On 3… Crescent City, House of Earth and Blood.

Can you believe I’m going into this review as a Sarah J. Maas virgin? I know. Crazy. There are a few of us still out there. But we’re like unicorns, or leprechauns, or any other ‘orn’. Tricky to find, and possibly just a horse in disguise.

Anyway…

Sarah J. Maas burst onto the writing scene in 2012 with her Throne of Glass series. It was a good year for YA Romantic Fantasies; Cassandra Clare’s 5th book of her Mortal Instruments series came out the same year, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, plus a whole slew of other sequels. Looking at the list, I’m surprised how few I’ve read, but at least I know I’ve got a back catalogue to while away the hours.

Of course, the most notable works SJM is known for is her Court of Thorns and Roses series, a beauty and the beast retelling with fae, intrigue and a lot of steamy scenes. So I’m told. As I’ve said, I’ve not read it.

No! Don’t leave! I’ve got nice things to say!

Crescent City is written for the adults that grew up with those previously mentioned books. Who loves the intrigue and fascination with fantasy – but won’t settle for ‘just kissing’ anymore.

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It’s also written by someone who has won awards, claimed the best seller, as not just one but three series under her belt, as well as side novels, manga projects… Which means it’s long. It’s thickly packed. And it’s fun!

I always find urban fantasies fascinating because you’re not throwing people into a world they’ll willingly accept, because it borders the real and the tangible. So the opening chapters are thick with description, whilst the action is relatively mundane. We’re introduced to key characters, and given a LOT of information about them to develop them as a character, and the world they live in.

Bryce, our main character, is half-fae. She has pointed ears, long red hair, and a not-so-secret-crush on one of the wolves in her flatmate, Danika,’s pack. The opening three chapters see Bryce navigate the world she lives in, from her job, to her home, to her social life. The f-bomb is dropped a lot! (Not dissimilar to when JK Rowling wrote for adults after 100 years of writing for kids, and she dropped the F-bomb like she’d been hoarding them the whole time for just this occasion).

As for plot, there are a lot of potential avenues, so if the romance element doesn’t hold your interest, the bomb-threatening mystery might. The political intrigue is there as back up, and the banter between characters will certainly see you through if you’re not that fussed.

This is a book written by someone who is wholly comfortable with her craft, her style, and her audience. Books, films, even Youtube videos are getting longer, and as someone who likes to binge on their content – I’m here for it. Crescent City is no different. At just over 800 pages, she’s a doozie and I’m not surprised. How does an editor tell a Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fantasy winner, winner of the Publisher Weekly’s Starred Review, Dragon Novel twice nominated winner, that she needs to cut out anything?

*Side note* – I’ve just read some of the reviews on her House of Earth and Blood Goodreads, from people who haven’t even read the book yet. (Which is crazy to me in of itself). And people seem to be expecting smut (I’m sure!) bad writing (which is harsh. Some sentences run on a little long, but she’s trying to build a layered world here people!) and “cliche stereotypical depictions of feminism and strength”.

Feminism is a lens guys, there is no ‘black and white’ way of being a feminist. Although could you imagine how easy life would be if there were?! There are some stereotypes of femininity and femme fatals in the opening chapter, but I’m interested to see how these characters continue to explore the world they’re in, especially as they’re put under pressure and have to make tough decisions. No, I’m not expecting this to be a ‘Booker Style’ literary fest. But to be honest, that’s not my thing anyway.

So as a summary:

Interesting opening chapters, packed full of maybe a little too much information and not enough action for me. But too soon to tell much more. I guess I’ll have to read it to find out!

On Three… Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

For those of you who have not read an ‘On Three’ review before: I review books after the 3rd chapter and determine whether I’m going to continue reading or not. Most agents only give a book three chapters (or the first 50 pages) and I find it’s gauge enough to know whether I’m going to enjoy a book or not. Sometimes I’m wrong but hey – what’s life without a little surprise?

Preamble: 

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Sometime between Christmas 2019 and New Year’s Eve of 2020, I went to see The Rise of Skywalker. And let me just tell you, weeks later, I have absolutely no idea how I feel about it.

  • It’s beautiful – sure.
  • Great Characters – obviously.
  • Pacing and structure? New Phone Who Dis?

I watched the first three films when I was six years old. My Grandparents only had three videotapes for kids. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Free Willy, and The NeverEnding Story. So whenever we visited, this was all I could watch.

And if that doesn’t deeply explain my psychosis nothing will…

Anyway – because of this, I’ve always held a warm, safe place for Star Wars in my heart. Or so I thought. I wasn’t amazed by the prequels, but I’ve come to appreciate them for developing the world. Wasn’t a fan of Rogue One (don’t @ me) and let’s just pretend The Solo Story didn’t happen… and I’ll die on the hill that The Last Jedi is wonderful because it actually attempts a slightly different narrative than a simple rehash of old storylines.

Was I secretly a Star Wars snob? Was I unable to enjoy anything except the original trilogy?

My best friend is the complete opposite – the Star Wars franchise can do no wrong (except for Last Jedi, he hates that film). And it amazed me we could both love a Franchise, for completely different reasons. At completely different ends of the spectrum. I asked him if he’d read any of the Star Wars books. He said no.

Time to test my snob hypothesis then – I bought Star Wars Aftermath. And my journey began…

aftermath

Aftermath opens straight after The Return of the Jedi, and the second Death Star is destroyed. But there’s no time to celebrate. The Empire still has factions of power, and as the statue of Palpatine is pulled from its plinth, Imperial Police (Stormtroopers in black) arrive and a battle breaks out in the middle of the square.

Nothing like throwing us in amongst the action. The characters, even though barely introduced in this opening scene, are empathic and real. Families protecting themselves. An angry mob fighting back against a cruel establishment.

The next three chapters cover a range of characters, and interestingly for me, hover over the perspective of an Imperial Admiral – Rae Sloane. Ambitious, tempestuous, strong and flawed – I love her already. And whilst I know I shouldn’t want her to win, her motives are clear and reasonable. Which makes her a fantastic antagonist. The world-building and settings are tangible and I’m really enjoying the pace of this narrative.

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I don’t tend to read a lot of Scifi – for reason’s I’ve explained in this tweet:-

But! Aftermath’s pivoting between perspectives, the soft references rather than heavy-handed ‘remember this guy from the first film? We brought him back! Even though he’d definitely be dead! HAHA!’ – It all works.

So if you’re worried that you might be a Star Wars snob – which might be true for me – give this book a read. I’m really glad I chose this to be my first read of 2020. I just hope it ends in hope because – with the world as it is outside, I need my Star Wars escapism safety blanket.

 

#Gothtober – Gothic Listening

Gothtober

Back in July I wrote a blog post about music being influential on writing, explaining that writers craving silence and solitude was a stereotype and ABSOLUTELY NOT how I like to write. Click here if you want a little slice of recap.

But a TLDR is: Some writers finds the blank page daunting, and music can help break numerous barriers.

And whilst music and literature might not seem synonymous, they both have tangible effects on us as human beings. When you’re a child you learn to sing along to music, keep to a beat and co-ordinate through music, whether that’s through music lessons or simply conditioning within the home. For example, my dad loves The Squeeze, so I know all the words to Up the Junction. (Test me). Equally, your parents might have read to you as a child, instigating your journey to reading and writing. Both are creative outlets developed and intrinsic to the person developing them. They’re large parts of everyone’s lives, whether they realise it or not, and the wider you explore both subjects the more you’ll get out of life and the wider cultural world around you.

The music I play when I’m writing is always curated to suit the mood of my writing.

So, with that in mind. I’ve created a playlist for you to listen to. Check it out on Spotify (not a spon – I don’t have NEARLY enough followers for that yet) and let me know what you think. What music do you listen to when you’re writing?

#SWGD – Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it came down in one.

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Day 22.

So, I know that as an adult I must take responsibility for my actions. But what I’m about to tell you is not my fault.

I was going really well. Was. And I’d had a lot of support from my readers and friends. Had.

That was until this week just gone.

I returned to my (future) home, Bath, and spent three days with my flatmate Lina. I assumed, as she was doing the ‘No Sugar September’ with me, it would be easier. We’d be able to support each other and avoid sugar.

Day 1 was a breeze. We ate homemade banana bread which had zero sugar in it. We went to the book launch of Anna Ellory’s The Rabbit Girls (click the link to see my review) and then Lina went off with her friends whilst I caught up with mine over dinner. No sugar to be seen in my meal, though I can’t guarantee the same from the whiskey I was drinking.

Day 2 was even easier. We spent all day at the Deli she worked in. We ate more banana bread, and other sugarless goodies available there. I had a really nice scotch egg with salad, without the vinaigrette. We rekindled our tradition of visiting TKMaxx and Garden centres together, just enjoying each other’s company and avoiding cake.

We did go to the cinema. Lina had popcorn, the sweet kind. But it was fine, there are half the calories in cinema popcorn than you’d find in a Kitkat. So it wasn’t a big deal.

Day 3…

So we met up with Lina’s fiance, and went to the Cosy Club for brunch. They do this awesome deal where you get a full breakfast, and a hot drink, for eight pounds. LF ordered a hot chocolate, with marshmallows and cream. It sounded really good. But I held strong. I ordered tea. And when my tea arrived, it had a cute individually wrapped sugar cube. Well, Lina had treated herself to popcorn the day before – I could have ONE cube in my tea, right? Sweetener tasted rank and I’d have to talk to someone to get some. Social Anxiety, anyone? So I dropped the cube into my tea.

Well…

I didn’t drop it in as such. My dad used to do this thing where he’d rest the sugar cube into the tea, just enough to submerge a corner. And then we’d watch the tea soak upwards into the cube and just before it hit our fingers, we’d let it go and watch the sugar sink into the tea.

This is what I did ^.

And LF noticed.

‘What did you just do?’

‘It’s one sugar cube,’ I replied, immediately guilty. 

‘No, what did you do with the sugar cube?’ 

I explained.

‘Can I have a go?’ 

LF didn’t want another sugar cube in his hot chocolate, it was already sweet enough, so he asked if he could put the cube in my tea. I liked LF, but I’d only spoken to him once before.

It felt rude to say no – that’s the excuse I’m going with.

He dunked the cube in, watched the tea rise, and dropped it in.

Well, Lina was not going to be left out. She did, bless her, ask first, before copying me and LF and dunking her cube into my tea.

Three sugars. Three. In one cup of tea. I couldn’t taste anything else. I kept topping up my cup with more tea, and it was still sugar-infused two cups later. My tongue began to tingle. I’d missed that. My whole mouth felt sweet.

We finished our Brunch and the waitress came over.

‘Would you like to see the dessert menu?’

‘Yes.’ I didn’t even hesitate. 

LF waited right up until my spoon sunk into the warm chocolate brownie I’d ordered before asking,

‘So hows the whole ‘no sugar thing’ going?’ 

‘You’re a bad influence,’ I replied. ‘I blame this entirely on you.’ 

#SWGD – Total Recall

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Day 18.

So, it’s been a minute since I last caught you up on my Sugarless Journey. And if I’m honest – I’m kinda over the whole thing. My weight has stayed the same (I know, we’re all shocked) my mood has returned to normal, mainly because I’ve started having tea with sweetener, and my life is full of tedious moments where I check the back of the packet containing my favourite foods and sighing because – once again – my favourite food has sugar in it so I can’t have it.

I’ve also been super busy, so keeping you updated hasn’t been a top priority – so I’ll do a recap of the key bits you might feel you missed.

I went to the Tate Modern.

It’s a lot easier to find sugarless things in London. There’s more shops, more opportunities, and everyone is trying to sell Green living and healthy products. I drank sugarfree juicy waters, ate chips and burger – and resisted the urge to have an American sized milkshake. No matter how much of a bad influence Georgia was being…

I went for lunch with an old friend. 

I suggested a coffee shop, which was my mistake. And then to torture myself further, I sat opposite the homemade cakes and cookies available at said coffee shop. We had a nice salad, and we had a nice catch-up. And I stared at a chocolate cake hoping it would suddenly grow legs and jump onto my plate. Disappointingly, it didn’t.

I went to Live at the Apollo.

It’s a lot easier to avoid sugar when you’re constantly on the move. I drove up to Richmond, trained across to Hammersmith, and drank nothing but water. Again with the burgers… I’ve now got the GBK app and I’m not looking back…

I recorded a Podcast.

I’m really excited about this, but I can’t tell you anything about it yet! Just keep your lemons peeled for exciting news on that front.

I got my hair cut.

I’m not a casual Goth with dark brown/black hair. And I’m so here for it! If anyone wants an awesome hairdresser, Gillian Pollard just UNDERSTOOD what I wanted without making a big deal or stressing me out. Can’t recommend her enough.

Watched Old Eltamian’s Women’s Game.

It was good to see people again, and I’m glad I went. Still not emotionally or physically prepared to play – plus it took me an hour and a half to get there because of the roadworks. But baby steps…

It was at the game that my friend Claire pointed out how empowering it is ‘being able to walk past cake and not needing it.’

I’ve never needed cake as such, but she’s right. It’s a lot easier being around cake now and not crying that I can’t eat it. I don’t feel ’empowered’ as such. Maybe, liberated? I’ll enjoy cake again in my future, but I can wait.

Shopped at Bluewater.

Similar to the podcast – I’ve got a vlog you’ll need to look out for. It’s hilarious. Just wait.

And now I’m in Bath. I’m currently sat in a coffee shop, watching the flatmate who encouraged me to do this whole ‘No Sugar’ thing hide behind the pastry display.

The whole experience has been a lot easier with so much support – but I’m still not hyping the ‘no sugar’ bandwagon. Save changing my tastebuds to make sugar the enemy, I don’t feel any real benefits yet. But it’s nice to know my flatmate is working on it too, and that so many people who read these blogs (and the slightly more emotional ones) care enough to reach out and message me.

I genuinely love you guys. (I mean it, try not to be sick). Thank you.

Seam Submission: Woman

I recently submitted an essay to Seam’s anthology, Slant – the topic being women in the modern era. Unfortunately, though I made it through several rounds of filtering, it didn’t quite fit the overall feeling of the anthology and you won’t be able to see these words printed. But!

I do think I’ve put together an essay worth discussing (of course I do, I’m a narcissist) and I’d be really interested to know what other women have to say about it.

Men – the few of you that there are – whilst this essay isn’t ‘for you’ as such, I’d like to know how you feel about infertility and whether you feel the same pressures as the guy I mention below.

Woman.

I looked in his eyes as I told him, ‘I can’t have children.’ And he recoiled. ‘That’s so
sad,’ he said. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because… having children – that’s what makes you a woman.

It’s the key biological difference that separates you from a man.’
Then I guess I’m not a woman.

I’ve never had regular periods. When I was fifteen, I went into emergency surgery for
a ruptured appendix. They had to take my insides out and put me back again to fix me. My heart stopped beating at one point – and this is when I stopped being a woman. The severity of the rupture had caused the organ to disintegrate and I had three different blood poisonings. Water collected in the gap the appendix had once filled, and doctors were worried that if they tried to burst the honey-comb bubble within it, they might pierce my ovary. The bubble eventually subsided, and the water drained away. But my periods became even more irregular. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I went to see my GP, having not had a period for over a year.

After some tests, bloods analysed and an ultrasound, I was told I had Polycystic
Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s a condition that impacts my hormones, creating more male
hormones, which causes me to skip menstrual periods. It can cause women to grow hair on the face and the body, can create baldness, and it contributes to diabetes and heart disease.

PCOS also makes it ‘almost impossible to get pregnant,’ my GP explained.
To an eighteen-year-old, this is not big news. I didn’t want children. I wanted a
university degree, a flat full of potted plants, nights out with friends. I’d recently broken up with a boyfriend and I was flirting with the next potential. I was told there were treatments, birth control pills, but was warned they’d make me gain weight – which was already a symptom of my PCOS, so I declined. Children were not a priority.

Nearly ten years later, I can’t say I feel differently. If anything, my PCOS has become
a shield. My stock response any time someone makes an assumption about me having
children, or giving up my career or settling down, I say, ‘I can’t have children.’ And much
like the guy sitting across from me at the start, they recoil. Worried my infertility might be contagious.

It isn’t.

When it comes to listing things that make me a woman, I’ll admit that I struggle. I
play rugby, a man’s sport. I go to the gym, I take the rubbish out, and I’m not afraid of
spiders. Maybe I’m being flippant. Maybe that’s a man thing too. But I’ve lived by myself for a long time. I enjoy my independence. Once you’ve lived by yourself for a few months you learn that ‘gender roles’ are a fallacy. You can’t dictate behaviour due to what’s between your legs. Chores have to be done. Bills have to be paid. You don’t have any excuses. Nowhere to hide. It leaves a permanence to the idea that any equality between genders is perpetuated by another agenda. Whether that agenda is materialism, capitalism, fear or misunderstanding.

His commentary on my situation should have annoyed me. The truth is I felt sorry for
him. Though his words were about me, this guy’s thoughts were elsewhere. How he would feel like less of a man if he were told he was incapable of getting someone pregnant. Unable to fulfill his one biological requirement.

He wouldn’t feel like a real man. So how could I be a real woman?

I see a lot of pity in the eyes of people who learn about my infertility. I see the pain
that would have been caused if they’d received this news, not me. I know there will be
women out there who can’t have children, and this is devastating for them. Maybe they found out whilst trying for their first. Maybe they’d always dreamed about having children.

According to Goodarzi’s The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, ‘27% of women have PCOS undiagnosed.’ I can’t imagine the pain of discovering, after years of
knowing you want children, that you’re unable to. That you’ll need medical or divine
intervention.

But – to me – my infertility is inconsequential. It’s one facet of my complex
personality. It doesn’t stop me from retaining the privileges of being a woman. I won’t
apologise for it, either.

On 3… Review of The Rabbit Girls

IMG_20190909_083536_264Usually, I preface these reviews with the intro about how I only read three chapters being interrupted by my mum… yada yada. But today’s review is part of a #BlogTour for Anna Ellory and I’ve decided to take a slight detour – so, if you’re ready for the emotional rollercoaster, sitting comfortably etc, I’ll begin.

Storytime: (If you’re not interested and want to just read my review, feel free to return at the **)

Five or six years ago, I was an ad-hoc daytime companion for a lady named Erna. She had dementia, was bedridden, amongst a long list of other ailments. She couldn’t watch television for more than five minutes without changing the channel a hundred times, unable to concentrate on anything, distracted or irritated. She hated having a pillow under her knee, but the nurse insisted. She’d try and trick you into moving the pillow, but you had to stand firm against her wily fragility. And she would scream or cry if left alone for more than two minutes, even if she’d asked you to make her a tea or fetch the paper.

But I sat with her, for hours, days, because I loved her husband, John Kidson, like an adopted granddad. And if he needed me to sit with Erna whilst he went to the rugby, Tescos or any other reason – I would be there for them.

At around one o’clock, the nurses would come. They’d always politely suggest I go have something to eat or leave the room so Erna could be bathed, changed and everything else. In my young and selfish mind, I was really glad I wasn’t the one who actually had to care for Erna. That I could walk away.

Stories about anyone in this position always make me uncomfortable, because books are an escape for me. A separate world from my own which is – hopefully – slightly less tragic than the Brexit hellscape we’re currently living in.

But with Rabbit Girls… I didn’t feel I could put it down. Not just but because I’d agreed to do this blog (I was actually two-thirds of the way through it when I was asked) but because the writing begged to be read. The story deserved to be told. And I’d agreed, whether consciously or not, to keep my promise and find out how it ended.

** The Review.

 Speaking of hellscapes… In half the story, the Berlin wall has fallen and in the other half, the Holocaust plagues our charming and compassionate characters as they’re tortured, experimented on and systematically destroyed. Both stories are intertwined by family, hope in the darkest of times and rebellion. Miriam Winter is caring for her dying father, Henryk, when she discovers an Auschwitz tattoo under his watch strap. Miriam, needing to understand more about her father’s past, discovers an inmate’s uniform which has letters smuggled within it.

What you should expect before going into this is:

  1. You’re going to cry. A lot. Have tissues etc prepared.
  2. You’re going to question yourself, whether you’re a good person. Whether, like me, you’re selfishly hiding from cruel realities others have suffered.
  3. You’re going to be in awe of the writing. It’s incredible, there’s no denying that.

Anna Ellory is a master (with a Masters) craftswoman of literary fiction, historical realities, and intriguing characters and narratives. It feels authentic, and it hurts. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And I’m really excited to say this, to Anna’s face (potentially in an aggressive-loving-kinda-way) next week when I see her.

100/10 would recommend. Thank you for letting me be part of your Blog Tour!

 

#SWGD – Sweet Freedom

Sugar, We're Going Down bannerDay 5.

Okay… I’ll be the first to admit Day 3 was tricky. Some (my family) might even go as far as to say my mood was ‘extra’ or ‘aggressive’. (There’s no might, those are the actual words my family used to describe me.)

But I can confirm that Day 5 finds me in a much better mood. I don’t know if it’s because the withdrawal symptoms have subsided, or the lack of caffeine and sugar has left me with a broken soul and no will to go on (the positive bean in me wants to think it’s the former) but I woke up feeling happy. Good. Not quite healthy, bouncing full of life; but not murderous any more so I guess that’s a plus.

I want to take a moment to thank those who reached out to me after the last post. Tentative as you were. To those who called, commented, messaged to make sure I was okay. Yesterday was pretty difficult in that so many people have told me ‘just have a cup of tea… who’s going to know? Who’s going to care?’

No one. You’re right. But I don’t want to give up on something I’ve told myself I’ll do. And I don’t want to let down those who messaged saying, ‘you’ve got this,’ ‘stick at it.’ ‘You’re nearly there.’

They might be massively misguided, but it’s kind of them to care about me and I’m grateful for that.

I’m still at the torn stage where I wouldn’t recommend giving up sugar cold turkey to people, but I’m still acting like it’s the best thing for my body. I’ve started calling it a ‘cleanse’ to people who ask about it, and I’ve never felt so pretentious in my life.

I’ve got these sunglasses with reflective lenses. They’re huge and they’re gorgeous and they’re still not as pretentious as telling people you’re ‘on a cleanse’. Just a little PSA.

I thought the answer to giving up sugar would be to find alternatives. Trick my brain (and my mouth apparently) into thinking that I wasn’t giving up sugar so much as replacing my favourites with other things.

Image result for fruit infusers sachetSo I tried teas without sugar (a bust, as day three proved) and I tried fruit infusers in cold water. Essentially squash, but with no added sugar.

These fruit infusers were an abomination. The label suggested leaving the little teabag looking sachet in the water for five minutes and then removing. I tried the apple and blackcurrant flavour first, not wanting to risk the more precarious flavours of mango and pineapple, strawberry and kiwi. After five minutes, the water was pink, and the blackcurrant smell was really strong. I could almost taste it.

And that’s pretty much what happened when the water touched my tongue. I could almost taste it. You know when you finish a squash bottle, and you fill it with water, and there’s that little residue taste – like the ghost of blackcurrant past?

That’s what this tasted like.

No worries, I’ll try leaving it a little longer. Maybe I’ve put too much water in it. Maybe it needs a few more minutes. It didn’t. The colour of the water got darker, more pink. The taste stayed the same. Disappointed, I just had a glass of water. Left the bottle to soak in it’s own misery.

Came back two hours later to see if it was any better now. That was my mistake.

It tasted like mould. The fruit or flavourings or whatever had been left in the water had massively soured. It was gross. I immediately spat out the water, poured the rest down the drain and eyed the teabag looking sachet to see if there was actual mould inside. There wasn’t, but there was also no colour in it either.

10/10 would not recommend. Avoid. Avoid.

Dejected, but still too stubborn to admit I’d have to cut sweetness out of my life if I wanted to cut out sugar, I took to Sainsburys again. I sent a sad post of minirolls, flapjacks and cookies to my family on the group whatsapp, and thought about giving up.

Image result for sweet freedomAnd then I spotted this tiny little bottle with a badger on the front.

Something you might not know about me – I’m a Hufflepuff. (Unless you ask my flatmate, family or anyone who has seen my temper and then I’m a Slytherin.)

So seeing a badger on a label caught my eye almost immediately. Then, the price did. £3. That’s a lot for this piddly bottle, but I picked it up anyway.

‘No added sugar, natural fruit sweetners, perfect on porridge or for making hot chocolates with.’

Come. To. Mama.

I won’t say it’s the best £3 I’ve ever spent. That honour goes to the big mac I bought a guy called Alex  (who I thought hated me) nearly ten years ago and thus secured our standing friendship. But this was the second-best £3 I’ve ever spent. 

Three dollops of this in warm milk, bam. The sweetest hot chocolate I’ve had since I tried a ‘true Belgian hot chocolate’ in, unsurprisingly, Belgium, which was essentially just warm melted chocolate in a cup. Nearly half the bottle to make it, but, when I’m feeling sad now on my little journey to not have refined or added sugar – this bad boy is coming out of the cupboard.

The true hero of this week. Definitely recommend.

On 3… The Night Manager

51p5pzv02HL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHow do you create tension in the opening chapters of a book, without giving the game away? Without over-egging the pudding and making the tension unsustainable? Without boring your audience into early retirement.

Well,

You start by using present tense. If everything is happening in the moment, how could you not be caught up along for the ride? But then you juxtapose it with past tense, develop the story, the narrative and the characters. Their motives and motivations are in their pasts, their personalities and choices will be defined by those pasts and you’ll have to read more to see if they surprise you. They probably will.

The dialogue within your tense narrative should be strong. Almost script like. A complete contrast to the heavy setting description. It should flow like a real conversation, jar in the right places. Pause for reflection. Counter. And one person should always know more than the other.

For this, you need to have a compelling protagonist. Someone who is both relatable and ready for the action ahead of them. Possibly you might have an ex-military man turned night manager. Perhaps, there’s more to this mild mannered, well dressed individual than meets the eye.

‘Tentative, with a smile of apologetic self-protection.’

Of course, if you’re going to describe your characters this way, with a ‘mildness of manner and a fighter’s frame,’ you should also – and I cannot stress this enough – hire Tom Hiddleston to play him in the television series adaptation.

Mum: “The fatal thing about watching a film or tv series before you read the book is that you know what the character looks like. In the book, Le Carre is beautifully descriptive of Jonathan Pine but his description bears little resemblance to the gorgeous hunk who played him.”

Okay, you can stop dribbling now.

Mum: “The conversation between Pine and Madame Sophie was lovely, flirtatious. I could imagine myself with Tom Hiddleston… but that’s irrelevant really.”

I’m going to be sick.

I watched the series of The Night Manager before I read the book, which was definitely the wrong way around. When you know how this book ends, every sentence is edged with a tenacity for the final battle – which you obviously don’t get in the first three chapters. You do get a lot in the first three chapters, but your never satisfied. Always hungry for more.

John Le Carre has created a modern story in a classic style. His Fleming-esque characters are picture perfect for their seduction, mystery and cruelty. And of course, missiles and other nasty things are put on the table in chapter one.

Mum: “Excellent writing. It really captured my imagination. For some reason, I forgot that Hugh Laurie played the baddie (Roper) and had a completely different, horrible, obnoxious actors face in my head.”

Hitchcock once said of film, ‘if you have a gun on the wall in the first act, then it must go off in the second.’ Tension is then increased because we already know the stakes. This man, the one Pine (our protagonist) fears, is working with weapons that could kill thousands. Any additional stakes throughout the story will drive the plot but eventually these ‘Chekov’s gun’s must go off. And our Jonathan Pine is the only person we know in the way to stop him.

If you’re looking to develop your writing skills, read The Night Manager.

If you want to enjoy a spy-thriller with teeth, read The Night Manager.

If you want to imagine a world outside your mundane, read The Night Manger.

Basically what I’m saying is –

Well I don’t think I need to repeat myself. Do you?

#SWGD – Fall At The First

Sugar, We're Going Down banner

Day 1. (Explicit) 

I woke up feeling immediate regret. I needed a cup of tea. I needed strong breakfast tea with a dash of milk and one sugar. Just one couldn’t hurt?

I resisted. I’d just drink water. Water is really good for you, I told myself. It’s great for your skin, helps regulate body temperature, oh, and it keeps you alive! As a line manager of mine once said, ‘Hydrate or die.’

3057640316098_LSo with a 1ltr and a half of Volvic Sugar Free at hand, I hid upstairs. There’s no sugar upstairs, I’d already eaten it all before the challenge started. Maybe if I physically avoided sugar I’d be able to resist?

Lina was having a much harder time. She works in a cafe, surrounded by sugary cakes. Somehow she managed to suffice with a bowl of cucumber. At one point, she explained, that she was going to stare at the cakes whilst eating the cucumber to see if that would trick her mind into thinking she was eating sugar when she wasn’t. Yeah… we can all guess how well that worked.

And then it was my turn to be tested again.

My dad is a Mason, and they host a charity bbq for the families every year. Our mission was to bring a pudding, as if life wasn’t cruel enough, so my mum created an Eton Mess (for the political irony).

‘I can’t eat that,’ I told her, more to remind myself that the cream and meringues had sugar in them.

‘It’s okay, I’ve put some strawberries aside for you.’

Five strawberries. Six, after she saw my disappointed face. They’d have to do, I guessed. I didn’t want to sound ungrateful.

They say when you lose a sense the others become more heightened. Well, I was neglecting my tastebuds, and my nose decided to overcompensate. It was probably psychosomatic but the moment I arrived at the bbq, all I could smell was sugar. It was in the BBQ sauce drizzled on the ribs, it was in the cheesecakes, cakes, and other sweet puddings on the counter. It was in every fizzy drink available.

I’d brought a bottle of water with me, filled with my Volvic Touch of Fruit, so that I didn’t need to break my pact on day one. We hung out for over an hour, chatting with people, buying raffle tickets, having a laugh and then food was served.

Now, there’s a lot of old people at these functions. And they took forever to get through the buffet. So by the time I got there, I was starving (didn’t have breakfast, in a stern attempt to avoid sugar) and just wanted to stuff my face so that I wouldn’t want dessert. I started with salad – no sugar in salad. Sausages, kebab, potato salad – couldn’t guarantee no sugar, but there weren’t many other options. The pasta salad probably had sugar in it, but was it worth fussing over right now? And then my big blunder. The mistake I should have seen coming.

A plump white roll, with powdered flour on the top. Fluffy. Soft. I didn’t even think – it went onto my plate. So did a rib. Well… it would be rude not to!

I sat down, and started eating. Took a bite out of my roll.

Oh no.

Oh. No. What have I done?

‘This has got sugar in it, hasn’t it?’

‘Well I wasn’t going to say anything,’ said the brother who did a nutrition module at uni.

Fuck.

How did I manage to fuck up on the first day!? I wasn’t even 24 hours in!! I handed the roll to my brother, who happily munched away on my roll (which I’d tucked the sausages inside, so I didn’t have those anymore either). Whilst I ate my probably-covered-in-sugar rib.

‘You did really well to stop yourself though!’ said Lina, the greatest cheerleader ever.

‘But I failed! On day one.’

‘Better to fail on day one than day 21 when you should know better.’

Tomorrow will be better, I told myself. Tomorrow will be easier because I’ll be able to control everything I eat. Tomorrow. I’ll try again tomorrow.