The Trouble with Rose

Rose

The Trouble with Rose is out as an e-book (Feb 14, 2019, that’s Valentine’s Day, just saying) and paperback (May 16, 2019) and is available here

I love that bloggers and readers are taking the time to read and leave reviews and ratings. Not only amazon (link above), but also goodreads, where I always go when I want reading recommendations and lists! I honestly never realized what a dedicated, fantastic blogging community we have. Thank you, all!

Featured post

The Tragedy that is Game of Thrones

Image result for opening credits game of thrones kings landing

I’m glad I wrote an ode to Game of Thrones after Season 8 Episode 2 aired, because this sure as hell is not going to be an ode. It’s more in the nature of a nasty obituary. And just so you know, there are a truckload of spoilers in this post.

The final episode of the show airs tomorrow, for us lot in the UK. At the start of the final season of the show and half way into it, if someone had asked me how I would feel on the eve of the final episode, I would have said awful, grief-stricken, and love-lorn, like someone I love is leaving and never coming back, and all I’ll have left of them is some old pictures and the smell of their t-shirts that lingers in their closet. After giving eight years to a relationship, that’s how you feel when you know it’s going to end, when you know nothing you can do can stop its demise now. You feel heartbroken.

Unless that relationship has gone terribly, irrevocably wrong, right at the end. In which case you can only mourn what it once was, you can only look back in regret, wait in trepidation at the cringeworthiness of the final goodbye, and feel a huge sense of relief that it’ll soon be over. Thank FUCK is all you have to say about it.

I’ve thought about it, and I have a lot of problems with Season 8 Episode 5, and I’ll come to these in a second. First, I’ll tell you all the things I don’t have a problem with. For a season and a half, fans have been complaining about the way characters teleport all over the place, Bran stares through people in a really boring way and for no apparent purpose, intelligent characters like Tyrion do stupid things just to serve the narrative and hilarious ones like Tormund are quickly disposed of and sent back to the wilderness once they no longer serve a useful purpose. Now, fans are also complaining about the tragedy of Jamie’s arc – finding redemption in a knight’s arms and then discarding it like a dirty nappy. The strange behaviour of Varys who seemed to lose all his spidey skills right at the end. And the pointlessness of the Night King and his dispatch, after eight series of dread, in just one episode.

I stood by the show through all of this and more. I didn’t complain. Why are the fans getting all hot and bothered, I asked? That episode wasn’t too dark, of course the final battle was going to speed things up, and well, maybe people learned to apparate – what’s wrong with that? It’s all good, I said. In my eyes, the show can do no wrong.

Wow, I was wrong.

Things can go horribly wrong, not because the writers ran out of source material, not because they didn’t have permission from HBO to carry on for a couple more seasons, not because GRRM wanted to wrap things up, but because they were secretly having an affair with Star Wars, and it just got more exciting than their boring old marriage with Game of Thrones. And because of this new mistress, they decided to wrap up the show in a measly thirteen episodes, and King’s Landing has just gone up in smoke because of it.

My problem isn’t the destruction of King’s Landing and its women and children. Such atrocities and terrible tragedies form basically all of human history. Of course it isn’t the politicians or even the soldiers who are always the ones to die. It’s the women and children. It’s always the women and children. That is the human condition, that in all our time on this planet, for all our seeming intelligence and wondrous gadgets, we haven’t been able to find a better way of resolving our differences, or seeing that those differences are petty and meaningless in the first place. So, I have no problem with the tragedy that befell King’s Landing. It showed the horrors of war in a beautifully visceral way.

My peeve is that in the penultimate episode of the show, you cannot introduce a whole new character that no one has ever seen before and turn them into the main baddie. If you do that, literally no one cares. And this is what the show has done. Yes, Dany has always been ruthless, and slightly trigger happy with her dragon-nukes. Yes, she has a temper. And yes, she has a sense of entitlement. Of course she has. But for eight years, the show has shown her constantly struggle to be a better person, to ask for and listen to advice, to suffer from guilt at her mistakes, to strive to be a leader who can break the wheel, even at times when she feels like she’s as far away from it as she has ever been. From that character arc to the destruction of King’s Landing after the city had already surrendered all seemingly in the space of one or two episodes DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. It’s a travesty of good writing, and a tragedy for loyal fans.

Erik Kain has written a brilliant article in Forbes to show that if the writers always had this endgame in mind then there are ways they could have naturally brought us to that conclusion in a way that was comprehensible and not completely baffling. That would have stayed true to the rules the show has spent six years establishing, rules of morality and humanity, of intelligent decisions and bad ones, of what happens when people get pushed to the limit. If the show had followed Martin’s brilliant psychological reasoning, we would have got there in the end, and then Season 8 Episode 5 would have been just as brilliant, even mind-blowing as Ned’s beheading, the Red Wedding, and that unbelievable thing that happened to the Viper.

Still, you know what, I’m ready to move past all of that. But there is one thing I can’t move past.

And that is that this show took eight years to seemingly set up the most powerful female leaders television history has ever seen, and then turned them into vindictive, hate-filled,  irrational, manipulative, vengeful, nasty little girls, the kind that dunk others’ heads down the toilet when no one is looking, just because they feel like it, and lock other kids into dark toilets when no one is around. The show has taken all the worst stereotypes of femininity and put them into amazing, powerful characters like Dany and Cersei. Even Sansa is crediting her courage to rape and savagery. And they’ve already disposed of Olena and Marjorie. Arya is the only one left now, and even she is following the stereotype that women can only do great things once they turn their back on their sexuality and say goodbye to it.

This is where, after years of loyalty, I’ve lost all interest in what happens in the final episode.

Ooh, India proofs!

India proofs

I’m completely in awe of the wonderful Harper Collins team. Another absolutely stunning cover from them. I love how they market and place the book differently as well. There are some lovely details in this one. Love the dress and the frowny face. They’ve nailed Rilla, who, I have to admit, is always on the offensive.

An Ode to Game of Thrones

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Okay, so following the show’s ode to itself (Season 8, Episode 2), I feel like it’s time for me to write an ode, a song, a love letter of sorts to this show that’s been part of our lives for so very long, and to which we have to say goodbye soon. Anyone else feeling mildly uneasy/in full panic-attack mode at the thought that there are only four more episodes left? I am. I’ve watched and rewatched Season 8, Episode 2, and find the episode a perfect place to start to say a tearful goodbye. (Full spoilers ahead.)

In a show full of amazing episodes, this episode is still way up there for sheer moving, emotional brilliance, and moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. In the space of an hour, the makers of the show tell us exactly how far each of the main characters has come in eight seasons, and how far we’ve travelled with them. Without saying a lot, they show us the torturous, traumatic, soul-building journey each character has been on in their travels across Westeros and Essos, how they’ve evolved, and consequently, how far their relationships have come. So, let’s look at the characters in turn.

I’m going to start with Dany, actually, because so many people don’t like her right now. I get it. She’s power-hungry, arrogant, and up her own arse about how she’s completely entitled to the Iron Throne by right of blood and birth. Yes, yes, I get it, she burnt the Tarlys, and she yabbers on about the Iron Throne to Jon when he reveals to her that he’s the dude, he’s Aegon Targarayan, sixth of his name, chief brooder, purveyor of the Bambi eyes, inventor of steamy sex in dark caves.

I get it, I get it. She’s not the messiah she was thought to be, she’s made mistakes, she is showing vague signs of madness possibly inherited from her father and brother, and she does go on about the goshdarn dragons. BUT, I feel like this is a bit of a set up. We were supposed to love her and root for her. She was the young girl who was sold to a barbaric Khal, raped on her wedding night, nearly burnt alive a few times. Through bloody brilliance and bloody mindedness, she’s freed slaves and won over armies. We’ve followed her journey closely and cheered for her, and wanted her to win.

Yet now, now she’s trying to close the deal, zone in on what she thinks is her birth right, she’s a successful woman in a terribly difficult world for women, and all of a sudden, we don’t like it that she’s not perfect! I mean, come on, people! She hasn’t even made the scale of mistakes other people have made. Tyrion murdered his girlfriend after she had sex with his dad Tywin. Jamie pushed Bran off the official Winterfell incest-sexfest terrace. Rob Stark made schoolboy errors, much like his mum and dad. The Fat King was promiscuous and not very likeable. Marjorie married a baby just to be queen. Everyone on this show has made mistakes and been murderous. But we can’t accept it from Dany, because now, at this point in the show, in comparison to Jon Snow, she comes across as crass and power hungry!

I’m not convinced she’s terrible. Think about it this way. You’re a woman who’s been working your ass off all your life and lived through terrible abuse to get a promotion, and then your hottie male assistant tells you, oh, sorry, babe, I’m about to get the position instead, though I’m mainly worried in case this means we can no longer have sex. You’d be pissed! You’d think love later, business first! Wouldn’t you? So, I still like Dany. That’s how it is and I won’t apologize for it. Just remember, compared to Jon Snow, who is practically a saint, NO ONE can come off looking good.

People are also complaining about Arya having sex with Gendry. All I can say about that is, great stuff, Arya, welcome to real life. I am so glad you got over the A Girl business. That was depressing stuff.

In this episode, I was genuinely moved by the Sansa-Theon story. I wept when Sansa embraced him. And then I thought : Wait, I don’t care about the Greyjoys! Or, do I? All of a sudden, I just want them to get together. Have a happy ending. Put all the Ramsay-based trauma behind them, and be better people for it. But since freako Bran has had the ‘brilliant’ idea to sit in the Godswood (which, admittedly, he loves to do) and act as bait for the Night King (seriously? This is a BAD idea), and Theon is Bodyguard Number One, I think this love story will end before it has had a chance to begin. I think it could have been a good one, and Sansa and Missendei could have compared notes on how it all works bedroom-wise. I like this as a spinoff idea. So, can we keep Theon?

Then there’s Tyrion, and I fear his days are numbered, because, well, he’s down in the crypts, and the crypts are looking like the worst place to be in Winterfell, besides the Godswood. What with all the dead people down there, and the, oh, army of the dead that loves raising more dead people. Jon, stop worrying about how your queen has turned into your girlfriend, then turned into your aunt! Really, stop worrying about that right now! You’re on Game of Thrones, a little incest is par for the course, even a job requirement. Instead, worry about this little matter of sending all the women, children, Tyrion, Varys, Gilly, and possibly Samwell down into the crypts. Really, wake up! It’s not good!

Unfortunately, Brienne’s days seem even more numbered than Tyrion’s. Nothing good can come of getting everything you’ve ever wanted in life. ‘Kneel,’ says Jamie. She kneels. Then he kneels too, and they passionately make out before a wall hanging falls down and he remembers he’s a Catholic priest.

Oh wait, that’s Fleabag. Sorry, this whole kneel business is very confusing, and strangely turning on. (Andrew Scott, wow, just wow.)

Still, despite all the foreshadowing, I’m not totally convinced Brienne will die in the next episode. I don’t think she’s done. But let’s see…

I love Samwell, he’s hilarious. Slayer of white walkers and lover of the ladies. Apt. BUT he’s annoying me with his single-minded Dany-back-stabbing. He’s not as innocent as he seems, me thinks. Tormund is also hilarious. And who hasn’t used I drank at a giant’s teat for three months as a chatup line at one point or another? I was rooting for Brienne and Tormund, but I fear that Jamie has queered that pitch rather soundly. The giant’s teat line can be beaten by the kneel so I can make you a knight of the seven kingdoms, but what I’m actually doing is that we’re getting married line.

Pod, you have a pair of lungs. That’s a haunting song. I’m not sure you’ll survive. Hound, you miserable old shit, you probably will survive because you have to fight the Mountain. Beric and Greyworm, you’re unlikely to make it. Theon, Jorah, Brienne, I fear for you.

So, that’s it. Maybe more next week. I’m scared to watch.

I love writing short stories

My short story Refuge is coming out in Aesthetica Magazine this month. It is my first short dystopian story, and I admire Aesthetica so much, so I’m very excited. This seems like a good time to recap where some of my other stories can be found. I love writing shorts. They are dense, crystallizing human experience into a few chosen words. They need a different focus than novels, a deeper focus on each word. They allow me to experiment with voices and characters that I don’t normally do in long fiction. In novels, my main character is always a woman, and the path of the novel tends to be more ‘genre’, but in shorts my narrators are young, old, men, women, and everything in between, and they tend to follow less of a genre path.

The story Electric Solutions and Miscellaneous appeared in print in Wasafiri, and is about a clerk in Mumbai who dreams of becoming a film star.

The Rangoli Pattern appeared in print in J-Journal, New Writings on Justice, and is about a school caretaker in Manali, a hill town in the Himalayas, who is torn between his desire for a school cleaner and his love for his own company.

Marmite and Mango Chutney appeared in the Berkeley Fiction Review and The Writing Disorder and is about an auntie in London who knows what she likes and even more what she hates!

Mina in the Spring is about a young woman wondering what to say at her father’s funeral, and it appeared in The Front View online.

The Road to Simla appeared in Inkspill and is about a couple who can’t live with or without each other. It can be read on the pdf online.

Anywhere Town appeared in print in Brand and is about three grown up children visiting their father on his deathbed in Manali.

Durga and the Holy Cow appeared online in New Asian Writing and is about a farmer sitting in the shade of a tree, wondering what has gone wrong with his life. A cow tells him exactly where he is going wrong!

 

 

 

The Sublime Cinderella at Hackney Empire

Image result for cinderella hackney empire

I woke up this morning thinking what, oh what possessed me to get panto tickets for this afternoon. There are, you might have noticed, only two days in each weekend and once one goes, there’s only one more left. That’s it. It isn’t a bottomless glass. A weekend is a ticking time bomb, with a panic attack only ever seconds away, and the panic only ends when the alarm clock rings bright and early on Monday morning and brings with it impending paranoia about your work, all your colleagues and your purpose in life. The working week has been so hectic lately, not just teaching but dealing with a lot of things that seem to dog the teaching, at least when I’m doing it – counselling students on various eighteen-year-old dramas (I remember mine, that’s the problem), dealing with the fallout from things a colleague said to some students, various meetings and mindless bureaucracy, and goodness knows what else. All I wanted to do today was hide under my duvet and read Outlander (I’m re-reading Book 4 Drums of Autumn at the moment), while keeping my computer open next to me so I can pretend I’m actually working. Instead, no, I had panto tickets. Well, so be it. If nothing else, I could practice the old trick of clapping in my sleep and nodding appreciatively.

But instead I got what I didn’t know I had been waiting for all my life. Step-sisters in drag, played by the outstanding pair Kat B (Queenie) and Tony Whittle (Vic). A Prince Charming (Chris Jenkins) with the most sincerely ardent face since Simba met Nala and discovered he had balls. A rousing rendition of Rag-n’-Bone-Man’s Human by Cinderella’s father Baron Hard-up (Peter Straker.) And best of all a black Cinderella played by the glorious Aisha Jawando. Step aside Disney, you gave us a sumptuous visual landscape in your recent live-action version but not a smidgen of courage or originality. Do please take a few notes from Hackney Empire’s version written and directed by the wonderful Susie Mckenna (who also plays the boo-tilicious step-mother) and unleash the magic.

The cross-cultural romance was played just as it should be – without so much as the blink of an eyelid, like it is totally normal, like it is everywhere, like it doesn’t need explanation or melodrama, and like, grow up Hollywood film producers and stop living in a world that doesn’t exist. We live in a beautifully multicultural world – get over it.

There were nice little references to current affairs. The ugly step-sisters should be called Theresa and May, don’t you know, the queen seems to be hoarding millions in a tax haven in Bermuda, the step-mother (who hasn’t noticed that one of her children is white, the other black) is such an out and out bitch that she voted Leave, and the Prince’s man-servant is European, hence facing impending deportation. Throw in a bit of Strictly action at the ball by having a dance-off between Cinderella with the Prince, and the step-sisters with a dance partner filched from one of the guests. Make the step-mother, the baron and Buttons (Cinderlla’s BFF) step in as Craig Revel Horwood, Shirley Ballas and Bruno Tonioli. Add a few gags about how the Prince’s balls get bigger every year. And you have the whole caboodle.

I found myself grinning throughout, stopping only to spit out my M&Ms everywhere because I was guffawing so loud and to sway to various pop sensations – Adele’s To Make You Feel My Love when Cinderella and the Prince get together, Clean Bandit’s Symphony when they dance together at the ball, Katy Perry’s Chained to the Rhythm, and Queen’s Somebody to Love when the Prince is looking for love. The Prince meets Cinders at a political rally where she is protesting the local penchant for hunting and killing animals, and immediately falls in love with her. They have some (surprisingly) genuinely moving kissy-kissy hand-holdy moments in the woods later. Cinders has a soul-to-soul chat with her FG about how everyone thinks she’s too loud, to which the FG tells her to ignore people who think that “girls who speak their mind are uncouth.” (She’s an FG after my own heart.) There are various antics from Buttons, the step-sisters and the leopard-print wearing, Brexit-voting, boooo-tiful step-mother, and there you have it. Two hours twenty minutes of outstanding fun. If it had been twice as long, I would have happily sat there watching it and maniacally grinning.

David Harewood’s documentary on black Britain

I was horrified to watch David Harewood’s documentary Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister on the BBC last night (it was first aired a year ago) and to hear the shocking statistics. Not only is there a four per cent chance of a black student getting the three As needed to get into Oxford, but even after achieving the three As, they are still less likely than a white student with the same grades to actually get admission.

Institutionalized racism is unacceptable in higher education. Kehinde Andrews, a professor at Birmingham City, tells the Guardian that racism is endemic in top-level universities in the UK. He says that only 60 out of 14,000 professors in the UK are black. Factors that lead to this kind of inequality include primary and secondary schools where black students are often identified as the ‘problem kids’. There are low expectations from them to start with, and this problem gets worse as they get excluded from opportunities because of their seeming behaviour. But even when they achieve academic excellence, they still don’t always make it through the interview stage. On top of that, when they do make it into university, the curriculum is predominantly white.

Every term, when I teach BA students, I make it a point to talk body politics – I talk gender, race, sexuality, age, culture – I discuss these things with the students, and I see them again and again surprise me by rising to the occasion, by understanding the dangers of stereotyping and blind prejudice, by showing an awareness and sensitivity to questions of diversity. These kinds of conversations are possible and they are necessary. It is also crucially important to include race studies in teacher training for school teachers. Not to teach political correctness, but to make teachers wary of their own stereotypes and prejudices, to broaden awareness of what a ‘good student’ looks like. There is just no excuse for higher education to be prejudiced when in fact they should take on the responsibility to change social and cultural beliefs for the better.

 

Why I’m disappointed with the print shop episode in Outlander

Image result for outlander print shop

This post contains SPOILERS for Outlander Season 3, Episode 6, The Print Shop episode, and the book Voyager

Okay, here’s why I’m a little bit disappointed – and it isn’t because ‘it isn’t the same as in the book’, because having read the books twenty years ago, I had no memory of the details when I first watched the reunion episode.

When we see Claire and Jamie in Episode 6, they have been apart for twenty years. When they meet again in the print shop, you know what I want? I want tears. I want bawling. I want them to cry so much, they start a flood in Edinburgh streets. Inconsolable, wrenching grief is what I’m after. When I watched the hugely anticipated episode, though, I felt underwhelmed. The longing of the first five episodes and the unnecessary extra week of waiting didn’t help this feeling at all.

By the time this reunion happens, there’s a huge build up for Claire, who has been anticipating and fearing the reunion for a long time. Jamie, of course, is blissfully unaware of what’s about to happen and is toodling about town in his shawl, making sweet words with smugglers and trying not to kick Geordie, his goitered shop assistant, every time he opens his mouth. When Jamie sees Claire, he faints. During the episode, both in the print shop and later in the brothel, there is awkwardness, uncertainty, even a bit of anger and jealousy. But in the end, everything comes together (no pun intended) a little too easily. By the time they’re eating dinner, Claire is smiling and flirting, Jamie is sometimes preoccupied by other things. The intense relationship they had twenty years ago, the impossibly long separation, the fact that they have a child together and have lost another one – all this seems to resolve a little too easily for me. There are a lot of smiles, teasing, fingers twirled through hair from Claire. There’s a strange monologue about Willie from Jamie – while it makes sense that he brings him up and also that he feels pride when talking about him, I would think he would be only too aware of Claire’s feelings on hearing this revelation and because of this he would tone down the pride just a tad. Maybe don’t brag about the child you’ve fathered with another woman to a woman who seemingly has not had sex in about fifteen years…just a tip.

So, wanting to compare notes with the books, I turned to Voyager. I first read the books about twenty years ago, so when I watch the show it’s like I’m watching something I’ve already watched before, but whose details I’m only just getting reacquainted with (which just goes to show that the adaptation and the characters are usually spot on.) So, how did the print shop scene unfold in the book? To my surprise, in a flood of tears. Jamie and Claire are living half a life when they’re apart from each other. So when they come together, I expected their hearts to crack – and they do in the book.

In the book, here’s what happens when Jamie comes to from his faint and establishes that Claire is real. They speak – the dialogue in the show is true to the book (the you never touched me bit breaks your heart in the show and the book). Then this is what Claire narrates – I had meant to speak lightly, but my voice betrayed me. The tears spilled down my cheeks, only to soak into the rough cloth of his shirt as he pulled me hard against him. I shook so that it was some time before I realized that he was shaking, too, and for the same reason. I don’t know how long we sat there on the dusty floor, crying in each other’s arms with the longing of twenty years spilling down our faces. Similarly, when Jamie sees pictures of Brianna, he buries his face in Claire’s shoulder and goes very quietly and thoroughly to pieces.

SIGH. GULP. Mop tears. Yup. This sounds just about right to me.

BUT, that said, in many ways when the show has gone off-book, they’ve made exactly the right choice. For example, what’s going on with Diana Gabaldon’s Yi Tien Cho/Mr Willoughby?!? In the show, he is a gentle and respectful Chinese man, though with a predilection for licking a whore’s elbow when finding one in licking distance (I’m not sure you can really blame him). In the book, he’s slightly different. Gabaldon has defended her writing of Yi Tien Cho by saying that we see him from Claire’s point of view, and she is a woman of the 1960s, and not of the 1990s when the books were written. But to me this doesn’t quite cover it. Claire calls him the little Chinese every time she refers to him- maybe that is from Claire’s point of view BUT the thing is, we don’t just see Yi Tien Cho from Claire’s point of view, we see him from Gabaldon’s. We see that he does three quick somersaults and jumps about like a flea when he meets Claire. It also turns out that he has a foot fetish and is almost constantly looking for a way to get Claire and other women to walk on him, allow him to wash their feet and do other unnamed things. Having met many people from China, I can safely say I haven’t met one that did somersaults as a greeting or tried to tickle my feet. So this is definitely cringey-cringe-cringe territory.

The show has made other good choices. There are scenes in the books where lovemaking walks a very thin line between consensual sex and rape. This happens in one scene in the first book between Jamie and Claire, and then again between Jamie and Geneva in the third book. So while most of the sex in the book is delicious, only made more so by the kind of things Jamie says to Claire (it was always forever for me, being the latest), there are some problem scenes and the show has shown impeccable instincts when dealing with these. 1990s Mills and Boon readers may have found the man-uses-aggression-thereby-making-woman-fall-in-love-with-him scenario enthralling, but the 2017 TV audience (with their tweeting fingers warmed up complaining about Game of Thrones sex scenes) just wouldn’t feel the same.

Still, all said and done, I am waiting breathlessly for the next episode…

 

 

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