Journal prompts: your opinion about your body and how comfortable you feel about it

culture

I hate prompts like this, so I’m going to keep it brief.

I’m too fat to be healthy, and I’m too fat to be comfortable in cheap theatre seats. I need to lose weight for both aesthetic and health reasons.

I know that I’m supposed to hate my body because of this. All those glossy magazines tell me so. But you know what? I’ve got amazing tits. My legs go on for days. I’m really flexible. I’m physically strong. My eyes are expressive. My hair is like silk.

If anybody wishes to judge my body harshly, they can kiss my flat, cellulite-ridden backside. If I could reach it, I would.

 

 

Journal prompts: somewhere I’d like to move to or visit

london

 

I’ve been to London many times, but it’s always been for the day, or for an overnight visit. I’ve toured Buckingham Palace, seen countless shows in the West End, spent hours at the Royal Academy, the National Gallery and the British Museum and shopped in Covent Garden. I’ve walked along the South Bank, visited the British Library and bought a Paddington Bear from Paddington Station. I’ve walked across Tower Bridge, explored the Tower of London and been to Madame Tussauds. I’ve cried in both Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve spent far too much money in Fortnum and Masons and Selfridges and wanted to move into the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of this city. I want to go everywhere and see everything! There’s so much history here, from Roman times to World War II. I’ve never managed to get to the Museum of London, or Highgate Cemetery. I’d love to do a river tour under the famous bridges across the Thames. I’ve visited Hyde Park briefly and I managed to see the famous Hyde Park Corner, but I want to see the whole thing, along with Regent’s Park and London Zoo. The Houses of Parliament are iconic, and I’d love to do the tour. I want to go and see if I can find where Vauxhall Gardens used to be, and trace where my characters would have lived in Mayfair. I’ve never been to Harrods, or ridden on a red London bus.

If only hotels weren’t so damned expensive – you can travel abroad for an all inclusive holiday for less than it would cost for a week in London!

Journal prompts: your academics

academics

 

I know that the academic world isn’t for everybody, but I loved every minute of my experience learning things. I’m on the other side of that equation now, and while it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, I do miss learning.

My GCSE grades were pretty good; A*s, As and Bs. My B in Maths was my proudest exam result as I found that by far the hardest. I always struggled with maths, and if it wasn’t for my patient father coaxing me through the curriculum I would have failed.

My A Levels were more of a mixed bag. An A, in Sociology; my tutor for the Lower Sixth may have turned into a convicted rapist in his later years, but by God, I got a thorough grounding in Marxism, Functionalism and Symbolic Interactionalism. Add a healthy amount of bullshitting in my final exam, and I flew through that one. A B in English Literature, which I found a little disappointing as I loved that subject so much. I really did poorly, by my standards, in my History; only a C grade. That was a real disappointment, but deserved. I found coping with the stress of exams so difficult that didn’t revise enough. I also got an AS Level in General Studies, which is as useless as it sounds. I talked about it briefly in this post where I talked about role models. I took an S Level  – a step above A Level – in English too, and passed that, although not with any particular distinction.

Back then, the UCAS points system awarded ten points for an A, eight for a B, six for a C, etc. I needed something like twenty two points to get into the university course I wanted, and somehow in my head I convinced myself that because that was what I needed, that was what I would get. When I actually saw my results I was thrown because my brain couldn’t process the number of points I received. I had cleared that goal with just my A Levels, but with the other qualifications too I was closer to thirty than twenty. My old Maths teacher was there on results day as she was also the Exams Officer, and mistook my confusion for horror. I had to thrust the slip into her hand and ask her to tell me if I had the points I needed for university. The look of exasperation she gave me is forever etched into my memory!

I went to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which is now just Aberystwyth University. It’s a beautiful small town on the west coast of Wales, with dolphins in the bay, a ruined castle next to the nineteenth century campus and a wonderful feeling of warmth and safety. I read English and History, with a focus on Anglo-Saxon and Norman history. To this day I consider myself half a historian. There I finally found academic freedom and it was the happiest three years of my life. I would have loved to continue on to an MA, and even a PhD, but there just wasn’t the money available. Instead, I took a one year PGCE course and qualified as a teacher. I’ve just recently achieved a Graduate Diploma in Professional Development (Leadership), which was a draining and painful experience. I don’t think it’s possible for me to juggle my day job, writing and earning any more professional qualifications – it’s just too much.

Should I ever win the lottery and give up work, I think I’d go back into full time education. I love teaching, but I love learning more and there’s just so much I don’t know!

Journal prompts: five pet peeves

pet peeves

 

Only five? Really? Okay…

Well, there’s one. Misuse of the ellipsis. Ellipsis is not supposed to be use to create a cliffhanger, or a long pause. Ellipsis is used to show the intentional omission of a word or words from a sentence. That’s it. It’s been co-opted for a lazy purpose, and I don’t like it. I never use it that way in my books, and it drives me crazy when I see other writers using it.

People who chew with their mouths open. It’s disgusting and they should know better. It smacks of bad manners, which is just inexcusable. I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, if you’re older than five you should know better. Speaking of bad manners, people who don’t bother holding doors open for people behind them should be banned.

I’m borrowing this one from Book from Firefly, but there is a special hell for people who talk in the theatre. I’m including the cinema in this, and I will be the person who leans forward and tells you off for ruining my experience. I have no fear in this regard.

There seems to be a fad for putting a question mark at the end of opinion sentences at the moment, at least on the online comment sections that I read. Stop it! Just stop it! If you have an opinion, then you have an opinion. Own it! It’s yours! Using a question mark makes it look like you’re unsure of your own opinion and can’t structure a sentence accurately.

People who don’t parent their children properly. I know from a brief babysitting stint just how frustrating it can be looking after a three year old, and I only had to look after her for three days. Being a full time parent is a very hard job, and it deserves respect. But if you catch your child hitting another one, and then smack them as a punishment, or catch them swearing and shriek “Don’t fucking swear!” at them, then I think you’re falling down on the job. If you take your child to a public place, like a restaurant, and then don’t try to keep them occupied, then I think you should take them home. I’m paying for my dining experience too, and I don’t want to do it while your bored child is running about the place shrieking.

 

 

Journal prompts: five ways to win my heart

love

 

I’m a bit jaded on  the love front, to be honest; my real life experiences have been bittersweet, at best. The love that I write about certainly isn’t realistic, or, at least, my experience of real love. But that’s the point of romance novels, isn’t it? To be unrealistic?

Any man who wants to win my heart isn’t getting much of a prize. It’s a bit battered and scarred. Should he be out there, however, here’s what he’d have to do.

Show loyalty. Men who can’t make a promise and stick to it aren’t men I need to be with. When I fall in love I’m loyal. I’ve ended relationships, of course, but I’ve never lied to a man about how I feel. I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend and I would never tolerate a man who cheated on me.

Have a sense of the absurd. Life is ridiculous. If you can’t laugh about it, I don’t need you.

Have patience. With me, and with the world in general. Good things come to those who wait.

Be intelligent. He doesn’t have to be a MENSA candidate, but I need someone smarter than the average bear. Not only do I find intelligence and competence very sexy, but I just can’t imagine building a successful relationship with somebody who can’t keep up with my brain. That sounds boastful, doesn’t it? Well, so be it. I’m no genius but I’m not stupid, either. I’ve dated people who turned out to be not at my mental level, and it was a painful experience. Intelligence is a must, in whatever form it shows itself.

Be kind. Be kind to animals, kind to children, kind to those who are weaker or in need. Show mercy. Help people without expecting reward. I don’t have many spiritual ideas, but I do think you get back what you give out. I try to be kind, although I know that I can be kinder than I am in the way I speak about people. I couldn’t imagine being with a man who isn’t kind.

I don’t want much, do I?

 

Journal Prompts: Who is your role model?

Oh, I got into trouble for this once in school!

When I was in Sixth Form, we were required to take an AS Level (half an A Level) in General Studies, a subject so vague, nebulous and useless that they couldn’t even give it a name worth remembering. There were units in science, art, religious studies and…um…I can’t remember. I stopped listening, I think.

Anyway, in one class I remember that we were asked to give a short presentation on our role models. I picked two that meant something to me, but after I had given my presentation the teacher, who was the Head of Sixth Form, was incredibly angry and accused me of not taking the assignment seriously. That annoyed me, because I was probably the only person in the room who had taken it seriously!

I’ve added another role model since then, although I should have probably included her at the time. So then, in no particular order:

Number One: Miss Piggy

miss piggy

Yes, I know she’s a puppet, but seriously, there’s a lot to admire here. Some may call her an attention-seeking diva with a ridiculously short fuse, but that’s never stopped some of the great divas from behaving in exactly the same way!

Miss Piggy is all about her career, and that’s no bad thing for a woman to be. She’s the headline act of the Muppet Show, and demanding the respect she’s due isn’t a crime.

Miss Piggy only has eyes for one frog, and that’s her beloved Kermit. Say what you like about their tempestuous love life, but she’s never looked twice at another frog. Or pig. Or bear. Or whatever. She’s loyal, which has to be a good thing.

Miss Piggy has never needed anybody else to stand up for her. If somebody’s giving her crap, she karate-chops them across the room. Tell me that isn’t bad ass. Tell me that isn’t something every woman should be able to do, if they need it.

Miss Piggy, role model.

 

Anna_anderson

 

This next one is a little more obscure, but came about due to my incessant reading during my teenage years. This is a photograph of a woman who called herself Anna Anderson. She also called herself the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanova until the day she died.

Now, we all know the truth. The Russian royal family – the Tsar, the Tsarina, and their five children – were all murdered in 1917. The story is gruesome and I won’t repeat it here, but ambiguity first arose when only five of the seven bodies of the murdered family were recovered. The Tsarevitch Alexei and one of his sisters were missing, and several women came forward claiming to be the youngest Romanov daughter, Anastasia.

The most famous was Anna Anderson, whose real name was Franziska Schanzkowska. Her claim to be Anastasia was met with confusion by the people who had known the young royal. They were split; while some were sure that Anderson wasn’t Anastasia, others really did believe. There was a court case that ruled that she wasn’t, but notoriety can be more powerful than legalities. Anna Anderson, as she eventually became known, bounced around the homes of crowned heads of Europe and wealthy Americans for most of her life. While she was alive, nobody could prove that she was Anastasia. More crucially, nobody could prove that she wasn’t.

Of course, DNA tests on part of her intestine removed during an operation in America have since proved that she shares no genetic relationship to surviving relatives of the Tsarina. She was what so many people said she was: a mentally unstable Polish factory worker who lied about her identity.

Yet.

This woman, who undoubtedly was suffering from severe mental illness that drove her to a suicide attempt in Berlin and some very disturbing behaviour during the rest of her life, managed to do something quite remarkable. She somehow managed to convince people who had actually known the real Anastasia that she was, in fact, a member of the Russian royal family. These people weren’t just humouring her. They truly believed that she was Anastasia. She kept this up from the 1920s until her death in 1984. That’s sixty years! Sixty years! More than that, the people that didn’t believe her (and quite rightly, it turned out) couldn’t gather enough conclusive evidence to turn her supporters against her. Not until DNA testing became available.

Not bad for a poorly educated factory worker, who wasn’t even from Russia.

So yes, she lied. She lied long and she lied hard, but my god, what a life she had. You have to admire her ability to make what must have been a horrible life into one materially a lot better. That’s why she’s a role model – she did what she needed to do, no matter why her confused mind told her she needed to do it.

 

granny

 

My third role model is Granny Weatherwax, a character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. She’s a witch, which is rather obvious by her pointy hat, which she wears largely for reasons of Headology and, in the later years of her life, to cover You, the small white kitten that had adopted her and liked to ride on her head.

Granny is clever, fearless and utterly convinced that she knows best about everything, which, to be fair, is true most of the time. She’s faced down vampires, evil elves and Death himself in order to protect the people of Lancre, the village that respects her more than likes her. She even took on her own sister, a Godmother, and walked away victorious thanks to her iron will, self control and expert knowledge of magic, which she tries to use as little as possible.

She charges into life at full ramming speed, expecting everything else to get out of her way. She is the best at what she does, and she knows that the price that she has to pay for being the best is having to be the best, no matter what. Every threat to Lancre is hers to deal with because only she can deal with it.  In a way, that resonated with me. I was a clever kid. Not genius level, or anything, but usually I was the smartest person in the room when I was growing up. Sooner or later there became the expectation that I would be the first to put up my hand, get the highest test scores, be the first person in my family to get good examination passes, go on to university, make something of myself. The pressure, although well-meaning, was intense. I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, that I’d slip somehow, that I’d let everybody down. Knowing that there was somebody else out there that understood that pressure, even if she was fictional, really helped.

I met Terry Pratchett once. The only time I skipped school, I went to a book signing.Such a rebel! I deeply regret not being able to tell him how Granny helped me get through those teenage years. He’s gone now, a victim of a horrible disease that robbed a family of a husband and father and the rest of the world of a writer of exceptional wit, humour and humanity. He took Granny with him, which is perhaps fitting. I couldn’t imagine wanting to be without her either.

 

Journal Prompts: A movie you can quote by heart

gentlemen

 

There are plenty of movies I can quote just about every word from, but today’s little entry is just going to talk about what is probably my favourite musical: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. 

Famous today for the iconic Marilyn Monroe number, Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend, my real joy in this movie is not Monroe’s ditzy blonde with a sharp mercenary streak Lorelei Lee, but Jane Russell, playing the clever, acerbic Dorothy Shaw.

Lorelei and Dorothy are showgirls, entertaining rich men every night in an upmarket night club. While Dorothy is focused on doing her job, Lorelei is on the lookout for a rich husband, and has found a willing volunteer. The problem is, he’s not really the rich one: his father is, and his father will not countenance his only son marrying a platinum blonde showgirl. Lorelei’s answer to this problem is to take a trip to Paris – as soon as her rich boyfriend breaks and follows her there, they can get married without his father interfering. The problem is, the father has hired a private investigator to look into Lorelei, and she’s a girl who gets into a lot of trouble, even in the middle of the Atlantic!

Luckily for Lorelei, she has her best friend Dorothy to help get her out of a jam. That is, of course, if Dorothy can tear her eyes away from the US Olympic team who are travelling on the same boat to France the women are. She may be acting as chaperone, but as she tells Lorelei’s fiance firmly:

“Now lets get this straight, Gus. The chaperone’s job is to see that nobody else has any fun. Nobody chaperones the chaperone. That’s why I’m so right for this job!”

Dorothy is clever, witty, brash and not scared of a damned thing. She’s not a gold-digger like her best friend, but a woman who falls in love with the wrong man regularly, which she accepts with wry resignation. She’s loyal to Lorelei when most wouldn’t be, and isn’t scared to give as good as she gets. She even puts up with Lorelei’s determined matchmaking!

Dorothy: What are you doing?

Lorelei: Checking the passenger list. “Mr. Alfred Loman and valet.” “Mr. Eugene Martin and valet.”

Dorothy: Why the sudden interest in valets?

Lorelei: When a man has “and valet” after his name, he’s worthwhile. I’m trying to find a gentleman escort for you… Do you want a loveless marriage?

Dorothy: Me, loveless?

Lorelei: If a girl spends time worrying about the money she doesn’t have, how will she have any time for love? I want you to find happiness and stop having fun.

Dorothy: That baffles me.

Lorelei: You’ll thank me some day. Here’s a good one: “Henry Spofford III and valet.” I remember. The Spofford family owns practically a whole state. A big one too. I think it’s Pennsylvania!

Dorothy: I guess I could settle for Pennsylvania.

Lorelei: Hello, Mrs. Henry Spofford III!

Dorothy: Mrs. Henry Spofford III and valet. He won’t have anything I don’t.

This was made in 1954, and it shows. A modern woman doesn’t have much to look up to in Lorelei, although she does have a certain cunning charm. It’s a musical with pretty much only one big number, which goes to Monroe, although Russell gets a crack at it too at the end of the movie. Russell’s big stand-alone song , “Is Anyone Here For Love?” sees her sing and dance in the middle of the ship’s gymnasium as the US Olympic gymnasts, wrestlers and, it seems, dance team, work out in skin-tight, skin-coloured briefs. The number ends with Russell taking a tumble into the pool, only to be hoisted out, still singing, by some of the helpful wrestling dancers. That, it turns out, was a mistake; one of the extras who was supposed to dive over Jane Russell and into the pool caught her with his foot accidentally and toppled her into the pool. They changed the ending to include the splash, and Russell gamely went along with it, looking impossibly glamorous while soaking wet and in agony with a bad back.

Jane Russell, musical bad ass.

The costumes are wonderful – perfect clothes that you couldn’t imagine wearing yourself but look fabulous on Russell and Monroe. The songs are catchy – I’ve had a snippet of “When Love Goes Wrong” in my head for days – and the two female leads are in wonderful form. The men are largely forgettable, but that’s okay. This isn’t a film about the men. It’s all about the women, and that’s why I love it so much. It’s funny and romantic, and ends well for everybody, which is what I want in a musical.

If you’re fond of a musical and you haven’t indulged, do. You won’t regret it!