Sugar, We’re Going Down…

Sugar, We're Going Down banner

It’ll be no surprise to most, if not all, of those who know me –

I hate my body.

This will have a positive outcome I promise! Just keep reading…

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Trying to find a photo from my size 12 days that wasn’t blurry or weird was really hard… 

There’s a lot that frustrates me about my physique, which goes beyond not being as ‘skinny’ as I’d like to be. As you know, I used to play rugby. I was a healthy size 12, I trained three times a week, I ate what I liked, and I could run up my four flights of stairs without being out of breath.

None of those facts have been true for about eight years. I’m now a full hour glassed size 20, I go to the gym when I can but not as often as I should, I punish myself with my eating habits, and thanks to my recent cold I have to stop halfway up the stairs to catch my breath before carrying up the rest. 

Added to this: I’ve got polycystic ovarian syndrome.

It’s an interesting little dysfunction, my ovaries cling on to eggs to create cysts. I can’t have kids, and I gain weight like crazy. My size 12 to size 20 slide didn’t take the full eight years, it’s just taken me this long to admit it. I went from a size 12 to a size 16 in months, whilst at university, and everyone told me it was Fresher’s bloating. All the alcohol and cheap pasta. But then after uni, I kept ballooning. I went to see my doctor, and she reminded me that weight gain is a side effect of POS.

‘How can I stop the POS?’
‘By going on the pill.’
‘Can I go on the pill?’
‘I can’t put you on the pill until you lose some weight.’

You see my conundrum? A cruel Catch 22 of needing to lose weight and control my body so that I can lose weight and control my body.

There are other psychological factors for me hating my body but if you need to know those, my ‘Did I let anxiety win?’ blog covers most of them.

Here comes the positive bit –

My flatmate Lina and I are going to do a ‘No Sugar for September’ challenge. 30 days of zero refined or added sugar. I really struggle to diet, I get bored easily and the moment someone tells me I can’t have something then that’s all I want. But we’re hoping that by doing this together we’ll be able to cut out sugar for a month.

I don’t expect this to be easy, I’ve got the biggest sweet tooth ever! And sugar – as I discovered when shopping yesterday – is in EVERYTHING! But I’ve got the support of my flatmate and my family, and a game plan. I’ve found replacements for the sugary things I have daily, such as tea, breakfast and lunch. And sugarless alternatives to snacks and other things like that.

I’m not entirely sure what I hope to get out of this. I’ve spent a long term trying to train myself to like my body, even a little bit. But considering I’m the only person I allow to see it in the harsh light of day – maybe I need to stop fixating and starting ‘fixing’ the problems I think I have. And this can’t hurt, right?

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No, but seriously, why hasn’t vogue called yet? 

I’ll try to update the blog every day so you can see whether the alternatives are worth the money, how the lack of sugar impacts my mood, weight and mindset, and please – for me – treat yourself today. 

Just don’t tell me about it…

 

 

‘We don’t just tolerate dogs, we’re dog friendly’

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This is Zoe, and she hopes you’re having a good day. 

We have a new addition to the family. Zoe O’Donnell is a gorgeous springer spaniel puppy, and she’s the light of my life. Admittedly, she’s not my dog – but my brother and his girlfriend are proving to be great dog-parents.

They want to take her wherever they go but, unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Whilst there is a growing number of coffee shops and pubs that say, ‘dog friendly’, my brother is discovering this actually means ‘we’ll tolerate your dog, but…’

Which seems so strange to me. Is there anything better than being in a public place and seeing a dog? Really? Our pets are part of the family. They bond strangers, they’re excited to see you at the end of a long day.  They comfort us when we’re sad, they do that cute head-tilt thing when we talk to them, and if kicking you in the face to get more comfortable on the sofa isn’t love then I don’t want it!

 

Which is why I’ve got to tell you about this amazing wedding venue I’ve found. (Preface, this is not sponsored, I just really love this venue!)

I visited Bilsington Priory, (St Augustine’s Priory) to discuss potentially hosting a writing workshop at their gorgeous historical venue. I was greeted by a gorgeous pack of good boys and girls, who licked my hands, my ankles, and eventually fell asleep at my feet. Throwing back to a paragraph when I said there’s nothing better than spotting a dog in a public place well – a whole pack is the only thing.

Whilst enjoying tea with Libby and Zena, the team that run the beautiful estate, the door bell rang. A flurry of barks erupted, and I forgot for a moment that I was in a meeting trying to be professional. I got excited along with the dogs and when they were told to be quiet, I had to restrain a laugh. I loved it. I asked if people were allowed to bring their dogs to events, and Libby assured me that all dogs were welcome.

‘We don’t just tolerate dogs, we’re dog friendly. In fact, we’ve had a few brides walk their dogs down the aisle of the chapel.’

And she’s got the photos to prove it! In fact, because of the space and the facilities, dogs aren’t the only four legged friends welcome on your wedding day.

So next time you see a sign saying, ‘no dogs,’ don’t be disheartened. Because there’s a little spot in the middle of the countryside which would be perfect for your special day.

The Book Junkie Trials Readathon – Blackhearts.

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So, I’ve completed my first book for the readathon – and to be honest, I’m pretty proud of myself. I haven’t finished a book in two weeks since I was at school, and it’s nice to get that feeling of accomplishment even if the books was – and I’m being generous here – mediocre.

This will be an ‘uninterrupted’ book review, and will cover more than three chapters but first: a quick reminder of the prompt given and why I chose Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman.

“Dwarf Mount: You spot a fair tavern wench, however, the Dwarf Mines, grimey and dusty, didn’t evoke a very romantic feeling. Read a book with a hint of romance to get you in the mood.”

Blackhearts has been on my general TBR list for at least a year, and had lived in my Amazon wishlist for a year before that. It wasn’t a ‘recommended’ book, from either a friend or an algorithm, but the front cover intrigued me and the promises of passion and pirates ticked a lot of boxes.

On Three: Initial Response. 

The opening chapters delivered on the promises made by the blurb and the front cover. The audience is given two perspectives; Anne’s, who is a mixed-race maid, daughter to both a well-reputed merchant and a slave from the West Indies, and Teach, otherwise known as Edward ‘Teach’ Drummond, a ship’s captain and the son of the wealthiest merchant in Bristol.

We learn that Anne isn’t afraid to defend herself, after an altercation between the two main characters. Teach is immediately intrigued by Anne and there’s obvious sexual chemistry.

The one thing they have in common is that they’re prisoners of Teach’s father, the master of the house and cold fish. He’s not interested in his son’s passions for sailing, but wants him to be married to a Baron’s daughter as soon as possible so that the family can become titled.

The historical backdrop of Bristol in 1697 helps to cement the characters amongst brutal tradition and an inescapable destiny. We feel for Anne who is trapped, and hope that Teach might be the one to help her escape.

Upon finishing. *Spoilers ahead*.

Yeah. Hope springs eternal – I guess.

For the next twelve chapters, the characters are caught in a cyclical argument of

‘Just give me a chance.’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘You’re engaged, you’re a bad influence, your dad would be mad’.

All justifiable responses, but the narrative drags. Their actual ‘relationship’ lasts one chapter, before they’re torn apart through actions that are signposted to the point of being predictable earlier on in the story. A maid with a grudge finally gets Anne into a situation she can’t talk her way out of, and the only hint of Piracy is the threat hanging over Teach’s head after he’s accused. This also only lasts two chapters.

There’s no substance to this book. The conflict has no drive, and there are no real stakes. Anne becomes grating because she’s so determined to think one thing and then act another. And Teach’s behaviour is borderline problematic, but we’re supposed to forgive him because he’s in love with Anne.

TLDR:

I gave this book 2/5 stars on Goodreads, because it’s not awful. But it’s monotonous and I’m not running to the bookshop to buy the next in the series. Here’s hoping my next book for the readathon is better!

 

The Book Junkie Trial’s Readathon – The Reading List.

I’m taking part in a readathon.

Did I know readathon’s existed before last year? No. Was that because I didn’t watch enough Booktubers? Probably.

I’m 27 years old – and I’m not going to lie, I had to think about it for a second. Time was people would read a book, and then find a select group of friends you could talk about that book with. These people would be the bread and butter of your recommendations and book chat. Without them, your creativity might starve. Or you’d spend a lot of time at the library skimming through things you may or may not actually enjoy reading.

Then came the internet, and an inter-galaxy of opportunities to give your opinion and share reading experiences. And, unfortunately, until now I’ve not had the time to enjoy this outside of ‘reading for half an hour before going to bed.’ But since I’ve become self-employed and I’ve developed a Book Review Blog with my mum, I’ve made the time to read more. Which is why I’m taking part in a readathon.

Last year I set myself the goal of reading (and actually finishing) 12 books. One a month. Shouldn’t have been too difficult except it was. Whilst I was teaching, I couldn’t scrape five minutes for a smoothie let alone the hours it would take for me to enjoy 12 books. I’m by no means a ‘speed-reader’ and it blows my mind that there are wonderful people out there who ‘read the whole of the Harry Potter series in a weekend.’

Just know I’ve seen you. I respect you. I also kinda loathe you.

So I didn’t reach my target. Not even close. But it’s a new year, and I’ve got a new job that works to my own schedule. So I’m taking part in a readathon.

Scribes Map

Naomi (@TeatimewithNaomi) suggested The Book Junkie Trials, which was going to be a fantasy style readathon run by her majesty, Rachael Marie. It was the perfect choice. Her majesty organised a quiz to put you into a team, and I became a scribe. She created a map for each team and little additional ‘trials’ like sharing photos of your TBR and tweeting about your Daemon. Before the readathon had even started, I’d found a thousand new people to follow (only slight hyperbole) and all these like-minded, wonderful people wanted to talk to me about books! Dream accomplished. 

So I thought I’d post this before the readathon starts, because I’m going to be posting more blogs as I work through my reading list. Below is what I’ve chosen and why:

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The Prompts

1. Dwarf Mount: You spot a fair tavern wench, however, the Dwarf Mines, grimey and dusty, didn’t evoke a very romantic feeling. Read a book with a hint of romance to get you in the mood.

I chose Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman. It has been on my general TBR list for a while, and promises passion and pirates! Seemed like the perfect place to start.

2. Apothecary Towers: Where the wizards dwell. Tricksters. They have blind-folded you and randomised all your books, choose a book at random from your bookshelf.

Technically, I didn’t choose this, but Scarlet by Marissa Meyer was recommended to me by a friend after I threatened to give up on the series after thinking the first book, ‘Cinder’ was meh. Nothing wrong with Cinder, it just didn’t hold my interest as much as I wanted it to. And my two favourite characters died so it left me with very little root for. I’ve been promised book two in the series is worth going back for.

3. The Great Library: Ahh the great archives, find and read a book that has been on your TBR forever.

I bought Cruel Prince during the great hype of 2018. Which might not seem like forever ago, but we’re five months away from 2020. Just give yourself a minute to let that sink in. I avoided reading it because those who read and finished it before I could get my hands on a copy did not review it highly. So I kept putting it off and reading other things. So I guess it kinda counts.

4. The Drowning Deep: The Whirlpool… is so…. mesmerising. Read a book with rich world-building that will suck you into its own world, instead.

Because I’m a Scribe, the weakness attributed to me was ‘I spend too much time documenting my findings, so my challenges take longer. I must read a book over 500 pages.’ Turns out I’ve read quite a few books over 500 pages, but not within a month. I needed something with incredible world building and staying power. So I chose The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Whilst I was on my MA course, I joined a creative writing group which focused on Fantasy called Moonrakers. So I got to spend a lot of time talking about fantasy with other fantasy nerds and just generally living my best life. Brandon Sanderson was quoted on a regular basis and even though I’ve read hundreds of fantasy books, I was promised by all that this was the author I needed to sink my teeth into. The hype is real, so I hope it delivers.

5. The Bookie Grail: Here you find a lost manuscript, delivered on this forgotten island by a fallen star. Read the group book: Stardust.

So, that’s my reading list. I’ve got 31 days to complete it. Wish me luck!

On 3… A Review of How to Stop Time.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

How to Stop Time, Matt HaigImage result for how to stop time

Confession. I went into this book already obsessed with Matt Haig. I’ve read snippets of his writing before, I’ve followed him on Twitter, I narrowly missed the chance to see him read in Bath and all my friends from uni rate his writing. So – I went in with big expectations.

I was not disappointed.

Matt Haig creates a lovely balance between informative information about the scientific perspective and philosophies of the main character whilst also including a colloquial voice, charming personality and an overriding sense that the main character is empathetic and warm even whilst surrounded by others who are not.

Tom, the main character, doesn’t age the way a normal human would – but makes a point to explain he’s not a ‘sexy vampire’ either, which always needs clarification when discussing age-related superpowers. (Thanks Twilight.)

Mum: It’s an interesting concept of ageing slower than the average person, something we would all like to be able to do once we are into our 30’s, 40’s onwards. So much to do and so little time. Blink and you’ve missed your life! I’m interested in going on a journey with Tom.

And the opening few pages create potential conflict, asking tense questions about the world Tom lives in – never giving too much away but with a voice that seems transparent and authentic. Not the easiest thing in the world to do.

The final sentences of the opening chapter GUARANTEED I’d read this book until the end.

‘Anyone who does discover our secret, and believes it, tends to find their short lives are cut even shorter. So the danger isn’t just from ordinary humans. It’s also from within.’

Love. The. Drama.

Mum: I already don’t like Hendrich because he’s controlling and playing games but I’m intrigued to read further because I’m yet to understand what hold he has over Tom and why people need to die?

Oh Hendrich is the worst. For all of Tom’s empathy and warmth, Hendrich is cold, calculating and ‘lawful evil’ if I’m allowed to make a D&D reference in this review. I did genuinely laugh when I discovered a man who doesn’t age got Botox and a brow lift to ‘fit in’. People are strange. And Tom describes him best as

‘An incredibly ancient child’

Which is the greatest oxymoron I’ve ever read.

Matt Haig’s characters are so inherently human. Even in only a few short pages. Panic attacks and attention deficits. I don’t understand why he’s trapped. I don’t understand why he wants to go back to London. I don’t understand who ‘she’ is, and if she’s also an albatross. But I’m excited to find out.

Mum: It must be pretty good if Stephen Fry and Graham Norton have put their names on the cover. And did you know, ‘but nothing ever happens in heaven’ is from a Talking Heads song?

Heaven is a place where nothing happens

 

I just immediately thought of the Artworks piece down in the Folkestone Creative Quarter. So, definitely showing your age there.

Mum: Ha. Ha.

But it is cool that an idea or perspective can transcend time especially when the main character has nothing but time.

Well done Matt Haig, we can’t wait to see how it ends.

On 3… A Review of We Were Liars.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

We Were Liars

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Can I just say, I love a map. And a family tree. During my time studying Historical Fiction at Bath Spa University for my MA, I was told that including a family tree or a timeline was a ‘bit of a cop out’ as the story should world-build around the time you’re including for your story. But that the opening page is a map of Beechwood Island, with the building names and families in residence, and then the second page is the Sinclair family tree suggests a uniformity and quintessential nature to the world I’m about to travel through.

Which, of course, is perfectly in sync with the jarring opening sentences.

‘Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.’

Why does that strike me as insincere?

Cadence Sinclair Eastman sounds like every over-dramatic, hormone ridden student having a bad day. She’s full of existential crises and an overwhelming desire to both stand out and stay hidden. She’s condescending about her aunt’s ‘stay at home’ position, whilst calling her own mum ‘mummy’, seems overtly disgusted by money whilst spending it from a comfortable position of ‘not bothering to understand’ where the money comes from. I don’t like her. She’s too much a poet, and as a narrator – less than reliable.

Mum: ‘I’m so glad the first three chapters are no more than 3.5 pages. The short, staccato sentences were clearly meant to give impact and drama. I was just irritated by them. What utter drivel.’

I feel like it’s a stylistic choice to develop the character as opposed to just ‘for the drama,’ but I’ll echo my point from earlier that she seems over-dramatic and hormone ridden. As condescending as that might sound. A lot of literary writers at the moment are dropping the drawn-out complex sentences for short, brusque responses to the situation of the story and the character’s immediate thought. And We Were Liars is – in my opinion – literary fiction. The conflict so far has been internalised. Her father has left. Her family is a mess but won’t admit it. But, the ‘bullet’ – which I didn’t realise was a metaphor at first – is in her chest. Not out in open play.

And if you think I’m kidding about the metaphor – I genuinely read the sentence

‘And then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest’.

Twice with the response – Wait. What? Before realising she’d just had a break down at her dad driving away.

Mum: Oh. I read it three times and thought she’d actually been shot.

What? And then got up and gone shopping for furniture? With a chest wound?

Mum: That’s what she said. I was captured by the cover. I thought it was written for grown ups, a murder mystery and not a poetry-literary-teen-y bleurgh. It’s too deep.

And you say I’ve got a short attention span.

Mum: I just feel I was sold a pup. I thought it would be a grown up book for grown ups. But it was a sheep in wolf clothing.

Mum: The pretence to show the families as wealthy and clearly something to be proud of, or jealous depending on how you view Americans, was pathetic. It was like name dropping celebrities to gain kudos. Martha’s Vineyard, Ivy League colleges and famous cities were through out to prove a point, but instead made a pathetic attempt at a lazy list of places where the rich supposedly hang out.

They are obvious sign posts – but – signposting works. If I were to write a story about someone from Portsmouth University meeting someone from St Andrews – you’d immediately have expectations about both people just from the signposted uni alone. (To be clear, I don’t have a preference on either, but there’s a reason Kate Middleton met her prince charming at St Andrews and not Portsmouth.) And if this novel was marketed for teenagers (which makes sense because the character is 17, so her target audience would be 15-ish) then the signposts don’t need to be clever or intricate. They need to be clear. These people are clearly filthy rich.

Mum: I won’t be reading any further. Waste of space on the bookshelf.

I never thought I’d find myself defending We Were Liars. I guess a part of me remembers that it was one of my favourite students (I know it’s bad form to admit I had favourites but hey, what are you going to do?) that recommended the book to me in the first place. And whilst the language is both flowery and brief, over-emotional and stark, I do think there’s a place for it and I can see why so many young people enjoy it.

I am intrigued to find out what the ‘accident’ is because you don’t find out in the first three chapters. And I fully expect the family to unravel and reveal themselves to be less than worthy of the time the narrator spends thinking and talking about them. Maybe We Were Liars is worth the rest of my afternoon.

Only one way to find out.

Storytime – James Bond.

James Bond 

The tack room smelt of saddle wax and damp. A bizarre mixture of plastic and leather, oats and hay. A scent a thousand teenage girls carried with them, until they don’t. Riding lessons had been cancelled, so the other girls and I huddled inside, happy we at least had a counter to climb on and a mini fridge to raid. A small heater clicked in its corner as it attempted to heat the cold concrete, and we waited for our parents.

I was the youngest. Too short to climb up onto the counter, too chubby to try. Relegated to the floor. The cold seeped through my jodhpurs, and I still had my helmet on. It was heavy and warm on my head. Plus, the strap was fiddly.

I felt buried in my own silence. Redundant. The older girls were talking about boys. Who they fancied, when they would see them next, whilst I looked up at these girls wondering if I’d be invited to join in. One of the nicer girls noticed I was watching, and out of some misguided kindness extended the question to me.

‘Is there a boy you fancy?’

I’d had time to think about it, so my response was immediate.

‘James Bond.’ I said. ‘I love James Bond.’

There was silence. Tight lips tucked in on themselves.

‘Which one?’ a blonde girl broke.

Too young to understand, I persisted, ‘James Bond. All of them.’

Hyena like, pack-cackling rippled through the tack room, and I realised too late I’d made a mistake.

‘Do you mean Pierce Brosnan?’ a third girl pressed. She didn’t have kind eyes or a nice temper. She was baiting me. I was smart enough to know that much. If one of the nicer girls had asked, I’d have been more honest. I’d have explained the difference between traditional Bond over the newer, flashier Bond with his out of control gadgets and unnecessary explosions.

But I buckled under the eyes of this older girl. I nodded. Feeling like a coward. Not brave enough to admit Sean Connery was better.

*

A few years later, the scent of saddle wax had been replaced by salt watered air and evening cold. The faux shipwreck, climbing wall and wooden towers of Folkestone’s coastal park were haloed by the orange fluorescents of metal streetlights. Strange shades were cast by the palm trees, as our playground attempted its best impression of being anything other than a fishing town.

I’d been abandoned by my friends who were smoking weed in the top tower of the wooden castle. A boy with curly hair had offered me a toke and I’d politely refused.

He and I sat in the little children’s boats that rocked, his feet touched the floor whilst mine did not. He thought he was a bad boy because he’d done a bit of shop lifting, skipped school and smoked weed. He’d had sex too, which he was clearly proud of. He also walked his niece to school, played rugby religiously and offered me his hoodie when I shivered. I refused that too. I was determined to be warm in my rugby training jacket with South East Girls printed in barbie pink across my back. I didn’t want to look needy.

Our friends heckled us from the tower. Making smoochie noises and laughing. He gave them the middle finger back, like a bad boy. And I laughed.

When the shouting died down, and fresh smoke billowed out of the tower. The tall boy relaxed his body into a slouch. I relaxed too. I liked this boy; he was funny and nice and that was all it took for me to like someone. He’d told me that he fancied someone in our group, and a small part of me hoped that now we were alone he’d tell me who it was. Not so I could mock, or shriek or sympathise. Just my common curiosity.

‘Is there someone you fancy?’ he asked, watching me in the haze of orange and black.

Less than a second passed before I answered. His game was clear to me, because it was the same as mine. I decided to reward his curiosity with the truth. Not the whole truth, I knew James Bond was not going to be the right answer. But I would tell this tall, curly haired rugby player exactly how I felt.

I shrugged. Looked him dead in the eye so he knew I was being honest and said,

‘Nah. Boys are stupid.’

On 3…Review of The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The concept: 

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not. 

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary.

The Flatshare
My promise to review this months ago…

 

The Flatshare has a really fresh premise for a love story. Two people, in the same space but never meeting. Communicating by little notes around their shared space. The blurb promised imprisoned brothers, obsessive ex-boyfriends and demanding clients. All tropes for a perfect storm of conflict, and because romance isn’t my go-to genre of favourite reading, this seemed like a new leaf for me and my reading habits.

Mum: “I like it. It’s definitely the sort of book I would take on holiday and will finish within the first few days sat by the pool. I didn’t read the blurb deliberately so that I wasn’t in a position to star second guessing how the story would go.”

But my cynical brain couldn’t turn off when I finally met the main characters.

Tiffany is an assistant editor who puts plants in the way of people she doesn’t want to talk to. She’s got polarised best friends who seem to have all met at university but never lived together; which I’ve got a lot of questions about, but I’ll get to that. She’s also got an ex-boyfriend, who has a sofa she’s been living on for the last few months. Which I’ve also got a lot of questions about, but I’ll get to that.

The other main character is Leon, a monosyllabic night nurse who speaks only to the reader through truncated sentences and with ‘need to know’ information. He has a girlfriend with suitable ‘antagonist’ appeal – but that’s all the information about Leon we get.

Mum: “I struggled with the change of style of writing to reflect Tiff and Leon. I can understand his sentence structure will not be as flowing and romantically created as Tiffs and is maybe trying to reflect the difference between a creative person and one in a medical/scientific environment but his early story was too staccato for me and I was glad to move back to Tiff.”

You’re wrong, mum, but okay. This was my first disappointment. Tiffany feels like a collection of so many romantic heroines that it was nice to have Leon’s thoughts to create some discord from the usual. But of the totalled eleven pages the first three chapters get, Leon only gets two. We get a physical description of Leon from Tiffany, who has the audacity to explain he’s not her type. Come on. We’re reading a Leon is a romance. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes that easily. But, if anything was going to make me read on, it’s Leon’s perspective.

But as we get more of Tiffany – I need to return to her story.

I mentioned questions I had about her living situation:

  1. Why did she and her boyfriend break up? She mentions that he ‘always comes back’ suggesting maybe he plays away or finds her lacking in some way.
    • Why do romances have to perpetuate the idea we have to stick around for someone who doesn’t appreciate us to ‘make it work’. You might love that person but love yourself enough to know this isn’t healthy. Please.

Mum: “She’s hanging on to her romantic past with a guy who has clearly moved on to his next conquest. She’s being used as a ‘fuck buddy.’”

Please. For the love of all we hold dear, never say Fuck Buddy again in my presence.

Mum: “But she is! He keeps coming back for more!”

I feel sick.

  1. Why does she think it’s okay to live on his sofa for months? Why is she surprised that after months he wants rent money? Why is she surprised that the new girlfriend isn’t happy with the arrangement?
    • If I was dating someone, and their ex was still living on their sofa – I’d be out of there. Ex’s can be friends but having someone that you were emotionally and physically intimate still in your space is baggage you’ve not dealt with yet. And I’m bringing my own pile of damage- I mean baggage for us to deal with. I don’t need hers. She’s got to go.

Mum: “I’m guessing the split was much more one sided. I’m not surprised her replacement wants her out of the flat.”

  1. What did Tiffany do that ‘disappointed’ Justin (the ex) so much that he wrote her a Facebook message doing a 180 on their creepy little arrangement? And why is that not what Tiffany focuses on, but the fact he says she’s ‘been taking advantage’ of him?
    • She may well have taken advantage. He may well be emotionally manipulating her, but we’re not given what the behaviour or thing was – so how can we fully back either character? It doesn’t feel like an ‘unreliable narrator’ or ‘untruthful narrator’. It just feels like she’s self-absorbed. Maybe she is.

And at the end of chapter 3, we learn Justin is engaged to this new girlfriend. Her friends think she’ll handle this so poorly that they get her drunk before telling her. Sounds like a healthy coping mechanism…

So, her friends:

  1. What degree did these people do? That you’ve got an assistant editor and a barrister and a scruff bag on the same course?
    • I’m assuming the same course because at no point have they lived together. And having been to Uni twice, I met people through three things. Course, societies and living situation. But these friends are so polarised – it doesn’t seem authentic. People don’t have to be dressed in opposites and act opposite to have differing opinions and behaviours.
    • Friends should have something in common, no? And you can’t tell me Tiffany is their link because they’ve started living together!

Mum: “I like Tiff and her friends. They are stereotypical of the friendships I like to follow. Friends I would like to have in my life although mine know better than to ply me with alcohol.”

Thank God.

Mum: “Her friends care. In a similar vein to Four Weddings and a Funeral kind of way. I feel like I know Tiff early on in the book and I like her.”

  1. How old are Gerty and Mo?
    • There’s a historical fiction concept called the ‘Tiffany Problem’ that suggests people have set ideas about history and anything that jars with that idea is questioned. So even though the name Tiffany is medieval, if you had King Henry VIII talking to a Tiffany – no one would believe it.
    • Equally – Gerty and Mo age these characters. Not only do they seem more emotionally mature than Tiffany (prepped to buy their own flat which is ‘eye wateringly expensive’, and don’t think the flat share is a good idea) their names make them sound like they should be in their forties.

Okay – I think I’ve really dug into the characters enough… Sorry O’Leary.

Dialogue though… that’s something I’m struggling with in this novel. I’ll give you an example:

‘We could have put you under the dining table if you were less than 5’9’ – Gerty about Tiffany.

Erm, what? I’ve never met anyone who drops descriptive exposition bombs like that in a conversation before. There are so many ways for someone to be shown as tall that this is just… weird.

Leon’s take on dialogue is interesting because it reads like a transcript of the events. But, as I’ve already said, there isn’t enough Leon to really create a contrast between characters. If I were to take all the dialogue from Tiffany’s chapters and get you to link them to people who say them, unless you know the book really well it would be difficult to separate them. They all get the Tiffany twang and idiosyncrasies given to them, which is understandable. I do a particular voice when I’m repeating dialogue from people I’ve spoken, but she’s rendering the dialogue as it happens so there should be some individuality that breaks through that. And yet it doesn’t.

So: how does the first three chapters leave me?

Do I care that Justin is engaged? Not especially. Good luck to him. Tiffany needs to grow up a bit.

Do I care that Leon is nervous about telling his girlfriend about the flatshare? Not really. It would be more interesting if she’d suggested it, thus creating the wedge between them whilst Leon kept working towards a strong relationship.

But it’s a romance isn’t it? The two main characters are going to get together. Was I tempted to read the last line and found out if I was right? Yeah, actually I was. Because even though I find Tiffany bizarre and unreliable, and the dialogue difficult to chew through, Leon has potential. And I’ve not got to the premise of them actually living together yet. I want to know how that pans out. How their behaviours fall into patterns and how they eventually meet in person. What does Justin do that makes him obsessive because I’ve not seen anything yet? And where’s the imprisoned brother?

Mum: “I’m looking forward to pinching this book to take on holiday so that I can finish it!”

Yeah. Well done O’Leary, we’d both read past three chapters.

 

If you think Fleabag is only for posh girls, you’ve misunderstood the situation.

This is in response to Ellen E. Jones’ article for The Guardian.

Posh, adjective. Meaning to do something in an ‘upper-class’ way, showing the qualities of elegance or smarts. Fleabag is none of these things. I’d end my argument here, but I’ve got a few more points to make.

With a private education, an ancestry in titled nobility, and the way she carries herself in interviews, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s echoes through each character she creates. But it would be naive of us as an audience to assume that every facet of her own personality is found in her characters, or that her characters are only representative of her characteristics. In simpler terms, do not confuse the creator for the character.

I attended a London university for my undergraduate degree, based in West London. So far west in fact it almost wasn’t London at all. Within that subsection of London, you have beautifully posh and expensive places such as Richmond. And right next door you have Hounslow. I’d been there less than a week when one of my classmates told me that Folkestone, my home town, must be ‘really posh’ because of the way I spoke. Over the years, Folkestone has done everything it can to be the artistic hub of the south east. But Folkestone is not posh. Folkestone, I pointed out to my classmates, had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and chlamydia in Kent. The poshest of all sexually transmitted infections.

Fleabag is well spoken. That does not mean Fleabag is posh. Let me compare Fleabag with and without her family. In the very first episode she’s reading a newspaper alone on the bus. The series is set in London, so arguably this is a newspaper Fleabag found rather than purchased. But the headlines are very telling. They read, ‘Private School Head Assaults Pupil in Class’ ‘Has the word Feminism become dirty?’ ‘Bank Chiefs face House of Commons Enquiry’ – and in the corner there is an ad for a mortgage company with a fully naked girl, legs spread and pelvis up. Clearly this is a riff on other Heralds and their focus on the scandalous, but it’s all anti-establishment. Props help shape the world characters live in, and this seedy working-class newspaper is no different from the radiator headboard with clothes drying on it in Fleabag’s home, the fact she has an Argos clothing rail rather than a wardrobe, or the fact that Harry says he’s going to take ‘the posh shampoo’.

Compare this with her behaviour around her ‘uptight’, ‘beautiful’, ‘super rich’, ‘high powered’ sister whose ‘clothes look awesome on’.  She hides away from them, barricading herself behind smart remarks and jokes. She attends feminist lectures, awkward spa retreats and family dinners to make her family happy. Even the lighting betrays the pretence she puts on, so her family remain unaware to her unhappiness. When Fleabag is surrounded by her family it’s often soft, warm lighting whilst she stands in the darker, colder areas. When she’s on her own, it’s harsher. Often grey. She’s not putting on a pretence for the audience (which we greatly appreciate) so we see her in the raw colours of her life. When her heart is broken by her family’s betrayals, we, as an audience, might scream ‘relatable!’ but the truth is, we empathise. We understand and sympathise with her struggle. No matter our own background, we can recognise a spiral that hasn’t hit bottom yet. Her father’s house might be huge, but the flat Fleabag lives in isn’t. Her God-mother might be a high-end artist, but Fleabag is close to liquidising her business. The prestige of her family makes her grief more poignant, but it doesn’t make Fleabag posh.

Waller-Bridge has carefully constructed a barrier between her character Fleabag and the audience, a wall which only empathy can bring down. She breaks the fourth wall not to relate to us, but to invite us in on her perspective of all the events. Whether this is done through commentary, a sharp look, or finishing someone’s sentence for us.

We never hear Fleabag’s given name. Characters only speak to her directly or, in the case of her God-mother, a click of the fingers, and therefore we associate the name Fleabag and the connotations of that with the main character. Even Boo, who could be the originator of the nickname, only ever speaks to Fleabag directly. They share an improvised song about ‘lunch break abortions’ and being ‘modern women’, which is a far cry from the lifestyle ‘two degrees, a husband and a Burberry coat’ gives her sister.

Fleabag isn’t posh, though she’s surrounded by a world that is. A world that does not sympathise or empathise with her, so we as an audience must. If the story was just for posh girls, it wouldn’t be so heart breaking.

Did I let anxiety win?

Preface: Anxiety affects everyone differently. If you read this and feel what I’m talking about doesn’t relate to you, that’s fine. It was nice having you, feel free to check out something different in my long line of content.

If it does, and you feel the need to speak to someone, please check out the Samaritans (or another charity of your choosing). They’ve helped me in the past, and I know they do good work:

Anyway – as you were…

When an ex-England rugby captain invites you to join her team, you don’t say no. You might preface the response text with such phrases as ‘bit intimidated by the team’ and ‘I’m a pretty rubbish player now’, but rugby is in the blood of my family, I couldn’t say no.

And it was exciting. I’d not played a game of rugby in nearly six years. I’d coached, played one game for Aylesford, reffed a little. But to play, consistently, for a team? I missed it.

When I was at university, for whatever reason, I gave up rugby. Focused on my work and my course and didn’t give rugby (or horse riding) much thought. I didn’t realise at the time that I was suffering from anxiety, and that anxiety was taking away the two things I’d enjoyed most (after writing and reading), rugby and horse riding. By the time I’d finished my course, I didn’t horse ride and I didn’t play. And to put in context for you how important those things had been for me previously, I’d played for Kent and South East England – which meant training Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, horse riding Friday, a night off Saturday, game Sunday, recovery Monday. And then? Nothing. Weekdays filled with cramming in work and focusing on my writing.

It didn’t seem like that big a problem. Until I was invited – by Spencer – to play alongside Aylesford. I went to two training sessions, met some really nice girls. Played one game. And it was a shit game. I can’t even remember if we won. What I can remember is, I missed every tackle. I was breathing like I smoked forty a day, and I felt like I’d been in a car accident for the next two weeks.

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Where had my body gone? Why was I know a size twenty not a size twelve? When did that happen?

I knew things were really bad when I was getting texts from five or six girls from the team asking if I was coming to training, and my physical response was to burst into tears. It wasn’t their fault I was shit. It wasn’t their fault I was crying because I was shit. And in hindsight, it wasn’t my fault either, but I felt like it was. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I was a fat mess. A stupid fat mess.

On a night out, a group of lads had seen me at my heaviest and sung ‘Nelly the Elephant’ at me as I walked past. My mum (and I know she hates me telling this story, but it’s super relevant) once told me I had to go to rugby training, because ‘I weighed as much as she did when she was pregnant with me’. And that was at my lightest.

I resolved not to give a shit about my body anymore. I was going to the gym, eating healthy, and it didn’t seem to make a difference. I stopped responding to texts from the girls and basically fell off the side of the earth, hiding in my work and doing teacher training, where I gained more weight.

My dad suggested I go an see a hypnotherapist. If you think that sounds crazy, well, so did I. I thought ‘what’s the point? It’s not going to help. It’s a magic trick.’

But I went anyway – because you don’t say no to my dad – and I had my first session free and another three sessions for £40 after that. I cried pretty much that entire first session. I told the hypnotherapist that I hated my body, that I hated myself. And he told me, to give myself permission to go to the gym and get better. He asked what my parents would say to support me.

And it worked. I went to the gym. I started losing weight. I could run up and down the stairs without being out of breath because I gave myself permission to. I was coaching rugby full time, I did my ref course. I felt better. Happier. I dropped out of teaching and did my MA in creative writing – the best mistake I could have made! I finally understood how lucky I was.

But I still wasn’t playing rugby. And I still wasn’t horse riding. I’d tried loaning a horse, but it threw me, kicked at me, tried to bully me out of the field. And I just wasn’t confident enough. I went for a lesson with my old riding school, and had a panic attack whilst sat on the horse. Couldn’t breathe. Felt like my chest was trying to cave in on itself. I got off. Took some deep breathes. Got back on. Had a brilliant lesson, jumped, cantered, loved it.

And then in June of this year, Spencer invited me to play rugby again. This, though I didn’t know it, would be the real test to see if I’d kicked my anxiety squarely in the nads.

I think she messaged me on facebook – or text me, I can’t find it now. But she invited me to join the Old Elthamians and my immediate response was ‘Hell. Yes.’  Folkestone didn’t have a team anymore, everyone was off playing elsewhere or not playing at all. This was my chance to get back into rugby properly.

Of course, the first week was fitness testing. And I failed. Big time.

I had strong-ish arms and strong-ish legs. But when it came to running the mile, I felt sick. I was basically walking by halfway through the first quarter. And by half way round I had to stop. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t see straight. If I’d eaten more that day it would have resurfaced.

And the girls on my new team cheered me on. They congratulated me – even though I was quite clearly the weakest link in their team. I’d thought it was going to be humiliating. Demoralising. But I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of girls to back me. I went home exhausted, and with a smile on my face.

Then I got the flu. Flu, in the summer. That sounds like an excuse. So I went to the gym, and made myself sicker. Then I had a meeting with my tutor in Bristol. So that was week three missed as well. And by week four, I’d torn my ACL. (The muscle in your knee that you need for any kind of movement apparently!) How? By standing in the kitchen. My knee made a weird popping motion to the side, and the damage was done. Another two weeks of recovery.

I was still getting texts from girls on my team ‘are you coming to training?’ ‘are we seeing you this week?’ ‘come along anyway, help out. Support.’ – But I didn’t want to just watch. I wanted to keep up. I wanted to play. And as the weeks rolled on, I was falling further and further behind – and I’d started as their shittest player anyway!

So this Wednesday was my first training session back. I’d missed Monday’s fitness training because I had a committee meeting (because I’m social sec now), and Spence had said she couldn’t give me a lift, so I’d have to make my own way.

That’s fine, I thought. I’ve been before. The girls will be happy for the numbers if nothing else. My morning was pretty chilled, Netflix, a bit of editing and lots of tea. At lunch, I had a meeting with another young writer I’m really excited to be working with, but driving back from our meeting I started crying.

The old phrases ‘fat mess’ ‘stupid’ ‘crap player’ ‘lazy’ rolling around in the back of my head. With new phrases like ‘slow’ ‘worst player’, ‘they wouldn’t even notice if you never showed up again’ ‘they’re just saying you should play so they’ve got numbers’ ‘why bother?’. And I cried the whole way home. By the time I got home, I thought I was over it. Posted a facebook status (which I never do) calling Anxiety a wankmaggot – like name calling made me super mature and able to handle it.

But the truth was, anxiety was using phrases I’d said to make me think I didn’t want to play rugby anymore. That it was too much trouble. A waste of time. That I didn’t really enjoy it anyway.

It made me feel completely alone too. Like I could die, and people would be annoyed I’d inconvenienced them. I thought about taking the ten-minute walk to the cliffs by my house. Jumping. Leaving a note on my computer that said ‘Happy now?’ like it was someone else’s fault. And then I felt guilty. What the fuck did I have to be upset about? I’m not homeless, or drug dependent, I’m a little overweight, over-emotional, and attention seeking. Get the fuck over it.

I was making tea, and mum tried to give me a hug. I told her not to touch me. Not to pander to me. I was being pathetic. She sat me down and talked to me. Really listened. Really cared. Told me I was putting too much pressure on myself not to feel. Too much pressure to be amazing at rugby. Because I was acting like I was scared. Not scared of the drive – Bristol to Kent is three to four hours, this was nothing like that. Not the people – because they’d been nothing but lovely to me. Fear of failure then. Of letting people down.

So I had to ask myself: Does the pressure need to be there? No. Will the girls care? No. Will they be disappointed if I don’t show up – probably not. Or is that anxiety creeping in again? Could I ask them? No, that’s not their problem.

What do you want then? Deep breathe. I want this. I want to get fitter, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I can’t let it win. So I packed my stuff, I shaved my legs and I went to training. I got a few comments about being a ‘stranger’, but people seemed happy enough to have me around. They remembered my name at least.

And yeah, the training session was hard. My knee starting hurting almost immediately. I avoided contact to begin with, but took on the tackle pad when it came to swapping people out. One girl could move me. Whether it was weight, or skill, or just planting my good leg in the way, girls were hitting the pad and bouncing off. I could do this.

We split off into forwards and backs. Had to work in pods. Take the ball, hit the pad, go down. I could do that too. But my knee collided with the floor and suddenly I felt like I was on fire. Like Someone had rubbed gunpowder into my knee. I couldn’t straighten it without it burning. I had to bow out. And I felt, again, like I was letting everyone down.

Now I’d had quite a positive response to the Facebook post. People, especially other rugby girls, sharing their support. I didn’t want to leave the pitch. That felt like giving up, and letting those people down too. I felt stupid. Pathetic. And it hurt so much.

Eventually, the training ended. I dropped one of the girls off at the train station, called my friend and told her I was fine. I was fine. I’d done it. I’d gone to training, I’d given it my all. I’d hurt myself, but no one had died. That was a win.

400076_10150598927390659_328815983_nThe next day my knee didn’t hurt at all. And I was left with this deep, deep fear that it had all been in my head. That I was putting up physical roadblocks in the way of getting fitter. Because I feel trapped in this flabby mess I call my body. I’m stuck on the days when I could make every breakdown and high levels of competition. Run fast enough to be in the right place at the right time, make a tackle worthy of Spencer mentioning it in the newspaper article she was writing.

I went to a BNI business meeting, and one of the members who has me on Facebook came up and gave me a hug. Told me he’d seen my status and thought I needed it. I told him I’d just had a stupid wobble, and he said ‘we all have those’.

So to Priscilla, Claire, Yvonne, Bex, Katherine, Lina, Mark, and Andy – thank you so much for taking your time out to give me the nudge I needed when I needed it most. You’ll never know how important those comments and messages were to me at that moment.

And as for whether I let the anxiety win or not – I’ve no fucking idea. I’ve got serious DOMS today, which has annoyed me because I could/should have done more at training. But I’m also kind of smug, because I know somewhere in me is the capacity for good rugby.

And if you’re looking to join a really good, high-quality rugby team full of girls, let me put you in touch…

So what can you take away from this (frankly grotesque and self-indulgent) essay. Everyone has their own shit, sure. But it’s okay to ask for help, to feel inadequate, or insecure. So long as you know you can ask for help from those around you. And if you see someone is having a hard time, spare them a kind word, a quick message or a hug. It might make more difference than you realise.