Monday, 28 December 2015

New Year's Resolutions for 2016

I wasn't sure whether or not to make any resolutions this year as frankly I feel I already have a lot on my plate with studying. Perhaps taking on five courses at once was not my brightest idea; but what's done is done, and I can only forge ahead and try not to bollocks it up too much! I eventually came to the conclusion that I can use this year's resolutions to help me better prioritise my time and bring a bit more of a sense of balance into my life, instead of feeling as though I am swaddled in to-do lists and buried under a heap of textbooks.
Crapola selfie. Looking v. serious. Was trying to work out if I can still rock the pigtails. (Decided not.)
So these are my resolutions for 2016:

  • Do my best at studying and scheduling my exams.
Ah, the greatest joy of home study - having to apply to take the exams for the courses you've already paid for. Such delights. And of course there is no exam centre in my home town. So next year I have to try to book in to sit ten to fifteen papers in summer 2017, which is already filling me with dread. And of course there's the actual studying itself, which is about a thousand times more arduous than I was anticipating and eats up both my time and my chill like Pacman on steroids. 

So this resolution is very, very simple: do my best. Not 'ace my studying' or 'make sure I book all my exams' but just have a damn good bash at it and try not to become an imploded ball of caffeine and panic. Worst-case scenario? I have to re-apply, and spend another year as a slightly morose student living on beans on toast. I'll still be better educated than I am now. So it doesn't suck.

  • Learn to play some songs on guitar.
I did learn to play a few riffs and about half a song this year, but I think me and my bleeding fingers can take this a bit further. 

  • Be my most true and authentic self.
This, I guess, is the big'un. This and the studying, anyway. Be true to myself and my opinions and values, at all times and in all things. From my wardrobe choices to not fudging it in fright when someone unexpectedly asks me, "So what music do you like?" (Seriously... does everyone do this or is this just me? I know perfectly well what bands I like, but when put on the spot I normally end up blurting something like, "Oh, well, this and that, you know...". Whyyy? Just tell people what you like. It's OK if they don't like the same stuff! And if they get snobby about it, congrats, you just found someone not worth your time.)

  • Do more witchcraft/get more in touch with my 'spiritual' side.
I tend to hedge around the topic of spirituality. I'm intensely interested in all kinds of things and I have distinct Pagan leanings, but to be honest I tend to just read avidly about stuff rather than actually grab a boline and jump in. I might start small by actually trying to notice and acknowledge moon phases, sabbats and esbats and then see where I want to take it from there. 

  • Keep writing fiction and edit my NaNovels.
One of those things that could easily be pushed aside as the studying takes over; but writing is important to me and I don't want to let it slip. Blogging is great because having an audience keeps you accountable, but I don't have an audience for my fiction and fanfiction. This is me refusing to let important things slip by the wayside in the new year. It took me a long slog to get back into fiction writing after a long lull and I am not going to repeat the performance.

  • Learn to draw/practice art.
I need to stop being bedazzled by the pretty shiny goodies in the art shop and get on with practicing the basic mechanics of drawing. I'm rusty. My art is awful. But it's such a pleasure. Even being a pathetic drawer (is draw-er a word? I wouldn't go as far as to say artist. I just do the doodles. I like to do the doodles. And yes, I have a colouring book, dammit), I get such satisfaction from it. I'd like to practice more so that one day, maybe, I can become less shit and produce a drawing that actually looks vaguely like what I wanted it to look like. 

And what about you guys? Who's making resolutions this year, and what are they? (If you're blogging about it, drop me a link!)

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Wishing You A 'Faerie' Merry Christmas

Sorry about the bad pun. I couldn't help myself.

Anyway! This is my first Christmas in the blogosphere since 2012, and I'm pleased to say I'm a little more prepared this year than I have been previously. The shopping. It is done. Well, mostly. I have a few bits and bobs outstanding, but the majority of the gifts are purchased, hints dropped and cards written. I think. I hope. *ahem*

It's going to be a weird Christmas this year. My partner and I have both had family members pass away; and he has moved house this month so we are now living the furthest apart that we ever have, and not particularly by our own choice. Circumstances: they are against us. Le sigh. *staples hand to forehead* I live in a little village just outside suburbia where the phone reception is spotty at best, but we seem to be adapting pretty well so far. It just feels a bit strange - we have lived five minutes apart for the last eleven years - and combined with a busy period at work for both of us (ah, retail) has made the festive season somewhat more fraught than usual.

Also, it is still very mild here in the south of England for the time of year (British 'mild' being relative of course, and obviously it is raining), which adds to the un-Christmassy feelings lingering around the place. I have tried to bring on some festive cheer by busting out the foul-mouthed Christmas jumpers, mince pies and Gluhwein but frankly, I'm just not feeling it yet.
Gruffalo advent calendar ^^
On the plus side, one of my best friends and her lovely fiance are expecting their first baby in January, so that's exciting. I'm getting enthusiastic about my upcoming role as Weirdest Auntie, and may be found lurking in the children's section of the bookstore looking for exciting stories about friendly monsters and witches. For the baby's benefit, obvs.

I have no idea what delights might be awaiting under the (tiny, silver) Christmas tree this year. Well, probably some books - they are my favourite, and my best. ALL the books, please. But beyond that I am clueless. My partner Dan has dropped some slightly odd hints ('smells of leather'?!), which doesn't help.

So, what about you lovelies? Are you feeling the Yuletide spirit yet? What are you hoping to find in your stocking this year? Sending you all good wishes for the season - and a happy new year of course!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fiction: Gifts for Witches

An (edited) excerpt from this year's NaNovel.
(c) Amy Townsend.

It was almost midnight.

Mel had been waiting on the end of the street for twenty minutes, the chill of the ground slowly seeping through her cherry-red Doc Martens, her breath trailing from her lips in a sparkling white haze. The latticework of the tree branches above her cast her thin pale face in starlight and shadow, like a lace tablecloth. The cold star-bright night smelt of bonfire smoke and dying fireworks, wet leaf-mulch and frostbitten grass.

She squeezed the hagstone that hung on its ragged red string around her neck, tracing its worn surface with the pads of her fingertips. The hagstone wasn’t magic. If anything, it was antimagic, a piece of nature so ancient, so stolid, that it couldn’t be charmed, cursed, tricked or fooled. Hagstones were for breaking glamours, finding things. Mel figured the only thing you couldn’t find, by looking the hole worn through its centre, was normality.

Mel had brought a backpack, heavy with an assortment of oddities. Mostly they were gifts. A more correct word, perhaps, would have been ‘offerings’, but Mel rejected the terminology of outdated deities and hippy-dippy wannabe priestesses.

In the backpack there were two perfume bottles (both green, thick vintage glass that sparkled like cats’ eyes) and two jam jars carefully washed and filled with dirt and moss and secrets on tiny torn up bits of notepaper. Witches liked secrets. For your everyday run-of-the-mill magical workings and/or application to the Wyrd, such a collection would probably have been perfectly acceptable payment.

Mel was well aware that what she was going to ask for tonight was far beyond run-of-the-mill.

So in addition to the four bottles and jars, she had also packed her diary from when she was thirteen; a ball of indigo wool with purple lurex sparkles, a suicide note she wrote in the back of a trashy paperback when she was seventeen, a handful of snail shells wrapped carefully in bubble wrap, a magpie feather that was not quite black and not quite green, and a small jar of lime marmalade.

There were other things in the backpack as well, but Mel was hoping it wouldn’t come to that.

“You’re early,” said a voice from behind her left shoulder. It was a thin voice, a wind voice, like the skittering of dead leaves across tarmac.

“No, I’m not,” Mel said. She was pleased to note that she sounded calmer than she felt. “You’re half an hour late.”

A silence. Not an absent silence, but a weighty, broody silence.

Mel rolled her eyes and turned around. There was no one there.

“I’m not falling for that, either,” she said, looking very hard at a slant of shadow between the thick trunk of the old tree and the wall of the last house. In the sickly streetlight shine, the jagged shadow might well have been a shoulder, an elbow, a long narrow hand with bony fingers. Or it might not. “What’s the matter? You can call up a storm and read the bones of the earth but you can’t tell the time?”

The witch stepped out from behind the tree.

Sort of.

What actually happened was that shadows on tree bark and dead leaves and dust and starlight shifted and congealed into the shape of a person. Mel saw this briefly, and then forced herself to unsee it. Even in Elbury, where magic walked the streets and sang in the air and sludged through the sewers like blood and piss, where you were brought up knowing – not believing but knowing – that there were faeries at the bottom of the garden, it didn’t pay to let yourself see things that your mind couldn’t possibly be expected to make sense of.

Mel had tried to use that excuse for her algebra homework one time. Hadn’t worked.

The witch took a step towards her. A car came around the corner behind them, its headlights flickering across the trunks of the slender trees lining the road and casting zoetrope shadows across the witch’s face. Mel held the witch’s gaze.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” said the witch. She had a tapestry bag slung over her arm, its colours faded with age. She stroked it absently with the other hand as she walked towards Mel, as though the bag were a restless animal she needed to comfort. Her footsteps made no sound on the brittle golden carpet of frost and leaf.

“My name’s Mel,” Mel offered awkwardly.

The witch cocked her head to one side, birdlike. “I know,” she said. Her voice was reedy and distant, like a night bird calling across a mountain lake, a thin and haunting note that made the hairs on the back of Mel’s neck stand on end.

“What do I call you?” Mel prompted. Witches were naturally curious; sometimes she wondered if they agreed to do any of the things they did just so that they could look at you, watch you, study you. It wasn’t unusual, in Elbury, to see a witch standing in the street, hypnotised by the falling rain or the steam off your coffee or dust motes dancing in a sunbeam. It made it difficult to convince them to get to the point.

The other trouble with witches was their erratic behaviour. Don’t talk to strangers was good advice on the whole, but it took on particular resonance in this town. Consorting with witches was not something that one generally did. Especially if you liked all your fingers and toes where they were and preferred not being a frog - or in an oven.

“You can call me Bijou,” said the witch. “It’s not my name. But it’ll do.”

Mel nodded.

The witch had dusky brown skin and a grey pea coat that was rather too big for her, so that she appeared to nestle in its folds like a bat wrapped in its own wings. Her hair was a cascade of dreadlocks, once dyed blue, now a faded greyish-teal. She wore a very long scarf, green and black striped, that moved with the wind, although not always in the direction it should have done. Her fingers were thin, clutching, bent like twigs.

Mel unzipped the bag, the sound unusually loud in the still night air, and took out the jars one by one, handing them over. The witch took each without word or expression, her long pointed fingers gliding over the glass. She held them close to her face, sniffed them, shook them, peered at them intently. Each one vanished into the depths of her pea coat, and she looked at Mel expectantly, waiting for more. Mel’s nerves thrummed with tension. The price for what she was asking was high. She knew that. She wouldn’t let it stop her, not now.

They took my sister, she thought, but she cut that line of thinking dead before any more words could form. Not now, not here. It was too dangerous, too raw.

The witch lifted her head abruptly in a sharp, jerky motion and sniffed at the air, her nostrils flaring. “Angry thoughts,” she whispered. “Desperation. And fear… a bitter brew. Delicious. Delicious.” She leaned towards Mel, angling herself downwards like a heron pecking at weeds, her face all angles.

Mel breathed slowly and deeply and tried not to make any sudden movements. She was suddenly far too hot in her winter coat. “You know what I’m asking?" she said softly. "You know why I came?”

Bijou looked down at her. The lines of her face now seemed predatory, and her mouth was pulled into a thin white line. “I know why you came.” The words were an exhalation, almost a sigh. “I can help you. Of course I can. But… far safer for you to simply… forget.”

“No. I can’t forget. I won’t forget.” Impatient, Mel offered up the lime marmalade next, breaking the tension, and Bijou hummed and nodded in what might have been approval.

Then the snail shells. Bijou accepted them carefully, her sharp fingernails pricking the pustules of the bubble wrap as she transferred them gingerly to an inside pocket of her voluminous coat. The diary, its pink cover sickly orange under the streetlights, a year’s worth of pre-teen secrets and outpourings, lipstick kisses and bad poetry. The suicide note, which the witch pressed to her face; inhaled deeply. The feather.  The wool.

The wool went into the tapestry bag. Mel was careful to look away when the bag was opened and she kept her gaze averted until it was closed.

There were all sorts of witches. They did mostly the same thing, to be fair, but they went about it in different ways. There were cyber witches, who drew their magic from the clacking of keys and the sizzle of circuit boards. There were city witches, who walked widdershins down alleyways and drew sigils in spray paint. There were not many kinds of witch who carried their power in a tapestry bag, which wriggled, like a kitten, when it thought Mel wasn’t looking.

Mel thought about asking what sort of witch she was hiring, but she didn’t know how to phrase the question without giving offense and she had a feeling she’d be happiest not knowing. She wanted three things, three very simple things, really – an answer, a map, and a key.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Riot Dorrrk

So recently I plopped the words 'riot dorrrk' into the middle of my blog header (Writer. Riot Dorrrk. All-Round Odd Duck - in case I change it in the future). ('Punk rock and magic' was my other option but since I haven't yet spoken about punk rock or magic it seemed pretty redundant. Just kinda liked it, you know?) Riot dorrrk was a phrase I came up with when I was thinking about my own 'style', such as it is, and values, and I thought I'd just explain it a little more and see if anyone else is on board with me here.

As a feminist, and an alternative music and style enthusiast I've always had an interest in the riot grrrl movement of the 90s. In my post-Goth identity-crisis wasteland, searching for a new thing to latch on to, I found the term coming up a lot. So when I was looking for a blog tagline, riot grrrl was in the forefront of my mind.

I'm fascinated by riot grrrl. I can't help but admire a movement that told young girls they have a voice and a right to take up space. I was born at around the time the movement was developing so obviously it was never something I was personally involved in. (The closest I ever came, I guess, was putting out a few issues of a fairly crap zine when I was about thirteen or fourteen - under the pen name Milo - but only a small circle of friends got copies, and I don't imagine any still exist. Zines, that is, not friends.)

But whilst I love the ideas and drive behind the movement, I shied away from linking myself directly with the label. Even had I been of an age to take part in the movement when it was at its peak, I think I was probably - frankly - too square. I'm not saying that in a self-deprecatory way; I mean that I am introverted, bookish and not what you could call a party animal, a world apart from, for example, Kathleen Hanna of seminal band Bikini Kill, selling weed in high school. I probably would have thought about going to a gig or starting a local chapter and then chickened out and read a book instead. I'm sure there are quiet, shy, nerdy would-be riot grrrls (or would-have-been, I guess. The riot grrrl movement was widely considered to have bitten the dust in the mid-90s, although many of today's young feminists are still using the term - and why not?) out there; I've just never been lucky enough to meet any!

However, one thing I am quite happy to call myself is a dork. And thus riot dorrrk was born; I am a feminist, but also a bit of a weirdo nerd.

You Might Be A Riot Dorrrk If:

  • you are a feminist
  • you like alternative fashion and punk rock
  • you support the body positivity movement
  • you self-identify as a nerd (geek, dork, whatevs. I coulda gone the 'riot nerrrd' route but I didn't think it had the same ring. Also 'dork' sounds goofier and I am pretty goofy.)
  • you own more than one pair of superhero pants (this is optional but recommended.)

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Inspiration Station: 10/12/15

I used to do these round-up posts on my older blogs, and I still enjoy seeing them all over the blogosphere, so I thought it was high time I did another of my own. I really enjoyed Ramona's monthly Random post at Just Keep BRAINS!, so I've taken a similar approach.

Articles I've Enjoyed

These have been floating around in my bookmarks tab for goodness knows how long. 

Rebuilding your Wardrobe on a Budget: What to Buy First
This post from Into Mind is pretty in-depth. Whilst the example wardrobe used is a world away from my own personal 'style', I did find this very helpful in allaying wardrobe panic and random spends during my recurring fashion dilemmas. Helpful at on good days and downright sanity-saving on bad ones.

4 Danger Signs to Search For, Before Sending Off Your Novel
5 Ways to Keep Me Reading Your First Chapter
I'm in no position to send my half-baked NaNo word vomit anywhere for a long, long time, but the above articles are both fun and interesting, with some great tips.

A Punk Rock Approach to Living the Life of Your Dreams
I look back at this article whenever I need to be told to embrace my weirdness and ignore people. It's got the usual cheerleadery stuff about pushing through fear and taking risks, which I can get pretty 'meh' about, but radical self-love is a great concept and I adore Gala Darling's wise words in general.

Where Personal Values Meet Personal Style
Some good, heartfelt stuff about getting comfortable with who you are.

Recommended Reading
  • Rat Queens Vol 1: Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Weibe and Roc Upchurch
  • The Neon Court by Kate Griffin
  • The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd

Listening To
  • I Am the Walrus - Spooky Tooth (cover)
  • (You're the) Devil in Disguise - Elvis Presley
  • What the Water Gave Me - Florence and the Machine
  • RU Mine? - Arctic Monkeys
  • Lean On - Major Lazer

Lusting Over

Geeking Out
Vin Diesel confirms new Riddick film (ssh, no judgies, we all have our problematic faves, don't we?).
This most excellent Labyrinth spoof. Entitled Crotch Magic Crotch. You're welcome.

Style: Icons and Current Ponderings
  • Von Monsta remains perfect.
  • Rabbit Heart is a talented artist and craftslady with incredible personal style.
Kind of contemplating new hair for the new year. Mayyybe. Thinking of a funky colour again. My current colour is flattering but I feel a little too... ordinary? Something like this would be amazing, but, eek, the upkeep. >.<

My Month
I'd just like to thank MS Paint and my trusty print screen key.
L-R: messy hair and a mug full of rum'n'coke. New blog sub-header thingie. Good stuff on the cards. Scarf, tatts and pearls. Dorky winter hat selfie. New tattoo.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Feminism, Beauty Standards and Me

Ten years ago I hated the way I looked. I thought I was fat. I thought I was ugly. I thought that having bad skin and flat hair made me not only unlikeable but scarcely worthy of personhood. Like many young people of a similar age, I obsessed about it. I starved. I binged. I created weird food rituals. I exercised continually. I asked for a treadmill for Christmas. I spent a fortune on lotions and potions for my skin, my hair, my imaginary cellulite. I wrote endless lists of ways to improve myself. One that I wrote, aged thirteen-ish, includes the bullet point, 'get boob job'.

For a teenage girl, this wasn't unusual. An awful lot of my friends were doing the same thing.

In my mid-teens I discovered Goth and alternative fashion. This gave me a new focus, and it took me a few more years to realise that covering your issues with make-up is not the same as confronting them. There was a stage in my life when I wouldn't go outside without make-up on. I was happy to spend an hour just on my hair and make-up in the mornings, because I didn't feel 'acceptable' without it. Oh, the irony, when I was relating to subcultures that were spawned from punk, the original fuck-you to standards of appearance laid out by society and the media.

At the time, I didn't realise that my obsession with my clothes, hair and make-up was, for me, a different symptom of the same problem. I was still spending an enormous chunk of my time - and money - fussing over my appearance. I thought that because I was eating three square meals a day, and had the confidence to wear weird clothes in public, that I was OK. The fact that I still hated the person I was underneath, the face I was born with, somehow didn't even register with me.

At around the time I drifted out of the Goth scene, I discovered body positivity. I had always considered myself a feminist - of course I believed in equal rights for women - but I had never stopped to think what it really meant. Not just to me, personally, but in general. If feminists were fighting for equal rights, what were they fighting against?

One of the issues raised by feminism, I learned, was one that had taken up a large portion of my teen years - beauty standards. The more I read up, the more I became horrified that it had just genuinely never occurred to me that there was more to my life than what I looked like. I was so inwardly-focused that all my interests revolved around how I looked, down to reading, almost exclusively, books with characters who dressed the same way as me.
A wild dork appears
Don't get me wrong. I care about how I look. I like to look good. But I'm trying to accept that my idea of 'good' is not necessarily going to be anyone else's idea of good. Trying to teach myself to be a bit more, well, punk rock about it. I like graphic tees, jeans, army boots, messy hair, yesterday's smudgy eyeliner, tattoos. I'd rather have an extra ten minutes in bed than bother blow-drying my hair. I have precisely zero interest in being 'ladylike'.

It's 2015. I can be a mess if I want to.

With this in mind, I have created some goals for myself, for the coming year.

  • Stop buying clothes that I don't need. My wardrobe is spilling over and I don't wear half of it. Thanks to several years' worth of ruthless clear-outs, most it now is practical, useful stuff that I actually like, so I'd rather start making the most of what I've got than keep trying to 'retail therapy' my way to happiness. If retail therapy actually worked I'd be a lot more well-adjusted by now.
  • Try to occasionally eat a vegetable. (I don't count calories any more but I do predominantly eat crappy beige food out of microwaveable packets.)
  • No body shame. No bad self-talk. 
  • Try to stop comparing myself to other people. I am really bad with this. Other women being amazing can make me feel quite insecure. But we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. 
  • If any of my friends put themselves down, give them a dead arm. (Not literally. Assaulting your buddies is bad. But I do get cross when my fantastic friends keep calling themselves ugly or stupid and I refuse to join in with the self-hate or act like it's OK.) 
  • Stop staring in the mirror looking for new faults. Go and read a comic book instead. Limit mirror time, because I get obsessive and weird about it. (When I do find myself staring into the mirror, I like to break the tension by winking at myself and then start doing pirate impressions. Makes me feel good. Don't know why.)
  • Don't be afraid of goofy selfies. Try to be authentic, not perfect.
  • Moar journalling. Moar art. Moar yoga. Moar DIY.

Please feel free to join me in my quest for epic body positive riot grrrl woman-ness, or share your own advice/thoughts/ideas/experiences.
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