant for writing saboteurs, even self-saboteurs. Drina: deliberately destroys her own life to impress her mother, that ultimately fails due to the disillusionment caused by her obsession. Flavie: deliberately destroys her bread-baking family business to ‘feed’ her self-destructive eating disorder (inappropriate verb, I know). My latest protagonist, Dani: deliberately destroys her own social skills to justify her inability to bring her unrequited crush into fruition. It’s a sick list.


Dani reminds me of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, in that she is so unpredictable when it comes to activity and passivity—he worships the elusive Jane, but throughout the story is divided between fantasy and action. It’s a page-turning combination. Then there’s Scarlett’s book-long unrequited crush, that acute combination of pain and hope most of us recognise from some point in our youth (says me, at eighteen).

Dani takes me right back to that awkward fourteen-year-old stage. In a comforting, nostalgic way, as well as an embarrassing one. I’m revisiting my old diaries, and it’s a bit of a slap to the face to realise how little time ago I was stuck in those crazy thought patterns. Dani’s soundtrack, by the way, is the Franz Ferdinand album Tonight. Not my favourite of theirs, but I like the way it reflects the evolution of a house party (I could write a blog post explaining why I imagine it this way…), with a couple of fairly insightful musings on the limitations of the teenage mindset. Dani’s climax takes place at a house party, so this album in the background eternally reminds me what the whole story is accelerating towards.

I digress. Anyone else see disturbing themes in the books you gravitate towards? (I reiterate, all the books above fall into the LOVELOVELOVEKEEPFOREVERTHISBOOKISMYLIFETHISBOOKWASWRITTENFORME category.)

Grill-Pans and Domestic Ukuleles

Music: David Sylvian, all daygrillpans

Revelation of the day: we have two ancient grill-pans, and even though I’ve used them every day since I could cook, I never noticed that on one the ridges run horizontally, and on the other vertically. I’d often subconsciously wondered why sometimes I can use the spatula more deftly than others. Moreover, my parents hadn’t noticed, either!

The route I take my uke.

The route I take my uke.

I’ve spent my week arranging music for SATB choir, plotting two new YAs that I’m really excited about, and walking my ukulele down to the beach for a play (that sounds like ukulele is a dog breed…). Ergo this weekend I’m snowed under with neglected schoolwork, and haven’t the time to write an original post.

I do, however, have ideas in bounty—pitching, enthusing about BASIL, how much I adore Focus, and the wonderful Portsmouth Sinfonia (don’t worry if that made no sense whatsoever). Stay tuned (my ukulele didn’t)!


Did That Three-Year-Old Just Say ‘Arse’?

Music: Genesis—Horizons

I must be a bad Catholic and a bad musician for saying this, but I kind of hate church when it goes on forever and the Mass is in Latin and the priest rambles unintelligently about a mumbled Gospel and the organ does all these twiddly bits that are impossible for the ordinary person to sing. So whenever I can (ie school holidays) I go to weekday Mass. Half nine till ten, no music, no sermon; just the [most] important parts. Just me and the nuns.

I went this morning. Arrived in good time, knelt down to pray. The morning sunlight made a fantasia of the coloured glass behind the altar, streaming in ribbons through the cold church. That and silence was all the music I needed.st joseph's

Enter the priest. Since our Canon had been flown across to hospital on the mainland for an emergency quadruple heart bypass, the elderly man swaying in was a temporary replacement. I’d never seen him before. When he began to speak, it was a relief to hear that he was English (our recent turnover of priests includes Kenyan, Polish, and Nigerian. All unintelligible. And even when we got lucky with Irish, we only discovered after that guy’s first sermon that he’d been talking about ‘death’ the whole time rather than ‘debt’). But unfortunately his scratchy bass didn’t resonate in our vast church, so, while I heard something about the ordination of seventeenth century knights, I can’t claim to know the facts.

The readings began. Good; they’d turned the lectern microphone on, if not the priest’s. At what point did I first detect it? A squealing, a yelling, an occasional bellowed “I WANT MAMMYYY!” from the porch behind me. It escalated to full-blown screaming during the second reading. And then the unfortunate female decided to bring her three small boys into the body of the church.

The first I saw was a boy of around five, marching down the centre aisle and apologising impudently to everyone sat at the end of a row. Behind him was a curly-haired urchin of around three, stomping very audibly and gurgling to himself, quite unaware of anybody else in the church straining to hear the priest drone out the Gospel. Or were we all distracted by that time? Finally the lady herself, staggering down the aisle with a precarious clutch on a boy who can’t’ve been more than two.

Gosh, those lungs! At the nearest screech, I heard the hearing aids of the gentleman behind me give a warning buzz.stjoseph's

After some altercation and the testing out of various pews, the quartet took up residence in the front row. The children would not sit. The children would not stop talking. Or giggling. Or screaming. The thin-haired woman, who I recognised as the uber-prudent, pious Latin teacher from the college, hissed at them, grabbed at them, chased them up and down the aisles and between the pews. She hadn’t enough hands. But I sure have never seen someone pass so many times in front of the altar during Mass. Or after, for that matter. Or bow so low every. single. time.

The priest continued. Everybody continued. I bit my lip to keep from laughing and, and if it weren’t for the woman near the back with the shrill, unmusical voice, would’ve forgotten to join in with half the responses. Nay, I wouldn’t’ve known they were being spoken. If I’d been wearing headphones, it would’ve been the most perfect morning entertainment anyone could’ve dreamed up.

I’ll take a moment to put this woman in context. She once scolded my mum for speaking a couple of polite words to a family friend in the confession queue. She also told our church band off for a single word in one of our worship songs—it was blasphemous, she said; it wasn’t Catholic. She dislikes us anyway because the stuff we play is modern and Anglican. The three boys she brought to church—and kept in church, when considerate carers would remove their screaming children from the building during worship, or stop their children from playing hide-and-seek all over the altars—were her grandchildren; which is odd, because she isn’t married. And, hey, “that’s not very Catholic”.

I’m afraid I have no sympathy for her. Perhaps I should. But I’m not going to judge. She made my morning (and gave me a blog post).

So, what else is there to say? It continued like this for another twenty minutes (very long time, it felt). The point of Mass was kind of lost on me. At the end the eldest boy wanted to light candles. Ten of them. And they cost thirty pence each. So lady gets out her lighter and, with a guilty look towards the priest, gives him the flame. And then, leaving the elder pair to light their own fires, runs across the entire church once again to chase the youngest boy.

Bet she makes a great grandmother. What we all would give to take such liberties with her! But nobody will dare mention how appalling the situation was. We are British; we let people judge themselves. And if they don’t, we can simply laugh at them.

Was my hearing blunted by the tinnitus of shrieking infants? Or did I really hear boy number two belt out a quick ‘arse!’ during communion?

And here, after nine hundred words, I find my topic.

Swearing is a part of everyday life for most us. Whether in pain, humour, stress management, attention and approval, or a substitute for physical aggression, we are very fond of our cuss words. And so what if we do cuss? So long as we pick our audience so as not to offend anyone, what’s the harm? In most cases swearing actually has a positive effect.

Yes, Basil again. I spent a whole morning downloading Fawlty Towers GIFs...

Yes, Basil again. I spent a whole morning downloading Fawlty Towers GIFs…

But a three-year-old saying ‘arse’ in church…either that will amuse you, or it will make you feel slightly uncomfortable.

A month or two ago I finished a book at Gatwick airport, and, with the prospect of an hour or so on a plane with nothing to do, I went to the bookshop. Later, my mother asked to see what I’d bought. She flicked through it. Her face changed. We fell out for days over Gone Girl, thanks to Gillian Flynn’s free use of F-bombs. My mum thought that any book so abounding with profanities would advocate and convey other, harmful ideas, that would be immensely unsuitable for a seventeen-year-old.

The thing is, she is naïve, and I have sheltered her. All my friends swear. All my friends drink. Our class read of Year 9 (age 13) featured unprotected teen sex, and not even as a plot point. It was gratuitous. Everything is gratuitous. I’ve encountered hundreds of times more swears in real life than in any book, and have been exposed to ‘ideas’ far more damaging. At least, my mum would think them damaging. I don’t want to upset her.

Ideas are addictive; they’ve influenced my psyche more than I like to admit. And as a young person with a growing brain and developing personality, I know these ideas will guide my decisions for the rest of my life. It’s a sickening thought, when I imagine the time of innocence (I can remember it no longer) and think of the person I might’ve been. That’s partly why my faith is so important to me—believing now, and living the belief, will set me up for life. It’s my one defence.

But let me go on about swearing.

It appeals to the animals in us. It stimulates us, it captures our attention. There’s no denying that. But does that make it okay?

It will make me fit in. It will make people like me. Yeah, sure, you’ll fit in. Just assume everybody else will swear no matter whether you do or not. I’m a bit of an idealist. And I do not swear. And I find that few people will swear when they’re talking to me—and if they do, they’ll apologise. As if they feel it’s wrong; they don’t want to corrupt my mind. That’s a super gratifying thing. I see a parallel in my dealings with alcohol: drink a little, and people will press you to drink more; own a no-alcohol policy, and they’ll respect it. It makes everything so much easier! You have a choice to get dragged into the vortex.

It makes me feel young and free! Ever popped a cuss at an incredibly inconvenient moment? Remember when you were caught by your parents for the first time? It’s stereotypical that teenagers are a little too free. We’re still getting used to the ways of society, and we’re pushing boundaries and craving the thrill of defying protocol. I wonder if we’re simply taking the lead from our elders. And if our stereotype gives us the go-ahead.

There’s no word with more than four letters that will express what I feel. Yep, there’s evidence to suggest swearing has a cathartic effect. This is a common point—especially among writers. Real people swear. How are our characters going to be believable if they don’t? I could say ‘effectiveness demeans with overuse’ or simply ‘lazy’, but really I have one answer to that: if you’re telling me there are no ways of communicating emotion, conveying character or setting scene other than sputtering fricatives all over the place, you need to get yourself some classes.

In response, we have to distinguish a writer from his characters. “I,” you say, “know that there are other means of expression…but my characters don’t.” Yes, yes, dumb your characters for your audience by all means. I’ve no problem with that. (Sarcasm, yes?)

In terms of ‘ideas’, I’m anti-swear and anti-sex in my YA. Probably, I admit, because of my innocence. But Gillian Flynn wasn’t pitching to seventeen-year-olds. And especially not expecting to have to get past their mothers. (I read GG anyway, by the by. And loved it.)

So who makes anti-cuss pacts? Religious nuts, like me. Conscientiousness, religiosity, sexual anxiety and agreeableness are negatively correlated with swearing persons. The last instance interests me particularly, but this post is getting long…

Take note: extroverts are more likely to swear. I’ve blogged before about extroversion in the Western society, and why it is popular and attractive. So it’s really not surprising that we imagine swearing will boost our self-esteem and others’ esteem of us. It’s been suggested that there’s a positive correlation between honesty and swearing. But perhaps that’s a result of the association with extraversion—which has nothing to do with honesty, when you think about it. But, then, children are pretty honest…

I swing back to the three-year-old in church. I’ve found an article claiming that children as young as two know how to swear, and have a working vocabulary of thirty to forty profanities by the time they turn double figures.

Maybe society has developed the suppression of swearing as a vehicle to teach children that their urges must be subordinate to etiquette. A by-effect is the conditioning to think some words are ‘bad’. (Like how a by-effect of the disciplinary measure of spanking is teaching them to deal with physical violence. But unlike, note, in that it teaches children that violence as a punishment is okay! And then there are other issues: for example, if spanking can be expected as a punishment for foul language, is there a corresponding expectation that the child will swear?) Can a word be intrinsically harmful? Only in the meaning attached to it. Like how casinos, despite their paranoia, depend on card-counters for their wellbeing*.

I guess it’s really all the stigma attached that makes swearing such a powerful tool. (And the sound, shape and movement of the words themselves…but that’s a whole ‘nother post’s worth.)

So what do you think? So what if a three-year-old said ‘arse’ in church?


*At any moment a casino could make a few changes to their games that would mean no skilled blackjack player could ever beat them. But if the public find out they can’t win—the vain, vain public!—nobody will play the games. So instead, casinos spend millions trying to detect card-counting practices (which aren’t illegal, I must add). I exaggerated: card-counters put casinos in a dilemma; their patronage (and the Hollywood notions attached to their success), rather than their existence, is what sustains the casinos. But that’s just my theory, and I’d love to debate it!