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International Women’s Day 2019

Posted in Opinion, Personal
on March 10, 2019

It was International Women’s Day on Friday, and of course, I have feelings.

Firstly, before anyone whinges – 19th November is International Men’s Day.

Now we have that over and done with, let me get on with the important stuff.

I work for a company that, unironically, had an International Women’s Day event chaired by a man, and with more male speakers than female – which probably tells you more than I could articulate about what it’s like to work there. What’s more, the majority of the talks focussed on the issues of having a family and work – as if that is the only difficulty facing women in the workplace.

I’m not saying that it isn’t great that my company has men that want to support women. Of course it is – but surely, of all days, International Women’s Day is the time for men to listen to women, to understand our experience, and take that on board when you’re dealing with female colleagues.

It says a lot that my company thought they needed to have male hosts and speakers in order for this day to have a pull, or enough gravitas to go.

It says a lot that no males from my department attended; and even more that most of those males manage females.

Women have been telling men for years that we do not need you to speak for us. You can’t speak for us. You don’t know the ways in which we’re judged that you’re not. And most of you aren’t even aware of the unconscious bias that you show to us. Women are, factually, held to account for a lot more than men are. We are expected to behave a certain way, look a certain way and communicate in a certain way. When we don’t, our behaviour is held up to much higher levels of scrutiny. And it is exhausting.

A lot of men seem to only discover women’s rights when they have daughters. Indeed, yesterday, that is what most of the men that spoke concentrated on. Yes, it’s absolutely fantastic that you want to change the world for your daughter – but what about your wife? Your sisters? Your mother, your female cousins, your friends? They’re all going through the same thing, and they’ve all had to prove themselves again and again, while men are judged on their potential. It is not acceptable to be ignorant to the inequality that women face, until you produce your own little female.

I grew up in a household where my parents, both teachers, never made me feel that as a woman, I couldn’t do anything that I wanted. My mum was a deputy head, while my dad preferred to be a class teacher – so my household was unusual in that my mother was in a senior position to my father. However, I never really saw it like that – I saw both my parents working just as hard as each other. I saw my father’s passion for classroom teaching, and my mother standing up for other teachers in her school. From them, I got the message that as long as I worked hard, I could do anything I wanted.

And then I went to an all girls school. While these aren’t a perfect solution, I never for a moment thought that there were things I couldn’t do just because I was a woman. Again, here the message was that if you work hard you’ll do well. And this was the message I took with me through school and university.

Then I arrived in the world of work, and the full force of what the world is really like hit me square in the face. It is exhausting to be a woman in the workplace. My experience, and the experience of many of my colleagues, is that men are judged on the best of their results, the things they have achieved and the positive leadership skills they possess. Women are judged on the things they don’t do, their personality – being too soft or not soft enough – their achievements are balanced out with criticism of what they could have done better. Women receive the message that in order to achieve they have to adapt their personality to be more like a man’s – and yet, when they do this they’re judged for not being soft enough, gentle enough… I could go on.

I’ve listened to men explain feminism to me one day, but go on to invite me to calls because they ‘need the female touch.’

I’ve mentioned before that my no always seems negotiable, but my male counterparts is not – but this goes further. I adapted the way I communicate in emails after reading advice from female leaders in the workplace (‘take out the fluff, and be more direct’) only for my male managers to have a problem with this. I don’t know any man who has been told to be softer, friendlier, or chattier in emails. It wouldn’t be appropriate. When a man is assertive it is celebrated. If a woman is…. Well, she’s a bitch and she needs to work on her people skills. If you’re independent as a man you’re showing initiative. If you do that as a female, then you are dragged back down and because you need a man to show you how to do it.

I wish I was exaggerating – but this is the experience I’ve had in many different workplaces. It’s the experience many of my friends have had. It’s the experience we need to change.

The double standard perpetuated by men that think they are feminists astounds me. These are the men that I find more dangerous than the dinosaurs that think a woman’s place is in the kitchen – because they at least are shouted down. The men that I’m talking about cannot see how they treat females differently to males, and do it in subtle, but career blocking ways. They try to tell you that standing up for yourself is wrong, that not acting in the way that they believe a woman should is wrong, that all the good work you do doesn’t count because sometimes you’re a bit grumpy.The idea that men behave perfectly at work is a myth, yet I have never spoken to a male who has been reprimanded for it in the way that females are.

Hell, I’ve seen men that shout at women be promoted, while the women are held to account for not being particularly willing to be in meetings with those shouty men again. Because for that man the ‘work’ they do is apparently so much more important than the way they act. But for women, the way they act is more important than the work.

Is it any wonder women are burning out at work much faster than men? Is it any wonder that so few women reach the top leadership positions when the standards are held so much higher?

Some companies are better than others, some men are better than others. I’ve met a couple of men who really do champion the women they work with – and when I work with them it’s amazing how much easier I find every day. It doesn’t take much to change, but it does require you to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask yourself some difficult questions.

One final thought – I read recently an article that argued that asking women to lean in was bad advice, because that’s asking them to emulate male behaviour – which is not necessarily the way to get the best results. It argued that most managers are incompetent (I wish now, I had the link) because people tend to get promoted due to their overconfidence in their ability, not because of their work standards. Promotions based on this overconfidence are not good promotions; confidence is not the trait that we should be celebrating. We don’t want more incompetent managers – male or female – we need to look more objectively at what talents people do actually have. I think once workplaces start doing this and stop only appreciating ‘male traits’, women will have a much easier path at work.

Until then, I will keep being a difficult woman, who points out when I am treated differently to the males in my work place.

In which I discover FanFiction…

Posted in Opinion, Personal
on August 28, 2017
writing-fanfiction

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been unfaithful to this blog.

I’ve been writing somewhere else.

And I’ve liked it.

I know it’s been radio silence here for a while – I’ve got about six half finished blogs I need to complete and upload, most of which are now hideously out of date. But I’ve actually, word count wise, written much more in my absence than I normally would here.

You see; I’ve been writing FanFiction. (Phew. That felt good to get off my chest).

And what’s more, people are actually reading it. (More than can be said for this blog!). And liking it. And commenting.

In a couple of months I’ve written 50K words of my story. (No. I’m not going to link. No, I’m not going to tell you what category it’s under. But, if you know me, you’ll probably be able to work it out/find it).

50k is somewhere between a third and half of a novel. And I’ve stuck with it, and I’m still going. I’m not saying it’s novel-worthy content – it certainly took me a few chapters to get into my stride – but it’s a start. It’s got me back into the swing of writing a little each night. It’s got me thinking about plot, characterisation, language (y’know, the fundamentals of writing). Most importantly, I’ve remembered the absolute joy I feel when I get lost in the midst of a plot.

So, I hear you ask, why FanFiction? Why not plunge straight back into the deep end again and start my attempt at a novel number 752?

Well partly, because I’ve run out of plot ideas after so many failed attempts at writing my novel, but that aside, I think FF is a fantastic tool for any aspiring writer.

There’s a discipline to FanFiction which you don’t necessarily have when you create everything yourself – particularly around characterisation. When characters already exist, have been established and have a large fan base there is a lot to live up to. The best FanFiction is able to get under the skin of characters someone else has created. There are some universes which have lots of character background to go from (think Harry Potter, or similar), but there are others where there are only a few episodes, or short books to go from – and in either case to be able to understand creations which aren’t your own is an art. Some of the stories I have read deserve to be published in their own right (of course, they can’t be, since they borrow other’s creations); but the quality of writing is so much higher than you often come across in the world of modern publishing. (*cough* ghostwritten books “by” celebrities to name just one, hideous, example).

Another aspect of FanFiction which is, somewhat, unusual is the convention of uploading a chapter as and when you have written it, rather than posting the whole fic in one go. (Of course, some authors have the discipline to write the whole thing first and then upload it in snippets, but they are better people than I). It’s a different, more immediate way of writing. And it also means that if you want to carry your readers along for the whole ride, you’ve got to be writing something pretty good. Back in the day, it was fairly common for books to be serialised (think Dickens’ Bleak House, which started off as a serial, and ran for 18 months – no wonder it’s so long and convoluted!). There’s something very freeing about being able to publish something as soon as you’ve finished it – without second guessing yourself too much. I’ve sat on beginnings of books for years because I’m too scared to show anyone. This removes all of that.

Which isn’t to say you don’t need to take care over the writing and editing…If the writing is poor (and yes, for all the good writing in FF, there is a lot which doesn’t quite cut the mustard); people aren’t going to subscribe to you, they won’t come back to keep reading – so there is an implied pressure to keep up the quality of your chapters. All of this is good – of course. I can normally tell if my writing is good or not, or if I’ve put out a weaker chapter, but having this confirmed is very useful. Ultimately, it’s what makes you a better writer.

And then, there’s the community; the people in the FanFiction world are great (at least all the ones I’ve come across). Writing can be very solitary at times – and it can be hard to write without distraction. Knowing that when you upload a new chapter people will comment, and “like” it, and post about it elsewhere is a very powerful motivational force. And what’s more, the majority of people won’t just give you a line or two saying ‘Great Chapter, I love it!’; they’ll give you a full critique, which often runs to paragraphs of them discussing your work. This is gold-dust as far as a writer is concerned, it’s such a valuable resource to be able to tap into.

Commenters don’t often have harsh criticism. They tend to focus on the positives (which is lovely for a delicate snowflake like myself) – but there is still a lot to be gained from this. You can look at the bits they like, and then if there’s anything they haven’t mentioned – or a repeatedly ignored section – then you can have a hard look at them again and work out why they don’t quite read properly. It puts onus on you, but it’s a good inbetween reviewing the work yourself and having a big-scary-editor type pull it apart. Plus encouragement is needed sometimes – to get yourself into the discipline of writing regularly, and in a style that people are receptive to, you do need a little boost here and there.

I’ve learnt more than I thought I would in my few months in the fanfiction world. I’m mostly flabbergasted that anyone would actually read my writing, and eternally grateful that they have. I think it really is the people, and their support which makes writing for it so enjoyable. I’d encourage anyone who’s suffering from a bit of writer’s block, or just wants to write something for fun for a change to give it ago. Get sucked in. Embrace the fictional worlds that others have created. Work out how to write other people’s characters and receive instant feedback. It may just be the inspiration you need to get you started on your bigger projects.

As for me? I’m enjoying it far too much to let go of my little tales. I’m in for the long haul.

The characters I wanted to be…

Posted in Books, Favourites, Opinion, Personal
on April 22, 2017
Characters I wanted to be

I’m playing around with the imagery I use for blog titles at the moment – expect to see a few different things until I settle on my look!

It’s hardly surprising that so many of us bookworms have a secret hankering to be one – or more – of the characters in the books we read. Escapism is a large reason for most of us reading after all. And for those of us with an over-active imagination (ahem) it’s all too easy to insert ourselves neatly into the story and rewrite chunks of the novel to suit our purposes (more on that later).

I remember doing this frequently throughout my childhood, and teens… and okay yes, still even now. (Hey, why be a grown up with a job and bills to pay when you can instead be some lovelorn heroine somewhere?).  So, here are some of the characters I remember wishing I was. Including all the embarrassing ones. Please don’t judge.

Anne of Green Gables

Lord knows why. She was always getting into scrapes, but I suppose she was good hearted and it mostly turned out alright for her. Apart from when she dyed her hair green. It was probably because I share in her tendency for bossiness.

Jo March AND Beth March

Okay, this probably needs some explanation. Really I wanted to be Beth, except she was a little bit boring and then there’s the whole bit where she dies. I liked the idea of everyone thinking I was good and nice and on some elevated level of moral high ground. BUT, what I really liked was Jo’s sense of adventure and trouble. I could definitely see myself having lots of fun with Laurie and being a writer like her… And in my version, there’s none of that German professor lark. She marries Laurie like she was meant to (Laurie may well have been my first crush – is that embarrassing?), lives in the lap of luxury over the road, and writes till her heart is content, whilst listening to Bethy play the piano. Seee? Much better than the original.

Lyra Belacqua

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m quite the fan of His Dark Materials. I love Lyra’s world of armoured bears, of witches, daemons, gyptians… I so wanted to be her, to have a best friend in Pan and to have the affection of Will Parry. Lyra is so cool. She’s fearless, adventurous and clever with a firm sense of right and wrong. Plus she’s really good at telling lies and I’ve always been rubbish at that. She garners respect from characters she encounters – characters who, we are made to understand, do not give their respect easily. She’s got an alethiometer which tells her anything she asks, she travels throughout different worlds, and she can do anything that she puts her mind to. Which is exactly why I used to wish and imagine myself as her all the time. Needless to say, I rewrote the ending of this one in my mind too – my version was much neater, much less literary but much more heart-warming (for those that have read the books, all I’ll say is all the worlds stay open in my head).

Bella Swan

Yeah, let’s move on sharpish from this one. I’m sure there was a reason why, as a 17 year old at an all girls’ school, I found the idea of having a sparkly vampire boyfriend attractive, but I can’t for the life of me remember why.

Darrell Rivers

Pre-aforementioned all-girls’ school. I think I was mostly attracted by the idea of midnight feasts and playing tricks. Needless to say I felt very short-changed when I arrived at mine.

Mildred Hubble 

Before Harry Potter came out, Mildred was my absolute hero. For a number of reasons – mostly, because she was the worst witch, and thus something I could identify with. She was also always scruffy looking – again I could definitely sympathise with. And she had a best friend called Maud, which seemed to me to be the most fantastically antiquated name ever (and therefore fantastic). I think I was just the teenie tiniest bit obsessed with magic too. Although curiously, I never fancied being Hermione. Funny that, eh?

Alice in Wonderland

Pretty inevitable really given my name and the fact that I live in the town where Lewis Carroll lived (probably only for five minutes, but why let that get in the way of a good tourist trap). Her adventures in Wonderland and through the looking glass were exciting, bizarre, intriguing and – well – filled with wonder. Aside from Carroll’s way with words (particularly poetry), I liked the idea that you could go exploring, talk to animals, grow big and small and escape the murderous queen of hearts.

So of these all, I think Lyra was the character I most desperately wanted to be, but Bella Swan occupied too much of my imagination too. (Cringe. Sorry. I know I’ve disappointed you all).  There were lots of other worlds that I wanted to be in, but these didn’t have characters I particularly wanted to be – such as Harry Potter, The Discworld, some of Marcus Sedgwick’s novels – perhaps that’s for another blog though.

Did you have any characters you wanted to be?

Cosy Comforts and Cuppas

Posted in Books, Personal
on March 27, 2017
the books in my room

I’ve been rubbish at blogging recently. Really rubbish. My goal of posting at least once a week has completely gone out of the window. My last update was on the 12th February. Whoops!

In my defence, I’ve been rather busy since then. I’ve moved house and job, and have (shockingly) a slightly longer commute than my previous seven and a half minutes. I’ve also had a few weekends away, had to repair my car (curse you small stones causing my window screen to crack) and generally found that my evenings seem a lot less free than they used to be. Oh, and I now live in a different county to my boyfriend – you’d have thought this might mean I have more time on my hands, but actually, it really doesn’t .

Anyway, my point is, I’ve been busy – not to mention adjusting to a different life. And while things have been settling down, all I’ve wanted to read are my cosy comfort books. They make me happy – but they don’t exactly make for good blog fodder. If I’m entirely honest, I’ve been listening to more audio books than actually reading much (well, I may as well make some use out of my commutes, eh?).  I’d feel like too much of a cheat if I tried to make out that I’d read any of them.

Anyway, I’ve come to the end of the month’s grace period that I gave myself. I’m pretty settled at work, and I’ve learnt to put up with the hardships of moving back in with my parents (temporarily), and all that I must endure in the way of having my laundry done for me, and meals cooked. It really is a hard life.

So I now have no excuse but to get my act together and start blogging again properly.  I have some ideas for upcoming blog posts that I’m really excited about. I love writing. I forget how much I love writing when I take a break from it, and as soon as I start again it all comes flooding back to me.  That probably makes me sound like a massive nerd. I probably am.

My new job doesn’t involve as much copywriting as my previous one; I’m more more concentrated on the other aspects of marketing. It’s exciting for me – and certainly pushing me out of my comfort zone a little. And because I’m writing less in my day to day job, I’m more excited about writing outside of work.

So now, sat in my old bedroom, surrounded by all my old books, I’m ready to talk literature, lifestyle and tea again, until I’m blue in the face.

Enjoy!