Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Friendships

A lot of people I know offline are aware of this, but I haven't been particularly forthcoming about it on my blog or Twitter, so I'm going to put it out there now - 2017 has been a tough year for me, particularly in terms of friendships.

When I moved down to London a few years ago I was incredibly nervous, I didn't know anyone down here, and for the first six months or so I socialised almost exclusively with people from work, only going to a couple of book events and not really getting to know anyone much. The main exception was Debbie, and to be honest even with her at that point I was feeling more confident online - when we'd talk a lot, and her support was probably the main reason I didn't quit my job in the first few months and move back to a place where I knew people - than in person, when I felt shy and nervous whenever we saw each other.

Fast forward a year or two, and things had changed massively. I had a great group of friends who were really close, and I felt confident for once in my friendships with them. (I'd even stopped feeling overawed by how amazing Debbie was, and just accepted that despite her awesomeness she genuinely likes spending time with me. Yay!) There were 5 or 6 people I could message if I wanted a theatre buddy, or someone to go out for dinner with.

And then for various reasons, that group got looser. Obviously you CAN'T expect things to stay the same; significant life events (to borrow a phrase from Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard, one of the best books ever about friendships) happen for people, and I am incredibly happy for one of my friends who's become a wonderful mother to an absolutely adorable little girl. But with that happening, and a couple of my closest friends outside the group having less time to spend socialising (for very good reasons), I was left feeling really down.

I think/hope I did a fairly good job of hiding this most of the time, maybe. I met some really nice new people at the end of last year/first half of this year and while I wasn't really getting to know them well, they were friendly at book stuff and I was enjoying getting to know them slightly better.

And then Debbie RT'd a thread on making/keeping friends from @thewritingj which, no exaggeration, completely changed the course of my year. I read Jaylee's advice 3 or 4 times, and while I haven't followed it completely, the big impact it made on me is that it showed me I wasn't the only person who found friendships difficult at times, especially getting to know people better. The confidence boost that gave me, along with the parts of the advice I did follow, led to me doing a much better job of keeping in touch with people. Instead of worrying they wouldn't want to hear from me, or that they'd be too busy to reply, I tried starting conversations with people and mostly got a really good reaction - there are a few people who I didn't know very well before this summer who I now talk to via text or DM almost every day. We're there for each other to give support if needed, but we're also just enjoying keeping up with each other's lives, talking about books, and generally getting to know each other better. There are several other people who my friendships with have got closer over the last few months, and it's great to talk to them more regularly. (Of course that's not to say it's a good idea to bombard people with messages; I think it's important to recognise when people may not be interested in talking to you much, for any reason, and I hope I've avoided trying to push friendships with people in these cases.)

Another piece of advice I took from Jaylee has been to make actual plans with people, and this has been a massive change as well. Rather than constantly saying "Hey we should meet up soon" but not actually trying to arrange dates and times due to fear of rejection, I've made much more of an effort to make firm arrangements! Because of this I'm finishing this post on the way back from a fabulous afternoon of cocktails, ice cream and board games with Alix - one of the people who's become a close friend over the summer - and I've been out for dinner/done fun stuff with several other people I don't know all that well over the last six weeks or so. I think keeping this going will definitely be harder when I'm back at work, but I'm really going to try my best to make sure I keep in regular contact with people as much as I can.

Obviously, the advice Jaylee gave won't work for everyone. Some people might need to adjust it, as I did; others may not find it useful at all (especially if, due to health issues, they find it harder to keep in touch with people regularly, as pointed out by a few people responding to the initial tweet thread.) But speaking personally, it has made an absolutely massive difference to me, and I would really encourage people who are nervous about making new friends or getting to know people better to read it and see if some or all of it is worth putting into practice. A massive thank you, Jaylee, for giving the advice in the first place!

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Importance of Books, and Blogging, in Bad Times


It’s been a while since I’ve posted. This is partly due to stuff going on in my life at the moment – particularly the stress/excitement of preparing for the new academic year after getting a promotion – but also due to the general situation in the world.
I keep thinking about a post I could do, a list I could make, or some recommendations I could share. And then I look at the news, or my Twitter feed, and I see the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, the racism and homophobia suffered by so many people, the constant debacle which seems to be world politics in 2017 – and I think why on earth does my opinion on books matter, given all of this really important stuff going on?
(Two points to make – firstly, I know that none of this is new, it just seems to be hitting me harder than usual at the moment. Secondly, as a white, cis, able-bodied straight-passing male in his 30’s I have more privilege than the vast majority of people I know who read this blog/talk to me on Twitter do, so while I’m feeling like this I know I have much less to worry about than many people do.)
But of course, to slightly change my question, books themselves DO matter, particularly in tough times. Speaking from that privileged position, I can’t imagine anyone of a different race to the authors reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, or When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, and NOT having their eyes opened to different cultures. Similarly surely any guy who reads Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Adichie or What’s A Girl Gotta Do by Holly Bourne will have their eyes opened to the injustice faced by women and resolve to be better at playing a part in supporting the women fighting back against it.
I could say the same thing, with respect to LGBT characters, about Meredith Russo’s gorgeous If I Was Your Girl, Hannah Moskovitz’s outstanding Not Otherwise Specified, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli and Tanya Byrne’s glorious Hackney Moon, in the Stripes anthology A Change Is Gonna Come. Or when it comes to characters with chronic pain, Far From You by Tess Sharpe and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology have opened my eyes, while I have appreciated the amazing mental health rep in books like Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here and Louise Gornall’s Under Rose-Tainted Skies so, so much.
And of course, that’s just me looking at characters who are windows for me, rather than mirrors. Seeing an ace character play a lead role in Laura Nowlin’s wonderful This Song Is Not For You was an incredibly heart-warming thing for me, and I think this was perhaps the first time I realised exactly how important it was that people get the representation they need in books – I wonder how differently I’d have felt in my teens if I’d read a book like this then.
Going back to my original question, then, I’m not that sure how much my opinion matters. But I know that the books themselves are so, so important, and if me talking about them can help other people discover wonderful reads, see themselves in fiction, and empathise with people unlike them, I guess that even with everything else going on, I should be more confident about writing posts.
So I’m going to carry on looking at the news, as horrible as it can be at times. I’m going to try and keep informed about things, signal-boost people who understand stuff better than me, and donate where I can to help those affected by tragedy. But I’m going to stop thinking that I should just keep quiet about books, because I know that they ARE important and I want to do my best to spread the word about all the amazing ones out there.

Friday, 28 July 2017

A Change Is Gonna Come Blog Tour: Irfan Master's Letter To His 16-Year-Old Self

IT'S YALC DAY!!!

I am scheduling this in advance because, when it goes up, I should be queueing for YALC. I am exceptionally excited about all sorts of things but one of the very MOST exciting of all is the chance to get my hands on a finished copy of the Stripes anthology A Change Is Gonna Come, which I'm reading via NetGalley at the moment and absolutely loving. 

I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour for it, especially as I have a great piece from one of my favourite of the authors involved, Irfan Master.

Over to you, Irfan.


Dear Irfan (aged 16 and a bit),

I found a list you made. 
I’m sending it back, with a few amendments.

I read the wrong write books.
(See what I did there? You get funnier in the future).

I’m not the hero in stories I read.
Read that again, without the crossed out word. Yeah, that.

I can’t write.
I won’t go into too much detail here, but boy, trust me, you got this.

Nobody Everybody will ever read the things I want to write about.
OK, maybe not everybody, but some. And they will write to you. That’ll make you cry.

I don’t believe in me so who else will.
Just that one word above. Hold onto that.

It would be so much easier harder to not want to write.
Harder. Much harder. Stories are part of you. Let them out.

Writing is for geeks, nerds, bookworms.
Nothing wrong with that statement and our time is coming.

What if I’m just lying to myself?
One day you’ll realise that everybody lies.
And that will be your opening line.

I don’t think I’ll be writing when until I’m forty in the ground.
Still writing. You’re just getting started.

I want to give up.
Never give up.

Never give in to despair.
Never give in to doubt.
Never, never give up.

With love, strength and resilience until the end of time.

You/We
Irfan

Irfan Master was born in Leicester to an Indian father and Pakistani mother. His debut novel, A Beautiful Lie, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the Branford Boase Award. He has worked as a librarian and a project manager at the National Literacy Trust, before becoming a full-time writer.


Check out the rest of the blog tour!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Twenty Things I've Read and Watched 4



As mentioned in week 1, there are some sites which could quite conceivably fill this list between them EVERY WEEK as they constantly produce amazing posts - and I find it way too hard to single them out! So instead, I will just list them at the start of each post. If you're not reading the following, you are REALLY missing out. 

Safe Space

Media Diversified
LGBTQ Reads
The Pool
Teen Vogue 


Addition: Given the current political climate, I would strongly suggest also reading EVERYTHING Celeste Pewter tweets; she is incredibly insightful and her tweets on US politics have helped me figure out which things going on are reasonably worrying and which are absolutely terrifying.


The Twenty
I don't tend to put much fiction in but I am NOT missing out on the chance to yell about the awesomeness of my incredibly talented friend Sarah, who posted an fabulous story about a lesbian witch yesterday. Special bonus links - check out her amazing art blog! And follow my lead and get something commissioned if you like her style.

I REALLY loved and appreciated @goblinkings's advice on Twitter for being thoughtful towards friends with anxiety. 

On Black Ballad, there's a great piece by Siana Bangura on rejecting the strong black woman trope while grieving.  

Daniel York Loh has a superb piece on Prospect about why the British Empire isn't something to be proud of

Jess has a brilliant post on Steph's blog talking about her favourite protagonists



The Bent Agency are my favourite literary agency - I'm so thrilled they're launching a scholarship for a BAME author! Check out details here

Maria Del Russo's Refinery piece about spending time by herself is a fab read. 

Another great post on a similar theme is my amazing friend Debbie's piece about living alone.

The Guardian launched this year's Not The Booker Prize - I nominated for the first time; Robyn Travis's superb Mama Can't Raise No Man. 

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff wrote a great piece on TV show Is Love Racist



Tomi Adeyemi's Twitter thread on the recently-announced show Confederacy is a must-read. 

On TeachWire, Robin Stevens has a fantastic piece about not pushing children to read the books adults THINK they should read

Dahlia Adler asked which stories people would like to see retold, and by what authors. Lots of fabulous suggestions in her replies!

Louise O'Neill wrote an outstanding piece about recovering from addiction.

And finally one of the best things I've read all year - Melinda Salisbury wrote a stunning piece on what Harry Potter means to her, ten years after the last book came out.



Videos

I absolutely loved YouTuber Kai Hugs Trees's poem I like you (an aromantic poem)

Jen Campbell talked about what she's currently reading and showed off the TWO stunning proofs for her upcoming short story collection The Beginning Of The World In The Middle Of The Night (Two Roads) which I can't wait to read!

I found Miss Fenderr and Ash Mardell's conversation about gender a really interesting watch.

I've seen quite a few great vids about TBR piles and upcoming reads. I love this one by She Might Be Monica, there's lots I'm hugely excited for (particularly Nic Stone's Dear Martin.)

Finally there's a wonderful video here from The Witch's Kiss co-authors Katharine and Elizabeth Corr as part of the recent Zoe's24HourReadathon talking about childhood favourites of theirs. Great to see The Dark Is Rising and Ordinary Jack feature!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten 'New To Me' People on Twitter

With the Broke and the Bookish still taking a well-deserved break, I wanted to use this week's top ten Tuesday to point people in the direction of some awesome people I've started following recently on Twitter! They are all 'new to me', so not necessarily new to Twitter - sometimes I'm just super slow finding out about great people to follow. Also several of them are London-based people I've met recently at fabulous #drinkYA and #picnicYA events; if you want to come and join the fun yourselves take a look at the MeetUKYA Twitter feed for details of what's going on.
Amy (@GoldenBooksGirl) - It's always cool seeing actual teenagers tweeting and blogging about YA - as much as I love talking about it, I'm aware I'm REALLY not in the target audience. Amy is a wonderful blogger already!
Christy (@Kukadoodles) - I am jealous of Christy's stroopwafels to be honest. But I love her tweets and her great BookTube channel.
The Good Assistant (@gdassistantblog) - Slightly less new, as she joined in February, but I just wanted an excuse to yell again about the amazing news that one of my favourite bloggers has an agent! Huge congrats to The Good Assistant and to the fabulous Alice Sutherland-Hawes, who is now representing her.
Julia (@JuliasBookcase) - I love Julia's absolutely gorgeous Instagram feed and she's an awesome BookTuber too.
Jaylee (@thewritingj) - Jaylee's Polycule blog is such a great read about er experiences dating - e's a polyamorous queer person, whose blog always entertains me with er amazing writing.

Liv (@liv_gacka) - Superb book blogger, I think her YALC tips are particularly great!

Malala (@Malala) - I appreciate nearly everyone I know is already following her since she started tweeting about a week ago but WOW how can you not be excited that such an incredible young woman has finally taken to Twitter?!
Marie (@LotsofLivres) - Fab new blogger who writes brilliant reviews.
Sarah (@SarahAstolat) - AMAZING artist - check out her Tumblr! - and fab on Twitter.
Sil (@thebookvoyagers) - Okay Sil isn't actually that new to me, but she's a recent follow simply because people RT her into my timeline so often I assumed I WAS following her! Her blog is really awesome and you should definitely check it out.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Songs About Us Blog Tour: Chris Russell on Friendship

As a huge fan of Chris Russell's stunning #boybandlit debut Songs About A Girl, I'm super-excited to read sequel Songs About Us (Hodder), released last week! I was thrilled when he asked me to be on the blog tour for the new book.

Over to you, Chris...


Just The Two Of Us: Friendship in YA

by Chris Russell

If its not too obvious to say so, friendship is incredibly important to me.

When I was thirteen, I formed a friendship that would go on to lay the foundations for my entire career. My best friend George and I started a band at school which would eventually take us around the world, and without my career in the music industry, I cant imagine I would ever have written Songs About a Girl. George and I are still performing together to this day, and remain the best of friends; in fact, Im now godfather to his second son, and in many ways our time together now is more precious than it ever was.

With all this in mind, its probably not that surprising that friendship ended up being so central to Songs About a Girl and Songs About Us. Ill never the forget the fledgling romances of my teens, but if Im honest, it was my best friendship that had the biggest impact on my life. So Ive worked hard on Charlie and Melissas friendship in the novels, keen to make it believable and heartfelt, keen to do justice to how vitally important platonic relationships are during adolescence.

Charlie and Melissa adhere to the age-old straight one / funny one dynamic. Charlie has a dry sense of humour and a wry, eyebrow-raising take on life, while Melissa is the stooge, the kook, the one that just cant seem to keep one single thought inside her head, no matter how ridiculous. Thinking about it, I could probably trace that dynamic back to my childhood, to classic comedy twosomes like Blackadder and Baldrick, or to Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. All artists recycle, of course. Its our prerogative. :)

These days, more and more YA authors are veering away from simply writing romance and focussing on the equally rich landscape of teenage friendship (Beautiful Broken Things, anyone?), and I think thats a really good thing. Because while crushes come and go, if were lucky, one or two of the friendships we make during our teenage years might just last the rest of our lives.

(Unlike haircuts, of course. For which we should all be eternally thankful.)

Chris Russell

ps. While Im talking friendship in YA, I wanted to tip my cap in the direction of American author Brigid Kemmerer and her novel Letters to the Lost. I recently reviewed Letters to the Lost for the Zoella & Friends Book Club, and aside from being an absolutely stunning book, it has possibly my favourite depiction of male friendship (Declan and Rev) in any YA book Ive read. Its gorgeous. Check out my video review here.



Saturday, 15 July 2017

THIRTY Things I've Read... and Watched #3




As mentioned in week 1, there are some sites which could quite conceivably fill this list between them EVERY WEEK as they constantly produce amazing posts - and I find it way too hard to single them out! So instead, I will just list them at the start of each post. If you're not reading the following, you are REALLY missing out.

Safe Space

Media Diversified
LGBTQ Reads
The Pool
Teen Vogue 

Addition: Given the current political climate, I would strongly suggest also reading EVERYTHING Celeste Pewter tweets; she is incredibly insightful and her tweets on US politics have helped me figure out which things going on are reasonably worrying and which are absolutely terrifying.


The Twenty Thirty
Austin Chant kicked off ‘Gender in Romance’ series on Open Ink’s site, talking about writing trans characters in same-gender romance.
I don’t link to reviews generally because there are just SO many great ones out there that I could easily fill this feature just with them. But if anyone IS on the fence about reading A Change Is Gonna Come, the upcoming Stripes anthology of short stories from BAME authors, please please please check out Jill Murphy’s stunning 5-star review over at The Bookbag and let her convince you to read the book!
Talking of great reviews, please take a look at Marie’s new Lots of Livres blog, it’s gotten off to such a wonderful start!  
And another new blogger continues to impress - there's a really heartfelt and moving piece here by Amy on the tragic death of Helen Bailey.
I found Jaylee James’ Polycule – the story of a polyamorous queer person trying to date on the internet – and am DEVOURING it. Everything is fabulous but er piece about life partner Chris is a super-cute read.
Nikesh Shukla wrote a superb piece on how Spider-Man comics taught him how to live AND how to write
I'd never read this until someone shared it, but there's a very touching piece by Roald Dahl about the need to vaccinate children against measles.
There was a cover reveal on The Book Smugglers for the GORGEOUS cover of Stephanie Burgis's Snowspelled! I read this last week and it's utterly charming, as Stephanie's stories always are, and the cover by Leesha Hannigan captures it beautifully. (Sorry, the giveaway has ended, before I get anyone's hopes up!)
Corey Ann Haydu wrote a really moving piece for BookRiot on writing, sexual harassment and being an example.  
And another incredible moving one, as Laura shared a post about Glastonbury, and the festival's amazing response to a horrible sexual assault by people she'd considered friends which occurred two months before they were going to the festival together - it was heart-warming to read about how the organisers had made sure she felt comfortable to attend.
Great post on the Book Voyagers – book recs based on Greek gods.
Parrish Turner wrote a really interesting piece, What I Do As A Sensitivity Reader.
Molly Ker Hawn is looking for interns. Molly is one of the most amazing agents out there and this is an exceptional opportunity!
My friend Daphne's awesome business Illumicrate was featured as the Startacus Startup of the Week!
Musa Okwonga wrote a great piece for New Statesman on Anne-Marie Morris’s use of racist language.
Kathryn Ormsby talked to EW’s Nivea Serrao about Tash Hearts Tolstoy - I am exceptionally excited for this one, yay ace rep!
SLJ’s Shelley Diaz interviewed Miles Morales: Spider-Man author Jason Reynolds; this is another book that looks fabulous!
There's an awesome preview of the second half of 2017 over on The Millions.
And another great preview on B & N, with Dahlia Adler looking at their most-anticipated indie YA books of the next six months.
James Loke Hale wrote a fantastic piece about being genderfluid for Bustle.
Sam Missingham shared some great thoughts on the Deborah Orrarticle in the Guardian last week about taking antidepressants.  
@Gildedspine, who's one of the most consistently insightful and thought-provoking people I follow on Twitter, had a wonderful thread on thinking about what people have the authority to say, and knowing when to keep silent.
Kumail Nanjiani talked about audience reaction to The Big Sick, which I am INCREDIBLY excited to see.
And there's a great Sarah Hollowell thread here on fatphobia.

Videos
Jen Campbell interviews Rachel Joyce here, which is awesome.
And Juno Dawson has a fantastic Adam Silvera interview for the Zoella Book Club. 
Lily has some great YALC tips.
Stripes continue their series of videos about new contributors to their A Change Is Gonna Come anthology (mentioned above!) talking to Yasmin Rahman.
And George Lester has a brilliant LGBTQIA wrap-up video.