“Well, what CAN I write?”

I often hear that question in all book community circles. in replies of tweets or in Youtube and Instagram comments sections. I’ve heard it during panels at conventions, talks, and interviews.

Publishing is changing. The Young Adult community is growing and becoming more vocal, including the voices of marginalized groups such as POC and LGBTQ groups. Publishing thrives on readership and what people want to read. There’s a rise in vampire romance readership? More vampire romance novels gets printed. This is more or less the same in any publishing departments, but Young Adult communities in particular are thriving on the need for change. But, in all forms of it, there are some that don’t really understand the change; they may find it hostile or angry or even radical.

But questions like these, questions from white writers posed to POC readers and writers are important in our understanding or what it means to write diversely and how important it is.

I’m a white writer. As in, I’m white and a writer. Those two things do not usually correlate, but the more we talk about race and privilege, the more I and many others can see how these two things do affect one another. As a white person, I am more likely to identify and relate to a white character, maybe on a more subconscious level. I don’t exactly exclaim “Huh, she’s white. I like her.” I also see people like me in fiction; in movies, television and of course, in books. As a writer, I may find it automatic to write about white people (though definitely what I aim for). And hey, a white person writing about white people is fine, normal in fact.

But as publishing progresses, as writing and reading change, it is obvious that an all-white cast of characters, especially coming from a white person, is unrealistic. The world is not white people, it never was, but now that people are listening, now that POC writers are finally getting a chance to publish their work, it’s more important than ever for white writers to not get stuck in the old ways, to not see their worlds as all white people, to understand that white stories are not the only stories.

However, there is a difference between writing diversely and writing the stories that are not yours.

Ownvoices emerged as we began to celebrate the stories of gay teens by gay writers, about black teens and their struggles with racism written by black writers. Ownvoices was and still is a rejection of white stories being the only story. And yet, many white writers will have a POC protagonist with racist portrayals and dangerous depictions.

You see Twitter threads and blog posts and articles, explaining why an all-white cast won’t do, and how white writers writing ‘outside their lane’ won’t do too. And it’s where this question comes from ‘Well, what CAN I write?’, but this question is redundant.

Writers, ultimately, can write whatever they want. But it does not mean they are free from criticism. If you are getting annoyed that you cannot write an all-white cast but also cannot write a poorly researched, problematic depiction of a black, gay, disabled, mentally ill etc. protagonist, then should you really be writing at all?

I don’t think anyone has ‘the answer’ to what you can and cannot write. You’re going to mess up, and you’re going to have criticism. It’s normal and should be welcomed. Only you can decide what to write, but I think it’s important to understand that if you write a story about POC, as a white writer, you’re going to be picked to get published over a POC writer with a story about POC.

And is that right?

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An Amateur’s Guide to Rome

Ciao and benvenuto to another installment in my amateur’s guide series where I, an amateur, give you an insight into my travels where I’m not really sure what I’m doing! 2017 is the year of visiting countries I’ve never been to before, and this time it’s Italy; probably one of the most romanticized countries ever. Cute cafes on each corner, mopeds speeding along beautiful tree-lined roads with beautiful villas on hilltops.

I knew I wouldn’t be going to this idyllic scene. I was going to the capital, Roma. A place filled with rich history and ruins,

In & Around

Rome is definitely a lot bigger than I thought, but it’s still super easy to get around. The metro, while not like the underground with it’s mainy lines and routes, is still super helpful and inexpensive.

The main station of Rome is Termini station, this great big thing slap bag in the middle of the city with a shopping centre inside. Coming from Fumicino airport, The Leonardo Express is your best bet right into the city with no fuss. But taxis and buses are also readily available.

There are two lines on the metro; red line and blue line. I didn’t even set foot on the blue line, but I assume it operates in the same way as red but only going a different route. The metro is perfectly safe, and I often saw armed soldiers roaming near ticket booths and information points which – seemed a little excessive. But, considering there was a terrorist attack on the London underground while we were away, I can’t say that it didn’t make us all feel a little bit better.

Doing Stuff

I think the main sites of Rome, the ones in all the guide books, are The Vatican and The Colosseum. These were, without even opening up a website about Rome, places I knew for a fact would be huge, busy and need a good portion of a day to do.

For both, without a prebooked ticket, you’re going to be queuing a lot. I saw lines so long they stressed around the walls of The Vatican and I’d heard from previous holiday goers that they had regrettably not bought a ticket and queued for as long as 4 hours. FOUR HOURS OF YOUR HOLIDAY. STANDING AROUND DOING NOTHING. So buy a ticket if you want to get in and spend that time actually sight seeing.

The Vatican and The Vatican museum was by far the most boring part of my trip. As a family of non-religious people, we were hoping to at least be enamored by architecture and paintings and the history behind Catholicism but instead there was just a lot of shuffling around hot corridors and being pushed through The Sistine Chapel. It was very disappointing, and the crowds made my anxiety flair.

St Peter’s Square was a little different; it’s free, more spacious, and much more impressive. We sat there taking pictures, eating ice creams, and ignored the men selling roses.

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I feel like they need a whole paragraph. Throughout Rome, there are people selling crap you don’t need. They do not respect your personal space and will shove a rose or fidget spinner or anything into your face even if you’re sat down, speaking to someone, or taking a picture. There are also people hired by tour companies around major sites that make it seem like they’re just offering friendly, free advice, but will eventually coax you into purchasing expensive tours that you don’t necessarily need, especially if you already have a tour prepared and paid for. The whole walk to The Vatican we were accosted by people standing a few feet from one another, attempting to sell stuff. It’s fine to be polite at first, but eventually you’ll want to punch one of them in the face. Just ignore them, just keep walking, and even if you have to stop for some reason, keep ignoring them when they come up to you. Some got angry when we did that, calling us rude, but trust me, they are being much ruder.

The Colosseum was also a little different. The queues were the same, the annoying people selling things were there, but the history, the sites, the ruins were so much more interesting. There’s the Colosseum and Palatine Hill (which I accidentally called Palpatine Hill and then just continued for the rest of the trip) and the Roman Forum, and it’s honestly beautiful. So much history and culture and quiet in the middle of a bustling and cramped city. If you’re thinking the Vatican isn’t your thing, then definitely keep the Colosseum on your list.

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I found while walking through Rome, that Rome is not exactly what I expected. Despite being in the cultural centre of Italy, it didn’t feel very…Italian. However, that wasn’t the case when we visited the stunning and the quintessentially Italian district of Trastevere.

Trastevere is filled with narrow, cobbled streets filled with music, food, drinks and lights. Sometimes you feel like you’re getting lost, but it’s the fun part of a holiday; getting lost in a beautiful city. It felt like a world within a world with it’s own culture and life. It had small cafes with people spilling out of them, fountains, entertainers and small museums. I would recommend coming here for something to eat and peace and quiet from the horrific traffic and graffiti of the rest of the city.

Views

The best place to go for views, without a doubt, is Villa Borghese Park, above the Spanish Steps and overlooking Rome. The best time to go is at dusk, with all the buildings looking orange and the city itself looking so peaceful, while it’s always busy wherever you go, people are chill and quiet, taking nice photos and enjoying the cool breeze up there. I found that it’s popular with couples too so if you’re a couple in Rome then you’ll feel right at home making out on a bench in a park. Seriously, it was like heterosexuality was being shoved in my face but the view was worth it.

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There are also other places with spectacular views, including  the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, Castel Sant’Angelo and Palatine Hill.

Safety and Expectations

So at this part of the guide, I usually go into sleeping arrangements, my hostel/hotel experiences, but as we just stayed in an apartment outside of Rome, I thought to use this space to talk about safety, and the realities of Rome which I found out during the planning and researching of my trip.

Unlike my trip to Copenhagen, I did TONS of research about Rome. I am always mindful that, as a tourist, I am automatically a vulnerable target; I don’t know the language, I’m carrying lots of bags, and I’m in unfamiliar surroundings. Rome is a very popular place to get pickpocketed or robbed. I watched countless footage of it on Youtube actually happening, and of people talking about their experiences. The most popular places to get pickpocketed are as follows; train/metro stations, crowded tourist areas, just after you’ve been to an ATM. But, you should always be vigilant. I wore a money belt which, to be honest, wasn’t really necessary when my mum had a backpack that she defended with her life, but it reassured me that to get to my phone and card, pickpocketers would literally have to feel me up to get to them – which is quite common on public transport. We also avoided Termini station altogether, which is known to be a hot spot for theft. Like I said, Rome is easy to get around on foot and the only time you should have to go through Termini is getting on and off The Leonardo Express.

There are also a lot of street sellers. These aren’t beggars or buskers, they’re just guys trying to sell you stuff and do not care about your personal space. They are mainly in large tourist areas, and are similar to the commissioned fake tour advisors. They’re pushy, relentless, and will trick you into buying things. At one point I was on the Spanish Steps when an American couple asked me to take a picture of them. Right as I was taking the picture, some guy shoved a fake rose into my face saying “1 Euro? I Euro?” and would not stop until I physically pushed him (gently) and yelled “No!” in his face.

And that is my second amateur’s guide of the year! Let me know where you’ve been recently and recommend any places I should visit next!

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Self Care In A Time Of Crisis

I love participating in self care.

Sometimes, I participate too much self care.

Sometimes I’ll call it self care when all I’m doing it lying in bed all day and eating a whole jar of Nutella. I understand that this probably isn’t a good form of self care, but in a time of crisis, sometimes it’s all I have to cling onto.

Life sucks sometimes, and you need something to alleviate the thing that’s ruining your day. For someone like me, a depressed, anxious, often shell of a person, these life sucky phases can often seem like mountains that I cannot get over.

Over the last few days, I have been experiencing a time of crisis. I’ve been confronted with pretty much everything that makes me stressed and want to crawl under a rock. In these times, I could very well give up. Pushing on and moving forward isn’t always a possibility, and so recently I have amped my self care (healthy and productive self care, mind) and want to be able to share with you some of the things I do in order to stay sane when my situation doesn’t feel very sane.

Sleep

I know, I know. Going to sleep for long periods of times can lead to not getting out of bed at all, at least for me anyway. But turning in early and getting a good eight hours is always what I do when I feel stressed and mentally unwell. It makes you tired, so why wouldn’t I sleep? As long as it doesn’t turn into a depressive sleep, where I’m sleeping throughout the day and staying awake during the night, I find it’s refreshing and makes me feel prepared for the next day. I usually at least get into bed at eight and fall asleep around half nine, maybe earlier if I’m incredibly stressed but still have responsibilities the next day

Listening to particular bands/artists etc

You’ve heard of comfort shows and comfort eating, now get ready for comfort music! I feel like everyone has music that, even if it’s fast and shouty, can help you chill out. For me, I live for envoking nostalgia, so any album or artists that is associated with a good time, I’ll listen to it. At the moment, I have The Weeknd, Halsey, and the SKAM Spotify playlist on repeat.

Bujo it up!

I love my bullet journal. I love it even more in a time of crisis. It’s a great creative outlet where I can use pages to just ramble about the shit I’m dealing with. I’m the only one who’s going to read it, and if I post it to Instagram, it’s not going to be pictures of pretty cutouts and calligraphy, so I’m safe there too. Sometimes, I just wanna draw some roses and stars in peace, and it works.

Netflix binge

So far I have two Netflix binges on the go that work because once you press play, they just keep going. There’s no concentration, no having to think about what you’re consuming, even if whatever show you’re watching is difficult to follow. It makes noise, there’s pictures; kind of like a baby, you’re transfixed by the swirly colours. I’m not even kidding, sometimes I need a distraction as simple as this. Things I’m currently binge-ing: Fresh Meat and Doctor Foster.

Clean

Whether it’s just my room or the whole house. I feel a lot fresher and calmer after I’ve cleaned either myself or the space around me. The easiest is washing clothes; knowing that I’ll have clean clothes later on in the day makes me feel better, as does a clean set of bedding. Even just washing my hair or cleaning myself does the trick too. Hoovering, polishing, cleaning the bathroom (that’s a favourite), will at least give me something to do and force me to focus on one thing.

Ban Social Media

It depends on the site, but some of them I just have to log off. Twitter can sometimes be a big trigger; my anxiety and depression just love clinging on to world crises and emergencies and things that are out of my control. My brain likes to make me think about hurricanes and dictatorships and violations of human rights all the time, every second, and make me feel helpless to do anything about it. And now that we have Twitter, I can be overloaded with it with the tap of my screen. When I’m in a time of crisis, I can just about handle scrolling through Instagram and looking at pictures of books. So, until my crisis is over, Facebook and Twitter and switched off.

Things I don’t do, mind, are things that probably sound healthier and more appealing to others. But I have reasons as to why I don’t.

Reading – I can’t concentrate hard enough on the words. And, because I’m feeling so down, I end up applying those negative feelings to the book. If I was in a better mood, I could enjoy this book, and I don’t want to discard it because of external factors.

Walking – Too quiet, not distracting enough. Too much time to think, and over thinking is a major issue as to why I spiral in a time of crisis.

Exercise – I mean, I can’t even motivate myself to do this even when I’m on top of the world. My desire to exercise is a bit spontaneous and so I can’t guarantee I’ll want to exercise when I’m down.

What are some of your self care tips that I haven’t mentioned that help you?

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They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera

Publisher: Simon & Schuester
Release Date: 7th September 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

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When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression. 

Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.

Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love… 

This is the first Adam Silvera novel where I haven’t cried, which is sad in itself because I love it when I cry at Adam Silvera novels. You’re supposed to cry; you’re supposed to have emotion pouring out of you. So while I enjoyed They Both Die At The End, there was always a small voice in the back of my head wondering why I don’t have butterflies in my stomach and my eyes not on the verge of tears.

I loved both Mateo and Rufus and how distinct their voices were. They definitely complimented each other and would have loved to see their relationship evolve, but I think it would have felt a little more realistic if maybe there was a bit more time in between them meeting and falling in love? I already had to suspend my disbelief with Death-Cast which, I really couldn’t, and it glared out at me while I was trying to concentrate on other part of the stories.

I want to point how happy I was when I found out that Rufus was bisexual. This isn’t a spoiler, a character’s sexuality isn’t a spoiler or a plot reveal, but it was so lovely to see the word used, to have a character to say that they are bisexual and to be proud and wear the label on their sleeve without any ‘I don’t use labels’ or ‘I’m just fluid’. Sometimes, people are bisexual, and characters who allude to be don’t say it enough in canon. So thankyou Adam Silvera. BISEXUAL VISIBILITY! *raises fist*

Great third novel by one of my favourite authors. But not my favourite novel by one of my favourite authors.

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Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicles #2) by Jay Kristoff

Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: 7th September 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Mia Corvere, destroyer of empires, has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry do not believe she has earned it.

Her position is precarious, and she’s still no closer to exacting revenge for the brutal death of her family. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it is announced that Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself into slavery for a chance to fulfill the promise she made on the day she lost everything.

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Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold, secrets are revealed and the body count rises within the collegium walls, Mia will be forced to choose between her loyalties and her revenge.

WELL SHIT HAS CERTAINLY HIT THE FAN HASN’T IT LADS?

Falling in love with Nevernight was such a surprise for me. I hadn’t heard of it, was given an ARC, and fell head over heels with the language, concept, the setting, and just everything about it. I still can’t decide whether to call it YA or not, and whether it would be insulting to assume that this is not for adults just because of the violence, swearing and sexual scenes (like come on, young adults watch Game of Thrones, it’s not like they’re new to it), but at the same time, I can never find these books in the YA sections of bookstores, so the marketing is different, who knows.

But I’ve always shied away from adult fantasy because of some of the content; primarily male writers who can’t or won’t write female characters, with plots that are all just Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones regurgitated en masse. And while Nevernight and it’s sequel, Godsgrave, don’t have the most unique plot you’ve ever heard of, I am still enthralled by the twists and turns that this series has, and what it will do to keep you on your toes.

It’s getting better and better too, I cannot wait to stick this on lists of fantasy reads you SHOULD be reading this year and talking about it lots all over my social medias. If you love foul mouthed, bloody thirsty anti-heroines who possess the magic of shadows and will stop at nothing for revenge against the death of her family, including competing in one of the deadliest fighting matches in the country, then look no further than Mia Corvere.

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A Closed & Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Publisher: Hodder
Release Date: June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that no matter how vast space is, two people can fill it together.

I am in love with this series.

IMG_20170803_190032_576It breaks boundaries. It tells the stories of humans through fictional species and humans occupying the same space (haha) as said fictional species. It breaks down the fundamentals of being human from the perspective of aliens, said fundamentals that people still don’t comprehend as being part of culture and our surroundings rather than ‘biology’ or ‘the right way’. One of the things it does in particular and so perfectly is the understanding of human gender and it’s sociological construction. There are hundreds, if not thousands of alien species in this fictional universe, and many that have genders and all are so different and varied from each other that it helps to understand how human gender and biological sex works, and how many of the aspects of them are just made up.

There’s a species that are all born female, until they become male in their old age. There’s a species with three sexes; male, female, and shon, whereby they routinely change their biological sex depending on the time of year.

And across these species, each also have their own societal constructs that may or may not determine a gender, if they even have them. For example, a shon’s only change is their body parts, but their likes, dislikes, and their appearance remain the same. And it begs a lot of questions about how we may treat fellow species when and if we see them in our life time. Would we greet them with kindness? With hostility? I’m always the pessimist, and I believe that because we can barely settle our differences here on Earth, I highly doubt we’d begin to understand the different concepts and societies of another alien race. We’re still such a primitive race that we cannot understand a different way of life on the other side of the Earth to us. Imagine a whole other race that could comprehend not only race, gender, sexuality, speech, emotion, reproduction, religion etc differently, but time, space, dimensions, light, sound etc differently?? We just have tiny human minds, is what I’m saying.

I would definitely read this series if you’re looking for a story that shows the possibility of humanity living peacefully with fellow species, with creative and imaginative off-Earth communities filled with every colour and creed of the universe as we know it.

 

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The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice & Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 27th June 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

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Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

So this book was not what I expected, which, is kind of disappointing. But it doesn’t stop it from being a really fun adventure that made my need for LGBT+ Historical YA to sore through to the sky.

Judging from the synopsis, I imagined a ‘romp’. I think maybe that word was used once or twice in one lined reviews slapped on some promotional material. Yeah, ‘romp’ and ‘raucous’. I love, and I mean LOVE, cheeky male characters with soft hearts and giant smiles, and that’s definitely what Monty was in the beginning, in the very beginning, however. He’s just woken up after a huge piss up and he’s seeing the antiques from the night before. But, while I understand that character development and change are a thing in books where the character has to learn a lesson,I was disappointed that Monty was kind of carried through by his sister and his best friend, Felicity and Percy.

I expected a lot more laughs and silliness from a rather naive-to-the-world rich teenage boy going on a Grand Tour (which were quite an important thing for a young man before he became ‘responsible’), but what we got was a lot more serious and a bit boring.

Things I did love; Percy and Felicity defying expectations, stereotypes, and social norms of the time. Considering when you read historical fiction, authors don’t bother including POC characters at all and only have female characters as speaking mains if it’s a bodice ripper and they’re sleeping with a king/prince, so it was nice just to have them there, with plots and personality and futures! Oh my!

I did thoroughly enjoy this novel, despite the fairly critical review, and the fact that it took me a while to even write one. But, I think the synopsis could be worded a little differently just so you’re not surprised that you’re not laughing as much.

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