BioShock Infinite

This is a love letter. A love letter to one of the most beautiful and engaging games I’ve ever played.

For a while I thought maybe BioShock Infinite was the best thing that ever happened to me, which is a commentary on how enamoured I was with the narrative but, I’ll admit, mostly on the fact I’m poorly adjusted.

For a long time, if someone asked me what my favourite game was I’d say Doom – arguably one of the most iconic, landmark moments in the history of gaming – or Assassin’s Creed 2, because Ezio, da Vinci and free running. But then BioShock Infinite came along and I found myself having conversations in my head: ‘Yeah, Doom, you were a childhood staple and I still hear demons grunting when I close my eyes, you were a literal game changer, buuuuuut you didn’t have an anachronistic Beach Boys barbershop quartet.’ And I think a lot of games fall foul of that same mistake. Sure, Dark Souls is great but it’s severely lacking in 60’s rock covers. There aren’t enough Good Vibrations in Civ V.

So, BioShock Infinite, I want to tell you that from the moment I entered a lighthouse until the final moments of the DLC, I was enraptured. I don’t care about the supposed plot holes because who really knows what would fucking happen: there are no rules, no real rules. Besides, I’ve seen an argument for everything, from Comstock to Burial‘s restrictions. It’s all constants and variables. And I fucking love you.

I love that the narrative was so intricately woven that I was rendered speechless as the credits rolled. That when I’ve watched other people play it, because I immediately sought to watch others experience what I had just gone through, they were equally as stunned. There are layers in BioShock Infinite that supersede the plot in a lot of movies, and this is all the more impressive because key moments aren’t found in laboured cut scenes, they’re effortlessly blended into the gameplay.

I love that BAC wasn’t a cash-grab detrimental to the main game, but instead enhanced it, undoubtedly gratifying fans of the wider series.

I love that you made me nostalgic for Columbia, a time and place that I’ve never been to, that has never existed.

I love that you gave me real characters, three-dimensional characters who grew and changed, characters I wanted to protect and characters I wanted to see suffer, who weren’t just vehicles for action.

I love you because you inevitably shit over any remaining argument that video games aren’t art.

I love that on the second play through everything is different, from the big things to the small: from the vigors you favour to the moment you linger longer on Battleship Bay, just to watch her dance… just to see her happy.

BioShock Infinite, I love you. And also fuck you because now everything else seems a bit shit in comparison…

… at least until Dishonored 2.

 

 

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I Can’t Recommend You Anything

I am bemused every time a stranger asks me to recommend them something to read. And that might sound like a severely infrequent occurrence, and it probably is for most people, but anyone with an online following has probably been asked this question once or twice. Multiply that number for anyone who reviews books. And add a few more to it when you get your own published.

It’s normal, natural.

David Bowie compiled a list of his favourite books and I immediately saved the link for monthly reference. I want to know which books David Foster Wallace loved. I want to know what Richard Ayoade and David Mitchell read before bed. I want to know because these are people I admire, people who I think would make smart and interesting choices. People I respect.

Conversely, sometimes I see book recommendations from people I follow on Twitter and I add it to my ignore pile. We’re not the same. If they loved it, it probably isn’t for me. It’s kind of an asshole thing to say but there are too many good books and not enough good days, so any process to whittle the choice down, however arbitrary, feels excusable.

I get it, though. I get why people who watch my videos might be interested in my recommendations. Maybe they relate to me. Maybe they, for whatever misguided reason, find me interesting. Maybe they have simply enjoyed my past recommendations – I do have great taste. But, by the same token, I’d never ask Richard Ayoade or David Mitchell to recommend a book to me, personally, because they have no idea who I am.

If someone asks me to recommend them a book, and they’re just an online handle with a tiny photo, then I can’t. I can’t adequately recommend them a book. I know nothing about them. When we recommend books to friends or family, we tailor those recommendations to the individual. If I read a book and I adore it, I won’t then recommend it to everyone I know. I’ll recommend it to specific people. Those who will get the most out of it. Interesting historical fiction? That’s for Jim. A digestible, philosophical perspective on life? That’s Myles. A funny picture book? Where’s Arun at? I can’t recommend you a book if I do not know you, I can simply regurgitate my own selfish preferences. My own, biased proclivity towards bitter, existential rambling from metaphysically tortured white men. And no one needs a signal boost on that shit.

So, I can tell you what I love. I do tell you what I love. I have. There are book videos on my channel talking about my favourite reads. There’s no secret information I’m keeping back. No hidden gems. But I can’t tell you what to read if I don’t know you. I think reading is a personal experience; every novel means something different to each person who reads it. Maybe you’re twelve. Maybe your issues are huge. Maybe you’re struggling with an abusive home life. Maybe you’re not, maybe you just like ponies and pokemon. Maybe you’re fifty and you love knitting or curling and still go clubbing on the weekends, which is perfectly fine, but you feel kind of down about the stigma attached to it and the looks you get. Maybe you’re thirty, you’re a passionate stockbroker with a baby on the way. Maybe you’re all or none of these people. I can’t just throw Knut Hamsun’s Hunger at you and hope for the best.

When We Were Assholes: In Defence of Context

Our social climate is perpetually changing, whether it’s the trudge towards racial equality, LGBTQ+ rights, or the proliferation of the emoji, there’s a constant intangible evolution of the way we interact with and respond to one another. And this has never been more closely documented than within the last ten years, with the advent of social media.

The minutiae of the changes in political correctness can be traced in timelines. Personal timelines. Individual Twitter feeds trace the death of taboos. The birth of social justice. And the homogenisation of what we consider appropriate.

And this is a good thing. It’s a great thing that I don’t see hard F’s in friends timelines after 2012. But they were there before. They were definitely there before.

In light of the recent Tobuscus allegations, people have been highlighting multiple tweets he sent in 2008. For example:

CaptureAnd yeah, that’s abhorrent in 2016. But how was it eight years ago? How was it when all we had been exposed to was endless comedians throwing the topic around and only a sea of dodgy online forums to meet strangers in? It wasn’t great but, unfortunate as it may be, it was probably par for the course.

Here’s something absolutely fucking stupid I tweeted in 2011:

mmI didn’t really mean rape, did I? I meant rough sex with someone powerful I’m attracted to. But I’ve flippantly used the word rape, and none of the ~300 or so followers I had at the time batted an eyelid.

Yesterday I wrote a blog post called Have I Been Raped? which seriously discussed both my own experience with rape and the nature of witch hunts on social media. But I didn’t tweet it out. Why? Because I was worried there would be backlash for tweeting the word rape on a public forum, even in this legitimate context. I didn’t want to upset anyone. This is 2016. This is my 2016 perspective. The above tweet was 2011. The above tweet was my 2011 perspective.

Here’s another 2011 tweet from someone else who, in 2016, is considered a good guy and a vocal advocate of consent:

dumdedo10aBecause, guess what? Shit was different back then. Today, discussions around what is and what is not accepted can spread faster and garner more awareness than they ever have before. This is an exponential growth. Regardless of whether or not Toby is innocent or guilty, a terrible joke made by anyone in 2008 shouldn’t speak as a complex testament to their character in 2016, or maybe we’d all be assholes. I know I would.

Here’s another disgusting thing I tweeted, in 2010:

2Body shaming. Would I tweet the above today? No fucking way. Did I receive any backlash for tweeing it in 2010? No fucking way.

Things change. 

One of these developments is endlessly encouraging and one is a shackle to the past.

Now this post isn’t in defence of anyone or anything other than context. And, of course, some people have tweeted abhorrent shit in the past: revolting, racist, homophobic, misogynistic shit, and it wasn’t a weak joke. They genuinely believed it. Some still tweet it today, but most have learned to keep it private.  Especially those with an audience and something to lose. But some of us were just your nice, normal jerks living in 2010.

Full disclosure, here’s some more of my shitty rap sheet:

6This one isn’t particularly incriminating, it’s just not something I’d tweet now I’m followed by people who know me. And also gross.

1Casually tweeting about drug use.

3More body shaming and, again, also gross.

jk

This isn’t really slut shaming because, well, I’m there and with all the rest of my tweets it’s clearly not, but I’m also making a joke at the expense of teens responsible enough to get themselves tested.

I don’t really like the person from those tweets. She seems like an utter cunt. But she’s me. And I know the context, personally and culturally, so I can dismiss it. I’m sure that’s infinitely harder to do from an outsider’s perspective, but if you’re reading this you probably know me quite well. You know I’m an advocate for equality, for self-confidence, for inner beauty, and self-expression, whatever form that is, and fuck anyone who tells you otherwise. But I still tweeted that shit. I didn’t like my housemate so I took easy swipes at him. For two years all I did was drink and ‘party’ because I was depressed and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing with my life, so that’s all I had to talk about. And I did. Online. Where you joined me in the future.

These days, almost our entire lives are uploaded. Every thought. Every mistake. Every collective and personal mistake. And as the timeline gets longer the past will become more and more warped.

A tweet does not a villain make, and our pasts do not define us – cultural guilt and the weight of history hanging heavy – we’re all moving forward together.

 

Trigger Warnings | Rant

I’ve been annoyed by YouTube lately, which annoys me in itself, because why should I really care about a platform predominately filled with creators making content for an audience younger than one I’d be genuinely interested in reaching? And I think the reason is twofold. 1) I am pissed off with myself that I make this shitty vanilla content because that’s the safe expected thing to do, and 2) because I see other people falling into the same trap.

The other day I became irrationally irritated by a Twitter conversation I wasn’t involved in. I saw TomSka tweeting with reference to a Tumblr post expressing disappointment with him for making a suicide joke in a video. I completely empathised with Tom’s point – to put a trigger warning on the video would ruin the comedic punches. He then sent a series of tweets trying to find a workaround for this problem in future videos, and some of the replies were infuriating.

And I’m wondering if it’s the platform. Or the audience.

Tom has built an audience of kids/teens because that’s the prime demo his content appeals to. If Tom had only ever made adult content, would he still be suffering backlash from that joke? Would he have grown a different audience? Would he have an audience who expect, enjoy, and respect comedians who don’t find anything off limits, other than the approach?

I am someone who believes comedy can and should be about anything, providing the joke is targeting the right element, e.g. don’t make a rape joke about the victim, and if you’re going to make a rape joke make sure the message is clever enough that it doesn’t come off as a cheap vehicle for laughs.

None of my favourite comedians work with trigger warnings, and what’s more I doubt their audience has ever even considered asking them to. Imagine Doug Stanhope opening a set with trigger warnings; it would take him fifteen minutes to reel off every taboo subject he covers in that hour alone.

So I’m wondering, should Tom just start making whatever content he wants and let the right audience find him? One that doesn’t stifle him or pressure him into making ‘safe’ comedy?

Whilst I don’t understand what it is like to be triggered, I’m not against trigger warnings. I completely understand that someone who has suffered trauma could be upset by an unexpected reminder or callous discussion. That said, I do think that people take trigger warnings too far, and the line is far too grey and subjective for me to even begin to make an argument for where it should be. It’s impossible for any one person to say, and no one person should get to decide.

However, if there are creators who don’t want to be held accountable to an audience who need to know the time stamps of the jump scares in a Five Nights at Freddy’s video, then they should simply start making content that those people won’t watch. They need to ask themselves what is more valuable: a large, broad audience, or an audience that enjoys the kind of content they find fulfilling to make? I am sure there are people who don’t watch (for example) Tom’s content because they find it too tame, but would probably love the stuff he would make if he didn’t feel any responsibility to the vocal minority of his current audience.

Don’t flirt with making it a safe space. If people know it is not safe they will stay away, giving you both freedom.

(That said maybe Tom would make exactly the same stuff in the same way, I am only using him as an example as of his prominent, recent Twitter discussion. I don’t know Tom. I am not speaking for Tom)

Recently, I was also frustrated by the #WeStandWithZoe shenanigans, for so many, many reasons. I saw many people using the hashtag as an excuse to tweet sexualised selfies. Obviously some people were casual and legit. But I saw a whole group of people, who usually tweet pictures of themselves every day, frothing at the excuse to tweet a panty pic. Zoe had a small portion of hip showing, but these narcissists were showing the whole thing, trying to look as sexy as possible, completely missing the point. Want to drive home that The Sun were being absurd with their remarks? Tweet ironically with too many clothes on, don’t turn it into something arguably sexual. Don’t turn it into something so sexual you then have to backtrack and ask that girls under the age of 18 don’t follow your example. I saw a bunch of SJW types eagerly tweeting pics, so wrapped up in this opportunity to finally reveal some body, that they ignored the fact they were encouraging their huge YOUNG teen followings into tweeting softcore underage porn. But where’s the uproar about this? About these poor-intentioned idiots actually causing a sleazy trend?

Not to mention all the fucking free advertising they gave The Sun… Jesus Christ. Congratulations on playing right into their hands, guys.

And this frustrates me because Tom is held accountable for making a joke personal enough to him that he feels ownership of it. That he feels he has the right to make.

I was talking to a friend as these two incidents were going on, both of us refraining from pointlessly throwing more public noise into the mix, about how we feel we can’t make jokes about our own depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or self harm, even though it is part of our lives, just because it will upset someone online and we don’t want to have to deal with that shit. We joke about it ALL THE TIME in real life. It’s part of who we are. But we’re censored online. We’re censored from making jokes about the shit we’ve experienced and continue to experience. Censored from being ourselves. Meanwhile, the same people who signal boost TRIGGER WARNINGS at every opportunity are encouraging an online tag for paedo bait.

Intent matters.

I am not doing what I wish Tom (and everyone in the same position) would do. I am not just making the content I want to make and seeing where the pieces fall. And I am a hypocrite for that.

This YouTube Has Content On It | Rant

So, Adult Swim is a mixed bag of treats. Some are amazing and some rot the fuck out of your teeth, but it brought us Rick and Morty so, as far as most of the internet is concerned, it has a free pass to shit down our throats from here on out because JOB DONE, FOREVER.

Today I watched Alan Resnick’s This House Has People In It after the disgracefully addictive online irritant, Max Landis, tweeted his admiration for it. This House Has People In It hasn’t gone the way of Unedited Footage of a Bear just yet, and it probably doesn’t quite have that viral capacity, but it’s great.

It’s so good that I just sat through over 90 minutes of Night Mind arguably unravelling the ambiguity of its narrative, glitches and Easter eggs. That said, I’ll watch Night Mind unravel a lot of things because I like unravelling, and I also admire a thorough touch which presents the sense of a vigilant, behind the scenes admin process. Dude’s definitely got some thriving Evernote boards.

But what This House Has People In It really drove home for me wasn’t in its clever, innovative, quirky comedy-horror, instead it highlighted what YouTube could be if its creators looked outwards instead of inwards. Obviously, Adult Swim is a cable network with a YouTube channel, but that’s entirely beside the point. I think a lot of the short films and more “creatively” positioned videos on YouTube are simply narcissistic, public masturbation. WRITTEN BY, DIRECTED BY, AND STARRING ME AND MY FRIENDS AS CHARACTERS A LOT LIKE US, ALSO LOOK AT THE KOOKY COLOUR GRADING, LOOK, LOOK, THE COLOUR IS THERE AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR TALENT AND SUBSTANCE. But this, this is a movie that anyone could have made on a few webcams with some friends. Anyone talented. Anyone talented who took some time away from attempting to hide their shallow, philosophically bankrupt husks behind some faux-deep, Tumblr-edge, cheap, artistically troubled, YA persona. Or really just anyone who tried to have an idea that didn’t seep with self-centred grease.

Now I’m not talking about the gurus, or the run of the mill vloggers, or comedians, or the gamers, I’m talking about the people who need to reference film somehow in their Twitter bios. Filmmaker. Director. Screenwriter. Etc etc etc. I’m sick of seeing “creative” videos by “filmmakers” that are simply attempting to concoct an interesting character for themselves. I want to see real people – real, impressive, people – creating something other than a fake persona. Other than some weird fucking romanticised versions of themselves. Edits should be about crafting a film not crafting a personality. I don’t want to watch a six-minute selfie. Have a fucking idea. Have an idea and impress people that way. Do you know who I immediately found incredibly interesting today? Do you know who I immediately wanted to invest time in and watch the work of? Fucking Alan Resnick. Not someone who painstakingly edited pensive shots of themselves together with regurgitated, trite, laboured over sound-bites.

 

Am I If I Don’t?

Most of my thoughts that don’t immediately lend themselves to a jocund, asinine YouTube video just get a quiet shrug; however, they occasionally persist, soaking up vital synaptic RAM. So, as I also consider the internet to be like my brain’s external hard drive, this is a great place to store the files that don’t fit anywhere else but can’t be deleted because of nostalgia, or because without them Adobe will stop working.

This might make me seem like an asshole but the truth often does that to people.

I consider myself to be many things but also very few. For example, I’m a feminist. I’m a feminist because I believe in equal rights for everyone. I’m all over big picture feminism, sure: rape culture is repugnant, slut shaming is hypocritical, etc. It frustrates me. It disgusts me. But am I a feminist? I don’t go to protests. I don’t make a point of actively supporting female creators or politicians. In fact, I read mostly men; all my favourite books are written by men. Most of my favourite films are directed by men, and I sincerely doubt a majority of them pass the Bechdel test. As someone who has frequently reviewed and recommended films online, I have received many requests along the lines of, ‘What are your favourite films by female directors?’ and rolled my eyes. My favourite films are my favourite films irrespective of the creator. Why do you want to know my favourite films directed by women? To me, with a passion that lies exclusively with film, recommending movies made by women is as arbitrary as recommending movies that feature the colour red. It’s not a genre or era. It’s just a happens to be.

And I know this isn’t the ‘right’ response. I understand why someone would make a ‘Favourite films directed by women’ list. I understand why they wouldn’t then make a ‘Favourite films directed by men’ list. It frustrates me that a ‘strong female character’ is still something to marvel over. I hate the MPDG. But outside of the fabric of the movie, it doesn’t interest me. Film is what interests me. And as a woman, I feel that sometimes these requests made to me aren’t authentic. They’re the judging yeah but… comments.

I’m giving films directed by women the exact same consideration as films directed by men. The same critical criteria. There are less films directed by women, yes, and that’s fucking frustrating but historically relevant and ever (albeit slowly) changing, but for me it still doesn’t constitute a category. There shouldn’t be a Best Female Director Academy Award. It could be argued that the Best Actress Academy Award should eventually be made redundant. We’re all only eagerly awaiting the real actor award anyway…

So, I’m a feminist by the definition of the word, but am I a feminist?

In the current US political storm, I’m supporting Bernie Sanders. I’m British, but I have the t-shirt. I agree with a lot of his policies, I’ve done the research, I think he’s a respectable guy. A good guy. But, conversely, I haven’t done much research into the other candidates. I simply think Hillary isn’t capable of leading a country and Trump has a lot of questionable ethics. But I’m ultimately ignorant, so I’m not going to go publicly trashing either of them. And I can’t even vote for Bernie, so do I support him?

I’m pro-animal rights. If I had one wish I’d eliminate animal cruelty, and everyone would send me death threats because it isn’t world peace. I get it. It would be a fucking dumb choice, but it’s also a hypothetical one so who gives a shit. I’m one of those assholes who can watch some human atrocity online and feel very little. Not because I don’t care, or from an inherent lack of empathy, but the detachment of the screen. The modern sickness. If it were to happen in front of me I’d be overwhelmed but video nasties are more common than reaction videos. Shit, video nasties spawn reaction videos, so we’re all comfortably numb. However, if I see the thumbnail for an animal cruelty video, I’ll cry. I’ll get angry. I’ll wish a slow, painful death upon the perpetrator, and fuck if that link isn’t staying blue. If I won the lottery I’d live on a farm with as many rescue dogs as possible. I eat only free range eggs. But that’s it. I’m not a huge meat eater, but I don’t know where a lot of the meat I do eat comes from. So, I’m pro-animal rights, but am I?

And that’s the thing with defining yourself, what are you if you don’t? Because if I’m only what I actively and overtly do, I am very few adjectives.

And I’m not even sure I want to be adjectives.

Gender & Me

I’m probably going to make a video about this because that’s where most people asking the questions will be, but for now I’ll talk about gender here so I can respond to any tweets and comments about it with a link instead of an irritated regurgitation when the question may be wholly innocent.

I am female. I wrote a book in which all three protagonists are male and, as an author, I used gender neutral initials instead of my name. WHY, WHY DID I DO THIS, AM I THE PATRIARCHY?! No, and there isn’t always a fight to eagerly masturbate over whilst using flimsy rhetoric spewed out from behind your anonymous online handle. I am a feminist but I am also disgusted with outrage culture. There are many valid battles to be had, but I see a plethora of smug, ill-considered attacks littering my online landscape every day (not against myself, but against other people), and I believe they undermine the real issues. They give something for the extremists on the other side of feminism (or racism, or LGBTQ+ rights, or classism, or, or, or…) to cite as an example of how absurd these social justice warriors are and, in doing so, they get to side step the real argument and dismiss ALL feminists as shrill man-haters.

If someone genuinely makes a mistake, or says something quickly and without thought which clearly isn’t meant to encompass their entire political or social beliefs, then sure, if you want to highlight that to them, do.

I made a video a few years ago which provides a great example. It’s a response to another video I saw which requested women make better content online. I saw the video and thought, hey, I’ll respond to this with something that’s a bit fun but also acknowledges that it was poorly worded. I’m smiling in it, I’m being theatrical. It’s not an angry attack nor is it something I spent much time on. But that’s not my point. In the video I say something like, ‘Just because I have a vagina doesn’t mean I can’t be funny,‘ or something, I can’t recall, but whatever I said I equate having a vagina with being a woman. It was never meant to represent my stance on gender vs sex, or the trans community. It was something ignorant that slipped out whilst I was trying to support another kind of equality. This was before there had been so much online discussion about what it means to be trans, so I wasn’t overtly aware of how offensive that might seem, whether I meant it that way or not. These days I’d never make such a comment by accident because I have an increased awareness due to proud, educational, and brave online voices. I’m aware of always being inclusive because I know a trans woman is a woman, to me there shouldn’t even be an argument. But when I made that video and someone highlighted my offensive statement, I was genuinely apologetic. I was trying to make a positive point and accidentally hurt a group of people. It wasn’t a snide attack hidden within a video, it was ignorance. And not the wilful kind.

I still remember receiving a lovely private message from someone quoting what I’d said and explaining the issue, and I replied apologising and discussing how it didn’t represent my views in any way. I also got some comments on the video along the same lines, and I replied to those too. But then there were angry comments, how dare you comments, and I had no time for those. And that’s my example. There’s a difference between someone who hasn’t had any experience with something, who accidentally alienates a group of people with an inadvertent lack of inclusivity, and someone who hatefully and wilfully discriminates. And maybe look, too. Maybe look to see if they’ve already been told ten times, if they’ve already apologised or explained they made a mistake.

Then there are the other breed. There are those who scour the internet, rubbing their hands together, analysing every tweet, looking for something to be loudly self-righteous about. Something to garner positive attention from those who blindly retweet any ‘injustice’ without research. These people are doing it because they love to hate, to be angry, to be loudly aggrieved by the perceived marginalisation of a group they don’t belong to. And they’re not helping anyone.

Educate someone who missteps, but battle against hate.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into an essay on the issues of uncoordinated groups of people arguing online. I meant to address the simple questions listed above. So I will.

– Three male protagonists??
Yep. Three male protagonists. Why? Because I wanted them all to be the same gender, for style and a cohesive theme, and women weren’t allowed to go to war. The novel spans from the 1930s to 2012. The first chapter with Bobby as a kid contrasts him with his father, who was in WWI. Later, as a teenager, Bobby has to negotiate his own feelings about WWII and the possibility of fighting. It’s that simple.

– Gender neutral initials?? (and other thoughts)
Yep. When I was writing When We Were Alive I didn’t think, ‘How would a man react?’ I just thought, ‘How would that character react?’ This is because I don’t personally associate with being female. I don’t associate with being male, either. I’m not confessing anything, there’s nothing to confess. The only strong associations I have with being female are based around my sexuality, e.g. I wear make up, but that’s part of my sexuality, and I don’t inherently feel that I’m in the wrong body. I know I am a female because I am lucky enough to feel right in my body. That’s it. If I was in a male body I would still be 90% me and I’d be gay. I just don’t know what being female is meant to mean, I don’t think it should immediately indicate anything specific, and neither should being male. I don’t understand gender themed interests. If someone said, ‘I like knitting, cooking, and flower arranging,’ there would probably be an assumption they were female. I don’t like any of those things. I don’t like football or cars or hunting, either. I like writing, art, comedy, video games, reading, and movies. The same as everyone else.

In the book I am currently writing, I have another three protagonists: two men and one woman. One of those characters originally had a name indicating they were a different gender. I changed the name, but changed nothing else. This is because their gender had no bearing on the thoughts they were having or their reactions to the situations they had been in so far. If I was writing a feminine character, or a character from a different time, of course I’d perhaps add nuances to their thoughts. I have supporting characters who are more stereotypically male or female, but the people I’m writing about in this new novel (so far) aren’t defined by gender, and therefore their name was arbitrary. If I’m writing a scene about two people having a conversation about time travel at a pub, whether or not they tick male or female when applying for jobs should be irrelevant.  Gender only comes into play when there is a situation, social or otherwise, that distinguishes them. E.g. walking down an alley at night, when being flirted with, needing to pee in a public place.  I guess the best way I can describe it is that inwardly I am just me, outwardly I am female. Alone I am me, in public I am female.

When I originally sent my MS to my publisher, before I signed with them, I used initials. This is my personal preference. Not because I think it matters, but because when I read a book I don’t want to know anything about the author. I want no preconceived notions. Black, white, male, female, poor, homophobic, I just want to read a book. If I love it, then I’m interested. Ultimately I could hate the author and love their writing, or love the author and hate their writing. To me it’s irrelevant. My personality, or how I present myself online, is not meant to represent what I write. There will always be crossovers, but online I’m this squeaky creature who acts like a tit but litters inane rambles with allusions to depression. When We Were Alive isn’t funny. It’s not my personality. It’s me exploring themes I care about. It frustrates me that an author bio was necessary to include on the back cover of my book as it goes against everything I would want as a reader. I also asked for my photo, the one at the top of this post, to be removed from the cover because I don’t want how old I look, or my hair style, or my clothes, or even my expression, to have any relation to whether or not someone reads the book or how they respond to it. I am not one person. None of us are a single person. We are all different people depending on the situation, who we are with, and a multitude of other influences that change over time. I was not trying to hide my gender, I was trying to be nothing more than a perfunctory, unobtrusive label affixed to a story.

Foreskin

The first time I saw a foreskin (I think I just plagiarised that opening line from Dickens) I was in a big tree. Now, before you get too aroused at all these titillating details, I’ll point out that I was eight years old. Also the foreskin was probably about seven, but it’s hard to tell with those because they’re born old. Foreskins and scrotums are the Benjamin Buttons of the body (only they don’t get younger… so not at all like Benjamin Button). I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that the foreskin was attached to a body. Luke’s body. Specifically it was attached to Luke’s penis.

A brief round up before we continue: As a child, I was in a big tree when I saw the safe, clean, anatomically correct, atheist foreskin of another child.

It was all consensual and unrelated to anything sexy. We had been building a den when Luke said, ‘Do you want to see something I can do?’ and I said, ‘What can you do?’ and he dropped his trousers, pulled something out of his pants, and squeezed just below the end of it. At this point in my life, I’m aware I saw the head of his flaccid penis come peeping out through his foreskin. But at the time I saw a mesh of garbled flesh, as though Luke had been in an accident, and whilst he had healed from the accident, he had healed poorly and misshapen. So I said, ‘Oh yeah,’ and we got back to building.

Scared While Playing Dead

My parents’ house has those little windows above the bedroom doors. Instead of normal, nice thick wall between door and ceiling, there’s glass. This utterly redundant window provided a prime viewing area for ghosts and monsters to watch me sleeping as a kid. I would stare at that window from my bed, gazing into the darkness of the hallway beyond, and all-but-know there was a shadowy face grinning down at me.

My mum eventually put a translucent floral decal on the window, but by this point I was eighteen and the monsters had transferred their voyeuristic tendencies to younger kids in the neighbourhood. Fourteen years too late, Mum.

Anyway. One day, when I was somewhere between the ages of five and nine, I was alone in my bedroom pretending to be dead. I’d turned my rocking horse onto its side and draped myself over it, eyes closed, dead. After cycling through a few different death positions, all involving the rocking horse (some, more elaborate deaths involving stretching between the upturned horse and my bed), I looked up from a particularly dramatic pose to see a face in the window. I screamed.

My father had stood on the laundry basket to spy on me in my room through the bastard window. The fear of seeing a face watching me, through glass, from eight feet high only barely masked my embarrassment at getting caught dying. Neither of us ever mentioned it.

People I’ve Known #1

In 2012 (probably) I worked as a video editor in Hackney. Our office was next to an adorable little river which you could see from the window. The river was adorned with quirky retro cafes, constantly had men in thin jeans riding fixed gear bikes along its banks, and famously floated the detached head of a murdered ex-EastEnders cast member. Truly a London delight.

My most prominent memory from this specific foray into employment has nothing to do with the job or location, but my workmates. Which is a term they would never use. These people were like the cast of Silicon Valley without the intentional comedy. By this I mean it was probably the most comedic six months of my life, but all my laughter had to be stifled.

As this was a tech start up there were only eight of us in the office, which also meant that everyone other than myself was a tech whiz. The most tech whizziest of all my co-workers exhibited only two prominent characteristics to his personality. The first characteristic was a very militant arguing style when discussing the inevitability of technological singularity. And the second… well, the second was a need to always have four single-serving cartons of Ribena on his desk at any time. If anyone asked for one of his Ribenas, he would pointedly refuse to relinquish the grape. “BUY YOUR OWN RIBENA, THERE IS A SHOP DOWN THE RIVER!” he would say, nasally. It became a daily ritual for the others to try and obtain the mythical juice. No one ever succeeded.

Also, I once accidentally deleted everything on my computer and sat under my desk for twenty minutes.