Wonder Woman (2017) Review

(written in January 2018)


Last night I finally got the chance to watch Wonder Woman. Today I’ve decided to review it. *THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Firstly, I knew nothing-nil-zilch about Wonder Woman prior to yesterday, and I know very little about superhero culture period. Maybe that means I’m not the right person to review this film; maybe it puts me in a unique position, having no preconceptions about Wonder Woman beyond knowing that she’s supposed to be a feminist icon.

Either way, I realise what I have to say goes against most of my friends’ opinions, both on- and offline. I can’t tell if this review is an ‘angry feminist rant’ or if I have something worth saying—after all, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m not here to answer those questions right now; take my thoughts as you find them, and please do tell me if and where you disagree.


Whenever I review a book or story, the first thing I look for is the primary relationship. Wonder Woman began strongly: there was potential for a royal tug-of-war between Diana’s duties to her mum and her dream to train with her aunt. Sadly, after the first plot point we saw no more of the Amazons—in fact the film barely passes the Bechdel Test thereafter! Instead to the forefront comes Diana’s relationship with Chris Pine’s character, Steve. And there most of my issues begin.

I’ll briefly mention instalove, because I’m forever criticising it and frankly it bores me. I classify the romance between Diana and Chris/Steve as instalove because they fall in love, have sex, and are parted by his death within the space of mere days (three/four days?). Throughout this time it’s unclear why she likes him, beyond the fact that he’s the first man she ever sees (EWWW). There is no chemistry; they don’t get to know each other beyond what her quest requires. The whole thing feels like an overblown statement of rejection to her all-female upbringing.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with a woman having a relationship with a man, loving him, or having sex with him or with anyone else. It’s just as feminist for a woman to love and want a man as for a woman to do otherwise. What was not feminist was how the men treated Diana when she arrived in 1918 England.

Steve’s first move is to bundle Diana into the arms of his (female) secretary and abandon them at a clothes shop so Diana can find something less conspicuous to wear. While this scene was treated with practicality, mostly in Diana’s reactions to the uncomfortable and restrictive outfits with which she was presented, a makeover scene of any sort was surely unnecessary. How would a Wonder Man be introduced to Steve’s world? He would electrify himself on a toaster or accidentally crush a door handle. Wonder Woman was taken to a clothes shop and taught how to blend in. That made me really sad.

Sexist comments abound, which I will not permit even for the sake of historical context (my criticisms of the setting to follow). Most of the humour in the script comes from these comments. I like humour; I understand humour is a social construct; in this instance I also found it alienating, considering Diana’s naivety and cultural vulnerability. The humour is clearly aimed at men—come to that, the whole damn movie is written with one question in mind: “what would a man think of Diana at this moment?”

In another scene, Steve teaches Diana how to dance—again, something that would never happen with a Wonder Man. Then they go into a bedroom, he pushes her backwards as they make out, aaaand cut to black. Given that they met two days ago, have next to no chemistry, and he hasn’t stopped mansplaining since they landed in his country, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wish there’d been some verbal consent. And that’s notwithstanding her two-day whirlwind introduction to the male sex! Her position to consent at all is dubious at best.

Yes, it’s established that Diana is well-informed about sex. Yes, she read all twelve volumes of a book that concludes men are not essential to female pleasure. So Diana’s decision to have sex with Steve a few days later could be an act of curiosity, if not true love (I am sceptical). Yet for me, it seemed like an opportunity for men to get off on the idea of an inexperienced woman thinking she knows about sex, and a man stepping in and showing her what’s what. Plus there’s a sick reek of entitlement about the fact that he’s the first man she ever sees.

And if it’s my own insecurity imagining men are laughing at her as she admits proudly to having read all twelve volumes, and actually nobody’s laughing at all, then let that be a sign that everybody needs to do better.

Diana’s naivety is understandable given she grew up on an island paradise in a tribe of warrior women. What is not understandable is why some bloke called Steve was allowed to control and instruct her in fitting into his world merely for his comfort. It’s plain unnecessary.

The crowning glory came with Steve’s death. Because that was the moment Diana amassed the strength to beat her enemy. BLEUGH!!!! Yes, that’s right: Wonder Woman’s lover had to die for her to come into her full potential. Through heartbreak, she learnt that love was the only way to beat the God of War. Love of a man. Just, why?


Now let’s untangle my issues with the World War I setting. I’m still racking my brains for why this particular war and time period was chosen.

From the beginning, ordinary German soldiers are demonised. One of Steve’s first lines goes something like, “I’m the good guy; they’re the bad guys.” And the Amazons proceed to slaughter the ‘bad guys’ for no apparent reason. It left me contemplating how differently the movie might’ve gone if the German boats had landed on the island ahead of Steve’s plane crash—or if maybe Steve had been a German spy and the boats full of Allied pursuers. Diana’s allegiance would surely have been reversed, and German lives would’ve been spared.

Which comes to that scene in the trenches. A glorious, sexy Wonder Woman heroically goes over the top, murders some Germans who, by the way, probably don’t know what they’re fighting for either, and what do we learn? That she’s pretty much bloody invincible. Whose idea was it to put a superhero in the trenches? I didn’t think the trenches could get much more unfair. I was wrong.

I was genuinely shocked when I discovered that this is an original WW story. The entire setting, in my opinion, was a sloppy decision designed to minimise worldbuilding—for a movie stuffed with gratuitous scenes that centre the male gaze! A feminist movie? Who was I kidding?


The most feminist thing they did was include a female antagonist: a brilliant Nazi chemist. But why did she have to have facial deformities? It hurts me every time an aesthetically diverse antagonist is juxtaposed against a hero with the world’s most symmetrical face. I’m so tired of the same trope over and over again: the demonization of the ‘ugly’ woman for the greater idolisation of the heroine, the ‘pretty’ woman. It reinforces the whole traditional beauty=good, physical deformity=bad thing – a narrative chiefly pushed by men, and frankly they can stop it. In fact, stop pitting women against each other without any nuance whatsoever. It hurts. And you know I said I was tired of the trope? I’m more tired still of Diana’s beauty and sexiness being referred to by the men around her again and again and again. Who wrote this damn script? Yeah, she’s attractive. Get over it.


I will admit that the feminist issues in this film are far from straightforward. Even the scenes that make me most uncomfortable contain acts and dialogue that do debunk the objectification of women. For example, in the makeover scene Diana asks, “How does one fight in this?” of an outfit. Yet for me, there did not seem to be any layer of awareness that it is a choice to include such scenes at all. That would have required Diana fighting back against the patriarchal stereotypes. There were throwaway comments, written in, probably, for either humour or brownie points. But there was no real substance to the so-called feminism in this movie, in my opinion.

In one respect, I acknowledge that Wonder Woman was not treated exactly the same as if she were a Wonder Man. Her gender is inherent to her presentation. But is that the aim, or is that the special hell of discussions around gender equality? My criticisms come down to the fact that the same movie can talk about men being inessential to female pleasure, and an hour later conclude that the ultimate female warrior cannot defeat evil without the knowledge of a man’s love.

In truth, I have barely even begun to unpick that.

And in fact, I hate that I’ve spent this entire review doing my angry feminist yelling about MEN THIS and MEN THAT. I loved Gal Gadot’s balance of strength and sensitivity. I loved the incredible Amazons, just…goals. I loved the shooting style and the CGI and the beautiful choreography. I wish there had been more of these complex, layered women and less of the insidious objectification and subordination of them.

I wanted a feminist icon and I suppose, all things considered, I got one. But that icon was Diana, who learned that drawing a sword does not maketh a warrior, and not Wonder Woman, who learned that to fulfil her destiny, she needed the context of a man.

That really brings me to my conclusion. My expectations were too high. Clearly, after all the hype, I imagined this film to be a feminist antidote to the male dominance centred in most superhero stories. But beyond having a female lead, Wonder Woman did not deliver. It’s another Hollywood blockbuster: a mediocre-to-decent superhero movie, but its feminism is as shallow as a gutter.


I was honoured to read an early version of STERLING LANE, and today I’m thrilled to share the cover. It’s a fantastic contemporary romance featuring twins, pranks and steamy kissing, with enemies-to-lovers drama and humour aplenty. I highly recommend it to anyone stocking up fun summer reads! And now, without further ado…


Title: Why I Loathe Sterling Lane
Author: Ingrid Paulson
Release date: June 6 2017
Publisher: Entangled TEEN
ISBN (if available): 9781633757004 

Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her academic and social life tidy. But when Sterling Lane transfers to her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in pranks and schemes nearly to the point of expulsion. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the rulebreaker he absolutely is.
But as she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn’t entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule: protecting Cole.
ingrid-paulsonIngrid Paulson does not, in fact, loathe anyone, although the snarky humor and verbal barbs in Why I Loathe Sterling Lane might suggest otherwise (and shock those who think they know her best). Ingrid lives in San Francisco with her husband and children and enjoys long-distance running, eavesdropping, and watching science documentaries. She has always loved books and writing short stories, but was surprised one day to discover the story she was working on wasn’t so short any more. Valkyrie Rising, a paranormal girl-power story, was Ingrid’s first novel. Expect another humorous contemporary romance to join the list soon.

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
  • but non-virgin heroine
  • and sex-positive attitude
  • 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)!