Woman: Why Does It Always Feel Like I’m Being One Wrong?

I follow and am friends with a lot of very wise and interesting women, most of whom have lengthy and strong opinions on many of the issues that crop up, both on and offline, which tax, penalise and threaten women around the world in various ways. I concede that a lot of my understanding of many of these issues comes from their commentary, from secondhand understanding of these issues, and from reading heightened and removed discussion and debate of them.

This is partly because I don’t spend a great deal of time ‘in the real world’. I am fortunate enough to have not experienced many of the issues that allegedly affect ‘all women’, to the extent that, many a time, I’ve wondered what’s wrong with me, ‘as a woman’, that I’ve not been sexually harrassed – although that’s nearly another post than this. My strongest experience of sexism is really that mentioned in another post here (I’m Sorry You’re Upset, and Other Ways to Patronise a Colleague) and for this, I’m grateful.

I am one of those women that finds it very difficult to call themselves a feminist, but then, I don’t like to call myself anything if I can possibly avoid it. I don’t enjoy the wealth of labels attached to gender or sexuality, and I like the consistency of my existence to be within me, rather than with a load of badges I’ve chosen to wear. Indeed, the struggle I’ve had with terming myself ‘a writer’ has shown me, in a much more pleasant and curious way, how unsure I am about saying that I am anything at all.

To be a feminist, to me, implies action, activity. Motion towards fixing a specific issue. I am not fixing anything. I will talk about things, but I probably won’t fight about them if I don’t think I can change the mind of the person arguing with me. I don’t have the experiences or understanding to campaign for anything much without people telling me I don’t count, and I find the reception to the majority of campaigns virtually sets the clock back every time. People always bring up the suffragettes at this point in any dialogue about the rights of women, and yes, I do love my right to vote, but that’s one right, just one, in one hundred years. That doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant, but I don’t think Emmeline Pankhurst is a flag to wave to end every conversation about whether or not protest works, any more than I enjoy a placatary response to a fuss about the most peculiar state of affairs that was the lack of any women on UK currency.

It feels like there’s a pattern of fuss, now. And just that, too – fuss. Or, worse, ‘outrage’. Real issues being lost in a sea of Tweeted capslock and summarised in Guardian articles and by on-the-pulse bloggers, everyone vying for the most pointed thing. And all it looks like, more and more, to all the people that you desperately wish would listen is one great extended coffee morning, or dessert round of the dinner party, where ‘the women’ get together and make a fuss about something and look at their husbands and say, “See, darling?” and they say, “Yes yes, quite…” and go off to have a cigar in the drawing room.

Don’t mistake me here – I’m all for the comments, the articles, the conversation, and, as I said at the beginning, that’s how I get most of my education on these things…but when you look at the way that the critical mass is received by those it’s aimed at, it is so quickly reduced to insignificance, or pasted over with misunderstanding platitudes, that it’s no better than an angry scrawl of A4 taped to a lamppost in the rain. It doesn’t matter how well you wrote it – people appear to have already decided what they think, as soon as they read words like ‘feminist’, ‘women’s rights’ etc.

And it isn’t just the men dismissing women I mean, either. Women dismissing each other, women feeling completely lost when it comes to things like ‘fourth wave feminism’, women who don’t have a full grounding in the history of society in every country going being completely dismissed, women who’ve only just had the lightning bolt of “Instead of saying to the victim, you shouldn’t have worn that, why not say to the rapist, you shouldn’t have done that?” put forward to them floundering with the realisation that they, too, have been a huge part of the problem without even realising it, women who haven’t 100% decided if they’re women or not wondering where/if they fit in, or even care…

…the thing is, men don’t have to be all the same. Men don’t have to hold a single set of beliefs, or act in a set way because of their gender identification. They don’t have to explain when they get angry, and if they get angry in a reasonably literate way, people will probably listen to, and engage with them without shouting back or dismissing them because they haven’t ticked xyz boxes with their life/heritage/experiences.

Groups of women dismiss other groups of women with mass vehemence and unpleasantry, and are surprised when they receive the same treatment. Women who take a stand and suggest a solution, a plan of action, a campaign, are often villified by other women for not having done it right, for not solving everything for everyone at once, for not representing ‘women’ right.

Maybe we stop expecting all women to represent all other women. It’d be nice to look at each thing in itself, regardless of its originator, without profiling to the end of the world and back the woman who ‘dared’ to take a stand. It is shocking, disgusting, and all the terrible things that women who, by virtue of being female, attract the levels of abuse seen publicly over the last week, and it is excellent that the law was adhered to and, hopefully, has an effect, but the mass of noise around the outcome of this situation looks so very much like nothing learned, one step forwards, two back, talking about the process and not the problem, spending so long in outrage and being so frustrated that you can’t even work out where in this horribly tangled screw-up of society to start unpicking the problems. Women who’ve picked up a thread and tried to do something, with the sum total of their experiences and understanding, find themselves slated because it wasn’t the ‘right’ thing, because goodness, loud woman who thinks she’s all that, don’t you know that you should just shut up and stop making us all look bad, omg, remember that time you said this and this and you’re such a terrible woman, etc…

…the amount of time spent shouting and criticising and reporting on the shouting and criticism of women by other women, and the whole sorry lot of it being either gently patronised, completely disregarded, or out-and-out slammed by everyone else just doesn’t seem to move the conversation forwards, to expand understanding, or to get much done. Either we get half-arsed quick fixes that don’t do anything or come from enlightenment, or we tie that knotty mass of issues even tighter.

Worst of all, and, I think, the point I want to make, the pattern of issue-awareness-outrage-attempted solution-personal attacks-next issue feels so familiar, so regular, that it starts to look the same, to become too much, to be too easy to disregard because we saw it last week.

I don’t think this post is particularly eloquent or sensible, and I worry it doesn’t make a lot of the points I wanted to set out clear, but, I think, one of the things I want to say is that I don’t want the fear of not being the 100% Perfect Woman for all other women to stop me from at least trying to get some of my knotted mass of issues out of my head and into the world, because, when so much of what you see and read around you is about something that everyone thinks ought to also pertain to you ‘as a woman’, it’s difficult when you don’t understand it, don’t have a view on it, or can’t find the point of it. I realise I’ve started a lot here and worked through very little, but maybe I’ll make this a starting point and come back to it in future.

The thing I think I’ll end with is, I see nearly everyone’s point, and I wish equality was normal, but it isn’t, so where’s the beginning of the thread? Where’s the starting point where all women are the same? Is there one? And if there isn’t, can we all stop looking for it and try solving the issues we can solve, or give our own experiences to, without having to sign up for an agenda, or to represent everything and every woman?

A Pocketful of String: 11 Short & Shorter Stories by Me

A Pocketful of String - cover

So, I’ve concocted a small book of short and shorter stories. You can buy it for the cost of a mildly overpriced coffee on Amazon, see links at the end of this self-promotion!

It contains:

– The spectre of Death
– What happens when the Luck Child returns
– Fond memories and grim futures
– How not to turn 25
– A terrible warning about rabbits
– What happens to your heart
– An overtly sentimental dining room table
– A failed love spell
– A haunted photobooth
– A very surprising breakfast
– The apocalypse, from above and within

Not quite in that order.

I’ve thought a lot about doing this, over the last six months. I was going to do it before The Pulse, and then I thought that that’d be some kind of weird cop-out (I can’t explain why, but it’s how it felt…like I *had* a novel and wasn’t paying attention to it, perhaps…that it would be somehow easier to shove eleven little things out into the world than one great big thing that hadn’t had any seal of approval…either way, I didn’t).

Most of these stories have been around and about before, some appeared on this journal recently, one was my first paid piece of fiction, and one I just got the rights back to. A couple, though, are completely new to this collection.

Part of doing this is to clean my writing slate, I think. I don’t have any other finished things I plan to publish, I don’t have anything out with agents or magazines, for the first time in ages. I have a heap of drafts, in varying stages. I’ve a side project I’m really, really heart-and-soul excited about, but that’ll be under a different name, and I probably won’t discuss it here. I’ve that novel that I hope has a chance of going to agent properly, if only because it’s a lot more commercial than The Pulse, and it has the kind of plot and characters that make the most of taglines and summaries. I still utterly stand by my first novel, but as I continue the uphill battle to take it to an audience that might enjoy it (and I don’t think I’m being extensively deluded in believing it has one), I continue to be astonished by how unsellable it is. If you’ve any thoughts, do let me know 😉

So yes, A Pocketful of String. That’s what I’m meant to be selling here! It’s quick and easy to read, it’s got a few self-indulgent comments about the writing of all the things, and it’s a memento, really, to myself of the last few years. Heavy on whimsy, magical realism, wordplay and weird stuff, but nothing too dark or unpleasant.

Should you so wish, you can buy it Amazon US & World or from Amazon UK. You can also buy it from any national Amazon by searching, unsurprisingly, Pocketful of String! It’s so exciting to find you’ve a reasonably unique book title XD As ever, feedback and connection is wholeheartedly welcome. These tales might be small, daft, and occasionally plain weird, but they’re dear to me, and I’m pleased to share.

Also, if you’d like to add me on GoodReads, even just as a fellow reader (I’m aiming for 200 books RaR-d this year – if you fancy sending me anything for review then do message me!) I’m here.

Getting Reviewed: Other People’s Feelings

The Pulse

Greetings from sunny, sunny Stockholm! Like a proper writer, I’m hiding from the great yellow beast in the kitchen, typing and drinking tea.

Well, I worked out how to get people to review my book. I went to a couple of GoodReads groups I’d been in and signed up for a couple of RaR programmes. I’ve sent out about fifteen copies, and had a good handful of reviews back so far.

This has been a solid learning experience. Here are some things I’ve learnt.

1. Somehow, despite the lack of anything that might be termed vague sci-fi for a good third of the book, and despite it being in the dystopian reading group, my novel is too sci-fi for many people. I can’t tell you how confused I am by those reviews, and however much I put them down to disinterest, disillusionment or other negative reaction to my book (all of which are fine and honest reactions to have, of course they are), I still want to go, BUT WHY SPECIFICALLY DID YOU SAY THAT. Which is stupid of me. But continuous. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have said anything at all if the RaR system didn’t force them into “reviewing” even if they don’t read a book, which would have been better, but it wasn’t something I’d imagined happening. Lesson: say your book is more genre than it is to warn off people who really want mainstream?

The remaining reviews I’m incredibly grateful for, and they’re wonderfully written and thought out, and nothing makes me happier than having written enough for people to express rounded thoughts about it. Whatever their thoughts. I’ve only had positive reactions from people I know who’ve read it, and one of the reasons I wanted to get people who don’t know me to write proper honest reviews for me is because I had no idea how my book would fly in an actual readership.

Not very high, turns out.

But the reasonings surprise me rather.

2. People like liking characters. I have never understood this. You see it in reviews of all kinds of books. “I just didn’t like the character. I couldn’t sympathise with the character. I thought the character was naive/stupid/annoying/wrong/etc.” Yes, yes, Aiden isn’t likeable in a generic sense. He’s not attractive in any conventional sense, nor is he heroic, nor does he follow a conventional path of transformation into Normal Human. That was kind of what I loved about him to write, and it’s what a lot of people I’ve talked to in person about my book claim to have loved about him. But…his unlikeability is apparently a significant flaw for all my unknown reviwers. So that’s either:

a) My fault – they’re open to unlikeable characters, but I didn’t write well enough/plot well enough to make Aiden worthwhile in their eyes. Things like the popularity of writers like Stephen King, the absolute master of whole, vast ensembles of horrific, brain-smushingly horrible characters flung into generally brilliant plots, might speak for this. Also, consider the sheer amount of hideous characters that populate virtually every TV show. Note to self: should’ve made Aiden more like Don Draper.*

b) No-one’s fault – a matter of taste and not the kind of thing the reader wanted to encounter at this time, if at all.

c) The fault of expectation – a YA book’s major protagonist should be someone likeable/with whom the reader can sympathise (I’d really like to argue that Aiden is a completely sympathetic character – given his circumstances and well-discussed lifestyle, what more could you ask for from him?!).

d) Coincidence, and the reviewers are a small, non-representative group. But I don’t think this, because I see these kind of comments all the time for books with more unusual characters – “I didn’t like/sympathise with x character so I didn’t like the book.” But it’s amazing how, once a book is popular, that kind of instinctive issue is sidelined – once people become aware that someone likes x character, they become instantly more interesting, regardless of how likeable they truly are. Sidenote: whilst I wouldn’t try and compare The Pulse with The Hunger Games, it’s one of the reasons I really, really don’t understand anyone who’s read the whole trilogy rooting for Gale AT ALL. And also, one of the reasons I like those books a lot is because both major male characters (who are always, let’s recall, presented through Katniss’ eyes) fall outside the YA norms.

So there’s that. Lesson: don’t be surprised if people don’t share your own tastes, not just in characters, but in the act of reading itself.

Which brings me to:

3. No-one likes present narrator.

I exaggerate. In fact, my favourite part of any review received so far was in the one where the reviewer sort of came to like the present narrator aspect of my book. And my favourite moment possibly of the whole thing was when an old school friend I haven’t spoken to in a decade sent me a message telling me how much he’d enjoyed that.

But still. I’ve had a few responses around and about where people seemed to think that present narrator was a mistake, something I’d not meant to do, or that suggest that the reader hasn’t previously encountered present narrator in anything at all and is completely and utterly thrown by it. Or, they just hate it.

This is one thing I’d sort of expected. When I was looking around agents, and even when I was writing the book I saw over and over in ‘how to novel’ sort of things block capital advice against using present narrator, or flat out hatred for the device. I just don’t understand it, and, because much of my process in self-publishing this novel at all has been “My book: my way”, I ignored it.

I LOVE well-used present narrator. Again, I’m not ruling out the idea that I didn’t use it well, or didn’t make the most of the device. It’s perfectly possible. I’m glad I’ve had enough feedback about it that’s positive enough that I’m not retreating into the background and pretending this all never happened, but I’m not obstinately proclaiming my own authorly brilliance to the exclusion of all criticism.

But again, I really do love it. And I find it all the time. I think that’s something I find particularly surprising – a lot of people just haven’t come across it. One review mentions how it’s done much better in Narnia, and that’s true, but it’s a different kind of present narrator, a lighter, less interfering one, for sure, with no intent to foreshadow or prescribe, more to handhold and keep pace. I love being hauled through a story by a strong authorial voice, and since I’ve written, I’ve enjoyed trying to use that – even my earliest stories have it knocking about. For goodness’ sake, even my fanfiction has it (I don’t remember anyone complaining about it there, actually).

I wonder if it’s more to do with one’s own reading experience – it probably is, because, obviously, every book you read is, I think, shaped by the ones that come before and after it, not to mention your day, your mood, your life and your self – but growing up amidst a library rammed with wordy, interfering Victorian and pre-1950s British authors, there was definitely a lot of present narrator about in virtually everything I read. I’m not sure if that’s the case in prevalent Stateside literature so much. It’s a thought, anyway.

And again – because I’d had this idea that it wasn’t a popular device when I was writing it – it was another thing I was glad to uncover more thoughts on in reviews by people I didn’t know. Lesson: if people tell you something isn’t welcome in literature, they’re probably right. Caveat: That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

The best lesson of all, though, thus far, is this:

5. I can take it. Yes, I have strong feelings about other people’s feelings. Yes, I want to respond to everyone and have some epic dialogue about WHY WHY WHY WHAT and occasionally WTF, but I really do, it turns out, have a fervent enough belief in everyone’s right to think whatever they like about whatever it is that they read and just to be thrilled that people are actually reading (recall, I grew up in a time pre-Harry Potter, where reading seemed to be a very peculiar thing to do indeed, and everyone was terrified that no-one would bother with it In The Future), that I don’t burst into tears if someone doesn’t like my novel, and I am overjoyed if, even if they didn’t specifically like it, or think that it was any good, they gave those thoughts care and time.

I wasn’t sure about that. I’ve been terrified of a bad review. I’ve had a few now. And yes, obviously I’m sad that I’ve only had one or two people I don’t know feel overwhelmingly positive about the book, or that I’ve not had more enthusiastic reviews, or indeed any yet from the free day (that’s another blog…) but there it is, and also, I must remind myself on a continual basis that it is a sodding sizeable book, which people can’t just get through in an afternoon unless they have considerable interest, space in their life, and dedication to doing so.

But it’s okay. I genuinely, truly want to know what people think about The Pulse. What they like, what they don’t. How they found the experience of reading it.

If you’d like to let me know your thoughts on The Pulse, you’re always welcome to email as per the acknowledgements page in the back of the book, or, obviously to review on Amazon or . I’d love it if you would. Unless you stopped after two pages because you hated it. Whilst, once more, I utterly defend your right to post such a review, I’d be lying if I said it made me happy XD

And, if you’ve not bought The Pulse and somehow, despite the not-exactly-selling-it nature of this blog would like to, then it’s HERE on Amazon UK and HERE on Amazon US (and on all the regional Amazons, too, including the new Amazon India, yay! Search “the Pulse Shaw” and it’ll appear pronto).

Anyone else have review experiences/blogs they’d like to share on this? It’s definitely the kind of process that’s both precisely as I’d imagined, and quite a surprise!

*On reflection, I think Aiden might have rather more in common with Don Draper than I’d imagined. Iiiiiinteresting.