Friday, 31 October 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Stephen King

Come on, it's Halloween, this guy's practically mandatory.
 To be fair, people have to be pretty much living under rocks not to have heard of Stephen King. (No offence to any rock-dwelling people, you guys are awesome.) But Stephen King is basically one of the Gods of Horror-Writing. If there was an official kingdom of Gods of Horror-Writing, he'd be the one with the trident and the big beard, who could call up storms of screaming children and whole pages of blood-scribbled madness mantras to drive you insane at will.
 I had heard of Stephen King for years but I didn't actually start reading him until last year. (In my defence, I originally got him mixed up with the guy who wrote the Da Vinci Code. OK, maybe it's not just the rock-dwellers.) But then I read Carrie.
It's weird that the book Stephen King himself has described as one of his least favourites is probably my favourite of his so far. Maybe it's because it's one of the ones that's more relatable to me because it's about teenage girls and that species label could currently, conceivably, in some ways describe me. But maybe it's because the writing in that book creepily conveys the politics of teenage girls so vividly despite the author himself never having been one. I found the scenes in the girls showers and the hysterical abuse from Carrie's mother far scarier than any of the hints of telekinesis and even than the climactic gym scene (which is still a punch in the chest and a mind-screw as to who is the villain, as if a hand has crept inside your chest and rearranged your ribs when you weren't looking.)
But anyway, my love for Carrie inspired me to seek out more about Stephen King. It was then that I realised I actually owned his novella The Body, after watching Stand By Me (watch it if you haven't, but don't blame me when you end up dead of dehydration or drowning, found in a puddle of your own tears) and have promptly put it on my To Be Read list. But Stephen King himself is actually pretty interesting.
Stephen King describes his "inner dowsing rod" reacting when he found an H. P. Lovecraft novel as a kid and knew that he'd found "home." That made me love the guy straight away. From then on, he reportedly knew he wanted to be a writer and he wanted to write horror stories.
The sheer amount of books Stephen King has written is actually pretty hard to believe. (Please don't ask me to count them.) He's had a four-decade long career. For someone who hasn't even been alive for two, it's pretty darn difficult to imagine. And these aren't just any books; he's written some of the most defining horror books, like The Shining, Misery, Carrie-and yes, The Shining might be more famous to some people as the Kubrick film, which is also a pretty good Halloween watch.
If this guy knocks on your door, hand over the candy without a fight.

But Stephen King also has the whole he-didn't-give-up thing going on. He and his family were in such debt before he sold Carrie that he actually disconnected the phone to save money. And then Carrie lifted them out of it overnight. But he's also spoken pretty publicly about his battles with alcoholism and drug addiction and his battle to become sober-not to mention, the effects it's had on his family. (In fact, his addictions have even been reflected in some of his novels.) He was then nearly killed (no, seriously) in 1999 when he was hit by a car when doing nothing more unusual than walking down a road. (For the guy who writes telekinetic schoolgirls, alive-with-ghosts hotels and thumb-cutting nurses, walking down a road would probably have been a surprisingly mundane way to go.) But he's kept on going through all of this, and is still writing books now (I need to read Doctor Sleep, because it's Danny from The Shining grown up and who wouldn't want to read that and he's an alcoholic and that hurts and hurts.)
(Interesting tidbit; Stephen King's daughter-in-law happens to be Kelly Braffet, another of my favourite authors-she's married to his son, author Owen King. She was a teenage fangirl of Stephen King's books, apparently, and her books are other things you should definitely read as soon as humanly possible.)
But the thing that makes Stephen King really cool to me, is the fact that the guy just sort of-does what he does. He doesn't really make a whole load of fanfare about it, he just writes these amazing books and doesn't even seem to realise how cool and different they actually are. And when I say "just writes", I mean, "just writes." He apparently often does his writing without even any idea of where the story will end-he just starts out with the "what-if" question and some characters and sees where it goes. To someone like me, who actually used to list out what films I needed to watch to properly enjoy summer-no, really-this sounds simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying, like the moment you really want to jump off a cliff, but also have every thought screaming that you'll die, though you know the moment you fall will be like flying.
So, this Halloween, read some Stephen King. Trust me, there's a lot to choose from. Just don't go blaming him for your nightmares. (Enough people do that already.)
Oh, and one other thing? He appeared as himself in a voice-over role in Stuck In Love. There are no words to describe how much I love Stuck In Love. He's that cool.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Whole Playlist Thing: Eleanor and Park



                      The songs that remind me of Eleanor and Park lying awake, thinking about each other.
What Difference Does It Make? by the Smiths
I Think That We Are Gonna Be Friends by the White Stripes
Bus Stop by Paper Mache
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie
Bad by U2
At Seventeen by Janis Ian
What You Wanted by One Republic
Disorder by Joy Division
She's Lost Control by Joy Division
You Could Be Happy by Snow Patrol
You Found Me by the Fray
Cut Here by the Cure
First Love Never Die by Soko
Love Will Tear Us Apart Again by Joy Division

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Whole Cool Song Thing: In Between Days by the Cure

Yesterday, I got so old I felt like I could die
Yesterday, I got so old it made me want to cry

Ironically, one of my earliest memories of being a kid is hearing those words about being old.

My mother loves the Cure-one of my first memories is of her holding me and dancing me round the kitchen to this song.(My mum loves the Cure. My dad loves the Smiths. I love both.)

But two of the earliest songs I heard as a kid, apart from the Beatles, were Boys Don't Cry and In Between Days.

In Between Days doesn't always seem to be the first song everyone comes up with when they think of the Cure, but for me, it's always one of the first I skip to when I'm listening to them. There's something longing in the chords, particularly in the chorus-just the way each sound is dragged out, it sounds like someone reaching for something they might never find. Or something they had but know that they can't get back, even when they keep reaching for it all the time.

I know that, looking at the lyrics, the song could be seen as a pretty straightforward love song-or "lost love" song, about driving someone away from you. But the lyrics that always stuck in my head were those first ones:

Yesterday, I got so old I felt like I could die
Yesterday, I got so old it made me want to cry

And then:

Yesterday, I got so scared I shivered like a child
Yesterday, away from you, it froze me deep inside

To me, maybe it's a love song. But it also seems like that first time you make a big mistake in your life-the first time you let someone get away from you or the first time you let your friendship disintegrate. Everyone says that making mistakes is part of growing up, part of getting older. And maybe there's a feeling to making those first mistakes, a feeling that there's no going back from this. It might be the moment I get older or grow up, but there's no going back to before I made those mistakes. And it's a strange feeling, even if it's a good thing. It's strange because maybe there's a part of me that still feels like a child and wants to run back and hide away when mistakes were still things like dropping an ice cream.

To me, the "without you" lines are some of the saddest in the song. While they're probably intended to refer to a love interest, to me, they kind of remind me of the parts of childhood that you lose as you grow up and make your mistakes and become a new version of yourself. You know you had to let go of them-things or memories or people-but you still want them back, still want to cling onto that old version of yourself even when you know it isn't real anymore. In Between Days always reminds me of that moment when I'm in the middle of some problem I'm trying to sort out and I'm getting a temporary breather or we've reached some sort of stalemate for the night and we're going to carry on arguing about it or trying to sort it out the next day and I've just got this time to reflect on the whole thing. And I realise that this is my first big fight or problem or choice and that this is growing up and I can't go back to how it was before. And somehow, even as I feel terrified and unsure and shaky like a little child taking their first steps, it makes me feel older than I've ever felt before.

 And in some ways, that's what this song feels about to me. That moment when you feel like you've already crossed this line into being the next version of you you're going to be and that you can't go back. But in another, you're still caught in between. You're caught between the past and the future, what you want and how you're going to get there, the people you needed and the people you'll need, the person you used to be and the person you're becoming. And maybe you know that you needed to lose some of those things from your past and this might be the best thing in the world for you-but another part of you is clinging on to what's already gone. Because you don't know who this next version of you is going to be without them. And you're scared of what you might find out.

Maybe you're about to become a future version of you. But right now, you're caught in between who you were and you're going to be.

And I know I was wrong
When I said it was true
That it couldn't be me
And be her in between
Without you
Without you


Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Whole I Met Cassandra Clare and Holly Black Thing

My immediate inclination when posting something like this is just to post that image from Avatar: The Last Airbender of people cheering hysterically but I'll try and describe it more articulately.


OK, not that articulately.

I love Cassandra Clare's books (for those who don't know, she's the author of the Shadowhunter Chronicles and now the joint author of the Magisterium series with Holly Black) and I read Holly Black's Spiderwick Chronicles as a kid. (I got them for my eighth birthday and after I read the first one, I had to go and curl up at the end of my parents' bed because they were that creepy and cool). Now, I'm making my way through her Modern Faerie Tales series but I can't wait to read her Curse Workers books-they're set in a MAGIC-WORKER MOBSTER WORLD, Y'ALL. Seriously, could that sound cooler?

And then the other night I went to Cassandra Clare and Holly Black's book talk and signing. This was an experience of such incredible incredibleness that I can't even sum up every inch of it.

But, here's some of the highlights:

Cassie had pink hair and Holly had blue hair. That was just awesome (I HAD BLUE HAIR LAST SUMMER TOO OH MY GOD)

Cassie mentioned Magnus Bane as one of her favourite characters to write. Magnus Bane, for those who don't know, is a sparkly blue-haired warlock who throws parties for his cat's birthday. I don't think I need to say more.

Cassie mentioned that Magnus would be in her next series, the Dark Artifices. THANK THE GODS OF LITERATURE HERE.

When Holly Black was a little girl, her mother used to tell her that the house was haunted. But seriously, how cool is that?

They also answered that their favourite ice creams are salted caramel and cinnamon. I think people underestimate the crucial importance of ice cream flavours.

And then they signed my books and Holly liked my Zombie Killing shirt. And there was talk about


the Malec breakup and reunion because that was seriously one of the hardest breakups in any book and when I read City of Heavenly Fire, I actually screamed when I found out they got back together. Because they're just beautiful.

So-that was meeting Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. And getting a copy of their new book, Magisterium: The Iron Trial, which is, I swear, one of the best covers ever.

Take a look.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Whole Cool Character Thing: Rory Deveaux

Have I mentioned how much I love Maureen Johnson? No, because I apparently neglect the important things in life. (I also have not mentioned my love of the Gaslight Anthem so I need to prioritize more often.)

But yeah, I love Maureen Johnson's books. I love them for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is that she produces characters that are amazing. And not in the fantastical, he-is-unrealistically-gorgeous amazing, I mean characters that are just interesting and different and cool, and people you'd like to know.

And one of them is Rory Deveaux.

Rory Deveaux is the protagonist of the Shades of London series, a seventeen-year-old girl who moves from Louisiana to London and starts attending boarding school right as Rippermania strikes London, and a spate of grisly murders break out. And then she-SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS-

Finds out she can see ghosts and that she can help to get rid of them and she finds this amazing organization called the Shades of London that is made up of people like her and there's this guy Stephen who is not the typical YA hero, but he's great and I love him, and I am literally summing up the whole series here and OK, onto Rory.

Originally, I actually put off reading the Shades of London series, because I was worried it would be yet another paranormal-fantasy series. (I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT THE GREATNESS OF MAUREEN JOHNSON YET, OK?) And then, I picked the first book up and read it and literally fell in love because of a lot of things, but one of the chief being Rory herself.

Rory is not your typical heroine. She is uprooted from the life she knows well, and finds herself in a British boarding school, knowing not much about British culture and not much about the schoolwork she'll be expected to do. She handles it. She doesn't whine. She just gets on with it and is snarky and cool and smart along with it.

And she has pretty much the same approach when she finds out she can see ghosts.

I don't know every person in the world who's ever seen a ghost, but I can take a bet that pretty much most of them haven't reacted calmly-and to be fair, Rory's a bit freaked out at first. (I think most people are when it's suddenly revealed that the undead are real and they can converse with them. It's like the reverse of your favourite band suddenly tweeting you, it's something you thought would never happen.)

But Rory handles it. And you know what? Rory's gutsy and brave and all that-but she does it WITHOUT having any special abilities. Or at least, none that the other Shades don't have.


(OK, at least until The Madness Underneath when she's a human terminus but even then it's handled well and she's not just a special snowflake.)

But, that's a key thing. She kind of reminds me of Katniss Everdeen in that respect. She's awesome and gutsy and memorable-but not because she has a load of special powers, and she's the child of Jesus or something. She's just memorable because she's herself because of her own qualities and it's so cool and refreshing and she's awesome.

Oh, and how she handles the whole romance thing? It's not even her main focus. She has a boyfriend for a while, and then she breaks up with him. And I actually love that because it's one of those books that shows that you don't HAVE to be in love at seventeen. You can just like someone a lot. And then you can break up with them and it doesn't mean that it wasn't a special experience but it doesn't have to be THAT MAGICAL FIRST LOVE THAT DEFINES YOUR WHOLE LIFE. Or something.

And then she and SPOILERS Stephen kind of get together and she cares about him, but she doesn't immediately start thinking she's in LOVE with him. She knows she cares for him, likes him-but it's not immediately catapulted into THIS IS THE ONE I WANT TO SPEND MY LIFE WITH. It's just what it is, and at seventeen, that's perfectly fine.

But I love Rory. (One other thing is that she's pretty non-judgemental, which is also awesome, though it might be because from the backstory we've heard so far, she comes from a family that would rival the Tenembaums in weirdness.) She's cool and funny and witty and she holds her own, which I imagine would be pretty difficult when you're fighting ghosts all of a sudden in a country you've never been in before. And where it rains a lot.

I actually met Maureen Johnson and I hadn't read the Shades of London at that stage (I'd read Key to the Golden Firebird which I went on about because it's awesome and you should completely read that too.) I wish I had but then I'd probably have started screaming about how much I love Rory and how I can't wait for the next book-2015 WHAT-and I don't know, probably tried to marry the book or something. So maybe it's a good thing.

But yeah, Rory Deveaux is awesomely cool. And she doesn't even need her special powers to prove it.

(Though they're probably helpful in fighting ghosts.)

I also always picture Rory Deveaux being played by Kat Dennings, for some reason.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Whole Cool Person Thing: Brian Epstein

If anyone deserved to smile more often, it was this guy.

Everyone's heard of the Beatles but less people seem to have heard of Brian Epstein. Ironically, without Brian Epstein, there would be no Beatles.

Brian Epstein is the guy who discovered the Beatles, who shaped their style, and along with George Martin, basically one of the people who made them famous, to the extent that they referred to him as "the Fifth Beatle." He also is the person who discovered Cilla Black.

But the thing about Brian Epstein (I don't know why I keep misspelling his name as Brain. That's the last thing the poor guy needs, to have his name misspelt on top of everything else) is that he had a really hard life. He suffered from depression and was heavily reliant on medications such as sleeping pills which would later prove to be, to put it mildly, a very, very bad idea.

But the chief issue in Brian Epstein's life was that he was gay at a time when homosexuality was prohibited and he lived his professional and personal life in fear of being publicly outed and also battling with self-loathing, and low self-esteem. It was a crime to be gay back then, and it meant a life of hiding and often a life of being alone. It didn't help that John Lennon-who's still my favourite Beatle-apparently frequently made fun of the issue, to remind you that no matter how talented somebody is, they're still just as capable of being an idiot as anybody else.
 Even if you love them as much as I love John Lennon.

We won't talk about this guy right here.

But the thing is, without Brian Epstein, the Beatles would never have got the widespread acclaim they did. It was Epstein's management that led to them donning what would become their signature suits and ties during their early performances on stage. It was Epstein that snagged the meeting with George Martin that led to him agreeing to sign the Beatles. It was Epstein that negotiated their contracts, that looked after their details, and also, apparently, was godfather to John Lennon's son, Julian.

In short, Brian Epstein was pretty indispensable. Which makes it even sadder that the poor guy had such huge issues with self-hatred and depression. He was apparently-as well as being an indispensable manager-a really, genuinely sweet person who always went the extra mile to help people out, even when they showed him absolutely no gratitude for it. Which apparently also happened a few times. (With some of the treatment he was shown, I think Brian showed a lot more patience than me. If anyone had spoken to me the way Lennon did to Epstein, I think I'd have thrown him out on his ear. And his guitar after him.) But Brian was apparently one of those people who was pretty much unfailingly polite and generous and hardworking-which would sadly be something else that would prove pretty much fatal, as overwork was one of the chief things that led him to rely on the sleeping pills so much.

Brian Epstein died at the age of only thirty-two, after an overdose of his sleeping medication. It was never determined whether or not it was accidental, though he apparently died from a build-up of the medication in his system over time, which would imply that he had simply been over-using the pills to cope with stress. His death had a huge impact on the Beatles and was in fact, one of the factors that led to them eventually splitting up.

Brian Epstein's getting more attention these days than he has for a while. The increased focus on his tumultuous personal life recently has led to him becoming more of a person of interest in his own right rather than just as the manager of the Beatles and Cilla Black. But Brian probably would have wanted to be remembered as their manager-his acts were what he believed in and what he devoted his life to. It's sad to remember how young he was when he died and wonder what might have happened if he had lived longer, what else he might have done, what else he might have discovered.

So, next time you hear one of the Beatles' early songs-Please, Please Me, She Loves You, Love Me Do-just remember; if Brian Epstein hadn't heard it first, you might never have done.