11 August 2016

4 words

'When are you due?'
 I have lost count of how many times over the past few years I have heard those words, but I can remember many specific occasions when it has been said to me, and how it has made me feel.
I am not pregnant.  I have never been pregnant, and I don't anticipate being pregnant in the near future.  But I have heard those words or words to that effect so many times that I feel like the effects are permanently engrained on me.

I am not pregnant, I am fat.  Or rather, I'm not fat, but I carry more weight than I should for my figure, and I carry most of it on the front of my stomach.  That's just where it has collected as I've gained weight, I don't know why.  So many people have mistaken it for a pregnant tummy over the years that it's something I am constantly thinking about.  It's never far from my mind, whenever I sit down or stand up or generally move around outside my own home I'm wondering whether people will be thinking it, and I'm constantly aware of how I'm positioning my body whether I'm sitting at my desk, or standing at the photocopier, or in the kitchen at work making a drink.  Every minute of every day.  It's one of the first things I think about when I wake up.  I'm so wary of people asking me that whenever someone is polite to me, someone approaches me with a smile in a shop or a restaurant, I'm expecting the next thing out of their mouth to be a question about a baby. 

At my father in law's wedding, a woman came over to talk to me and Paul.  She started to say 'I couldn't help but notice...' and for all I know, she could have been going to make a completely innocent comment about the fact that we were a couple, or that we were part of the family group, but I was so sure that she was going to ask that question, and because all day I had already been wary of how I was standing or sitting, and because I had already experienced the prying I was scared of so many times before, that when she got distracted before finishing her sentence, I ran away and hid in the back garden.

It happened again today, in the same week I was feeling proud of myself for completing the first week of Couch to 5K at the gym.  I saw a woman in town who we quite often see, who asks every person she meets for change.  I'm not sure whether she really is pregnant, or just uses that as a way to get people to give her money, but I knew when I saw her coming towards me what she was going to ask.  Except this time, she started with a glance at my stomach and said 'oh I'm pregnant too, and I was wondering...'

It seems that every time I start to feel better about myself, make any kind of progress, I get knocked back down.  I came home today holding back tears and wishing I could be someone else when just yesterday I had started to feel a bit more positive.  These questions and comments have gradually chipped away at my confidence bit by bit so that I've gone from a relatively care-free teenager to a woman constantly weighed down by insecurity, who doesn't feel comfortable going out without a coat even in the hottest weather - especially in hot weather - because of what questions I might get asked.  I know you might be wondering why I don't just lose it and I want to tell you that I really do try.  I have started going to the gym again, and up until today I had been feeling pretty on track.  I berate myself every day over my food choices, I try to eat healthily every single day, and it's just so disheartening to see little to no change. I try so, so hard.  

Maybe I won't get a comment like that for a few months, and I'll almost have forgotten how absolutely soul destroying it is and how much it makes me hate myself.  Most people will mean well when they ask, I know that, and they are probably mortified to have upset someone when they find out that I'm not.  But once they've apologised (profusely, and often making it worse) they forget.  I'll remember their comment for days or weeks or even months afterwards. 

Then there are those who refuse to believe you when you correct them.  On holiday in Florida, the man serving breakfast at the hotel laughed when I feigned shock that they were out of eggs and said 'oh that's the last thing I need, a pregnant woman on my back about the breakfast choices.'  Paul politely corrected him, and he proceeded to look me up and down and repeat 'oh really? She's really not? Really?' in disbelief.  I cried in many theme park toilets that day (thankfully not a day we were going to Disney).  During a shift at the cinema, a customer told me he 'thought I would have had that by now' and gestured to my stomach.  I corrected him and he laughed and said 'okay, if you say so.'  
And it's all the more painful to me as someone who actually does want children - it hurts me to have to tell people that I'm not when I really want to be able to share in the joy they are anticipating when they ask me the question.  I don't know what my life is for if its not to be a mother.

I don't really know why I'm writing this, apart from the fact that this happened to me again today and I'm really upset.  I have so many regrets and I desperately wish I could go back and teach myself how to cook healthy food before I went to uni, because I gained this weight somewhere and I have a feeling that it was then.  I wish I could say this is my biggest insecurity right now, but it's not.  Some people seem to breeze through life, figuratively and literally - I feel like I am constantly weighed down by all the things I dislike about myself and all the disappointment I carry around with me.  

I suppose my point is that I shouldn't have to hear it from people who don't know me and I hope someone reading this might think twice about asking any questions of the next stranger they see who may or may not be pregnant.  People don't need any help with their insecurities;  I certainly don't.  I give myself a hard enough time, but I can recognise that some of that is fueled by the things strangers have said, and maybe if they hadn't, I wouldn't be quite so unhappy with myself.  Sometimes I want to scream at these people that it's none of their business either way;  even if I was pregnant, I'm not sure I would welcome interest from people I don't know.  

Just please keep your opinions to yourself, because you just don't know how much you could be hurting someone.

3 August 2016

June & July Book Haul

I've had plenty of book buying opportunities over the past couple of months. I got copies of some titles I've been looking forward to for months, as well as a couple of other treats.  July was also a month of book buying firsts - I realised earlier in the month that I didn't own any scripts, and I now own two, and I also bought some nonfiction for the first time.

Smoke by Dan Vyleta
Four Tales by Philip Pullman
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Received for Review
 Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent* - read my blog tour post here!
Keep You Close by Lucie Whitehouse**

* Thank you to Penguin Books
** Thank you to Bloomsbury Books

24 July 2016

Women Writing Crime by Liz Nugent - Lying In Wait blog tour

I'm very happy to be hosting today's stop on the blog tour for Liz Nugent's new thriller, Lying In Wait and to be welcoming Liz to the blog to talk about the rise in women writing crime fiction.

Women Writing Crime, by Liz Nugent

Crime has become a really broad genre in recent years, and whereas it used to mean police/ detective procedural, now it encompasses so much more. Thrillers, psychological suspense, spy novels, domestic noir, mystery, courtroom drama and the ‘whydunnit’ are all sub-genres within crime. The spectrum is very broad and the standard varies hugely.

The rise and rise of female crime writers is great to see. In Ireland, women currently outnumber men 5 to 1 in the genre. I’m not sure if it’s the same in the UK? These women are writing smart sassy gripping novels. I don’t know why women have really broken through in this genre in the last decade? Maybe there are so many of us now that we are impossible to ignore? There is strength in numbers. Our male counterparts have, by and large, welcomed us into the tribe. Remember that writers are also readers and we all want more books.

When Marian Keyes first coined the term ‘griplit’ to describe compelling page-turners, she used it as a compliment and she was not using it exclusively to describe the work of female writers, but now sadly, I have seen it used in a reductive way by some to dismiss and belittle the crime writing of women.

If there is a difference between the way men and women write, I’m afraid I don’t see it. Writing is not and never has been a competition between the sexes. All genders are capable of great work and terrible work. Our approach is as diverse as the human race allows. Tall people don’t write differently to short people and so it is with men, women and transgender individuals. We each apply our imagination to the page and some of us are lucky enough to get published. What a wonderful world! 

Lying in Wait

'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'
Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. However, there is one thing Lydia desperately yearns for to make her perfect family complete, and nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants...

This is a dark, twisty and utterly gripping domestic noir that you won’t be able to put down from the author hailed as Ireland’s answer to Gillian Flynn.

Praise for Lying in Wait

‘A tense, taut, almost gothic thriller where the tension tightens to near unbearable proportions. I devoured it in one sitting, it was impossible to stop reading.
A brilliantly written, stand-out novel’ Marian Keyes

‘Taut, crisp, clear, a storm-warning of a book. It has the eeriness of The Turn of the Screw; but as these screws turn, a mighty tension takes hold. Masterly’ Sebastian Barry

‘I absolutely loved it. I thought it impossible to match the brilliant Unravelling Oliver, but Liz has. She keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from page one until the completely unexpected ending’ Amanda Redman

‘A stunningly talented writer’ Sophie Hannah

Blog Tour


13 July 2016

The Ornatrix*

Flavia was born with a birthmark covering her face, in the shape of a bird in flight.  Ashamed of the mark, her mother makes Flavia hide her face behind a veil on the rare occasions she is allowed to be seen in public.  But on the night before her younger sister's wedding, Flavia does something drastic, something that will draw her into a much wider and stranger world than she could have imagined: the convent of Santa Guiliana, just outside the city.  There she meets Ghostanza, a courtesan turned widow, whose white-lead painted face entrances Flavia, and whose beauty and cruelty are unmatched.  Flavia become her ornatrix: her hairdresser and personal maid.  But as white-lead paint rots the flesh below it, so the bustling city, and Santa Guiliana, is rotting below the shimmer of wealth and privilege.  And Flavia is drawn into a world of desire and jealousy that has devastating consequences.

Rating: ★★

Unfortunately, The Ornatrix just wasn't my cup of tea.

From reading the description, I thought it would be, and there were aspects of it that I liked.  Set in sixteenth century Italy, it follows main character Flavia who was born with a large birthmark across her face.  Living with such a mark in a society that places a lot of emphasis on how women look or dress, Flavia is introduced to cosmetics and beauty practices when a courtesan named Ghostanza arrives at the convent where she is living following an incident in her family home.  The story then follows the many lengths Flavia will go to in order to conform to the perceived standards of beauty at the time, and is a tale of self discovery as well as a reflection on how society defines the idea of beauty.

I appreciated the historical setting and the level of detail and insight into the beauty practices adopted by women of the time was really interesting and well developed.  Its clear that this is an area the author knows a lot about.  In particular I liked that included before each chapter was a beauty tip or 'recipe' for a particular problem, such as bad skin or puffy eyes etc.  I took these to be real examples from the time however there was no note on the original source, but I found this really interesting, and I did enjoy reading about the theme of beauty particularly within the historical context.  I felt like I had learned something, which is always a positive!  It was definitely thought-provoking with some good points of reflection on the suffering and health concerns resulting from some of the practices as well as societal ideals.  I could see this being a good book club read for that reason.

However for me, the story itself was not that enjoyable.  I didn't feel particularly connected to any of the characters; although I felt sympathy for Flavia for the fact that she was uncomfortable in her own skin, I didn't find myself particularly interested to know what would happen to her or anyone else.  There were also a few supporting characters that I found it hard to differentiate between.  The plot was quite slow and at times, I found the writing style quite difficult to get on with.  For these reasons, it didn't keep my attention too well and that's why I have only given it a 2* rating.

*My copy was sent to me by Duckworth in exchange for an honest review.

9 July 2016

Some thoughts on Zoella's book club

At the start of June, vlogger Zoella announced a book club collaboration with WHSmith (if you don't know who Zoella is, I can only assume you don't live with any teenagers or spend much time on the internet).  Aimed at encouraging young people to read through the use of Zoe's influence, the book club collection consists of the 8 titles pictured above.  Since then, there has been some discussion online about the books that were chosen, and some concerns have been raised about how the Zoella book club titles portray sex and virginity in particular. 

I read this article which sums everything up nicely including specific examples from the texts so I won't go into too much detail, but generally the issues raised are to do with the emphasis placed on virginity and/or the losing of, and unrealistic, heteronormative portrayals of 'perfect' sex, particularly first time sex.  I haven't read any of the titles other than Giovanna Fletcher's Billy and Me which I would actually say is not a YA book, so I can't offer any opinions on the books themselves, but from reading around the subject a little bit, I do think these are valid concerns.  However, I think it is unfair to place all the responsibility for this on Zoe's shoulders.

The Zoella book club could definitely have been an opportunity to educate young readers and introduce them to a wider range of issues, however I think it would be naive to assume that there were no constraints on the book choices made, or that Zoe was the sole decision maker.  Because of this, I found the closing comment of the article unnecessarily patronising - there's no doubt that she has a young audience but she is a responsible role model in many ways, most notably in her work to raise awareness of mental health and anxiety, and she can't be expected to cover every single issue relevant to teens.   

The real issue is the lack of positive representation to be found in young adult literature generally.

Most of the titles included had already enjoyed popularity in their market - I have heard of them all, despite not having read them myself and I suspect this is why they were chosen.  It is not a coincidence that none of the titles picked stray from the aforementioned narratives surrounding virginity - this is the dominant theme to be found not just in books but in films, tv programmes, even pop songs, and this is reflective of how these issues are discussed in society.  These representations of virginity loss as a life-defining moment will be familiar to us all - how often do we see female characters worried about having sex, or women experiencing negativity if they do?  And whilst I suspect teenage boys are not the target market of the Zoella book club, this applies to them too.  For them, it's a rite of passage; a ticket to respect among their peers.  The chance for Zoe to introduce her book club readers to representations outside of these is limited by the lack of alternatives available.

Having said that, Zoe's reaction to the article was quite disappointing.  She had an opportunity to contribute to a discussion but instead laughed off what she seemed to see as personal criticism, saying that she was tired of people trying to patronise her audience.  I think she's right that teenagers should not be assumed incapable of making their own informed decisions, but it's also fair to say that they are still impressionable and their decisions can be quite easily influenced by things they read.  She did not respond at all to concerns raised about the lack of LGBT representation in her book club picks, potentially alienating these members of her audience.  This is something I would have expected her to give some more thought to - but again, I daresay she was limited to what was already popular.

Whilst it would have been nice to see Zoe acknowledge the issues that were raised, and perhaps open the discussion among her audience, I don't think sole responsibility lies with her.  Her aim to encourage young people to read is something that I can definitely get behind.  Instead, I feel it is the responsibility of those writing for young people to ensure they are not perpetuating the myths surrounding virginity in their work, and are inclusive of a wider range of experiences.
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