Wednesday, 26 December 2018

End of 2018 Catch Up

The end (of 2018) is nigh and my promises to blog more regularly didn't come to fruition, yet again.  There was always an excuse not to blog - lack of time, lack of energy, would anyone be bothered about what I had to say anyway? - but with just a few days of the year left it feels like a good time to reflect on the year.

It has, like many years, been one of ups and downs.  Let's get the misery out of the way first.  Emotionally, I've struggled.  Anxiety is a bitch, and my self-esteem has been at rock bottom.  I've put on weight, and although I'm trying my hardest to become more body confident (or at least body accepting) it isn't always easy fighting the thoughts that have, over a life time, become ingrained.  What I do know is I don't want to waste any more years 'dieting' and social media accounts such as Bodiposipanda and SoBadAss have been an enormous help in reminding me that bodies of all shapes are beautiful and that not everyone's functions the same way.  I'm also making an effort to slow down, because my body doesn't cope well with stress.  Prioritising time to read and sew has made a big difference to my mental health over the past couple of months so I'm determined to make time for those things in 2019, along with more regular physical exercise.  The running I did in the summer months helped beyond measure.

The start of the year was also a challenge professionally.  Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown completed my contract with Harper Impulse and a book I'd written in 2017 went out on submission in February.  I'd not gone through that process before, but basically it involved my agent sending the book out to various publishers and waiting for their feedback.  This book is still without a home, even though the comments we got back were generally very positive.  The rejections knocked my already low confidence, and for a while I wondered what the future held for me.  My poor agent has been a marvel this year putting up with my self-doubt!  Thankfully, the second half of the year was far more enjoyable and successful on a professional level and I can't wait to tell you what's coming next (hopefully not too long now until I can say!) I'm also going into 2019 full of ideas and feeling excited about writing again.

Despite poor mental health I've been fortunate to have found joy in many places throughout the year.  Live music has helped me so much and I've seen almost all my favourite bands/artists at least once in 2018.  Morrissey, Charlie Barnes, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Bastille, Frank Turner, Gary Barlow, Childcare, Johnny Marr, Felix Hagan and the Family, Arkells...they've all made me smile.  I've also managed theatre trips to see NBT's Jane Eyre, Hairspray, Grease, The Band, Heathers and Rock of Ages.  We had a few days break in Edinburgh and a night in London as a family and I went home to Wales and to Brackley to visit my best friend when she had her baby at the start of the year.  I also had a night in Scarborough with friends when we went to see Bastille at the Open Air Theatre.  I've loved photography exhibitions and art exhibitions, and as I mentioned earlier have found solace in sewing and reading - I'll do a separate post about my favourite reads of the year.  Family and friends who've been patient with me have been a real blessing when I've needed support.  I am very, very lucky.

I'm leaving 2018 feeling quietly hopeful.  There are big changes afoot in 2019 with work, my son starting secondary school, moving house (if all goes to plan)... but I'm ready.  My word for the year ahead is balance.  Hopefully 2019 will be a bit less emotionally wobbly than 2018 was.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

How Am I Gonna Be An Optimist About This? (Or Why 'Boyband Indie' is NOT destroying Guitar Music)

This blog post is a response to Mark Beaumont's NME article entitled 'Mark, My Words : want to save guitar music? Kick out boyband indie.

Oh, Where Do We Begin?

Today I read an article published on the blog section of the NME website.  It was popping up all over my Twitter timeline because not only had it been tweeted by the main NME account but people I follow were sharing and responding the article, mostly speaking far more sense than Beaumont does in his post. 

Looking beyond the clickbait title (what even is 'boyband indie'?), I was both amazed and amused by Mark Beaumont's comment that 'Bastille are the endgame of a 30-year plot to tame, contain, castrate and commodify alternative guitar music.'

That statement alone is kind of hilarious, if you think about it.  Do Dan Smith, Kyle Simmons, Chris 'Woody' Wood and Will Farquarson really hold that much power over the music industry as a whole?  Does any band? 

Did The Beatles kill skiffle? 

Did 90s trance kill 80s pop? 

Did Britpop kill grunge? 

No, of course not because, despite what Beaumont wants us to think, the popularity of one band or genre does not immediately eradicate all other music from the face of the planet nor the memory of the listener.

Beaumont continues with, 'it’s not as though Bastille act as an entry drug to more challenging music' which, even if you ignore the tone which insults both Smith's song-writing ability and the listeners' taste, makes it sound as though there's a hierarchy of music and we should all be striving for a mythical pinnacle.

And here was I thinking music was to be enjoyed, not endured.  Silly me. 


If You Close Your Eyes Does It Almost Feel Like You've Been Here Before?

Erm...yes, actually. 

I've been around long enough to see many music writers lament the loss of a 'true indie scene', and although there's no denying the music industry is changing for a handful of musicians in this era of The X Factor and YouTube, the DIY scene hasn't gone anywhere.  If Mark Beaumont digs deeper than Radio One and the main stage at Reading and Leeds he'll find it alive and well all over the UK. 


How Am I Gonna Be An Optimist About This?

Well, quite easily actually. 

I'm living proof that not everyone who listens to Bastille is 'young' or 'impressionable' as Beaumont likes to make out (although if they were, why would that be a bad thing?  Is music only for people over a certain age?  I think not.) and if you go to a Bastille gig you'll find a diverse bunch of people enjoying music in an inclusive, safe environment.  The world needs more of that, if you ask me, rather than judgemental men with a platform making ridiculous claims.

I was left to my own devices and discovered a sound that spoke to me and lyrics I could relate to, which is, as far as I'm concerned, what music should be about.  If you don't like it Mark Beaumont, don't listen to it.  It's that simple.  It's not big or clever to belittle what others like just because it's not your cup of tea. 

And I'm also optimistic that guitar music is going nowhere.  It's survived the changing landscape of music for this long that I don't think it's going to 'choke to death on the ash of 'Pompeii''. 

The title of this blog post comes from Pompeii by Bastille, which as of 15/07/2018 has 473,694,591 views on YouTube and 548,983,156 listens on Spotify, which suggests there are quite a few people who like it more than Mark Beaumont does. 
 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

March and April and May 2018 - books and music in brief

Oh, time - you got away from me again.  Spring arrived later than ever; winter seemingly endless with freezing temperatures and April snowfall.  Hibernation appealed as I recognised the tell-tale signs of anxiety making an unwanted comeback, but I forced myself to push on.  I came close to my breaking point and I've taken some time away from writing to ease the load, but it's really, really hard to switch off from the alternate realities in my head. 

When my head's in a bad place I find it hard to focus.  As a reader that's as much of a sucker-punch as the other symptoms of my anxiety.  That said, I have managed to read a few cracking books. 



I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman was just fabulous.  It had boy bands, mental health representation and an LGBT+ lead character, which along with a fast-paced storyline made for a great read. 



I also fell head-over-heels in love with Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, which I became aware of when the book was relaunched to tie in with the film release.  It was the painfully beautiful love story I needed, beautifully executed.  I haven't read anything since because nothing could compare. 

Those are without doubt my two stand-out reads of the spring, but I also read Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro (which had a great premise - focussing on a couple who were having a long-distance affair - but which didn't quite hit the spot for me), Spinning, a graphic memoir by Tillie Walden about ice skating, relationships and sexuality and my mother's day gift, a Penguin Little Black Book - Suffragettes.

I've been fortunate to go to some great gigs with some of my favourite people in the past three months and music has given me sprinklings of happiness when I've been low. 

Back in March me and my friend Sally saw Charlie Barnes at West Street Live in Sheffield (I blogged about that here), and I ended the month at Carrie Hope Fletcher's Cadogan Hall show which was so cathartic it's untrue - I spent most of the first half in tears. 

April brought Bastille's Reorchestrated tour to my home city, and what a line-up that was!  Charlie Barnes opened (and played The Weather, which I ADORE), followed by my first time seeing To Kill a King before the main event - Bastille with an orchestra.  My tiny mind was blown.  As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, I made a really great friend who I'm going to be seeing again soon - hi, Chloe!  I decided to head to Record Junkie on Record Store Day to see High Hazels play an acoustic set, and on April 24th headed to the Sheffield O2 for another brilliant gig with one of my favourites - Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls.  After queuing with friends to get a spot on the barrier we were treated to support acts from Homeless Gospel Choir and Arkells (check out Leather Jacket in particular, it's a tune) before Frank took to the stage for an amazing, amazing gig which culminated in me going home with his guitar pick.

With some of the Frank Turner Army at the Roundhouse

May brought more music - Gary Barlow in Manchester (cheesy fun which had me dancing like a loon, even though I must admit it wasn't the same as a Take That gig), Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls (again) for the Love, Ire and Song night of Lost Evenings 2 at the Camden Roundhouse (Jet Lag on piano...my poor heart) and a charity gig for Music Support featuring Monty Taft, Charlie Barnes and To Kill a King at Omeara in London, which was possibly the stickiest, sweatiest gig I've ever been to in my life.  By the end of the night when Dan Smith joined them on stage for Annie Oakley Hanging everyone went bananas shouting along to 13 Steps.

Thanks so much, Dan

By chance I'd bumped into Dan when I was browsing the shops earlier in the day (although I was so overcome with shyness that I didn't even tell him I was a fan, let alone that I thanked Bastille in the acknowledgements of Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown because I wrote most of it listening to the Wild World album.  Fun fact - a line from a Bastille song is the working title of my current project, too). I also had a chat with Charlie after his set which was nice - they are both so stupidly talented and work so hard.  It gave me the kick I needed to get back on the writing horse.

Charlie Barnes - I've seen him three times in as many months and he never disappoints.

Reading this back makes me realise how fortunate I've been to be able to see so many of my favourites multiple times lately and the only one I've not seen (Johnny Marr) I've managed to snag tickets to see in November.

Every so often I wonder what life would be like without books and music.  Then I wipe that thought from my mind, because it doesn't bear thinking about.

I'll do another post about other places and the theatre I've been to over the past few months soon, and I'm going to try really hard to put something on the blog regularly, even if it's not that exciting.  What have you been reading lately?  And have you been to any gigs?  Who do I need to be listening to?




Friday, 23 March 2018

Charlie Barnes - West Street Live 22.03.2018

Regular readers of this blog may recall my excitement for Charlie Barnes' latest album Oceanography.  Having seen Charlie perform acoustically before, as well as with his band The Society Pages, I was excited to hear he was returning to Sheffield to play at West Street Live.

Following sets by Sheffield groups Hush and K A R A, Charlie and his band took to the stage with the insanely catchy 'All I Have' which features some deliciously-jangly guitar riffs, before launching into the anthemic 'Bruising'.  Anyone who's ever tried to make a living through creative endeavours will relate to these tracks about self-doubt, imposter syndrome and the need for a thick skin and perseverance, as shown in the lyric, 'Every time I've half a mind to throw the towel in, I fight it'. 

 
 
Next up was 'Maria', a track which showcases songwriter Barnes' ability to meld a haunting verse with a pop-influenced chorus, not to mention a Queen-influenced guitar break which allowed Charlie's personality and showmanship to come to the fore.

Barnes swapped guitar for keyboard for the epic 'Easy, Kid' from 2015's More Stately Mansions, which also fully demonstrated the frontman's vocal range .  I have to admit to being close to tears as this wistful song, which would be worthy of a film score, reverberated around the venue.  Rousing title track 'Oceanography' was up next to further batter the souls of the emotionally-challenged, followed by 'MacbethMacbethMacbeth', 'The Departure' and 'Ruins'.  By the time the penultimate song of the evening, single 'Will and Testament', was played Charlie was in full theatrical swing, engaging with the crowd (including a group of students on a round of pub golf who were keen to foist a cheap green visor on the front man - they didn't succeed), briefly channelling Mr Motivator as he encouraged us to copy the hand moves he demonstrated.  However, I doubt Mr Motivator would ever swap his trademark lycra for a pink floral suit...

As an album More Stately Mansions was billed as 'big morbid death pop' and never was this more apparent than throughout angst-riddled finale 'Sing to God'.  Despite playing right up until the curfew, Barnes and his backing band left the stage to calls for an encore from a crowd who weren't ready for the night to end.

On a personal note I was over the moon that the set included old favourites as well as the new tracks that I'd previously only heard studio versions of and although there were others I'd have loved to have seen live ('One Word Answers' and 'The Weather' in particular) as set lists go it was pretty much perfect.  I was also fortunate to say a very quick hello to Charlie after the gig, although I didn't have chance to say everything I'd have liked to (important stuff like where can I get a physical copy of Geekk, as it's great music to write to?), nor tell him how much I loved the gig and how I relate to Oceanography's focus on the importance of validation as an artist with every ounce of my soul.

So, for today, Charlie, let me be your validation.  Keep doing what you're doing, because you are a fucking awesome musician and a true performer.  Your music makes me happy.

Find out more about Charlie Barnes on Facebook.





Tuesday, 6 March 2018

February 2018 in brief

I've been reading...
Body Positive Power - Megan Jayne Crabbe
All Night Long (Sweet Valley High)
Dangerous Love (Sweet Valley High)
Lullaby - Leila Slimani
Everything I Know About Love - Dolly Alderton
Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda - Becky Albertalli
The Cows - Dawn O' Porter

I'm still way behind on my blogging for the #SVHReadalong, but I will catch up soon - promise!  But what about the other titles I read in February? 

 


Megan Jayne Crabbe, aka Bodyposipanda, is well-known on social media for leading the march on body positivity.  As someone who recently lost a lot of weight but still had gripes with how I looked, I hoped this book would help me accept my body .  Whilst it hasn't solved all my anxieties, Body Postive Power reminded me of all the wonderous ways my body works and how society pushes only certain, often unachievable, body types as the 'ideal'.  Thanks to my sister-in-law who bought me this for Christmas!

 


Lullaby is a novel which has received much hype due to a high-profile marketing campaign and I was intrigued to read it.  It begins by explaining a family hire a nanny who kills the children and I was expecting the reasons for her actions to become apparent as the book developed.  The writing was beautiful (huge praise to both the author and translator on that front) and I appreciated the descriptions of the often humdrum aspects of everyday life, but personally found the ending lacking in the closure I had been seeking after the early 'reveal'.




I first became aware of Dolly Alderton's memoir through listening to The High Low podcast (highly recommended) and my interest was piqued when it became clear the 'love' referred to in the title encompassed friendships as well as romantic love, lust alongside familial relationships.  A gorgeously honest book which had me hooked from the off, Everything I Know about Love explores what it is to be human.  A must-read.



The Cows is the debut adult novel from Dawn O'Porter and follows three different women as they face societal judgment for differing reasons.  I'd heard about the 'wanking on a train' scene and that this was a no-holds-barred story, but I didn't expect to enjoy The Cows as much as I did.  Edgy and sassy with dubious characters (that I empathised with even when I disliked them), this page-turner of a novel leaves me excited for what Dawn O'Porter will produce next.


 
 
This was a reread as the film based on Becky Albertalli's novel is out very soon.  I loved this YA book just as much as the first time I read it, when I said 'I was charmed by Simon as he learns to understand himself and become more at ease with his sexuality.  I was with Simon every step of the way as he sought out the mysterious Blue, who he'd been exchanging emails with.  A heartfelt read.'  

Music I've been listening to...  
 
 
Lots of Morrissey in the build up to seeing him live at Leeds Arena on February 24th, particularly Spent the Day in Bed and Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up on the Stage, my favourite tracks from his latest album Low in High School.

I've also been listening to Blossoms as I impatiently await their new album.

Podcasts I've been listening to...
Besides my usuals - The Debrief, The High Low, Sweet Teen Club, Double Love, Quickly Kevin, will he Score?, Sweet Valley Why? - I discovered Homo Sapiens, hosted by Will Young and Chris Sweeney.  Pitched as focussing on LGBTQ+ lifestyle, it'll also appeal to anyone with an interest in different takes on news stories - from the first episode where they interview Owen Jones I was hooked.

I've been watching...
Coronation Street (even though I don't really care about any of the current storylines)
The Greatest Showman (Again.  The singalong version this time)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Finally catching up with the rest of the world)
Dancing on Ice (Although I've not got a favourite who I'm cheering on)
Take Me Out (Saturday night cheese)
First Dates Hotel (I'm a romantic)
Call The Midwife (Because I love a therapeutic cry)
Queer Eye (ADORED this when it was originally on, so pleased it's back on Netflix!)
Love, Simon (Very fortunate to see an early screening of this film - so good!)
Club de Cuervos (Netflix show about a family who own a football club - becoming more outlandish with each episode)

Places I've been...


... Leeds, for a writing day with author friends Mary Jayne Baker, Rachel Burton and Rachel Dove. 

... the cinema to see The Greatest Showman and Love, Simon.  Both brilliant films.

... the Sheffield Lyceum to watch the UK touring production of Hairspray.  Feel-good brilliance!

... Pre-loved Kilo clothing weigh and pay (although didn't buy much this time), Veg Out vegan day at Peddlars, Protest exhibition at Weston Park museum (I definitely want to see this again) - lots of Sheffield goodness!

... Leeds Arena to see Morrissey, who sounded better than ever, followed by a Smiths night at The Faversham where I danced myself silly. 

I also revisited The Treehouse Board Game Café for a friend's birthday and ate delicious vegan treats at Couch in Sheffield city centre and Steel City Cakes.

I've been writing...
the first draft of the second book in the trilogy I'm working on, alongside putting the final touches on the first book in the series which is now finished - hooray!

I hope February treated you well and I'd love to know what you've been up to.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

#SVHReadalong - Power Play

 
If you're looking for a problematic, fat-shaming Sweet Valley book, look no further. 
 
Power Play follows Robin Wilson on her quest to become a member of exclusive sorority Pi Beta Alpha.  Elizabeth nominates Robin as a potential candidate, but Jessica finds it laughable that someone who is (shock horror) overweight could even contemplate being accepted into such an exclusive group and sets her humiliating initiation challenges whilst leading her on by taking advantage of her good-nature.  However, nothing can stop Robin - she's on a mission, and when Liz helps her complete the most difficult task of all - getting Bruce Patman to take her to the dance - Robin is eligible to be put forward for voting.  The anonymous voting takes place and Robin is blackballed!  The rejection causes Robin to withdraw from school life and, as a result of excessive exercising and minimal eating, lose a lot of weight in a short period of time.
 
I remember reading this book when I was young and overweight and empathising with Robin, wishing I had the willpower to 'run myself thin' like she did.  Robin loses weight and her life improves, because nothing good can ever happen to a fat person in Sweet Valley.  This book sends a dangerous message, and I'd go so far as to say this book is at least partly responsible for the issues I've had with my body over the past twenty-five years.    
 
The b plot storyline where Liz suspects Jessica is a common thief stealing scarves and rings from the upmarket store Lisette's is light relief in comparison.  When the shoplifter is finally revealed to be Lila, who blames the lack of attention from her father for her light-fingered antics, there are (in true Sweet Valley style) minimal consequences.  Seriously, Sweet Valley is corrupt.
 
It's fair to say Power Play isn't a favourite of mine and I doubt I'll ever reread it again.




Saturday, 10 February 2018

#SVHReadalong - Playing with Fire




Oh, this book promises so much and delivers so little, and the John Barrowman/Timothy Dalton interpretation of Bruce in the cover art is possibly the highlight of this whole volume.  Admittedly, the Jessica/Bruce storyline is interesting to start with (and I remember thinking the bikini scene was red-hot when I first read these books in the 90s), but as an adult Jessica's compliance to Bruce's manipulation makes for uncomfortable reading.

The B plot follows Jessica encouraging Robin Wilson (who we are repeatedly told is fat) to steal a test paper and post it in Emily's locker so that Emily, distracted by a music mogul in red leather trousers who's going to turn The Droids into the biggest band ever, can pass the test.  This is important because Jessica plans to cheat off her, but the plan backfires when Mr Russo changes the test at the last minute. 

The fat-shaming makes this a difficult read for me personally and although I enjoyed the scene when Bruce ends up with egg (or should that be pizza?) on his face at Guido's, the overtly cruel behaviour of so many of the characters left me feeling very uncomfortable.

Have you read Playing with Fire?  If so, what were your thoughts?

#SVHReadalong

End of 2018 Catch Up

The end (of 2018) is nigh and my promises to blog more regularly didn't come to fruition, yet again.  There was always an excuse not to ...