Something to Tell You

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I haven’t updated this blog in forever but I’m back now and boy do I have something to tell you. (Three copies of it, in case you were wondering.)

If you follow me on any social media, you’ll have some idea of what I’m about to say so I’ll cut to the chase: I saw Haim, I met Haim, I love Haim.

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Thoughts on Carrie

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I have a strange relationship with death. We are long-distance enemies. Hateful pen pals. Despite having never been to a funeral, I worry about it more than is rational. Not my own mortality, that is, but that of the people around me.

The unknown of the experience of losing someone has built it up into my greatest fear. It can keep me up at night for no reason at all.

I’m not great at making friends so the ones I do have are obliged to outlive me. I’ve decided that no one’s allowed to die now. Not anyone I love. I’ve had a small taste of that and I didn’t much take to it.

When I say a small taste, I mean someone I love did die, but it was someone I didn’t know personally. Or directly, in person, having met. I missed that opportunity only two weeks ago. Nevertheless, I felt I knew her personally.

It feels personal.

The books she wrote and the words she spoke were so open that it seems impossible that I could know such intimate details of her life and not truly know her. She was so open. Not open in that friendly, arms-outstretched way that some people can be, but open in a way that went deeper, and darker. Carrie didn’t shy away from things that could make you uncomfortable. She didn’t dilute herself to put you at ease. She was just joyfully, heartbreakingly Carrie all the time.

Her final book, for instance, was the publication of a 40-year-old diary. If it’s edited, those edits are limited. It follows the pattern that Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic and Postcards from the Edge have laid out before it: an equation of startling honesty and self-deprecating humour. No one will ever prove so persistently that light can be drawn from even the darkest places.

As the media reported on news of her ill health on the 23rd, the phrasing – “massive heart attack” – felt so coarse. The word “massive” seemed the worst of it. It was as though those news sources sought to minimise hope amongst a group taught to hope against all odds. I couldn’t help myself.

A quote of hers kept in my mind:

 “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get yourself into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.”

Show off that gift just one more time for us, I kept thinking.

If anyone was going to survive 2016, surely it would be Carrie. Indomitable Carrie. She’d bounce back and joke about being described as “stable”, because that’s how she was. She drew light from even the darkest places. She’d probably write a book about it with a Star Wars pun for a title, and spend her recovery on Twitter, liking tweets that feature weird pictures of herself, Mark and Harrison while privately DMing fans words of comfort.

On Christmas Day, I unwrapped The Princess Diarist. I was given cards with Leia’s image emblazoned on them (“Tis the season to be rebels!”), and even a Han and Leia mouse mat that my mum had sweetly made up on Vistaprint. There was a lot of Carrie, in the most bittersweet of ways. She’s all over the gifts my best friends are yet to unwrap. With our shared love for our princess and our general, we’d made it through this shitty year together.

Perhaps it’s weird I got all the way to December before feeling like this.

Death has been everywhere this year, death and bad things. So many famous people died, it’s a small miracle that I, the perpetual fangirl, didn’t already feel buried in this strange and illegitimate grief. I felt sad every time, naturally, but also detached – by necessity. Sad things are happening at an ever more alarming rate but we hide out from those things, we separate ourselves, we try to keep our heads up and push on.

I’ve had my heart broken a few times and a few ways in 2016 but through it all, I took comfort in my newfound world of Star Wars. Now, to end the year on this new heartbreak feels especially cruel given that Carrie and her galaxy far, far away had been a comfort for most of it.

I miss her. I miss her all the time. I miss her in moments that she’d never have been in anyway. Isn’t that bizarre?

How strange an experience it is to lose a personal hero.

Falling Swiftly: Get Excited For 1989-Era Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift 1989Does anyone else feel a little like the Taylor tide is turning? Mama gonna ride that wave.

Taylor Swift has always been a curiously divisive public figure. Flawed but seemingly a fundamentally nice (and, crucially, cat-loving) person, the backlash against Swift seems to have endured throughout all of her success. I would never have referred to myself as a fan (though we all celebrated turning 22 with a loud sing-along of the track of the same name, right?), but I always felt a little bemused by the ferocity of her critics. It’s long been apparent to me that Swift possesses a rare gift for damn catchy songwriting, with hits like “I Knew You Were Trouble” ubiquitous on international radio and eternally trapped inside my head. On the eve of Taylor Swift’s fifth studio album, 1989, I’ve been feeling a very new and fervent affection for the young singer-songwriter, though. And it’s not just because of the cats. (It’s at least 50% because of the cats.)

Criticism of Swift has been extensive, to say the least. My personal issues with her have been with problematic lyrics of early hits, the boy-centric psychology that has permeated her previous albums and her pretty firm attempt to dissociate with feminism (asked if she would consider herself a feminist, Swift answered: “I don’t really think about things as guys versus girls. I never have. I was raised by parents who brought me up to think if you work as hard as guys, you can go far in life.”). In the past few months, though, I would argue that Swift has adequately addressed all of those issues. Regarding one of her early songs, “Better Than Revenge” (a song about a girl who “stole” Swift’s ex-boyfriend from her), she has since commented: “I was 17 when I wrote that. That’s the age you are when you think someone can actually take your boyfriend. Then you grow up and realise no one takes someone from you if they don’t want to leave.” I think it is, as Swift herself points out, crucial to remember the age that she was when she was penning her early hits. No one has the world figured out at 17 and being immersed in the catfight-loving media, it’s hardly surprising that this naïve attitude emerged from a young Swift.

Possibly most widespread of all Taylor Swift’s criticism has been the condemnation she’s received for her openness regarding her relationships with Joe Jonas, John Mayer, Jake Gyllenhaal and other people whose names don’t begin with ‘J’. This is perhaps the preposterous argument of all time, and I’ll waste as little time as possible addressing it. Do you know how many songs are written about break-ups? Most. Do you like Ed Sheeran? Do you like Adele? Do you like Maroon 5? Do you like ABBA? Do you like Justin Timberlake? None of these artists have provoked the toxic, aggressive backlash that Swift has faced. If you want to argue that Adele was let off the hook owing to the private identity of her subject, then look at the Justin Timberlake example. He wrote a breakup anthem about Britney Spears, and yet “Cry Me a River” is never blasted for its autobiographical nature (likewise Ed Sheeran). My personal frustration with some of Swift’s music, that it is a tad boy-centric for my taste, has been curbed lately, with “Shake It Off” providing an encouraging introduction to an album that has been teased as a move away from the relationship post-mortems of her previous hits. Swift herself says, “It’s definitely much more about the last two years of my life which have been about moving to New York, surrounding myself with my friends, figuring out who I am, independence, freedom, all of those things. When I am reflecting back on a romantic relationship, it’s mostly just looking back on the things I learned from it.” Is it weird to feel proud of a person who is two years older than you? Because I feel it.

She also told Esquire: “I do not need some guy around in order to get inspiration, in order to make a great record, in order to live my life, in order to feel okay about myself. And I wanted to show my fans the same thing.” My heart soars.

The final slice of beef that I have had in the past with the “Love Story” hitmaker is perhaps a little more complicated, though once again comes down to age and growth, I think. Swift’s previous comments about feminism seem to illustrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what feminism is and does, a result, no doubt, of the prevalent derogative rhetoric surrounding the term. In more recent interviews, though, a very different attitude seems to have emerged from Swift, who told The Guardian: “As a teenager, I didn’t understand that saying you’re a feminist is just saying that you hope women and men will have equal rights and equal opportunities. What it seemed to me, the way it was phrased in culture, society, was that you hate men. And now, I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means.”

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Swift recently extended support to Emma Watson following the actress’s speech at the UN.

This statement underlines the significance of Emma Watson’s recent UN speech (which directly addressed this misunderstanding), which Swift herself noted in an interview with Tout Le Monde En Parle. She explained: “I wish when I was younger I had been able to watch a video of my favourite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful, poignant way the definition of feminism. Because I would have understood it. And then earlier on in my life, I would have proudly claimed I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means.”

While Emma Watson and Taylor Swift’s comments on feminism might be criticised as overly simplistic, they provide a much-needed introduction to the concept of feminism for their young fans. Certainly, Swift’s enlightenment regarding gender issues is something that has me won over. While I was always optimistic that she never opposed equality of the genders, endorsement of the term “feminism” itself is a significant move forward. I think it’s important to note that her earlier comments had come when she was still exceptionally young. She’s still young now, in fact, but her recent statements seem to be considerably more informed. She’s not alone in her transformation, I feel inclined to point out. Queen Bey herself, now celebrated for her notable use of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s definition of feminism in “Flawless”, sang lead on the Destiny’s Child track “Nasty Girl” (a lesson in slut-shaming, with lyrics like: “These men don’t want no hot female that’s been around the block female, you nasty girl”). The media in general seems to have forgiven and forgotten in Beyoncé’s case (she’s instead attacked for a multitude of other sins, stemming from the media’s blatant and continued sexism and racism), and yet Swift still seems to be persecuted for the problematic lyrics of her youth. I think in both instances, these women have become more informed and mature since the release of these early records.

One decision by Swift that I think is particularly brilliant is that for her covers of both “Just a Dream” by Nelly and “Riptide” by Vance Joy, she opts out of changing the pronouns. This heteronormative habit of the pop industry is pretty prevalent when it comes to covers, but it’s so good to see Swift bucking that trend. It allows queer female fans to identify with the music in a way that they wouldn’t have been able to had the pronouns been changed. Added to that, her latest track, “Welcome To New York”, includes the line, “Everyone else here was someone else before. You can want who you want; boys and boys and girls and girls.”

Untitled-3To me, whether or not Swift’s virtues outweigh her flaws isn’t even a question. From “no, it’s becky”, to her considerable generosity with fans, to her philanthropic efforts, Swift seems like just the kind of person I’d want to sit down and marathon Parks and Rec with while consuming a big ol’ batch of her homemade cookies. If you take one look at her cute-ass Tumblr page, you can’t ignore the wonderfully down-to-earth person that Swift proves to be. Legit, if I was a famous person, I would aspire to be everything that Taylor is (we’re on first name terms now). Everything on that page reads in perfect keeping with Tumblr’s slightly odd, totally brilliant sense of humour. The fact that Taylor gets it and actively seeks to be on the same level as her fans speaks volumes if you ask me. Even at her ridiculous level of fame, she manages to become an involved member of her own fan community. Stories of Swift’s efforts for her fans have included her surprising a bride-to-be, visiting and singing to a sick fan in hospital, inviting fans to hang with her and listen to 1989 ahead of the release, giving a fan she ran into $90 because it was her birthday, inviting a fan who was hit by a car on the way to her concert backstage at another tour date, sending love on Instagram to a fan being bullied, and reportedly donating thousands of dollars to a homeless fan. I’ll buy her record because it’s catchy as hell, and damn those hooks, but I write this blog because girl deserves a break from all those who won’t.

Her newest tracks have slayed. “Shake It Off” is one of my favourite songs that Taylor has yet delivered. It’s fun, fast and freeing; it’s an invitation to have a good time, to let loose. In message, it seems an updated “22”, with an even fresher sound. It is also the best track in my iTunes for pushing me through the end of a 5k run. “Out of the Woods” is just as impressive, a near-perfect pop song that shows the vast potential of Taylor Swift. At 25, she’s producing some of the best pop around. It’s hard to imagine how good she’ll be in the future, but I’m hella excited about it.

I really hope the momentum of public opinion is beginning to shift in Taylor Swift’s favour. It’s about time we all just dance like it’s 1989.

Life on Mars

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Fans, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

THE VERONICA MARS MOVIE IS A GO. In a remarkable display of loyalty, fans of the short-lived TV series came together and reached a target of $2m towards a follow-up film within a matter of hours. It’s impressive stuff considering the show’s relatively underwhelming ratings (2.5 million av.), but proves that you should never underestimate a small but devoted viewership.

I’ve actually never seen Veronica Mars. That doesn’t stop me being utterly thrilled about the success of the Kickstarter campaign. This is a potentially monumental step in the evolution of media production. The reaction on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook during the short duration of the project has been encouraging from all corners. For any fan whose show has ever fallen victim to the premature network cancellation, this is a joyous occasion. Networks no longer hold all the cards. Hope for all! In fact, Zachary Levi’s already tweeted some excitement-inducing tweets for Chuck fans.

I hope that the success of this particular Kickstarter will see to many more in the future. The idea that fans can be so in control of what’s in the cinema and on their TVs seems like a natural extension of the online media. I’m still reeling from the recently-blogged-about cancellation of The Hour, which prompted a fan-fuelled campaign of its own, so it’s rather good timing to hear of the big Kickstarter success story.

Before now, it has been the Chuck supporters who have been the poster fandom for this kind of activity. So incredibly vocal in their support of the show, fans helped the series through many near death experiences – eventually getting it to five seasons. As mentioned, it seems like Zachary Levi might not be done, and after today I wouldn’t bet against him. Arrested Development is another notable fan-driven success, with new episodes coming to Netflix in the near future. Never underestimate the power of the fans, especially not with casts and writers who are just as enthusiastic. And no one can say Kristen Bell didn’t want it enough, that’s for sure.

One small step for fans, a giant leap for fankind.

So it begs the question: what shows would you like to see return or be adapted for film?

What the fic?!

Fan fiction. This is a topic I’m likely to return to from time to time. It’s something that gets a bad rap, in my opinion. In fact, this struck me during one of my adaptation lectures, for which my lecturer had picked some excerpts for her slides. Now, when I say these were bad, I’m not kidding. But it’s like picking a bad Twilight quote and suggesting that it represents literature. Fan fiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Not all of it is good. Probably not even most of it is good. But in my experience, some of it is magnificent. And it serves a very valid purpose.

Part of the reason I’m uncomfortable with the misconceptions about fan fiction is because I write it, and I know better (yes, that’s the sound of me getting on my high horse). I’ve been writing fan fiction since I was fourteen years old. You may think I’m being defensive and you may well assume that mine is as bad as the very worst. I will accept that I may not be the best; I may even be the worst. One thing I know for certain, though, is that I’m a damn sight better at writing than I was when I started. In my mind, that’s what it comes down to. You are in a situation where there’s a receptive audience; there are people to please. You write and write, and that process comes with natural improvement.

You build upon universes created by other writers. Some of them are the best in the world, of their time, within their genre. There are worlds like those of Harry Potter, Doctor Who and, in my humble opinion, The West Wing that introduce minor characters that deserved a back-story and leave subplots open-ended and tease all the shoulda-beens that never were. There is nothing wrong with wanting to explore all of that. My experience of reading fan fiction has only served to enrich my experience of the source material. Sometimes you come across fan fiction that is better than the canon material. I can’t adequately express the delight I take in being able to give someone that kind of feedback. Even if it isn’t “better”, how many film adaptations are regarded as “better” than the book? They simply serve a different purpose, provide for a different audience or expand the material for the same audience.

What fan fiction does that creative writing more generally doesn’t do is come with a pre-existing audience. It creates an immediacy to the process, removing the involvement of editors, publishers etc. This means that the writer themselves has to serve as all of the above. It teaches the individual to become an editor, to develop the skills of proofreading. In this respect, the learning curve is steeper. It also allows the writer total control over what they are putting out into the world. While this can be done with any online writing, fan fiction also comes with communities that are readily interested in reading the work. Your market, so to speak, is there waiting for you.

The platforms upon which fan fiction is shared vary. There are general fan fiction websites; currently the largest of these is Fanfiction.net (FFN), with in excess of 600,000 stories for Harry Potter alone. There are fandom-specific websites that are often home to other relevant media for a fandom, a modest example is More Than That which exists entirely for fans of The Office’s Jim and Pam (with over 750 active members). Finally, there is the personal blog format, utilising sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr to post fan fiction amidst other blog material. Use of all these outlets is increasing all the time.

Fan fiction is not new, though. Fanfiction.net was launched in 1998, LiveJournal in 1999. Shows like The West Wing, a series that ran from 1999 until 2006, are not exempt from the world of fan fiction, proving that not only has this format endured, it is far from exclusive to worlds of science fiction or fantasy. In fact, The West Wing fan fiction is a mix of old and new with the main resource for older fan fictions, National Library, hosting over 6,000 different stories. These fandom-specific websites often include guidelines and challenges that, despite the bad press, may be used to stimulate ideas. This speaks to the two-way dialogue that occurs in this setting between the writers and readers.

Given how much the experience of fan fiction has enriched my writing process, the disparaging remarks made against fan fiction communities elude me. Writing fan fiction involves a process of deconstruction to the source material. It forces the writer to analyse the importance of character development, distinguishing each character as an individual, pace, perspectives and narration, the layers between page and screen and so much more. It’s often unconsciously done, but the best works are those that successfully and subtly explore those elements. It allows one to understand the same importance in one’s own creative writing. You begin to look for ways to create unique character traits and distinctive voices on the page. You begin to contemplate what narrative voice will be most effective for different contexts. You begin to explore how chronology can affect storytelling. It’s simply another way to learn from the pros.

While you’re writing fan fiction, you’re learning about what is good and bad about the characters you love. In the process, you’re learning about what is good and bad about the characters you create. It allows you a wealth of insight into the creative process, simultaneous to the experience of receiving feedback. Constructive feedback can hugely shape the way a person writes, while vague but encouraging feedback can simply inspire you to write more (and thus improve!). Most of the time, it’s done within a community. It allows you to learn from your peers, which only adds to the motivation. You want to entertain these people, and they want to be entertained. It’s enormously rewarding in this respect. Unlike in the classroom, the reader is willing and motivated entirely by personal interest.

Ultimately, it was my fellow fans that taught me how to write. I promise this: no teacher ever read my work as attentively as some of my readers. For a girl who gets by on mustered faux confidence, the encouragement has been energising. As one of my lecturers frequently stresses, it’s important to identify who the reader is. This experience provides that first-hand. You have a direct discourse with those readers. Once you accept the importance of readership and feedback to a writer, how can you possibly deny the value of fan fiction?

I’d be really interested to read what you think about this, whether a reader of fan fiction or not, so please feel free to leave comments below.