Christmas Hiatus

Ok, a few days ago I declared I wanted to write a series of posts on Black Mirror. I then started writing my first, accidentally posted the first draft when it was only half written and then haven’t been seen since. Instead, I’ve decided to take a short Christmas break from blogging. I think I would like to just chill with my family and spend time watching Christmas films on TV and reading books. It probably won’t be long till I’m back on here but it’ll be nice just to have a few days out from blogging and to relax with my mum and my husband.
Wishing you all a lovely holiday season, a very Merry Christmas and a lovely end to 2014.
Gen H

Looking into the Black Mirror

Sometimes I worry about why I blog. It seems like such a self-involved thing to do at times, to put your views out there in the expectation that they will be read. I really enjoy doing it but it’s sometimes so easy to be swayed by how many hits you are getting. For this reason I’ve slowed down with blogging a little over the last few weeks just to set my priorities.
However, a few days ago I realised why I do blog…
I watched Black Mirror: White Christmas and just needed to discuss it but the friends/family I tried to broach the subject with were just not interested. One work friend asked about it and I tried to explain but unfortunately used the episode The National Anthem as an example but at the mention of pig sex the conversation stopped. I realised that I had come across as a bit of a weirdo and probably should have explained a different episode. I suppose that I blog in order to have an outlet to discuss texts that interest me without annoying/boring those who live around me. Mostly people who end up here have done so through the wordpress reader or through search engine hits so they are looking for this type of subject anyway… thus there is less risk of boring them than my poor husband who doesn’t like Charlie Brooker but had to listen to an hour or so of me waffling on about his dystopian visions. Saying that, my wordpress stats did tell me that someone ended up on this blog by using the search terms “whose penis is it in horns?” I did review the film and book but I certainly didn’t focus my writing on whether we actually got to see Daniel Radcliffe’s bits!!
Anyway, back to the topic, I just want to discuss texts and literature and these days I think TV is really raising its game and producing programmes such as Black Mirror and Utopia which really have an almost literary feel.
Over the next week or so (with a gap for Christmas and some reviews) I want to celebrate Black Mirror getting more exposure in America through Netflix and the arrival of Black Mirror: White Christmas with a series of essay type pieces (and a shorter fun piece about the meta references in BMWC).
In the meantime though, for those who have seen White Christmas or Fifteen Million Merits, I leave you with the beautiful sound of Irma Thomas.

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My Eclectic (and Mildly Bookish) Tree

Despite the fact that we are both full of cold today, my husband and I have put our Christmas tree up! Our Christmas tree is always pretty eclectic as we like to pick up different decorations from the different places that we visit. We started off with value pack baubles and stars from the supermarket when we first moved in together and we also have dried orange slices dotted about. We have also bought a few special additions each year. We have decorations by local artists and craftspeople and some that show our geeky and bookish leanings!

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Here are a few of our literary inspired decorations. A Jane Austen-esque lady (picked up in Bath), Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee (bought at the British Library) and good old William Shakespeare (bought in Stratford).

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I love this Liverpool themed bauble made by local artist Frieda McKitrick.

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We’ve collected decorations from different places we’ve visited. Favourites include the ice cream from the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont, the Maltese glass angel, the Boston bauble and the New Zealand bought kiwi decoration.

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This year’s new decorations were made by Mr H. Note the Game of Thrones reference on this one.

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How do you and your family reflect your personalities and tastes in your holiday decorations?

REVIEW: Doctor Who: The Anti-Hero – Stella Duffy

Arriving at the ancient Musaeum of Alexandria, the Doctor is keen to explore. He might find some new recorder music, and Jamie might discover a new porridge recipe, while Zoe will love the antiquated ideas about astrophysics. But once inside, they all find rather more than they bargained for, and it soon becomes clear they may never leave the Museaum alive…

Thanks to NetGalley and BBC Digital for the e-Arc of this book in return for an honest review.

I would definitely class myself as a fan of Doctor Who (I’m not sure if I like the term Whovian) but I do feel like I’m still a newcomer to the fandom.  I have vague memories of Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor but I was very young when Doctor Who was on in the 80s and it wasn’t really something I was interested in then.  Upon the return of Doctor Who to mainstream TV, I started watching the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Ecclestone) and then got hooked, carrying on to watch David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi.  Since then I’ve watched the Doctor Who TV movie featuring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor (and actually quite enjoyed it), have listened to a few Big Finish Audios of the Eighth Doctor and have ready a variety of novels and novellas featuring 9,10,11 and 12.

The Time Trips series will be the first time that I have properly encountered the other incarnations of the Doctor.  I have an awareness of the character traits of each version from watching specials on the TV and reading non-fiction books about the programmes, but I’ve never read or watched the actual episodes featuring them.  I’ve been trying to find a way of watching the classic programmes but they seem to be shown on a channel that my Freeview box can’t access and they’re not available on Netflix UK or Amazon Prime.  So, when I saw this book and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Time Traveller available on NetGalley I knew that I wanted to apply to read them (and that if I wasn’t accepted I would probably go and buy them pretty soon anyway).

I had a very vague concept of the Second Doctor as played by Patrick Troughton (quirky, scruffy appearance, wears a bow-tie, plays a recorder) and my only knowledge about his companions was that Jamie was played by the guy who went on to be Joe Sugden in Emmerdale (Frazer Hines).  However, I didn’t find that this lack of knowledge hampered me at all whilst reading this short e-book. Within a chapter or two I felt comfortable with The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe and really enjoyed reading about them.  Duffy doesn’t bombard us with description about the characters and instead allows us to discover their little foibles and traits in our own time.  Jamie’s proud Scottish nature is evoked well as is Zoe’s interest in astronomy and space.

I’m not brilliant on Ancient History but I really enjoyed the setting of this book.  It gave me a good opportunity to do a bit of background research and find out a bit about Alexandria.  I also enjoyed finding out more about the Muses (because most of my knowledge of them has come from watching the film Xanadu- OOPS!) and I felt that Duffy really amanged the mythological/historical parts of the story really well, adding a Sci-Fi almost body-horror element to it.

I also really enjoyed the opportunity for a feminist comment on patriarchal societies that were inspired by female Muses but wouldn’t actually allow females access to museums or other places of learning.  As well as making for a very entertaining story it also raised issues about female authority and ability to create on their own, rather than just inspiring male artists.

I was a little worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this as much as I have the books featuring the newer Doctors.  However, if anything, this book has made me more interested in reading and watching more of the other older incarnations.

Have you read any good books featuring Doctors 1-7? Which would you recommend?

Exploring Anxiety in Girl Online- Zoe Sugg/Siobhan Curham

Zoe Sugg has been very open about her own experiences with panic attacks and anxiety issues.  She has become a Digital Ambassador for MIND and in doing so has helped many teenagers to begin and have conversations about mental health.  I’ve decided to ignore the whole ghost-writing issue for today but want to explore how Sugg/Curham deal with the concept of anxiety in Girl Online.  First of all, I think the decision to include anxiety/panic attacks within the book was a good way to talk to teens about this without seeming patronising or condescending.  As they are reading about a fictional character it is somewhat distanced from themselves so when they read about Penny being given advice (from a hot American boy, no less) it is a lot more palatable than some adult telling them ways that may help.

The book didn’t start on a positive note in terms of the representation of anxiety for me.  In fact, I’d read two pages and could feel myself getting angry straightaway. Why?  Well, in Penny’s first direct address to us, in blog post form, we are presented with her Top Ten Reasons for Teenage Girls Getting Anxious- all of which were to do with appearances, pictures on social media and appealing to boys.

This, for me, was a major problem.  Yes, anxious can just be another word that people use for nervous or worried, but it also a very loaded term for those of us with anxiety issues.  There is a difference between being upset about having spots or worrying about boys liking you and actually struggling with anxiety.  I’m not saying that issues with self-image and body are not sometimes part of real anxiety problems. Of course they can be.  But this list is not populated with real anxiety problems.  I’m not saying they don’t worry people but these are normal teen issues.  Teens can be worried about this but not suffering with anxiety.  They can be worried about how they look but still able to get up in the morning and function. There is a difference between these sorts of nerves and real anxiety, and attaching the word ‘anxious’ to this list does give a false impression.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m 32 and still freak out about spots or bad hair days but I can recognise that this is not the end of the world.  However, in the past year or so I have begun to have panic attacks and have found out that I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder.  I have had panic attacks in town because I thought people were looking at me/following me (they weren’t).  I’ve hyperventilated outside John Lewis and felt like lying on the floor in the middle of town because then I would be attached to the floor, a solid surface, and feel safe.  I’ve hidden in a bush whilst crying my eyes out because I couldn’t face anyone close to me getting sick anymore and felt the only way was to go away from my loved ones (it didn’t last long luckily).  There are teenagers with similar problems who can’t get out of bed because they are concerned that something bad will happen, people who are scared of social settings and so avoid having to mix with other people.  This is not just a case of needing to take a selfie and worrying that it will look bad.  I feel that this list gets the book off on the wrong foot.  Yes, there are many pressures on teenage girls to look good but this is not necessarily the reason why people become anxious.

Later in the book though I actually found some tips which could actually be useful for a teenage girl who suffered with panic attacks and general anxiety.  I liked the concept of choosing images that calm you and thinking about them.  Penny (like Zoe) lives in Brighton and particularly finds the sea soothing.  Sometimes, focusing on something natural (especially something that is moving like the sea) can distract you, re-focus your mind and bring you back to a more calm state.  I use incense sticks for the same effect- I like the smell and I can also just watch the smoke waft up into the ether.  I don’t need to think about my worry, just watch that smoke.  Basically, it’s mindfulness techniques.  Focusing on what is around you or within you to re-focus the mind and realise that thoughts are just thoughts, they are not everything about you.

I also liked Noah’s suggestion of sitting with the anxiety and not fighting it but I do think that the book possibly made this seem easier than it is.  For myself, I’ve basically trained my brain to panic and not fighting it goes against every instinct I have.  I’ve been told by counsellors just to go with the anxiety but this is something that I have found particularly hard.  Noah’s suggestion involves attaching a colour/shape to the feeling and just watching it.  My husband uses this technique and it works for him.  I am not particularly visual so it doesn’t really work for me but I have found that owning the anxiety and telling myself it’s OK does work (if I catch it early enough).  I can just say to myself “I’m getting anxious, but that’s OK, it’s OK to be anxious” and strangely the anxiety can begin to wane.  Sometimes, however, I’ve already gone too far and these techniques don’t work for me.  I’ve found then 7-11 breathing to be particularly useful.  The counting is a distraction and the slow breathing allows me to avoid reaching hyperventilation.

I also really liked Elliot’s idea of imagining a persona to get through hard situations.  In the book, Penny is scared of travelling on a plane and so invents a character with the traits that she would like to have- Ocean Strong.  She imagines how Ocean Strong would behave in this situation and sees herself behaving in this same way.  I’ve been known to do this at times- it’s part of the reason you’re more likely to find me Disneybounding on a down day.

The one thing that did worry me was that Penny did seem to automatically improve when she met Noah.  Noah seemed to automatically calm her down and whilst a romantic partner will hopefully have that ability (I know that Mr H is great at calming me down!) it saddened me that the book seemed to be giving the impression that finding a boyfriend would solve all of the problems.  Not really the message I feel that we should be giving to a tween audience.

I do think that this book is a great opener into the conversation of mental health issues for younger girls but shouldn’t be seen as the be all and end all. I know it’s a fiction text but it would have been great to have an appendix of resources either in the book or on Zoe’s site that could have backed up some of the suggestions and tips.

Have you read Girl Online? How do you feel about the portrayal of anxiety? Have you read any other books which portray mental health issues for a teen audience? Which would you recommend?

 

Girl Online: The Digital Age and Teens

I was a teenager in the 1990s and it wasn’t easy. I wanted to do well at school and please the teachers but I also wanted to fit in, make friends and have a boyfriend. Spots kept turning up all over my face (I’m 32 now and they still do!!!) and my only real weapon against them was TCP which worked but made me stink of antiseptic for days! I don’t think being a teenager has got any easier. Yes, as a whole society is gradually becoming more understanding about sexuality, gender, race, class and other big issues. However, there are huge hurdles to deal with bow that just weren’t an issue in the 90s- specifically the danger of social media and cyber bullying.
I remember being egged at Halloween at the age of 14 and having to listen to the same jokes about it for days at school- “I bet it was eggciting!”- you know, really mature intelligent stuff. But had it happened nowadays I know that my Halloween moment would be on YouTube straight away! Not only would I have the memory of being covered in cold egg on a blisteringly freezing night anyway but it would be there on the Internet for me to revisit whenever I wanted! Thank God I was born in 1982 not 2002!”
These days it’s very difficult not to have an online presence. People stay in touch through Facebook and network through Twitter. It’s everywhere, is taken for granted as a normal part of our lives now and is now much more sophisticated than just throwing virtual livestock at someone you used to go to school with.
Children are being described as “digital natives” and are able to access all of the wonders of this new age. However, they are also more open to the dangers of the online world. We have online grooming, cyber bullying, sexting. It’s a bloody scary world out there and I’m really glad that I’m not a teenager in it!
In ‘Girl Online’, Zoe Sugg and Siobhan Curham depict some of the pitfalls of being a teen in the days of YouTube. Penny falls on stage in front of her whole school, showing her underwear- horrific enough for any 15 year old! But it’s also caught on camera and then uploaded (by her so-called friend) onto Facebook and then copied onto YouTube. It’s horrible but sadly it’s a part of life these days. Not only do we carry the shame of our most embarrassing moments in our brains but they can be there for the whole world to see on the Internet.
It’s a shame that a book which deals with cyber bullying and (later in the book) trolling has become a reason for people to send abuse to both Zoe Sugg and ghostwriter Siobhan Curham. Neither are to blame for how the book has been marketed and yet it is they and not Penguin who are getting the brunt of attacks.
I think there are problematic elements in ‘Girl Online’- I’m going to explore the portrayal of anxiety tomorrow- but I do think that both in real life and within its text it does provide us with examples of how nasty people’s use of the Internet can be.

Where It All Began

This is the picture that shows where my love of reading began- sharing a book with my dad as a toddler! (We’re reading Mr Lazy!)
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This picture was taken on holiday. My Nan had packed a load of Mr Men books in her suitcase and 4pm every day was the time a new book was brought out and then I would ask for them over and over in the evening and before bed. Apparently, by the end of the holiday the reading of the Mr Men books became a group event with people coming to see which book I was going to have read to me that day.

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Girl Online- An Old Fogey’s View On It

I was always taught by my parents that you can’t have an opinion of something if you don’t have all of the facts for yourself. Recently, the book blogging community has been full of comments and opinions on the Zoella Ghostwriting saga. So, I decided to take a look at the book itself. I initially meant to just download a sample but when I started to read I realised that I had accidentally bought the whole book. Oops. Oh well, this was just an opportunity to gain a full opinion on the book.
I do read some YA at times and think that there are some incredible YA authors out there at the moment. The problem I am having is that this book is making me feel so old! Unlike other YA books I’ve read, it just feels so young. I’m just so aware that I’m not the target audience and constantly there’s a voice in my head saying “it’s not for you, Genevieve Holpepper, it’s not for you.”

It’s a light fluffy teen romance so far which is fine. I read plenty of them when I was in secondary school. I’m not sure if I will review it (as I don’t know if the cynical reviews of a jaded 32 year old are necessary: what teenagers go on romantic midnight picnics?? Surely it should be a late night grope behind the local Costcutters? Maybe times have changed?) but I might blog about the portrayal of anxiety in the book and the power of this book in terms of reluctant readers.
Are you reading (or tempted to read) Girl Online? What are your thoughts so far?

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Top Ten New To Me Authors I Read in 2014 That I Want To Read More Of

The Broke and The Bookish hold a weekly meme where bloggers around the world respond to a given prompt each week.  This week we are looking at ten authors that were new to us this year.  I’ve included some authors that released their debut novels/non-fiction books this year and also some more established authors that I just didn’t get around to reading until this year.

AGATHA CHRISTIE

How on earth did I get to the age of 32 without reading any Agatha Christie? I don’t understand it. I’d sort of said to myself that I wouldn’t like her writing but when I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd I realised what a silly mistake I had made. Since then I’ve read The ABC Murders and I’m currently reading The Mysterious Affair at Styles. I’m definitely going to have to read more Christie in 2015!

CLIVE BARKER

My tastes seem to be changing a little this year. I don’t think I ever would have been reading horror much in the past. I read Salem’s Lot because my husband recommended it and it sort of put me off reading horror stories for a while. Anyway, I’ve recently started craving a little bit of darkness in my reading matter so when I noticed The Hellbound Heart in my local library I thought that it could be the right time to read this. I’ve never seen Hellraiser (which is based upon this book) so I’m not sure how the book compares to the film but boy was this book frightening. I’m not sure if I was more frightened by the Cenobites or what the book shows about human nature. All I know is that I need to read more Clive Barker.

KEVIN BROOKS

The Bunker Diary was such a brave, frightening and different piece of YA writing. I just want to read more of what comes out of this man’s brain!

ELI GLASMAN

The Boy’s Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew is one of the most moving works of contemporary YA I have read this year. Glasman writes eloquently and depicts a young man struggling with the conflicts between his faith and sexuality really well.

CHUCK PALAHNIUK
I was equally disturbed and amazed by what I read in Snuff. The fact that Palahniuk can write so engagingly on such horrible subjects is an absolutely incredible skill. I can’t wait to read more Palahniuk.

JUSTIN RICHARDS
This is cheating a little as I have read the short books that Richards wrote as Doctor Who spinoffs- Devil in the Smoke and The Angel’s Kiss. However, I’m counting him as this is the first time I’ve read a longer book by him. I do love a good Doctor Who book and Silhouette was probably the best of the 12th Doctor books that I read. My intention for 2015 is to seek some of his other Doctor Who books out as well as trying some of his non-Who books, such as the Never War series.

DODIE SMITH

I am so upset that I didn’t read I Capture The Castle earlier in my life. I just wish I’d read this book as a teenager. I feel it would have added so much to my life then… it was really good now but I related to Cassandra as a prior version of myself. I really would like to know what I would have thought of her at that age.

MARY ROACH

I really need to read more Mary Roach. She’s funny, intelligent and helps to make Science to make sense in my very non-scientific brain.

RUBY WAX

If you are looking for a book which is more engaging and funny than your usual self help book but gives you really important advice and help with mindfulness techniques I would definitely recommend you read Sane New World by Ruby Wax.

ROBERT GALBRAITH

Yes, OK , I know it’s really J.K. Rowling but I thought that her crime novels were worth their own mention here. I tried to read The Casual Vacancy and just couldn’t get into it. I assumed that maybe I just didn’t like her writing for adults but with Galbraith I think she’s onto something. I think her crime writing harks back to the classic mystery writers who didn’t just rely on shock tactics and gore. I definitely want to read more Galbraith.

The King, I and a Girl Online

I grew up on Hollywood musicals. I loved the glamour, the costumes, the songs and the gorgeous singing voices. I loved The King and I so much that my parents bought me a simplified piano score of it. At the front of the book was a cast list which I pored over and caused my complete disillusionment with the golden era of musicals. What caused my shock? Finding out that Deborah Kerr did not actually sing in the movie. To the young Gen (about 8 years old) this was an absolute shock and really confusing.
Why would they do this to us?
Why would Deborah Kerr pretend to be able to sing?
Why would they cast someone who couldn’t sing it themselves?
Why would they try and cover it up on the actual film but then release the details in print?
This film had been around for years yet Deborah Kerr was still being named as the female star. Why didn’t more people know about this?
The fact is, this was a very open secret in Hollywood. It was well known that many actresses and actors would be ‘sang for’ by a professional singer rather than using their own voice. Often they would record the songs themselves but later be dubbed in the edit.
The main thing I was confused by was why the studios didn’t just search for an actor/actress who could both sing and act rather than have to hide the fact that their talent couldn’t fulfil half of the role. I just didn’t get this! Surely singing is an integral part of being in a musical? How can you be employed in a job without actually being able to meet the the specifications of the role?
A similar amount of shock and annoyance is happening in the book world at the moment. Although it has been rumoured since publication, it has been clarified today that Zoe Sugg (Zoella) did not write her book alone and did indeed have “help”. What the “help” consisted of is not exactly known yet but the most likely situation is that Penguin have hired a ghostwriter to take the plot ideas and characters developed by Sugg and turn it into a fully fledged book.
Twitter has been simmering for a while with the possibility that a ghostwriter has been used but with today’s statement it just seems to have exploded. Many people seem to feel that young girls have been let down by Zoe.
The thing is… in both the case of Deborah Kerr’s voice and Zoella’s book… the decision was about image and branding. From the point of view of Penguin, there is a ready made audience here for them in the millions of subscribers of her YouTube channel. It does sadden me that they didn’t decide to share credit with the ghostwriter. I think that the teenage hordes would still have loved it and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the readers. It, however, may have made a difference to the profit margin had they needed to share the percentages out further.
Did my discovery about Marni Nixon eventually lead to a full disavowal of musicals? No, I still love them but now I have a more full understanding of the workings of the studio system. I’m more savvy about musicals but still enjoy every fabulous bit. Maybe one or two readers may feel that her readership has been deceived but if it leads reluctant readers to pick up a book more the better. And if they find out it was ghostwritten? Well, it’s an opportunity to market this author (currently thought to be Siobhan Curham) to this new audience.

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