2018 YA Showcase, Round-Up and Thoughts

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So, a year ago I decided to become more active within the local YA community, and really it started for me by attending the 2017 YA Showcase hosted by the Centre for Youth Literature. At this event, a host of publishers and some authors share some of these most exciting new releases for 2018 and get the crowd pumped with the briefest of pitches and a lot of cover reveals.

Overall, as a reader with an invested interest in the ‘behind the scenes’, it’s a pretty great event, this year it felt really lovely to just go and chill out and catch up with many of the YA faces I’ve come to know and befriend over the last twelve months. It was pretty great, and the books (*bites lip* ughummff) I’ll get to those in a sec.

Right off the bat though, I do want to address (as I did with much more hesitancy last year, being a newbie to the scene and all, you can basically copy and paste what I wrote last year and put it here as it still applies) that apart from on our bookshelves themselves, it is these sorts of literary events/festivals that highlight just how far Australia’s (and the wider) publishing sector has to come in terms of accessibility, inclusivity and making our literature a fairer and truer reflection of our society.

This year, there was AN ASTOUNDING lack of disability representation in particular (and by this, I mean stories written by disabled authors and works featuring disabled characters, not only those stories that deal with disability issues/themes) within the showcase. The same goes for Indigenous and queer representation (outside of the romance category, I WANT MORE QUEER BOOKS THAT AREN’T ROMANCE FFS).

I don’t believe a single book with a disabled character or a disabled author was mentioned (I do want to acknowledge that, with judging the lack of representation of disabled authors, not all disabilities are readily visible, and even then authors and their publishers don’t owe us anything in terms of disclosing personal disability or a lack thereof) and I think this needs deeper reflection and interrogation on part of the Aussie publishers and insiders taking part in the event, and not only that but us attendees, us readers and writers.

We need to make it known that such exclusion in our literary discussion and, at times, outright silence is not acceptable. We can all do better, and should be doing better.

A fabulous article about this thread of thought can be read here, by Ambelin Kwaymullina who was one of the fab authors whose upcoming work was features last night (much to the fanning-out of the showcase crowd.) It comes from the perspective of an Indigenous author and relates to issues of access and is a two-parter so give both a read! This isn’t to say that the issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander YA authors and stories in YA can be cut and pasted with disabled authors but there is an intersection of thought and barriers that are well examined by the article and, I think, can apply.

If you know of any books with disability rep or books by disabled authors coming out in 2018 (bonus if they’re Aussie) please, let me know, I’d love to hear about them and spread the word!

Speaking of spreading the love, the showcase itself paraded out a whole array of kick arse books, many of which I’m personally excited for.

The following will be a roundup of the works that caught my eye on the night and some info about them. All entirely subjective, opinions are my own ya-da, ya-da. With a front row seat, I live-tweeted the event which you can peruse here. Otherwise, here’s what hooked me, and here’s where my money will probs be going in 2018.

 

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BETWEEN US – Claire Atkins | January 2018

Anahita is passionate, curious and determined. She is also an Iranian asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. On weekdays, during school hours, she can be a ‘regular Australian girl’.

Jono needs the distraction of an infatuation. In the past year his mum has walked out, he’s been dumped and his sister has moved away. Lost and depressed, Jono feels as if he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese single father, Kenny.

Kenny is struggling to work out the rules in his new job; he recently started work as a guard at the Wickham Point Detention Centre. He tells Anahita to look out for Jono at school, but quickly comes to regret this, spiraling into suspicion and mistrust. Who is this girl, really? What is her story? Is she a genuine refugee or a queue jumper? As Jono and Anahita grow closer, Kenny starts snooping behind the scenes …

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NOBODY REAL – Steven Camden | Feb 2018

New YA novel from renowned spoken word poet Steven Camden, with a dash of Inception and Jennifer Niven, this is the story of a teen girl and her imaginary friend. 

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CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE – Tomi Adeyemi | March 2018

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. 

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. 

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

 

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TIN HEART – Shivaun Plozza | March 2018

When Marlowe gets a heart transplant and a second chance at life, all she wants is to thank her donor’s family. Maybe then she can move on. Maybe then she’ll discover who she is if she’s no longer The Dying Girl.

But with a little brother who dresses like every day is Halloween, a vegan warrior for a mother and an all-out war with the hot butcher’s apprentice next door, Marlowe’s life is already pretty complicated. And her second chance is about to take an unexpected turn…

 

 

 

 

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TRULY WILDLY DEEPLY- Jenny McLauchlan | April 2018

Annie is starting college. She can't wait. No more school, no more uniform, and no one telling her what to do. It's the start of a new adventure and Annie's not going to let anyone or anything get in the way of that. Freedom matters to Annie. She has cerebral palsy and she's had to fight hard to get the world to see her for who she truly is. 

Then she meets Fab. He's six foot two, Polish and a passionate believer in…well, just about everything, but most of all Annie and good old fashioned romance. The moment Fab sees Annie, he's wildly drawn to her and declares she must be his girl. Annie's horrified. She doesn't want to be anyone's anything, especially if it means losing her independence.

But then Annie finds herself falling for Fab. As things go deeply wrong, Annie realises that love can make you do wild, crazy things, and so she sets out to win his heart with a romantic gesture of truly epic proportions!

 

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AMELIA WESTLAKE – Erin Gough | April 2018

Harriet Price is the perfect Rosemead Grammar student – wealthy, smart, overachieving – while Will Everhart is a social-justice warrior with a chip on her shoulder. But when a worrying incident with their swimming coach goes unnoticed by the authorities, the unlikely pair creates an elaborate hoax to bring him down.

As tensions burn throughout their elite private school – and between the two girls – how long can they keep their hoax a secret? And how far would they go to really make a difference? 

 

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THE POET X – Elizabeth Acevedo Gough | April 2018

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent. 

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NEVERLAND – Margo McGovern | April 2018

After doing herself near-fatal damage, Kit Learmonth has come home. But it’s a place she hardly recognises: the mermaids are hiding, the witch has packed up her cauldron and the pirates have sailed to more bountiful shores. In their place is Neverland and its inhabitants – damaged teens too sick to be in regular school, but not sick enough to be institutionalised, watched over by her psychiatrist uncle. And Kit is one of them.

Kit has a choice. She can use illicit night-time adventures with her friends and mysterious new boy Rohan to avoid the truth. Or she can separate harsh reality from childhood fantasy and try to remember what happened on the night of her parents’ deaths. What really prompted her family’s departure from the island? Was there a monster who drove them away? Is the monster still there?

The more Kit uncovers, the more she realises that perhaps she should be afraid … 

SMALL SPACES – Sarah Epstein | April 18

Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood, when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival. At the time nobody believed Tash, and she has since come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real. Now fifteen and mute, Mallory’s never spoken about the week she went missing. As disturbing memories resurface, Tash starts to see Sparrow again. And she realises Mallory is the key to unlocking the truth about a dark secret connecting them. Does Sparrow exist after all? Or is Tash more dangerous to others than she thinks?

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GROWING UP ABORIGINAL IN AUSTRALIA – Edited Anita Heiss | April 2018

What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, attempts to showcase as many diverse voices, experiences and stories as possible in order to answer that question. Each account reveals, to some degree, the impacts of invasion and colonisation – on language, on country, on ways of life, and on how people are treated daily in the community, the education system, the workplace and friendship groups.

Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside newly discovered voices of all ages, with experiences spanning coastal and desert regions, cities and remote communities. All of them speak to the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, oftentimes challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.

This groundbreaking anthology aims to enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today. 

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SAM AND ILSA’S LAST HURRAH– David Levithan and Rachel Cohen | April 2018

Siblings Sam and Ilsa Kehlmann have spent most of their high school years throwing parties for their friends--and now they've prepared their final blowout, just before graduation.

The rules are simple: each twin gets to invite three guests, and the other twin doesn't know who's coming until the partiers show up at the door. With Sam and Ilsa, the sibling revelry is always tempered with a large dose of sibling rivalry, and tonight is no exception.

One night. One apartment. Eight people. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, we all know the answer is plenty. But plenty also goes right, as well...in rather surprising ways.

 

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BONESLAND – Brendan Lawley | May 2018

A ‘wild ride for young adults through the small-town agonies of adolescence—sex, drugs, love and hip hop’.

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BRONTIDE – Sue McPherson | June 2018

A coming of age story about four young men aged between twelve and seventeen.
 

GOOD GIRL – Lily Wilkinson | August 2018

Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters Grace and Blythe and their father Rick, on the outskirts of a isolated mining community. Rick is a doomsday prepper. He has a secret bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water. Each of the girls has a ‘bug out bag’ packed with water purification tablets, protein bars, paraocord bracelets and epipens for Pru’s anaphylaxis.

One day while their father’s at the min, the power goes out. At their house, and in the town. No one knows why. All communication Is cut. It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel/ In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sister’s decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything…but what if it isn’t the end of the world after all?


CATCHING TELLER CROW – Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina | August 2018

Told through the alternating perspectives of two teenage Aboriginal protagonists. Bella Teller accompanies her father, a police detective, sent to investigate a fire in a children’s home that has left a body in its wake. But Beth died month before in a car accident and now exists between worlds, unable to move on until she is sure her father will be able to function without her. Her story intersects with that of Isobel Catching, a witness to the fire, who relates a tale of monsters and other worlds. As the murders escalate, Catching’s otherworldly tale intersects with Beth’s otherworldly reality to reveal horrifying violence lurking beneath the surface of the town.

 

How friggen awesome are these covers?? Almost every one is so eye catching and bright I love it.
What 2018 YA releases are you looking forward to? Are any of your faves on this list, did I miss out on any really exciting releases for next year? 

 

Digital Writer's Festival 2017: Digital Tour Fanfiction Spaces

I was a part of the Emerging Writer's Festival, Digital Writer's Festival this year talking fanfic. Here's the video as well as a transcript of the event with bonus resources and links for your interest!

I was a part of the Emerging Writer's Festival, Digital Writer's Festival this year talking fanfic. Here's the video as well as a transcript of the event with bonus resources and links for your interest!

So hey guys, welcome to Digital Tour: Fanfiction Spaces, one of the final few Digital Writer's Fest events this year, so woo!

Just starting off I wanted to say that, I am humbled and honoured to be on the ancestral lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation today. I acknowledge the First Australians as the traditional custodians of this land, whose cultures and stories are among the oldest living in human history. I also wanted us all to take a moment to acknowledge that our spaces online do not live outside of the spaces we reside in off line, but rather in connection with and adjacent to. Australia has and always will be Aboriginal land.

So yeah kicking into our talk, as the blurb says  my name’s Jes Layton, I’m an emerging and freelance queer writer here in Melbourne carving out my path here in the Oz literary scene

One of the things I feel is most important to a writing life is a sense of a writing community, so for the last decade I’ve gained a lot of experience, confidence and support from a group that isn’t always thought the best of. That being the fanfiction community.

Honestly, I could do a five-part series all about fanfiction and fandom culture, its community, it’s history, how it operates as a writing practice and as the ultimate form of postmodern literary criticism.

Yet, we don’t have enough time for all that today, but I encourage questions if you want to learn more as me may have some time in the end and throughout as they pop up.

When we talk about fanfiction we have to do a little history check, we have to start at the beginning, which is, in fact I hear, a very good place to start.

 

FANFIC HISTORY

I wanted to preface this part of the tour just saying that I'm coming from a pretty westernized understanding and relationship of fanfic and fandom culture. And that every culture all over the world, everyone has different relationships and different experiences with the ideas and relationships of fanfiction and fandom culture.

For instance there's this whole separate culture in Japan where fans create their own fan manga’s called doujinshi that, while technically illegal in Japan, are really celebrated, and encouraged by manga publishing companies as a new way to market their own stories within mainstream. 

This is an example of different relationships and practises of fanfiction all over the world. So that's really important to acknowledge that my understanding, experience is western and is generally a white understanding. 

Diving more into fanfiction's history. I probably started writing fanfic before I even knew what it was. For those who don't really know what fanfiction is; fanfiction is fiction written by fans, using elements of a source text (canon), or a famous person as a point of departure. These elements include the use of characters/setting/basic premise, all sorts of things, even theme.

It's a transformative form of writing, dating back to as long as there have been stories.

Understandably, fanfiction history is as long as it is varied, so, I’m just going to touch on a few key milestones today to give you an idea of the breadth, depth and scope of fanfiction and to break down some perceived stereotypes of what fanfiction is, can be and what it was in the past.

Some of our most famous classical pieces of literature are literal fanfiction. Virgil's Aeneid which is fanfiction of Homer's Iliad (with hundreds of years between them).

Also in this vein is Dante’s Divine Comedy, which really when you think about it is is a Self-insert crossover RPF fic- where Greek and Roman mythology is crossed over with Judeo-Christian lore (and much more RPF touchstones). And really the term Mary Sue should be changed to Dante as he is just a mess.

Probably more familiar for a lot of people is Shakespeare, who adapted most of his plays directly from other works by other people, from which he asked no permission (nor was he expected to.) Which is a great example fo who fanfic back in ye'olden days was considered part of the normal professional practice, as part of creating content, as part of being a creator. 

There was a real shift after this time about peoples perceptions of originality and original creators/authors. 

Along the same vein of this with a work like Don Quixote which was considered one of the first “popular novels” as we know it today. There were all sorts of people who were writing and publishing their own unofficial fan-sequels so much so that the original author wrote into the sequel Don Quixote reading a piece of fanfic about himself and then setting out on a quest to beat up the fanfic author who mischaracterised him.

A good example we still see today of authors not always liking fanfiction spawning from their work. Awkward.

Fastforwarding to the 1920's we have Jane Austen’s work being reworked and re-distributed in the earliest fanzines.

Fanfiction reached its revolutionizing point in the modern age with the advent of Star Trek 1960’s.

Fandom and fannish activity moved into the public sphere as before fans of source works mostly had relationships (or perceived relationships) with the author of a work. But with modern technology Star Trek fans began to develop relationships and connections with each other.

Mailing lists began to develop, zines, sci-fi and Trekkie conventions, fan magazines and fanfiction presses begun to develop. This evolved fandom to a more interactive, communal and formal practise and culture. Except as something down by individuals.

This is pretty much the same deal right up until the early 90’s with the internet in every home.

This made fandoms on the internet smaller and more segregated with multiple individuals forums, websites and message boards for individual fandoms. (Image Of X Files Forum from early 90's)

This was an early example of how fandom developed online and how fanfiction was archived and shared. 

In the here and now things have blown up with the internet and geekish culture as it is today. Within the fic community online, it has never been better to be a writer or reader. 

Fanfiction has bolted forward into the mainstream in the form of 'reimagines' 'adaptations', 'reboots'. Fanfiction has become not merely mainstream but one of the more dominant form of storytelling and literature. Creator sanctioned or not, these reboots and adaptations are fanfiction, functioning as fanfiction does, (Hamilton, Power Rangers Movie, Margret Atwood’s Hag Seed) they involve all the elements and differences that fanfiction does.  And yep, that lovely and not at all abusive Fifty Shades of Grey.
 

 

PLATFORMS

As for where fanfiction stands now, online it's like a buffet table with all your dietary needs and preferences, guilt pleasures spread out before you in delicious deliciousness.

The juggernauts of this space are WATTPAD, FANFIC.NET, AO3, online platforms where you can: write, read, post, share, download, customise, edit, comment on and save fanfiction. (Though there are other platforms such as TUMBLR and LIVEJOURNAL I don't have time to go into today).

Between the three biggies, there are over 9 million fics, in over 30 languages, and range from works a few hundred words in length, to the worlds’ single longest piece of literature, clocking in at over four million words (I’ll show you this fic a little later).

 

 Fanfiction.net

 

-       Launched in Oct, 1997

-       FanFiction.Net quickly rose in popularity, being one of the few archives at the time open to just about any kind of fandom, not just a single specific universe, anime or TV series. 

-       It is the internet’s largest online fanfiction archive

-       Featuring some of the most famous fanfic, where many authors got started (Cassandra Clare). Some of the famous fanfics on this site include:

-       Master of the Universe which you might know as Fifty Shades of Grey, by author snowqueensicedragon

-       The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest is a fanfic loosely based on Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It is currently over 4,000,000 words long. The writer started in March of 2008, and they are still going! 

-       My Immortal by Tara Gilesbie. The most notoriously bad fanfic written, set as a self-insert fic where the term Mary Sue comes home to rest. 

This fic follows the 23,000-word adventure of a vampire, Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way, who attends Harry Potter's Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, where she must travel back in time, escape pedophilic teachers and seduce Voldemort all which juggling her relationships with Draco and Harry Vampire Potter. The author of this work has been a major mystery in the online world, regardless of fandom, every fan knows of this, but much like the author Homer, we may never know.

-       Fanfiction.net acts as mostly an archive now, containing fanfiction and just fanfiction. A lot of this is because it is confusing, ugly, hard to navigate, no app/mobile customization, no moderation or customization in general.

-       There are a lot of factors contributing to the downfall of fanfic.net, A lot of plagiarism, lack of quality tagging and (again) it is general ugly/difficult to navigate and post fic.

-       One major shift attributing to it's downfall was that eventually the website needed to employ advertising in order to keep the server running due to increasing demand and use.

-       They banned content: In 2002, NC-17 rated stories were no longer allowed (although enforcement of this policy is up to users reporting stories; there are still many explicit-content fictions to be found on the site.) Real person/celebrity fiction was disallowed in 2003.

-       Other topics such as songfic, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and non-fiction or meta have also been banned, although again enforcement is spotty at best. 

 

On the other end of things, that being platforms where writers go now to host and post their work are the two other biggies Wattpad and Archive of Our Own (Ao3). This is like comparing apples and oranges, discounting the fact that one is red and the other is orange. Really, as to which one you'll use depends on your experience, your audience and what you want to get out of fanfic.

 

Wattpad

-       A relative newcomer to the scene. Advertised as a free online storytelling community where all sorts of original work, not just fanfiction, can be published. As you can see from its various hosted genres.

-       It is one of the more convenient reading platforms for fans, particularly popular with teen readers/users, 30 million users, but it’s not exactly writer/user friendly.

-       Has a great app, good website design, easy to read, in line commenting and the ability to bookmark your place.

-       Plain impossible to copy and paste a story into an editing window. It strips all of the formatting including paragraph breaks. WTH?

-       Wattpad is at its best when it you just crank it open in the app or your browser and start typing a story. It’s not designed for people who crafted their story out on another program (scrivener/word) and want to import it.

-       Or for authors who want to engage with readers on any other level than story content as the comment feature, as I said, entirely in text.

-       For writers who like statistics Wattpad reads are inaccurate, every time a new page is loaded/turned or a new chapter is made, that counts as a 'read'. It’s not an accurate reflection of readers, which can be bothersome.
 

I feel so in general that Wattpad comes from the direction of a consumer, a reader where AO3 from the direction comes from the persepctive of a creator.

 

Ao3

-     Archive of Our Own (AO3) first launched in beta-testing on November 14, 2009. It's not uncommon for large scale platforms like this to be in beta for a long time.

-       AO3 is a project of the Organization for Transformative Works, a non-profit organization which promotes the legitimacy and transformative nature of fan works including fan fiction, fan vids and fan art.

-       Building upon the troubles fanfiction.net had, mostly as it was made by fans for fans:  Open to all kinds of fandoms, including Real Person Fiction. Open to all ratings of fan-fiction, from general audiences to adult as well as allowing users to host meta fandom writings as well as fiction.

-       AO3 has grown slowly, as one requires an invite code to join. If you request one, it can take anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months to receive an invite. It did not take me long to get an invite code, a little under two weeks.

-       Preeminent site for fanfiction and fanfic writers, due to user friendly, tagging system and breadth/depth of work

-        A warning system for common fannish triggers and controversial subjects - which an author can choose or choose not to use

-        Ability to lock story visibility to only other AO3 members only, to minimize search engine inclusion (some authors don't want their stories showing up in general Google searches.)

This all being said there's a real definite western media bias in terms of how work is tagged/categoriazed. And how the Organization for Transformative works functions on an international level. Is pretty western/white. Which is disappointing and is something we need to combat as creators online, be the change to make it a more inclusive space. 

 

Busting some fanfic myths

 

One: fanfiction is all just shitty writing by shitty writers.

Sturgeon’s Law: Ninety Percent of everything is crap. I’d argue that there’s plenty of terrible professionally published fiction out there as well; the only difference between it and fanfic is that there are more boundaries for writers, more impenetrable walls and that it has generally been better edited/proofread as they've had access to those resources outside fandom betas.
 

Two: It's all just dirty kink like Fifty Shades

We’re not all trying to write the next Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with people who include sexual content in their writing.

Now, fanfiction does have a real problem with the sexualisation of homosexuals males which is a deeply rooted, underlining problem I can't go into now, but writing sexual content is not bad. Particularly when it's marginalised people, queer people, young people and women writing their sexuality or exploring their sexuality through writing. That can actually be really empowering, impressive and it can be really beautiful too.

Three: The question; iS fAnFictIon a LeGitIMatE FoRm oF WriTInG/liTERaTuRE?

I dunno friend, if it's conveying ideas and story through the craft of the written language I think that's legitimate. It’s studied academically now (not that academic study defines legitimacy) researchers have looked at its relationship with feminismdisability, the LGBTQ world, and much more, which is a far cry from when it was dismissed as a subculture for people who resembles excitable puppies or old horny cats.

Particularly in recent years fanfiction has deliberately inserted intersectional feminist discourse, gender theory, and class commentary into their stories to make complex academic theories accessible for all readers.

Fanfiction can be very political, it's subversive, it's radical. Writing Harry Potter as an amputee, Hermione as black, or Ron as transgender exposes people to narratives written from the perspective of marginalized communities. Often by those marginliased people themselves. 

The final thought I wanted to give was that I pretty much grew up on fanfiction. As a queer kid in a rural town, in a public school, I got my sex education from fanfiction online, I learnt my own identity, and got the courage to share that with others by virtue of seeing it represented and explained through fanfiction.

I’ve bawled my eyes out at 3 am over some of the stuff I’ve read online, I've laughed much the same.

I’ve had and continue to get lovely, thoughtful and touching emails and messages from other young queer kids finding some reflection of themselves in my work online. 

Fanfiction has been a positive force in my life. In order for me to find myself in literature, I needed to make that space for myself online, and that is a creative force. And I hope, if it catches your interest, fanfiction can be a positive force for you too.

**struggles to end the video**


Bonus resource to check out

-
Fanlore a wiki about fanworks and fan communities.

 

 

 

Lesbians Tell the Best Dick Jokes | Mythology Monday

Rarely is there something as bottom of the barrel—yet as amusing, as the dick joke.

Scrappy, try-hard (emphasis on the hard) and the crux of most Adult Swim comedies, dick jokes and by-in-large, sex humour is not something all that new to our literary and literal ancestors. While Shakespeare's flowery language and incomprehensible old-timey wordplay contains a whole lot of sly references to erections, anal sex, masturbation etc. (Mercutio: O Romeo, that she were! Oh, that she were an open arse, and thou a poperin pear..) you have to hand it to the ancient Greeks for their persisting, hilarious and utterly childish humour.

Let’s narrow our pool down to Sappho; an archaic, female, Greek poet who has something of a controversial and muddied history.

What we do know about Sappho for absolute certain is as follows; she wrote lyric poetry and in doing so, wrote poems about her love and the love of women. Most of Sappho's poetry is now lost and survives only in fragmentary form. As well as lyric poetry, ancient commentators claimed that Sappho wrote elegiac and iambic poetry, and three epigrams attributed to Sappho survive today (the most recent unearthed in 2014).

Sappho, in and of herself though, is no ordinary poet. For the better part of three millennia she’s been under constant scrutiny—about her work, her family life and above all, her sexuality. In the one breath, she id praised for her ‘sublime’ style only to then in the other be ridiculed for her "loose morals."

Legend has it that the early Church burned her works (“A sex-crazed whore who sings of her own wantonness,” one theologian wrote of her) while Victorian scholars were doing their best to explain away her erotic predilections. Other literary contemporaries and eventually modern readers and scholars took Sappho up as a feminist heroine or queer role model or both. Famous critic and queer/gender theorist Judith Butler, is quoted as once saying: “As far as I knew, there was only me and a woman called Sappho.”

Sappho’s lyric genius which is at once point something playful, in the next, utterly anguished in song about her susceptibility to the graces of other women, is coined as bequeathing the adjectives “sapphic” and “lesbian” as terms for modern use.

Again, little is known of Sappho's life. Although her birthplace cannot be verified, she seems to have lived mostly in Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos. She is thought to be from a wealthy family, though the names of both of her parents are uncertain. There are three major sources of information about Sappho's life: her own poetry, other ancient sources, and deductions from knowledge of the historical context in which she worked.

These ancient sources generally say that she was exiled to Sicily around 600 BC, and may have continued to work until around 570. Legends surrounding her death are unverified.

In the modern day, like I said, Sappho’s become something of a symbol for (cis)female homosexuality—and while this modern understanding of sexuality wasn’t something quite on the radar of ancient literati and scholars (at least not with our modern understanding), she’s generally been considered as something of a sexual deviant, beyond the scope and subject of her poems.

In Greek popular culture of the Classical period and afterward, Sappho was known primarily as an oversexed predator—sexually aggressive towards men. This, in fact, was the ancient cliché about “Lesbians”.

In classical Greek, the verb lesbiazein—“to act like someone from Lesbos”—meant performing fellatio, an activity for which inhabitants of the island were thought to be rather good at and have, let’s say, a taste for.

According to the Suda (a 10th century encyclopedia lexicon of the ancient Mediterranean world) Sappho was married to Kerkylas of Andros. Yet, in a beautiful and rippling comedic act to last the ages, the name "Kerkylas" comes from the word "κέρκος" kerkos, which is ancient slang for penis/dick, and is not otherwise attested to as a name, while "Andros", as well as being the name of a Greek island, is like the Greek word "ἀνήρ" (aner), which means man.

Roughly translated and put together this would be; Sappho—the reason lesbians are called lesbians—is wife to Dick Allcock of Man Island.

Sometimes life is beautiful.

 

We Have Always Been Cat People | Mythology Mondays

So, I’m in the process of looking for/getting a cat. I’ve written up my pro and con list; everything from ‘cats are cute and nice to cuddle’ to ‘Cat faeces contain toxoplasmosis which can be harmful to humans even with frequent litter cleaning’. Needless to say, I’ve exhausted out the possible ‘what if’s’ available with cat ownership.

I’ve also decided to go into some other forms of research.

Cats have been the constant companions, guides, deities and nuisances of the mythological world.

In Egypt, cats were thought to be sacred, pretty much worshipped. When a cat died, they were given burial rites similar to humans, including small offerings within their tombs. Bastet is probably one of the better known of Egyptian goddesses (aside from Isis), patron Goddess of warfare in lower Egypt, defender of pharaoh's, and consequently of the chief male deity, Ra. Bastet was originally depicted with the head of a lioness, a warrior Goddess of the sun yet, she later changed into the Goddess of domestic cats (and given her more domestic cat appearance). Greeks occupying ancient Egypt toward the end of its civilisation changed her into the Goddess of the moon as well.

Cats had a prominent roll within Celtic lore and mythology. In Ireland, and across the Celtic worlds, the skin of a wild cat was worn by warriors to invoke the protection of the Gods. The cat was also a totem animal amongst many clans, particularly Scottish. They believed that cats were guardians of the of the gates to the Otherworld, guardians of their treasures and also bring to the people the wholeness, as a spiritual link between humans and the universe. However, black cats in Celtic lore were considered evil, and were sacrificed.

One Celtic creature is the Faerie Cat or Sìth, said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its breast. Legend has it that this spectral cat haunted the Scottish highlands, with other tales suggesting that the Sìth was indeed not a fairy, but a witch that could transform into a cat nine times. If the witch would turn to a cat more than nine times then they would remain a cat forever. Sìth were untrustworthy, believed to be able to steal souls from bodies before burial. Methods of “distraction” such as games of leaping and wrestling, catnip, riddles, and music would be employed to keep the Sìth away. On Samhain, it was believed that a Sìth would bless any house that left a saucer of milk out for it to drink, but those houses that did not let out a saucer of milk would be cursed into having all of their cows’ milk dry.

In Norse mythology, cats were sacred to Freyja, the Goddess of love and fertility. She was viewed as the protector of the weak, healer and granter of magick. The chariot that Freyja rode was drawn by two large cats, and were in art often depicted alongside her. Farmers would leave out precious milk for them, to ensure that Freyja blessed their harvest. 

An Underwater panther, called Mishipeshu or Mishibijiw in Ojibwe, is one of the most important of several water beings among many Great Lakes and Northeastern Woodlands Native American tribes, particularly among the Anishinaabe peoples. Mishipeshu translating into “The Great Lynx."  

In Native American mythology, underwater panthers were seen as an opposing yet complementary force to the Thunderbirds, and they were engaged in eternal conflict. As late as the 1950s, the Prairie Band of Potawatomi Indians performed a traditional ceremony to placate the Underworld Panther and maintain balance with the Thunderbird.

The transformation to either a domestic cat, a tiger, a lion, a lynx, or any other type, including some that are purely mythical felines.

A surprising cat figure of mythology that I feel is unrepresented is actually the werecat. European folklore usually depicted werecats as those who transformed into domestic cats. Some European werecats became giant domestic cats or panthers. They were generally deemed to be witches, even though they may have no magical ability other than self-transformation. During the witch trials, the official Church doctrine stated that all shapeshifters, including werewolves, were witches whether they were male or female.

Differently, mainland Asian werecats usually become tigers portrayed as a menace to livestock, who might at any time turn to man-eating. Chinese legends often described weretigers as the victims of either a hereditary curse or a vindictive ghost. In Thailand, a tiger that ate enough humans could become a full blown weretiger.

In both Indonesia and Malaysia there is another kind of weretiger, known as Harimau jadian. The power of this kind of transformation was regarded as due to inheritance, to the use of spells, to fasting and sheer willpower, etc. 

The foremost were-animal in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures was the werejaguar.  It was associated with the veneration of the jaguar, with priests and shamans among the various peoples who followed this tradition wearing the skins of jaguars to “become” a werejaguar. Among the Aztecs, an entire class of specialised warriors dressed in this animals skin existed. Depictions of the jaguar and the werejaguar are among the most common motifs among the artifacts of the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. The balams (magicians) of Yucatán who could become werejaguars were said to guard the maize fields in animal form.

I can only hope my eventual cat companion is strong enough to guard my apartment. 

Bunyips Might cause Rheumatism | Mythology Monday

As an Australian I live and work on Aboriginal land. I grew up on the land of the Gulidjan people (Colac Otway region), but currently, I’m living on Wurundjeri land and this week, the first week of July we’re celebrating and acknowledging NAIDOC week, a week filled to the brim with celebrations about the achievements, contributions, history and culture and the strength of Aboriginal and Torres strait Islanders of Australia.

In honour of #NAIDOC17 Mythology Monday is going to be unearthing a little bit about one of Australia’s most well-known mythical figures; the Bunyip.

It’s important to note that not only is Australia’s mythology one of the oldest existing on the planet, but that this kind of mythology is very much living, as I touched on with discussing Jesus for a Mythology Monday in April—Aboriginal mythology or the Dreaming of Aboriginal people is still very much a part of their everyday lives, and of modern society. So, in discussing the Dreaming of Aboriginal people in a mythological context we will only be talking about it within the framework of narrative, character and story (or rather, more comparatively less so analytically) and not with any sort of authority or assumption.

The Dreaming itself is history for Aboriginal peoples and is known across Australia by a number of names in various Aboriginal languages. For example: it is known as Ngarrang-garni by the Gooniyandi people of southeastern Kimberly, Djang by the Kunwinjku people of western Arnhem and, Wongar by the Yolngu people of northeastern Arnhem land, Bulurru by the Djabugay people of northeastern Queensland and Yemurraki by the Wemba Wemba people of northeastern Victoria.

Bunyips’ come about as a primarily southeastern creature. They are a species of water spirit that early European colonizers grew to fear. I say species instead of, say, one individual types of figure as the descriptions of Bunyips’ overall, within Aboriginal communities, tribes and European colonists varied so greatly; some were described as looking like large water-bound emus, other’s ferocious seals, crocodiles, serpents, while others were like hairy wet humans (the latter of which seemed to relate them to Yowie’s—apelike creatures from the same areas).

The descriptive differences of Bunyips’ are not only accounted for by the cultural differences between Aboriginal groups as a lot of variation occurred within the same regions where Bunyips’ were sighted. For instance, in the 1840’s along the Murray River in South Australia, it was recorded that many in tribe accounts of the Bunyip shifted drastically. Given that many figures of Aboriginal culture have the ability to shape shift or change their shape or use sorcery, the Bunyips’ every-changing appearance could be explained by this. Leading us to class the Bunyip, rather than a single entity, as more of a species of spirit based around permanent inland water bodies (lakes, rivers, creeks etc.)

Records show that some Aboriginal groups within the Kulin nation (here in Melbourne) believed that the Bunyip appeared to have dusky grey feathers, and be the size of a calf. It was considered to have magical powers over humans, causing them a lot of stress and misfortune. They ate eels and on occasion, lured women to their death by distracting them with large catches of eels. It is considered immensely bad luck to kill or injure a Bunyip.

The best kept recording so Bunyips’ are from the land of the Ngarrindjeri people (lower Murray region of South Australia), here the Bunyip is known as Mulgyewonk and has some humanlike features. It is said to have the body of a seal, a bearded face like a man and very long, trailing hair that looks like waterweed. The Mulgyewonk was generally thought to be a threat to people, hurting people with sorcery, while the booming noises it made were thought to cause rheumatism.

Here, the Mulgyewonk would lie submerged in the shallow water near the edges of lakes, when children washed their hands or came to sit/play by the water the Mulgyewonk would be attracted. Ngarrindjeri people claimed that someone was able to save an abducted child from the Mulgyewonk by rubbing a magical substance all over their body, and descending (while tied to the shore) to the bottom of the lake. They would then drag the child out from amongst the sleeping Mulgyewonk and get back safety.

Ngurunderi, the main Dreaming creator of the Lower Murray region, also had a run in or two with the Mulgyewonk. One instance recalls how one Mulgyewonk tore holes in Ngurunderi’s net which prevented him from catching fish for his family to eat.

Other tales lay claim to Bunyips causing mysterious bubbles and unexplained ripples that sometimes and randomly appear on the surfaces of still lakes. The Ngarrindjeri people claimed that whirlpools were Bunyips cleaning out their homes.

The Ancient Greeks Pretty Much had Amazon Fan Merch | Mythology Monday

Wonder Woman’s origins (in both comics and now film *squee*) are deeply rooted in well-known classical myth and legend. Tidbits, nods and outright lifts from Greek and Roman mythology are rife in the new blockbuster film–each with their own unique, modern spin. Some of these spins work really well, some of these spins, less so.

Wonder Woman’s own name, Diana; shows this off well as her name echoes that of the Roman goddess Diana, identified with Greece’s Artemis, who was the Goddess of hunting, childbirth, the wilderness and protection.

The Amazons, personally, were my favourite part of the film. Badass, diverse, working as a collective together, strong, these women were undoubtedly the shining stars of WONDER WOMAN though only getting a little screen time in the beginning.

The Amazons of Greek and Roman mythology have a pretty rich and far reaching history. For the most part they were long believed to be purely imaginary. They were the mythical warrior women who were the archenemies of the ancient Greeks. Every Greek hero or champion, from Hercules to Theseus and Achilles, had to prove his mettle by fighting a powerful warrior queen.

In the earliest echoes of their mythos, the Amazons are said to be the daughters of God Ares and Harmonia (a nymph of the Akmonian wood). Their fortified Amazonian capital Themiscyra, was believed to be located on the banks of the Thermodon River near the coast of the Black Sea in what is now northern Turkey. 

The eighth-century B.C. poet ‘Homer’ was the first to mention the existence of the Amazons. In the Iliad—which is set 500 years earlier, during the Bronze or Heroic Age—Homer referred to a tribe of entirely women, the Antianeirai “Those who fight like men”, who were considered worthy, formidable and epic opponents for Homer’s male characters to boast battling.

Most versions of the original Amazon myth call to the idea of the Amazon women cutting or cauterizing their right breasts in order to have better bow control (which is an absolutely physiologically ridiculous idea, I mean we’ve all watched archery contests, the HUNGER GAMES etc.)

Other versions detail that no men were permitted to have sexual encounters or reside within Amazon country (The Themiscyra) with the Amazon women only once a year visiting the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe, for procreation. Any baby boys coming from this structured breeding would be fostered back to the Gargareans, any daughters would grow up within the Amazon community. The idea of Amazon girls growing up unable to wed until they had killed a man in battle also started to become a part of Amazonian canon.

Future generations of poets went further and gave the Amazons a fighting role in the fall of Troy—interestingly on the side of the Trojans. In the Iliad one Amazon Penthesileia, arrived on the battlefield during the funeral of Hector, and went out to battle after the eleven prescribed days of mourning. Achilles was the one to kill her in battle, something he later came to regret upon discovered she was a woman as her helmet fell.

From this simple add on, the Amazons soon begun to play an indispensable role in the foundation legends of Athens. Hercules, for example, last of the mortals to become a god, in his legend of the twelve labours, for number nine was tasked with stealing a magic girdle from the Amazon queen Hippolyta. This Heracles vs the Amazons myth was adapted in the mid sixth century to include Theseus, King of Athens (who was considered the unifier of ancient Greece) who came storming after Theseus who abducted their sister Antiope and sailed back to Athens to marry her. The ensuing battle between the Amazons and Athenians was known as the Attic War, and was apparently a pretty neck and neck deal.

According to the first century A.D. Greek historian Plutarch, the Amazons “were no trivial nor womanish enterprise for Theseus. For they would not have pitched their camp within the city, nor fought hand-to-hand battles in the neighbourhood of the Pynx and the Museum, had they not mastered the surrounding country and approached the city with impunity.” As ever, though, Athenian bravery saved the day yet Antiope was lost in the battle to a stray arrow but not before giving birth to Theseus’ first son, Hippolytus.

In some other versions Theseus went alone to Themiscyra after the time of Heracles and kidnapped Hippolytus instead of Antiope. In another myth the God Dionysus united with the Amazons to fight against Cronus and the Titans predating the Amazons before almost all other ‘human’ mythic figures.

The battle between the Athenians and Amazons is often commemorated in an entire genre of art, amazonomachy, in marble bas-reliefs such as from the Parthenon or the sculptures of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. The idea of amazonomachy quickly caught on in the ancient Greek art circles. Soon pictorial representations of Amazon women could be found everywhere from pottery, to household items, jewellery, friezes. Amazons became a ubiquitous trope with Greek culture becoming pretty important to the Athenian national identity and celebrated through art.

The one major difference between the depictions of Amazons in art and in poetry was their breasts. Namely the fact that they often only had one in the poetry yet the Greek artists refused to depict this vision, shying away from presenting anything less than deemed ‘physical perfection’ because sex sells, or because they knew that really, breasts don't impede on archery skills. The Amazon women are shown mostly in depictions of battle or hunting; with bows, spears, axes, a half shield, nearly in the shape of a crescent, called pelta, and in early art a helmet. The model in the Greek mind had apparently been the goddess Athena. In later art they look more like depictions of Artemis.

In works of art, battles between Amazons and Greeks are often likened and associated with battles between the Greeks and centaurs. Their existence is thought to be inspired by 'real world' women warriors found amongst the nomadic Scythian or Sarmatian people. 

Myth or fact, symbol or the deep-seeded patriarchal fear of the Archaean men of ancient times; the Amazons are pretty kick arse, generally revered and deeply interesting figures of Greek and Roman mythology entirely deserving of their own blockbuster film.

Teens Matter, We Matter, #YAmatters | READING MATTERS CONFERENCE, Sum-up and Thoughts

So, I have waded out of the post creative euphoria of the 12th Biennial Reading Matters conference and now, in the sweet, sweet afterglow I wanted to jot some basic thoughts down, general musings, quick ideas on what my first #YAmatters conference was like.

In general, I spent a spectacular two days listening to some of the sharpest, most passionate and powerful minds and hearts in our industry, talking about books, about writing, about sameness and difference and the intersections between. More than that all of us talked and discussed and dissected what it is what we love; telling and reading stories for teens.

It is fitting that our conference kicked off with some pin-drop inducing storytelling from Perry Wandin, a Wurundjeri elder who talked about the great William Barak and the need to remember and share our stories.

Following on from this our first official panel of the day was definitely a highlight, the teens panel (#TeensToTheFront) rightfully a teens panel chaired by Liz Flux (the teen-est adult I know) with panelists Aahana (an Inside a Dog reader), Ewen and Aida (both 2017 Inky judges). These guys were just so unapologetically honest and thoughtful and insightful. There are too many programs in many sectors about and for youth but very few actually champion youth quite like I saw at Reading Matters.

Everyone on the panel had something to say about their own reading habits, their hopes for the future of books within the YA readership, what they felt was lacking or needed improvement (diversity a big stickler here) inciting a lot of thoughtful commentary and quite a few laughs as well at the panels straight shooting manner.

After our teens panel we had our first keynote speaker the wonderful Jennifer Niven (who is so genuinely lovely?). These keynotes were undoubtedly my favorite facet of Reading Matters, and they are something I know I won’t be able to capture the downright awesomeness, passion and wisdom of. From Will Kostakis’ vulnerable grappling with the intended story for his novel THE SIDEKICKS (one of friendship, grief, healing) as opposed to the story thrust upon it (merely ‘gay’ fiction), to Randa Abdel-Fattah’s poignant, forceful and powerful deconstruction of a ‘post-truth’ world. Every instance of thought, of word of action was powerful, rousing the room with laughter, or rendering us to tears.

Because of this, I’ll speed through my overall thoughts quickly then share some nuggets of wisdom from all of my favorite keynotes and panels.

I would be remiss here, not to mention the delicious food! Catering for this event (two days of morning, lunch and afternoon tea) was spectacular. Honestly, one of the best catered events I’ve ever been too, the food was delicious and plentiful and had a great variety. Everything was well set out and with a great variety of drinks on offer (including an open free café for more specialized drinks) I was fulfilled and sustained throughout the conference. Never once going hungry, usually able to go back for seconds.

It was also so great to hang out with likeminded bookish friends as well as meet some twitter-sphere faces in person for the first time! There’s something a little demystifying about putting twitter profiles to real living and walking people. Everyone was amazingly nice and I had some truly fantastic discussions (and crashed several others like the socially awkward marshmallow I am).

Ultimately, I loved all of the Reading Matters events, even the ones which were not my particular forte, or area of interest I gained amazing insights and ideas from. I tried my best throughout the whole conference to live tweet ~the millennials note-taking~. Mostly though I came into this just wanting to absorb and take in what I was privileged enough to be able to afford to.

All I have is my best recounting of an amazing conference that I’m sure everyone felt very blessed to be in the presence of. So, here goes;

Alison Evans, a brilliant debut author with their work IDA participated in a number of panels and flung out a few awesome gems; our understanding/discourse of gender is evolving rapidly. It's so important for trans & non-binary teens to see themselves. About the inclusion of queer character in YA they said: Queer characters help explain the world. And also means queer people don't have to send their lives explaining stuff. Which pretty much is all that needs to be said on that.

More interestingly I though was the little detail Alison put into their novel. Deep cuts with likening their overall IDA narrative thematically with the pop culture artefacts they included in the work. That’s the kind of attention to detail and small world building that readers love to see in the books they read, they may not ‘get it’ right away (lord knows I rarely do) but afterwards on re-reads, damn those little gems (like Alison’s kickarse jacket a real star of Day One) shine bright.

I fell in love with Mariko Tamaki over the weekend, as a massive comic book lover and graphic novel admirer (one day I would love to write one/two/five) I am surprised that it took me this long to find her!

On why teens like superpowers, Mariko said: "Well, I was a mutant when I was at high school - I don't know about you" and if that doesn’t scream relatability, and a down to earth creator then I don’t know how I can help you in life. I fell in love with Mariko’s presentation of her work SKIM and THIS ONE SUMMER the combined of words and visuals to create story was particularly powerful and alluring: comics have the power to show you what people are feeling instead of just telling it.  

Mariko also talked about her experience as a queer artist; Being queer meant I had the chance to become a very different kind of artist and that intersection between her Japanese-Canadian cultural identity, her passion for telling stories and her sexuality.

She ended on a particularly powerful note reminding us all that: You make art for yourself, for you and your community. No one else.

 Shivaun Plozza, as always, had her hand in many basket; a wonderfully thoughtful and considered presence throughout the conference, leading a discussion with A S King on Autonomous Adolescence, peeling back the curtain a little on her ideas of adult presences in material aimed for young adults Adults are important in YA because they're important in young people's lives. It's just reality. Also saying: We also don't care much or know what our parents are going through when we're young in discussion of the adult perspective, or rather the teens perspective of adults in YA.

Her love and appreciated (and respect) for fanfiction shone through as she spoke with Rachael Craw and Lili Wilkinson was very much appreciated not only by me but other emerging and younger writers (and some older fanfiction authors as well.)

Lili Wilkinson was also amazing to meet, having a big impact on my early ‘out’ years as a lesbian teen in high school, not a lot of queer literature made it into our school (seven books) of which Lili’s PINK was one. Lili was a true voice of understanding for teens, reminding us all of our need to respect and not undermine teen opinions and experience. Truly connected, Lili noted that Teens are intensely political, but they're just often apathetic about politicians. But aren't we all? Lili is my people quoted saying: if I had access to fanfiction as a teen, I might not be writing books - I’d still be writing Harry Potter fanfiction. Damn man, you get it (though it has been a while since I’ve written HP fanfic, I still might jump onto the suggestion of the Winchesters from Supernatural rocking up in To Kill a Mocking Bird).

Rachael Craw was another light to the conference, apparently allergic to her own hair Rachael was so genuine in her responses (sometimes perhaps too genuine, you science-bullshitter you), always bringing a laugh and a levity to every panel which was oftentimes much needed from the raw emotionality and massive info dumping.

I was really excited to meet Jane Harrison, author of BECOMING KIRRALI LEWIS and STOLEN (play). To hear her speak about her work and culture in person was deeply humbling and empowering. There is just such power to Jane’s work, her exploration of individuality within systems of power, Aboriginal identity and her passion for thoughtful, diverse, Aboriginal work was amazing. Her about her cultural connection to death (instances and ideology) outside of talking about her own work and the somewhat mixed reception her work has received as both a Muruwari descendant (from her own community) and at large from the industry was captivating.

Poignantly she said: We talk about ‘closing the gaps’, young people are able to leap over the gaps.

Unfortunately, though I brought my copy of Kirrali for her to sign she had to head home early. It would have been great to meet her and thank her but there is always some other time.

A S King, unlike Jane, was an author I literally just fell in love with on the last day- very new for me. Her keynote was something of a powerful spoken word poem, along the same vein as the beat poets crisscrossing America, truly I just sat in awe of her voice and message and right after went and brought two of her books. We had a lovely conversation at the signing in which King talked a bit about her dismissal by the most of her queer friends once she fell in love with a man, despite that having no real baring of her queerness. It is an issue so close to both our hearts and obviously something that really hit home for King. I was a little too flustered to ask for a photo (not the first time for it to happen in the last two days as you will see) but certainly she is a wonderful, powerful, storm of a woman whose work I am desperately looking forward to falling in love with.

She was more than happy to take the time to speak with everyone who met her in the signing line which was incredibly sweet (can we keep her?-signed Australia.)

Also, she had a lot of excellent one liners and quotes to take away and process but two of my favourites throughout the weekend were: People ask if it's a feminist book. I'm a feminist, so all my books are feminist books. And When you give a teenager a book, it’s part of the cure to loneliness. A larger part is writing your own. 

**too nervous to ask for a pic!**

I felt so incredibly lucky to receive Nevo Zisin’s memoir FINDING NEVO in my goodie bag for the conference. It is a work that has been in my radar for a long time, since the first #YAShowcase I attended last year. Hearing them recount the final chapters of their book had me in tears pretty much instantly and listening to them speak was a real treasure (and those earrings? Hot damn).

What really hit home for me as a queer person was just how as Nevo said; It's amazing to be on a panel of 3 people, where two of us are trans, and the panel's not about gender. On their panel with Alison Evans. And YES that is amazing and needs to happen more across the board for all marginalization’s! Nevo, spoke back to me an experience that was very relatable, not the same of course but empathy and understanding isn’t restricted by sameness, saying: Kids don’t know they’re different until they’re told they are. Everyone in the world is oppressed by gender roles. We use "it's just a phase" to discredit queer people. But what isn't a phase?

Changing the mainstream and dominate trans narrative by storm Nevo has a lot to offer the world and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

*Note: I was also too flustered to ask for a photo when I got my copy of FINDING NEVO signed.

 Will Kostakis is one of my favourite writers, recent? Yes. But his work really speaks to me and to see him in person and say hi was really very lovely and a highlight of my conference experience. Juxtaposing his lively humour was his deeply personal, gut wrenching keynote speech that left pretty much the whole conference in tears. He took us through his journey to publication, his experiences being silenced for the queer content and characters in his books, being silenced by his own self-doubt, struggling with having his sexuality and the sexuality of his characters being the sole defining characteristic of his work that has far more to give, offer and share than what such restricting boxes allow. He spoke of his best friend Ben.

Similarly, American author Jennifer Niven poured her hear to us on stage, again and again and again, answering every question to genuinely, so passionately I felt both like a comforted friend as well as a voyeuristic intruder just listening to her, as though listening in on someone else’s diary. She told us of her mother, of her friend when she was younger that inspired her work ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES. And upheld honestly and integrity as the most important characteristics one has to have when writing for teens and for yourself. Too many people dismiss young people and dismiss us for writing for them. I feel honoured to write for them.

 On librarians and teachers she had to say: You place entire worlds in the hands of readers. That's your superpower. And on writing in general, specifically writing challenging or tough topics she relayed a simple truth: You don't have to be perfect. But you do have to be honest.

She is utterly genuine, utterly meaningful and incredibly sweet. I was very proud to write my name in the signing book she had with her, asking every last person who met her to sign their own name, as she did for them in their books.

Randa Abdel-Fattah has the biggest pin-drop moment of the weekend relaying how she could not remove her own identity from politics, when asked to introduce herself by Will Kostakis to the panel removed from the politics other prescribe to her work Randa said: My name is Randa Abdel-Fattah and Racism hurts.

Fuck.

There are no words for the pain and bravery in that. Randa in her keynote tore into discussions of a post-truth world, reminding us all that though we might like to think it Australia is not all that far off from Trump’s America, in many ways we are worse and need to be doing better, protecting our muslim-Australian brother, sister and non-binary siblings, lifting up their work and their voices and tearing down the walls both home grown terrorists and radicals far away are trying to build between us.

I feel very grateful and humbled that she took the time out of her holy holiday of Ramadan to be with us, fasting as she was and stationed so close to the catering for book signings, it would not have been very comfortable. We are very blessed and privileged to have her as a part of Reading Matters.

War is everywhere: Randa reminded us in her keynote, against science, women, black bodies, same sex marriage, the poor, schools - so many wars. You can't be neutral. If you have the luxury to write ignoring what's going on, it's not neutral.

Randa spoke of her own feminism coming to her through her faith which emboldened and inspired her. She also talked about the dangers of pigeon holing own voices and diverse stories as being representative of a whole identity.

**again, too nervous to ask for a photo!*

Riding the train home Saturday night, dinner plans (blessedly) cancelled and the idea of an early night with a good book settling into my bones I had to take some time to thank all the amazing people who made and continue to make events like this conference possible, wonderful authors and creators from so many different walks of life, and cultures and backgrounds coming together to celebrate and interrogate youth literature.

It really was an amazing experience listening and learning and a little but crying and a lot of laughter. I feel personally energized, challenged, inspired and hopeful that our literary spaces can continue to grow and become more diverse, more inclusive, more accessible and more ingenious.

It was wonderful to catch up with my friends in the LoveOzYA scene, meet new friends and twitter mates.

I am deeply and greatly privileged and more than ever I am motived to use that privilege to fight for more diverse and inclusive ideas, creators, industry, conversations, writing and a more diverse Australia literary canon for our teen readers.

Spiders Aren't All Bad | Mythology Mondays

There is no one African mythology or pantheon of gods, unlike the Toto song would have you believe, Africa is a continent, not a country, filled with diverse people, cultures, histories and myths; one figure of which, we’ll be looking into today.

Making a recent appearance in the STARS series AMERICAN GODS, Anansi (also known as Ananse, Kwaku Ananse, and Anancy) is a mythological figure who often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories.

Originating from the Ashanti (Asante) people of present-day Ghana, the mythology and stories of Anansi spread across countless Akan groups, throughout the West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone becoming a staple figure throughout West Africa and within Caribbean folklore.

According to the Ashanti people, Anansi is traditionally a trickster, that being a figure who teaches moral, ethical, political or social values through dubious and unexpected twists of fate, mischievous play and through example.

He is normally depicted as an ordinary spider, sometimes he is a spider wearing clothes or with a human face and sometimes he looks much more like a human with spider elements; such as eight legs or eyes.

Ultimately Anansi is a spirit who usually acts on behalf of Nyame, his father and the Sky Father, bringing rains to stop fires for him. Anansi’s mother is Asase Ya, earth goddess of fertility. Other members of Anansi’s immediate family are often mentioned; his first son named Ntikuma and his wife often known as Miss Anansi, Mistress Anansi or Aso.

There are a fair few narratives of power associated with Anansi. He’s credited in some stories with the creation of the sun and moon, stars and planets. Others tell of Anansi being the one to bring writing, agriculture and hunting to Earth, teaching humans the process of how to look after themselves.

According to one narrative Anansi gathered all of the world’s wisdom in a calabash (gourd) to hold for himself as he didn’t trust the humans of the Earth with such potent knowledge and information.

With all the wisdom sealed in his calabash, Anansi was still concerned that it was not safe enough, so he secretly took the calabash to a tall thorny tree in the forest (in some versions the silk cotton tree).

However, wisdom kept spilling out of the calabash as Anansi attempted to climb the tree, first with the calabash tied to his front, then tied to his back.  soon saw how futile it was for only one person to try and know everything and be greedy with their knowledge. He understood, then that it was far better for knowledge and wisdom to be distributed among all people, so that is exactly what he ended up doing.

Anansi tales are made up exclusively an an oral tradition and Anansi himself was synonymous with skill and wisdom in speech-a real orator. His tales spread far over the world and across the Caribbean by captives via the Atlantic slave trade.  In the Caribbean, Anansi is often celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, able to turn the table on his powerful oppressors by using his cunning and trickery and is also believed to have played a multi-functional role in the slaves' lives. In addition to inspiring strategies of resistance, the tales enabled enslaved African people to establish a sense of continuity with their cultural heritage and offered them the means to transform and assert their identity within the boundaries of captivity.

Another popular tale depicts how Anansi was able to ‘win’ a collection of stories or wisdom narratives from Nyame. In his spider form, Anansi approached Nyame and asked to be appointed as the King of all Wisdom Narratives.  Nyame was pretty impressed by the audacity of Anansi and figured, ‘hell, if this boy has the spider-balls to approach the Sky God in such a direct way, he deserves a chance.’

He said to Anansi; “If you can catch and capture the Jaguar Who Has Dagger-like Teeth, the Hornets Who Sting like Wild Fire, the Invisible Fairy of the Forest, you will be King of the Wisdom Narratives.” A somewhat impossible series of trials, Nyame thought Anansi would refuse, yet Anansi agreed to the challenge and set off.

Anansi went to the jaguar how has dagger-like teeth and asked him to play a game that would allow Anansi to tie him up with rope. When the jaguar agreed, Anansi got the rope and tied him up. He tricked the hornets by telling them it was raining (though Anansi could make it rain) and offered his calabash for them to hide in, once inside, he put a lid on it. He told the invisible fair to fight a tar baby and, when he did, he was stuck in the tar and couldn’t escape. Successful and proud, Anansi took all of his prisoners back to Nyame and showed him that he had accomplished all that was asked of him.

Impressed, Nyame names Anansi the King of All Wisdom Narratives and no once since has been able to exceed the achievements of Anansi.

 

The Giant Chocolate Bunny in the Room: The Myth about the Myths about the Pagan Origin of Easter | Mythology Mondays

Easter, that time of year where myths collide, where public holiday pay is at its best, where chocolate is just that little bit more tempting than normal.

So what mythical story can be peeled out of this mishmash of consumerist marketing, fable, religion and myth?

Well, one thing is for certain. Easter is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the March equinox. Simple so far; it is a day when daylight is equal to darkness, and its something that comes once a year (even though this same halving of daylight/night happens twice a year).

When it comes to the ‘true’ origins of Easter, any Googler or budding mythologist is bound to stumble over a couple of interesting names;

Jesus: The Jewish preacher/leader who after his death became the central figure of Christianity, believed religiously to to be the son of the Christian God.

Eostre: the supposed-to-be Anglo Saxon goddess of dawn and spring.

Ishtar: A Babylonian goddess of sex and fertility.

Inanna: The Hades to Ishtar’s Pluto, her Mesopotamian counterpart but with a couple key differences (namely a couple more details known about her).

Prior to Christianity, many ancient religions had myths and legends about the death and rebirth of gods and goddesses. Celebrations of these gods usually occurred in the springtime.

There’s no doubt that Western Easter traditions incorporate a lot of elements from a bunch of different cultures, religions and stories. You can’t really say the holiday is just about resurrection (figurative or literal), or about Spring or just about fertility and sex in the same way you can’t take one word from a book and say “here guys here, this is what this book is really about”. Mythology, stories, life rarely work that way (and if they did wouldn’t that be boring?)

To try and unpack Easter a bit we have to look a little closer at the above figureheads (given Jesus is the most well known I’m gonna skip over him, the man already gets more than enough attention, besides, he’s far more interesting as a comparative spring board for me than a mythic figure in his own right—we all know the Jesus/Easter story).

So let’s start off with the “mythos” of Eostre.

You’re probably wondering why I put mythos up there in quotations. Well, it’s because really, no one is actually sure that Eostre even existed.

She’s supposed to be an Anglo Saxon goddess of dawn and spring. Whether known as Ostare, Ostara, Ostern, Eostra, Eostre, Eostur, Eastra, Eastur, Austron and Ausos — all are said to be European derivatives of an ‘ancient’ word for spring: Eastre (this is a painful and false simplification).

But cutting down to the truth of it outside of this circulating in the popular consciousness as the “true pagan roots of Easter” Eostre (sometimes Ostara) has only one historical (not even really mythological) reference in the whole of human history.

Christian scholar The Venerable Bede, writing in his book De Ratione Temporum (The Reckoning of Time) about 725AD, declared that Easter (the holiday) was named after Eostre (the mother goddess of the Saxons.) Not exactly a great source to start with as he wasn’t a Saxon himself, and no Saxon recordings, tales, or remnants of culture mention anything about a mother goddess called Eostre.

Bede wrote; “Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance.”

 Basically he’s stating that during Ēosturmōnaþ (roughly April), pagan Anglo-Saxons had held feasts in Ēostre's honor, but that this tradition had died out by his time, replaced by the Christian Paschal month, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

Many scholars, theorists and mythologists doubt the existence of this convenient goddess all together (or at least her ties to Easter), but that doesn’t mean stories since that ‘discovery’ haven’t popped up about tying this Eostre goddess even more to the Easter holiday.

There’s a common fable associated with Easter where Eostre, was walking through the forest one day and saw a wounded bird. Realising that even if she healed it, the bird would never fly again (because reasons), so, feeling immense pity, she turned the bird into a rabbit, but the rabbit still laid eggs, coloured eggs (because reasons).  

This is essentially a pretty convenient explanation for the history of Easter and a couple of its main staples; the Easter Bunny/coloured eggs. Convenient, as you’ve probably guessed, because it is not an ancient mythic story but rather was invented around 1987 as a marketing campaign for Easter Eggs, but didn’t receive widespread popularity as an actual mythic story until it was published in an American kid’s mag in 2002.

More importantly though, it is most likely an adaptation of the old folkloric tale Protestant German immigrants in the Pennslylvania Dutch area told their children about the character Osterhase a rabbit who laid colourful eggs.

The idea of Easter being rooted in pagan myth, and specifically in the stories of mythic goddesses is the kind of thing people like to say honestly a little too often. Everyone knows this by now, well at least, they know something about it.

Unlike with the story of Eostre the Babylonian Goddess Ishtar casts a very large and undeniable shadow in the mythological world.

Ishtar (sometimes Astarte) was the daughter of Anu, worshipped in the upper Mesopotamian kingdom of Assyria (in what now is known as northern Iraq, eastern Syria and south east Turkey). She was a key player in THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH (both the earliest recorded piece of literature as well as the first superhero story, take that Superman!)

Like Eostre, Ishtar has been associated with Easter for mainly the way her name sounds; Ish-ta, Eas-ta, but also because of some of the mythology that seems to surround her.

Mythologically speaking, the story of Easter and namely Jesus, is one of death, sacrifice and resurrection. 

One of Babylonia’s most famous myths about, ‘The Dance of the Seven Veils’ Ishtar describes her descent to the underworld. In this myth, Ishtar (a powerful wise mother-goddess in her own right) approaches the gates of the underworld and demands that the gatekeeper open them.

The gatekeeper of the underworld hurried to tell Ereshkigal, Ishtar’s sister and the Queen of the Underworld; a place where the dead fed on dust, wore feathers and stood about in service as servants for Ereshkigal.

This Underworld however (and like many other later interpretations) was multilayered, each layer protected by massive walls with locked gates and monstrous guards. To proceed through them, Ishtar not only had to name each part of the gate and the staff who maintained it, but she also had to pay to cross each threshold.

One by one she took off her jewels, her garments and last her weapons as payment.

When Ishtar finally passes through all seven gates, reaching the throne of Ereshkigal, she was naked and without weapons. In rage, Ishtar threw herself at Ereshkigal, but Ereshkigal ordered her servant Namtar to slaughter Ishtar and unleash sixty diseases against her.

Ishtar’s death left the earth in turmoil: the soil wouldn’t yield to planting, animals stopped breeding and no human womb could conceive. Ishtar however, was as said one of the wiser deities; she had left her faithful lieutenants prepared.

Her chief warrior Asu-shu-namir (scholars have recorded Asu-shu-namir as a “transvestite” and intersex, but scholars generally are a bunch of old white men, so I’m using the term non binary which is what Asu-shu-namir’s identity description more-so lends itself to now, anyways…) was sent as a messenger of the gods to beg for Ishtar’s corpse.

Through flattery and eloquence, they were able to appeal to Ereshkigal and retrieve Ishtar’s body. Unknown to Ereshkigal, Asu-shu-namir carried into the underworld with them a secret vial of the water of like, provided by Ea (Enki), and with that they revived Ishtar.

In a complex bargain that was eventually struck, a man by the name of Tammuz (Ishtar’s concubine) agreed to take Ishtar’s place in the underworld for half of the year, every year, during which time Ishtar’s grief without him brought on a great winter, Tammuz’s sister Belili, remains below the other half of the year, and Ishtar’s happiness makes the earth flourish. (remind you of Persephone and Hades? It should.)

At each gate, on her return, Ishtar recovered another piece of her armoury and wardrobe, in the same way the world redressed itself as the seasons go through cycles.

Some scholars believe that Ishtar’s initial descent was made in an attempt to rescue her love Tammuz (remind you of Eurydice and Orpheus? It should) Yet, with the discovery of Inanna’s corresponding Sumerian myth, some potential light’s been shed on Ishtar’s motivation and greater details to the story have been uncovered, something we’ll get into below.

In regards to Ishtar and Easter, yes some parallels (understandably, given how much Bible stories were inspired by earlier mythologies) between her story of resurrection, sacrifice and Jesus’ it’s fair to say the two (her own mythos and Easter’s) share some similarity, but not to the extent where you can say they’re properly correlated (yet).

As an aside, yeah, Ishtar was associated with fertility and sex (seemingly important for an ‘Easter’ goddess if popular thought is to be believed). the lion, the gate and the eight-pointed star symbolically belong to her.

Despite common misconception, Easter has nothing to do with her. Death, resurrection, fertility, the idea of the seasons changing and a celebration of that change and charge into the Underworld through dance? Yeah, that’s more Ishtar’s style.

A little more is known about her counterpart Inanna.

In the Sumerian tradition, in which most of the Bible is rooted in, Inanna’s own resurrection story, known in most circles as “The Descent of Inanna”. is a story etched on cuneiform clay tablets dating as early as the uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BC) (though more recent belief is that Inanna stretches back to 2100 BC).

Inanna was the most prominent female deity in the sausage fest that was the ancient Mesopotamia pantheon. Her's is one of the earliest epic myths recorded.

We know this story because it has been found inscribed on cuneiform clay tablets dug up from the sands of Iraq by archaeologists, and because linguists have deciphered the Sumerian language and given us English translations (kudos guys!).

Though a popular myth we have only really portions of it, it is incredibly similar to Ishtar’s tale, so I’ll just go over the interesting differences to Ishtar, and the interesting similarities to Jesus’ Easter tale.

Let’s start with the first part of the myth. Inanna and Jesus both travel to a big city (in Inanna’s world the Underworld has a number of names, including “the Great Earth” and “the Great City”), where they are arrested by soldiers, put on trial, convicted, sentenced to death, stripped of their clothes, tortured, hung up on a stake, and die. All in that order.

Specifically, after three days, both Inanna and Jesus are resurrected from the dead (Inanna both dying and being resurrected in a similar way to Ishtar above). At this point it’s probably key to remind you of the two stories differences, one being about a goddess and the other a ‘divine’ man. But, what is great about these two myths is that they are an excellent display of a mythic template, the specific tropes and patterns stories took (and really, still take today).

Different to Ishtar’s story (or just perhaps providing more details) when Inanna returns to the upper realm she searches for her substitute to take her place in the Underworld. She doesn’t want to send anyone who has been missing her and mourning her down there. Yet, returning home she finds her husband Dumuzi on his throne completely unconcerned about her being gone. Furious, she decides that he will be her substitute.

Dumuzi, understandably is less than pleased by this whole ‘banished to the Underworld thing’, he protests vigorously and is helped to escape by his brother-in-law Utu, the Sun-god. But then a compromise is agreed upon, whereby Dumuzi will spend six months of every year in the Underworld, and for the other six months his devoted sister, Geshtinanna, will substitute for him. Life and fertility thus return to the earth. And that’s how the story ends.

As you’re probably thinking there’s not a whole lot here tying Easter, Ishtar and Inanna together. Aside from similarities (and out right adaptations) of the Biblical story behind Easter, the actual celebration itself, rabbits, eggs, chocolate, time of year, really doesn’t have all that much to do with either Goddess.

More so, this time of year, spring/autumn, the changing of seasons and time of the vernal equinox was a mish-mash of all different celebrations, festivals, feasts in honour of many many gods, all with rich stories and mythologies rooted in the changing seasons, resurrection, fertility and renewal.

There are many gods and goddesses dying and rising that represent the cycle of the seasons the stars, and the path of humanity. In Christianity one way the Jesus story changes from its Inanna and Ishtar counterparts is that it is detached from this agricultural cycle, the dying just only happens once—it is removed from the season it is celebrated within.

There is definitely more to say on this matter (the confusion of Pagan roots/inspiration and what is actually a Pagan takeover) but since Jesus is associated with some, what we’d call, living mythologies, it is in poor taste to talk about the correlation between Easter and Paganism too much further, outside of the obvious closing statement;

Really, when we talk about Easter being traditionally pagan, we’re talking about two different occurrences, the Easter most western people celebrate (chocolate bunnies, eggs, eating decadently), and the Easter with religious significance/ties. Neither Easter really has Pagan 'origins', but rather houses elements of several different mythologies (from their actual stories to their symbolism -rabbits and eggs-) in a collage of adaptation. This all comes together showing how mythologies, and ritual understandings world over, are informed and adapted by older myths and understandings. A thematic and narrative symbiosis that's hard to pin down in its entirety.

How does chocolate fit into this you ask?

Two word.

Delicious capitalism.

The Devil's Minion or a Mother Mary Type? | Mythology Mondays

Witch is a pretty broad term. It applies to any person (though the term is often pejorative and feminine) who practises or has a working knowledge of  magic(k). Witches in mythology and folklore are often a source of dangerous wisdom, often shown throughout mythology (and literature) as not evil 'per-say' but mysterious and scary and you don’t wanna go there Macbeth.

As Europe and Christianity generally got more and more shitty, the character of the witch was associated more and more often with the Christian devil. The archetype of the hag became more prominent, and the idea of witches and brooms and black cats just, seemed to catch on.

It’s hard to pin-point where the broom thing came from for starters, but at its root was this idea of a witch distorting womanly domesticity and was a direct anxious response to more and more women spreading out from the strictly confined boxes society had set out for them. Witch iconography uses signifiers of the domestic (i.e. the broom) but ‘perverts’ them.

One of the most interesting witchy figureheads comes from Slavic mythology. Her name is probably one you may recognise, but her story? Her character? Little of all that remains untouched by history and religion and general translation.

Baba Yaga is one of THE most famous witches recorded and yet no one really knows for sure all that much actually about her.

Many translations within scholarship have been put forward to account for Baba Yaga's name, her character, her image. A bunch more have attempted to reconstruct Baba Yaga's oral origin and historical development, with structuralist studies tending to touch more upon her character as it works within Jungian archetypes; the crone, the mentor/sage, the great mother etc.

Baba Yaga’s got one of those funny names; in Russian baba meaning ‘Old Woman’ and yaga meaning ‘Hag’, so 'Old Woman Hag'. She is often shown with the powers of shape-changing and prophecy. Baba Yaga has a fair few of other names outside of Russia; In Serbia she is called Baba Roga, in Slovenia; Pehtra Baba, in Czech Republic and Slovakia she is Jezibaba.

Baba is a complex woman, not only known as the personification of death, she is also depicted as playing an important role in relation to fertility and fate. Just as the ancient Slavs faced disease and death without warning or explanation, so to did Baba Yaga fly into fits of rage on the smallest of pretext, to the degree that she would eat people that offended her, or fulfil their duties.

The characterisation of Baba Yaga is where much of the uncertainty surrounding her comes from. She varies between acting as a benefactor and a villain, either helping the hero of the Slavic myth or hindering them.  Though she never seems to go after anyone unprovoked—provoked being as small of a thing as approaching her house—she appears to follow little or few morals. Nevertheless, whatever promise Baba Yaga makes to the hero after their completion of her tasks, she keeps. If they fail, she’s likely to eat them.

Most of us recognise Baba Yaga for her house, a crooked little hut on four or two chicken’s legs which carries her throughout the densest parts of her forests, making her difficult to keep track of. Baba Yaga in art and literature, if often shown to be inside at her spinning wheel (traditionally spinning thread from the guts and innards of the dead). Some tales say that her teeth, nose and breasts are made of iron, and that her hair (like medusa) is made up of withering snakes. 

Baba Yaga’s gift of prophecy often plays a major component in the tales and myths surrounding her. She is known to give gifts of wisdom and foresight but only to those who survive her demanding tasks, and who first actually made the arduous trip to her moving house.

It’s said that the fencing around her house is made up of the bones of those who’ve failed her tasks, failed to ask the right questions or her ruthless tests of motive. Each fence picket is the home of a human skull that are enchanted to spit fire and burn.

Throughout eastern Europe, many tales of Baba Yaga survived the advent of Christianity. In the Christian era some of the myths that recorded Baba Yaga’s more murder and witchy habits where altered to make them seem less gruesome and her, less of a spawn of Satan. In other cases Baba Yaga was demonised, made more ruthless, more deathly, with one particular tale about her origin gaining root (Apparently, the devil rounded up 12 evil women and cooked them in a cauldron, after he spat into the soup, and from it Baba Yaga came, the perfect evil). Strangely some later legends even confused Baba Yaga with Mary; Mother of Jesus, which is really hard to imagine when you think of some of Baba Yaga’s stories.

Ultimately no one knows quiet what to make of Baba Yaga. She is an enigma, wrapped in a shawl, riding around in a chicken-legged house.

 

Aphrodite; more than just a pretty face | Mythology Mondays

Last week people around the world celebrated (and in some cases took the day off work) to spend some time intentionally, thinking about all the accomplishments and stories of women. Regardless of the gender you were assigned at birth, or your race, creed, sexuality, last week (and in my opinion every week) was a time to set aside a day where we just celebrate, love and highlight the women who’ve touched our lives.

So I thought, in honour of that, today I’d talk about one of mythology’s better known, as well as utterly misunderstood, female figures.

The Etruscans called her Turan, though most of us know her as Venus (Roman) or Aphrodite (Greek). Unlike other mythological figures like Heracles and Achilles who’ve been branded on the worlds collective consciousness as popular characters, Aphrodite has become known throughout the world as more of a ‘symbol’ or an ‘idea’ rather than an actual character in her own right who, well, could do things.

Two of the most famous pieces of art in European history are of our girl Venus; Borachellie’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (which gets homaged in everything from the Muppets to Lady Gaga, to the Simpsons) and the ‘Venus de Milo’.

In her classic interpretation Aphrodite is an incredibly powerful, revered and terrifying immortal. In Hesiod’s Theogony she was born when the Titan Cronus cut off Uranus’ (god of the sky, husband of Gaia) dick and threw it into the ocean (so far a promising start). In Homer’s work she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione. She features predominately in many Greek and Roman legends, Eros and Psyche, the Judgment of Paris, the Trojan War legend, Medusa’s Rape and the Adonis myth.

In most of these legends, Aphrodite is depicted in a similar way; as a being who is to be feared, who uses her sexuality and the preconceived value of the female form by the patriarchal society to get, rather empowering actually, what she wants. She is actually known for inducing through lust a type of psychosis (or insanity) and often uses other people (men and women and other gods alike) to reach her means. She is ambitious, vengeful, romantic, insightful, wise, and cunning (Aphrodite would deffo be a Slytherin FYI), and a myriad of other things and ultimately, is a very complicated and multifaceted woman.

Though unlike her sister Athena, in popular culture, Aphrodite’s character outside of her beauty and sexuality, it at best implied and at worst completely disregarded. In fact most of her characterisation tends to lend itself to what ever ear she's depicted in's version of the 'ideal' sexualised woman. 

Seeing this dichotomy is 1. Expected in a patriarchal society and 2. Deserving of deeper consideration and mental unpacking. How Aphrodite has been depicted over the years can essentially be summed up in the patriarchy and deep seeded societal and institutionalised sexism, true, but also there is a key difference in what the Greeks and Romans in the age of antiquity actually constituted as love compared to what we could call love now.

Yes, Aphrodite is a love goddess but, what kind of love?

The typical Greek love categories were Agape; a charitable, altruistic kind of love, Philia, that ‘virtuous love between mates’ kind of thing, usually between friends or ‘equals’ and most recognisable Eros. a sexual, passionate, more object orientated kind of love i.e. the desire to have something. Be that a roll in the sack or a tasty biscuit.

Eros is the kind of love we would consider attraction, infatuation, a crush, desire yet the Greeks considered it a legitimate mental illness, some sort of ‘madness’. (which with this understanding explains a lot of Aphrodite’s classical myths) Love was an illness, able to be set upon a person by the gods like a curse and often the cause of death for mortals, demi-gods, the Trojan War and the reason figures like the Minotaur exist. 

And while some social classes and cultures at this time had some more favourable ideas about love, attraction, women and general equality, in the time of Greek antiquity there were some rougher ideas being thrown around about all these things, mainly by philosophers.

Aristotle thought that: women would bring disorder, evil and were “utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy.” Also writing that: “the male by nature is superior and the female inferior as one rules and the other is ruled.”

Ouch, thanks Aristotle.

Another familiar faced old-guy, Socrates, wrote: “women are the weaker sex, being born a woman is a divine punishment since a woman is halfway between a man and an animal.”

Undoubtedly, women in Greece at this time lived their lives as almost sub-human, though things were a lot better for them in say, Sparta than Athens, the Greek viewpoint on love, femininity and sexuality was extremely varied and way different than our own now.

Love is a little less murderous today and not something to be apprehensive if not downright terrified of. It's a little more hearts and chocolates and commercial.

Love wasn’t a fun, sexy thing like we see today but something that absolutely terrified the Greeks, more of a disease than a right of passage. Again why cupid has a weapon, a bow, which you are struck by when falling in love.

This is also why Aphrodite, while lust inducing, was absolutely terrifying.

Like a lot of Greek deities Aphrodite was something of a place holder from a pre Hellenistic era, which contributes to her being something of a contradictory figure for a society that was so keyboard-smashy about sex and women.

Interestingly (if you haven’t already guessed already), she is more like Zeus than any of the other goddesses in the Greek/Roman Pantheon (note this is not really a compliment).

She’s married, though beds who she wishes gods and mortals alike, she’s sexualised, yet still a Goddess granting her a certain level of respect, she is parental and maternal on occasion, a natural leader and has deep ambition and she has a Jealous spouse (like Hera for Zeus), and depending on which origin myth to adhere to, she is one of the oldest, wisest and first of the Immortals after the Titan war and one of the few not born by Zeus himself.

Admittedly, she is also a much bigger jerk than most of the other gods (including y’know, Hades) she dished out her fair share of godly interventions, curses and eternal damnations (Medusa is a prime example).

But because she is a lurve goddess and our modern portrayals of love are so very branded and packaged and sterilised, her depictions tend to fall all around the place. From merely a pretty picture to an outright wet dream.

It’s clear that contemporary depictions of Aphrodite are trying to impose a modern idea of romantic love onto a decidedly ancient character that was an embodiment of a different type of love altogether. Most of these depictions only offer shades of the character, others making Aphrodite distinctly a product of their medium and their era in time.

I’ve hobbled together a bunch of examples (in visual mediums) to try and Illustrate this point:

ONE TOUCH OF VENUS (1948): Venus is played by Ava Gardner. The films story is loosely based on the Greek Pygmalion myth with Venus taking the role of Galatia. A frivolous light comedy with Venus as more of a plot device to teach the main character a lesson rather than a character in her own right. She is depicted as the ‘perfect woman’ appearance wise, but as naïve, out of time and out of touch throughout the film. She is not a good housewife and thus, undesirable for our leading man. 

 

 

The 1988 reboot of this film GODDESS OF LOVE sees Vanna White as Venus, playing her role as an I DREAM OF JEANIE/CORPSE BRIDE character; obsessive, clingy, dim witted and again, utterly obsessed with the films leading man while being herself physically irresistible. She is turned into a statue by Zeus until she learns the ‘true meaning of love (i.e. monogamous love to one man) which indeed turns out to be the ‘moral’ of the story, though it isn’t Venus who ends up with the main character. Again, she is out of touch and does not exhibit the 'sensitive, passive' traits of a modern housewife. Instead she tries to kill people.

Venus also made an appearance in the 1988 film THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN. Here, Venus is played by Uma Thurman in her first ever film role. She is probably the most mythos accurate depiction on this list (though that isn’t saying much). The film shows Aphrodite’s almost insane control over the hearts and minds of those around her, framing it as a spell/curse. It shows her ambition, and disinterest in things outside of herself as well as showing her relationship with her husband Hephaestus/Vulcan, a relationship in which Venus does what she wants when she wants and he fumes in jealously yet still dotes upon her.

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In HERACLES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS/XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS Aphrodite is a pink lingerie wearing surfer chick (cos 90’s) who says “tubular” "awesome" and cracks wise. In saying this though she is is one of the most likeable characters on the show, actually having a pretty interesting character arch in Xena. In Xena she shifts from her uncaring, spiteful and selfish personality to a Goddess coming to care for and almost be parental towards humanity, specifically Xena’s girlfriend Gabrielle. Aphrodite in the series is actually one of those few immortals who is on Xena’s side when she goes all GOD OF WAR (we’ll get to this later) and tried to kill all the Olympians, thus avoiding Xena’s wrath and coming across torn between two loves, her love of her fellow gods, and her newfound love of humanity.

HERACLES is one of my favourite Disney movies and in it Aphrodite has well, no lines, is pink and slim fitted and again says nothing (though she does kiss the annoying/gross coach like satyr at the end). But Aphrodite’s role is expanded in the TV show adaptation (and she is voiced by Lisa Kudrow). She plays something of a mentor, guru figure in the show, often playing as the voice of reason in matters of the heart, teaching Heracles and his friends about sexism, objectification and self love, the latter ironically in one episode being taught to Medusa (considering their mythological history together is a whole other can of worms I won’t open up here but see victim blaming and rape). She is, thus far, the most progressive of the Venus adaptations.

Then in 2008 there was a little CW show by the name of VALENTINE, which depicts many of the Olympian gods (with Aphrodite as their matriarchy) living in the modern world. Aphrodite here in the 21st century is a business tycoon, running her own match making company (Valentine Inc.) She is a mother, a leader, a business woman and best of all she is played by the absolutely badass Jamie Murray (watch WAREHOUSE 13 guys). She overtakes HERACLES' Aphrodite in terms of progressiveness, shuns the dim witted sexualisation of her predecessors (she is still sexualised though it is framed as far more empowering) and rivals XENA’s Aphrodite in terms of genuine character. But the show only lasted eight episodes before being cancelled, and played very loosely with the idea of Greek and Roman mythology.

And then there is GODS OF WAR III (2010).

GODS OF WAR III… there’s not much to be said for this interpretation except for the fact that Aphrodite is purely sexualised to pornographic degrees and one of the few gods that protagonist Kratos decides to bang instead of kill (actually giving the played to do the banging with the push of a button and a vibrating controller). Go figure. Sex in video games looks hilarious on a normal day but the realisation of Aphrodite’s character in her (one sex) scene is really, really just laugh out loud. Most definitely pandering on part of the game developers.

On the lighter side of this, ECUPID is a cute little 2011 queer rom com about a long-term relationship between two guys being on the rocks. Aphrodite in this only has a brief sub textual cameo (only textual in the ending credits) and inhabits again a mentor role in the guise of both a phone app and a friendly waitress. In this instance again, she reveals the moral of the story to be true love, and that true love ideally is commitment and monogamy between two people (very at odds with Aphrodite in mythology).

This is by no means a conclusive and full list of all of Aphrodite’s/Venus’ depictions throughout the years (in visual mediums) but it is an interesting one; showing the path of progression our Goddess of love has taken. From love interest to eye candy to something of a mentor, all at the same time being pretty inconsistent in terms of character outside of her visual appearance (white young woman, slim and usually blonde). This is a good example showing how the pop cultural myth of women fitting this archetype being the the epitome of desirable women and also gives us a glimpse to how our ideas and interpretations of feminine beauty, desire and love have changed throughout the years (and indeed differ from decade to decade) and what idea's we have about the roles desirable women should play.

With closer analysis and more research, I don’t think it would be a terrible leap to bring about the idea that, our interpretations of Aphrodite in modern mediums, say a lot more than we intended about our contemporary thoughts about sex, women and love. And particularly about one of the greatest, most divisive and most misrepresented women in all of mythology.

*I'm sure I am not the only one reading who is craving a trans woman, queer, woman of colour, plus sized Aphrodite, right? How bloody kick ass would that be?*

Standing on the Shoulders of Jötunn | Mythology Mondays

NORSE MYTHOLOGY is Neil Gaiman’s most recent work, a somewhat modernized narrative retelling of many Norse myths; from the world’s birth to its destruction in an apocalyptic event called Ragnarok.

In my opinion, there’s no one better to take up the task of piecing together what Icelandic legends we still have. Gaiman’s mastery of mythology in both his SANDMAN series, and AMERICAN GODS prove that he has a knack for exploring mythological tales and characters in a modern setting, showing us how such characters and ideas can navigate our world.

He’s delved and been inspired by almost every mythology in some manner that I can think off of the top of my head. Working with some of the big boys from Greek and Roman mythology to Judeo-Christian figures with good'ole Jesus himself making a cameo in AMERICAN GODS.

Norse mythology however, is a meatier creature. As much a love story as it can be a philosophical tragedy, a road trip tale or a buddy-cop comedy. Gaiman’s dabbled a bit with this mythos before, walking in the shoes of some of these characters, but he has never really taken on the task on actually re-writing their stories, stories which, unlike the Mediterranean legends (like THE ILIAD or THE ODYSSEY) rarely show up in a school curriculum, and even barely really exist in their entirety (think the EPIC OF GILGAMESH, but colder).

Most of the specific information that scholars possess about Old Norse pagan mythology derives from a relatively small number of written works. So really, Gaiman’s not working with a whole story here, he’s just stitching together the tales that remain, fragmentarily and across multiple sources. The two probably most ‘helpful’ sources for this task are the PROSE EDDA and the POETIC EDDA. One being, you guessed it prose and the other obviously poetic. Both of these works come from Iceland, and given that the people who believed in the tales of Norse Mythology A) didn’t write much and B) had a lot of their writing and culture absolutely eradicated by Christianity (under the guise of cleansing pagan heresy), there isn’t exactly a lot of these works remaining, at least not in their entirety.

The POETIC EDDA, a collection of heroic and mythological poems, is a work complied from various sources, crafted by unknown writers in a time scholars probably estimate being around the 13th century.

The second source, the PROSE EDDA has a little more backstory. Well, I mean, it has a suspected author at least. The PROSE EDDA is considered to be written by the Icelandic politician *Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) and was created a little while after the POETIC EDDA was completed. Which I think is something that should stand out in regards to what we're talking about here. As it means that like Gaiman's NORSE MYTHOLOGY, the PROSE EDDA is an adaptation of existing Norse mythos.

Sturluson lived an adventurous life as a political leader, gaining great wealth and influence.  His PROSE EDDA works as a guide to the conventions of traditional Icelandic poetic composition and is written for the benefit of aspiring poets (storytellers). Of its four parts (Háttatal and the EDDA's prologue being the other two parts), the two most useful sources of mythological information and narratives are Skaldskaparmal (the language of poetry) and Gylfaginning (the tricking of Gylfi).

In Gylfaginning a fictional king, Gylfi, goes in disguise to Asgard, the city of the Gods, to find out about the Gods and learn all of their wisdom. Odin, All-Father and wisest of the Gods, comes to King Gylfi in three guises and tells the history of the Nordic Gods, the creation and inevitable destruction of the Nordic world.

Dissimilarly, Skaldskaparmal is is mostly a dialogue between Ægir, a god associated with the sea, and Bragi, a skaldic (poet) god, in which both stories of Norse mythology and discourse on the nature of poetry are intertwined.

*Sturluson clearly draws heavily from the POETIC EDDA for the majority of the stories he records in his PROSE EDDA. Relaying through prose, the origins of the universe according to Norse mythology and the figures residing within Yggdrasill or the World Tree universe.

Most of these stories (and most of Norse mythology in general) tells the tales of war between the Æsir (the Gods) and the Jötunn (the Giants).

As they are (beautifully fragmented) the tales of Norse Mythology stand on their own. I’ve read some of both the POETIC and PROSE EDDA, and as interesting as they are, they stand incomplete, full of references to other events, descriptions of places, people and things filled with holes. Like current meme culture, both EDDA’s were written by and for an audience who already knew the stories like nursery rhymes, not people completely new to them.

What Gaiman is actually doing with NORSE MYTHOLOGY is what Sturluson did centuries earlier, make these stories more assessable to a wider audience. Fill in some gaps, tie them together all while adding his own talent and flare to the mix.

Gaiman’s interpretation of Norse mythology in, uh, NORSE MYTHOLOGY, gives us 21st century readers a starting point to enter into this rich universe and to "make what use of it we [you] can" (Faulkes, 1988).

It's an interpretation that I can’t wait to dig into.

_________________________________________________________________________

* It's assumed that Sturluson is the author of the Prose Edda from information in the Codex Upsaliensis, an early 14th-century manuscript which contained the Edda. However, it and other manuscripts and sources are not entirely clear on whether Sturluson authored the entirely of the Edda himself, a portion ( the Háttatal) or was merely just the compliler of the work. 

Sturluson. 1988. Edda: Prologue and Gylfaginning. (trans.) Anthony Faulkes.

The Mythic Hawaiian Origins of Decidueye | Mythology Mondays

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have loved Pokémon for as long as I’ve had living memory.

One of the things I really love about Pokémon is that many of these critters are based off not only objects and creatures we can see in the every day, but also real-world mythology. And while the designs are purely the product of Game Freak’s active imagination (and in the case of some Pokémon less than active imaginations), many of their Pokémon feature moves and back-stories inspired by some of the oldest stories ever told by mankind.

My current favourite Pokémon’s final evolution (which if you’ve read my game review is pretty obvious) has a rich origin. It probably is, I think, one of the most interesting takes Game Freak has had with Pokémon design, definitely in my top five within the Alolan region.

The current Pokémon game (SUN AND MOON) is inspired by the Hawaiian Islands, the Pokémon in question is Decidueye; a Robin-Hood-esque owl whose entire character can be drawn back to Hawaiian influence.

The most obvious connection that can be drawn is that, perhaps, Decidueye is based on the Hawaiian Stilt Owl. Stilt-owls are a genus of ‘true owls’ (containing four species: O’ahu, Maui, Moloka’I and Kaua’i) once found in the islands of Hawaii, but are now, themselves, extinct.

Visually, Decidueye looks like these owls, the legs in particular are a stand out *punny drumroll*. Feeding on from, since the Stilt Owl/s are technically extinct, the ghost typing of Decidueye makes sense. But it’s a thin connection at best. Looks and mere extinction do not a compelling mythos make.

Rather I think, there is a richer and even more interesting inspiration behind Decidueye.

While we in the West see owls as adorable, wise, and attribute them with knowledge and Hogwarts delivery, Hawaiian culture see’s owls in a very different light.

In Hawaii, from before the time of the first Polynesians, flew the short-eared brown owl or Pueo. The Pueo are sacred, the word itself not only signifying an owl, but also holding several other meanings, shortness, the shroud of a canoe, the rocking of a child. Throughout Hawaii streets, areas and valleys all bare the Pueo name, with many of these places housing their own legends and stories.

There is this old Hawaiian legend often called ‘the owl gifts’, about an Oahu man (in some cases a farmer, in others an archer) named Kapo’i. At this time, the rainy season had just set in, and fishing was getting extremely difficult. Kapo’i was pretty much starving so he went out to try and find some food, and after some time came across a nest of six eggs. Quickly Kapo’i robbed the nest, gathered up all the eggs in his cloak.

Shrieks of complaint cut through the sky, and suddenly Kapo’i was descended upon by the mother owl. Kapo’i though starving, was a good man, so he returned her eggs and in return for his compassion the owl mother instructed him to build a temple to the owls and by doing so, the owls would look over him and his family for the rest of time. So Kapo’i did.

Naturally, this whole ‘build a temple thing’ didn’t go down well with the ruling chief, who thought it an act of rebellion against the prevalent gods, and ordered Kapo’i’s execution.

Yet, just when Kapo’i was about to be put to death the sky began to darken, and shift which turned out to be a massive flock of owls coming to Kapo’i's aid.

Everyone was in complete awe of the owls and designated them guardian spirits from that time onwards. The Pueo now are seen as ancestral guardians, the aumakua. 

It is believed that after the death of an ancestor, the aumakua spirit can still protect and influence the remaining family of the one they were protecting, and action this influence through the form of the Pueo owl, which, it is said is a spirit form specifically skilled in battle.

So, in summary, how does this mythos connect to Decidueye?

-       The Alolan Pokémon region is based/inspired by Hawaii, having a starter Pokémon reflect this culture in its design, concept is a reasonable assumption.

-       Decidueye is distinctly an owl, the most well known owl in Hawaiian mythology is the Pueo.

-       Decidueye’s controversial (and I think awesome) typing of ghost can be explained by the Pueo owl’s identity as a spirit.

-       Not only are Pueo owls (as ancestral beings) believed to be skilled in battle, but in some versions of the myth Kapo’i is known as an archer/hunter hence, Decidueye’s archer like design, ability and move set.

All in all, it’s really fun to try and unearth the mythic inspirations of Pokémon, stretching right back to the first generation of Pokémon.

Below are a couple of my other favourite Pokémon/mythic counterparts:

 

Nine-tails— Nine-tailed fox/Kurama (Chinese)

Zapdos— Thunder Bird (Native American)

Shiftry— Tengu (Japanese)

Jynx— Yamanba (Japanese)

Espeon— Bakeneko (Japanese)

Wishcast— Onamazu (Japanese)

Absol— Bai Ze (Chinese)

Golurk— The Golem of Prague

Xerneas, Yvetal and Zygarde— the three axes held by Yggdrasil: Asgard, Midgard and Niflheim (Norse)

Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza— Behemoth, Leviathan and Ziz (Old Testament)

Drampa— ZhuLong (Chinese)

Marowak— Huaka’i Po (Samoan)

Before there was Groot there was a Monster | Mythology Mondays

“What are you?” Conor asked, pulling his arms closer around himself.

I am not a “what,” frowned the monster. I am a “who.”

“Who are you, then?” Conor said...

I have had as many names as there are years to time itself!” roared the monster. I am Herne the Hunter! I am Cernunnos! I am the eternal Green Man!

A Monster Calls, By Patrick Ness

I grew up in a household with a Green Man by the door.

He’s an image, a motif, a symbol, found in many cultures, from many ages around the world. An enigma of thousands of years with a mysterious origin and history, the Green Man, is a figure traditionally popping up carved in wood or stone, in medieval European churches, graveyards and cathedrals.

He is mostly believed to have begun as a pre-Christian entity, a spirit of nature personified. His earliest images have been dated back before the days of the Roman Empire. It is posed that, with the coming of the empire and its borders that eerily similar depictions of the Green Man have been found as far reaching as in India.

The Green Man is mostly known as merely a man’s face, usually middle-aged or elderly, appearing out of the forest, carved into trees and aged buildings. His face is almost entirely comprised or encompassed by leaves, vines, flowers as though he is literally being birthed out of the nature around him. Sometimes, he is shown spewing vegetation from his mouth, sprouting plants and greenery from all of his facial orifices (eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears).

Because of these depictions, the Green Man is thought to have been intended as a symbol of growth and rebirth, the eternal seasonal cycle of nature, and also the lives of (hu)man.

Despite the range of locations artefacts of the Green Man have been found in, he is most often associated with the Celts, particularly in the area of todays British Isles. Unlike with dragons, lions, centaurs, mermaids and other images and figures of mythology, we don’t have any tales or medieval/mythological literature to satisfactorily explain the meaning and origin of the Green Man.

His image and symbolism has seen a bit of a resurgence in modern times, with writers and artists around the world reviving his imagery, weaving him into their work. It’s clear though the cultures the Green Man can be traced to and the stories that have arisen from his image are a testament to the widespread reach of a character that is still known, inspiring and even worshiped by people today.

In myth he is a god, a spirit, a guardian…and other times, he comes as a monster.

Book Blogging, Gaming and Neuroscience: What Kind of Psychology Drives the Book Community?

You are without a doubt a book lover and when you stroll into a bookstore or any place where books are available, you can’t help yourself, you buy one, or two, or more. When you get home, you bring them out and set them aside, reverently, as if they’re art. You snap some pictures for your twitter or Instagram, prop them up on your shelf or bedside table, ready to dive into them as soon as you have a moment. But the hard part’s done now, you’ve gone out and brought the thing, and announced to others that you have it!

People read for a lot of reasons, and the reasons people read (for knowledge, entertainment, escapism, pleasure, whatever) are often deeply personal, and is a topic that has been extensively considered and studied since reading became a thing.

Why do we do it?

Why do we read books, keep them once we’ve read them, reviewed them and talk about them online? What kind of psychology drives the book blogger culture?

For everyone who’s currently thinking (cos it’s fun) or (to tell other people what I think about books) or (in case I want to read them again, because I paid money for them Damnit) I’m standing in the corner of my kitchen like Slenderman, right now, slow clapping.

Clap.

Clap.

Okay!

These obvious, surface reasons are only the beginning friend!

Reading books and playing video games have a surprising amount in common in terms of activities to consume one’s free time. I, as someone with a rather vivid imagination (not vivid enough apparently to come up with a less clichéd phrase than ‘vivid imagination’) enjoy bring brought into other world, something which both games and books tend to do. There’s a term in the gaming community that of a ‘Completionist’; a player who in video games challenges themselves to fully ‘complete’ games, getting every achievement, all items, stats and rewards.

Book bloggers, I’ve found, are the Completionist’s of reading; taking the act of reading of having a book, through all it’s possible ‘achievements’ from a books content to its aesthetic, through posting reviews, staged pictures, reading goals, TBR’s, challenges and Bingos, various hosted discussions and just casual chats. It feels as though, in the book blogging community, there has to be some sort of achievement obtained at the end of all this otherwise why else would we even undertake the effort?

If some sort of need wasn’t being taken care of by these things, we wouldn’t do them.

But what need is this?

Well actually, it’s an assortment of needs.

Do you read books because you’re good at reading? You’re fast, decisive, have a reading goal of 150 for this year which you know at your best you can achieve?

You’re the kind of reader that likes to be challenged, in quantity or content, you like being presented with different ideas in new and unique ways, see the experiences of others in an accessible form. If this resonates somewhat with you, then I just translated the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into the context of book blogging. Boo-ya!

Maslow’s a guy who wanted to understand what motivates people. He believes that people possess a set of motivational systems, that drive their behaviour, actions outside of instinctual or unconscious factors. He developed the hierarchy of needs, a psychology version of the food pyramid, less grain products, less dairy and more covering everything humans need to survive, including air, shelter, water—to the less tangible things like love, security, self-esteem.

Books in this case, being only slightly less important than air.

Maslow stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that some needs take precedence over others. Our most basic need is for physical survival (water, air, that whole shtick), and this will be the first thing that motivates us and our behaviour. Once that need or ‘level’ is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, continuing on.

Every book blogger, in this case, reads and blogs to fulfil different combinations of the same five needs, and to meet these needs they find themselves facing at different points in their lives.
 

Belongingness and Love:

Despite being a fairly solitary activity, reading, in the book blogging, book community feeds into this need of relatedness. Book blogging is all about community. The communication of ideas, concepts, thoughts and opinions with others.

Maslow identifies one human need as being the need that we/our thoughts matter to others, and that we’re making a contribution to society. This is the easiest need to apply to book blogging/the bookish community, hell it’s there in the name blog and community. By participating in bookish events, creating reviews and content and rec-lists, we’re fostering a sense of community, using a bookish language and various events, resources and platforms to connect and communicate with others.

And when our posts are retweeted, liked, reblogged and commented upon, this only deepens our community connection, our need then is fulfilled (even if we do throw shade and argue)


Esteem:

There’s a sense of accomplishment that accompanies finishing a good book, or finishing a bad book, as the case may be.  Esteem, in fulfilling this need, we read because when we finish we feel confident feel as though we have achieved something. There is an achievement portion to bookish culture (reading goals, lists, Bingos, and challenges) that- when you succeed in, your endorphins go ballistic. Even some of the less outwardly competitive aspects of book blogging, just reading the books themselves, creating and posting reviews, achieving reading goals all of these things impact our self esteem, our sense of accomplishment.

TL;DR  we feel good about ourselves when we ‘do’ things. The Bookish Completionist that this fulfils is the kind of reader who thrives on facing more so external/measurable challenges than more conceptual/internal ones.

You wanna be the very best that no one ever was. Gotta “read” them all.


Self Actualisation:

Really, at the tippy top of Maslow’s pyramid, this refers to self-fulfilment, the desire to both discover and exceed your own potential and relate this to the things you do, the way you behave. In terms of books, this comes in with the experience of empathy through literature, as you take in and experience a work to its full potential. You read because it gives you access to a range of emotions and events that otherwise would take you years, decades, a millennia to try to experience yourself. Literature in this way is the greatest reality simulator — a game that puts you through infinitely more situations than you can ever directly witness.

This need drives us to not feel content at being just another reader, we want to grow from the experience of reading, be challenged by what we read and inspire others to reach their own reading potential. Reading books and providing commentary and opinion upon them is a skill in this sense, and you want to master that skill. It’s about your constant quest to become better and learn more through reading. This is what matters to you the most.

Like a character in an RPG you won’t be happy until you reach max stats.
 

Now, I do have to say there has been the addition of two other hierarchy needs over the years (psychology, always developing, always labelling) Cognitive needs, and Aesthetic needs.

In terms of reading and the bookish community this is pretty self-explanatory at only a glance.

brain-reading-book_1324008.jpg

Cognitive needs - knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. Books teach us stuff, pose questions, they’re also fairly predictable, usually tied up in a neat bow, or follow the same patterns, structures. That’s a comfort.

Aesthetic needs - appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc. Bookstagram; just so many lovely photos of books. Twitter, god. Blogs gah. Have you seen some people’s blogs? Also why are book covers so pretty?

But these needs are only the half of it.

This motivation to read and write about what you’re reading is only half of the story. We have to talk about the reward you get from this fulfilment, psychologically that is. What does the achievement of belonging, esteem and self-actualising needs do that keeps you coming back to blog?

Enter neuroscience!

When you post your bookish-thoughts online, or say you’ve finished a book and someone else tweets; me too! What did you think? You get a shot of dopamine to your brain.

Dopamine, an important neuro-transmitter in the brain that gets released as a reward mechanism, this also happens when you eat good food, have sex, pee after you’ve been holding it for ages. AGES…

*Flush*

Anyway, like game Completionist’s, those shots of reward keep you coming back, or in this case keep you reading. In the same way of a video game achievement happens, or the same way people get addicted to drugs; drugs release dopamine, and addicts get addicted to this release of dopamine in their brains.

Basically you’re addicted to the sense of achievement you get when you complete a book, post a pic, write a review and not only that, but the achievement you feel when you look at your bookshelf, book-talk with others, and that your achievement is then acknowledged.

So… we’re addicts, and our drug of choice is Bookish-achievements.

This form of Completionism is something of a new theory called Conceptual Consumption; which states that some people consume ideas and knowledge like they do physical things like food. Essentially, we suck in a bunch of experiences so we can possess them, own them. The rarer the experience (ARC’s, obscure books, limited/special copies/editions, hardback covers) the more valuable it is. We are the Kirby of book readers/bloggers. Kirby’s copy ability is pretty amazing. He just sucks up enemies and swallows them into the deep abyss of his stomach, taking on their abilities, gaining all of their knowledge. Kirby loves to eat and his appetite is endless.

And so is ours.

Kirby-inhaling-food.gif

We ‘consume’ books and each time we do, we put them on an invisible trophy wall, or actually a very real one (see: Bookshelves, blogs, Instagram’s and other social media accounts). These places all show off the experiences and accomplishments we’ve collected, and, if you think about it, each review, post or book influences the next, as we’ve assimilated parts of each book, discussion and experience into ourselves and into the ways we experience and discuss books into the future.

Just like Kirby keeps a piece of the enemies he absorbs, we, to some extent, have assimilated the books we read, and the things we write about them into a part of who we are. As readers we are what we read, we experience all of those individual realities. Sure it’s mainly in our heads, prompted by some scratching’s on paper or on a screen but, we are there with the character’s and their story, experiencing everything with them along the way.

I still remember the first time I read HARRY POTTER, POKEY THE LITTLE PUPPY or more recently Maxine Clarke’s THE HATE RACE, and I’m sure you can remember your own experiences with some of these titles as well.  We as readers are rewarded for our achievements by getting to own them when we’re done. Sure thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people read these works too, but the experience we have individually between the pages is uniquely our own.

TL;DR We read, show off and discuss what we read in order to add some more experience points to our life’s resume, unlock fulfilling achievements as per our individual needs, and get rewarded via dopamine, because we are addicts.

We are all book addicts.

Among Other Things; We’ve Thought about Banging Werewolves for a Really Long Time | Mythology Mondays

It’s hard to think of a full moon without thinking about werewolves.

Last week (Jan 12th) we had a full moon. I mean, it wasn’t any 2016 Supermoon, but it was nice enough for me to pull a Bear in the Big Blue House (obscure late nineties/early noughties reference) and give the moon a thumbs up before tucking myself in for the night. 

So the moon was pretty cool and because of that, I got thinking about werewolves, particularly about the lesser known werewolves out and about there in humanities collective consciousness. Like the Irish werewolf (Faoladh/Conroicht) very different from the European or Teutonic werewolf in that it really isn’t a monster at all. It’s actually seen in Ireland as a protector of children, the wounded and the lost. A lot of ancient Irish sources actually cite werewolves’/shape shifters as being recruited by kings in times of war. 

There’s also a long time association of werewolves with kings. Greek mythology (Ovid, Metamorphoses) tells of Lycanon and Arcadian king, who after the God's war with the Titians, became something of a little shit and refused to worship Zeus and his buddies, mocking others for doing so. He was also a cannibal (because of course he was), which along with his blasphemy Zeus punished him for, transforming him into a wolf after he cooked and tried to feed Zeus his son. 

Probably my favourite thing about these differing ‘were-myths’ is that not all werewolves are depicted as bloody thirty, or even really wolf like in behaviour at all. Take the Germanic Stüpp, a Rhenisch version of the werewolf which, instead of biting its victim; lies low in liminal spaces (crossroads, river beds, cemeteries) usually around midnight (another liminal space) and waits for wanderers to pass. At this point it appears like a small dog, and joins the wanderer in their journey until some time passes and a false sense of security blooms. Only then does the Stüpp jump onto the wanderer’s back, dig its claws in deep so they can’t be shaken off (in Rhinish dialect this procedure is called “pöözen” or “hackeln”) and start to grow.

Once attached, the Stüpp grows heavier and larger with each step its victim takes, feeding on its free ride's fear. Eventually the victim dies from either physical exhaustion, or mental exhaustion and panic. A grim metaphor for life really.

Not everyone is so bothered by werewolves though, actually there’s a fairly decent sum of people out there in the world who feel nothing but warm and fuzzy feelings for the critters (in their pants that is), and I don’t just mean TWILIGHT fangirls still griping on about Jacob Black’s loyalty and hot bod, or that other werewolf soap TEEN WOLF (TV). Aside from being thin allegories for HIV (looking at you J.K), being queer*, going through puberty/menstruation or having other such "'afflictions"', if you go to a bookstore or scan online you’ll notice pretty quickly that the majority of werewolf stories are romance novels. 

At some point we stopped wanting to hunt and slay werewolves and started wanting to stroke our fingers through their matted, flea ridden fur, talk about their tragic back stories whilst knotted together (*note* Do not google this is you don't know what this means. For those that do and not from the usual sources e.g. education, what happens in fandom stays in fandom okay. Rule one: don't talk about fandom.)

Perhaps it’s animal magnetism, or the idea of primal instincts, nature and urges residing inside all of us as dark and mysterious secrets that attracts our curiosity and stir our inner Furry. Whatever the reason, people have wanted to fuck werewolves for longer than we’ve ever realised, certainly longer than publishers and studio execs have been banking on.

As far as I'm aware, Marie de France wrote one of the first werewolf romance stories; an Anglo-Norman lai (long poems composed between 1160-1180) of Celtic origin written in the 12th century. One of her twelve lai’s I’m talking about in particular is her work; Bisclavret, the lycanthropic love story between a werewolf and a king (more kings!).

The tale begins with a happily married Breton knight. He and his wife love each other, but soon the wife begins to worry about his frequent and mysterious trips into the woods for days at a time. She fears he leads a double life, perhaps has another lover (returning from such trips “happy and gay”), so she probes and she pries until finally the knight relents. He explains that he is “bisclavret”— Marie de France compares this term to the Norman lore of the “garwolf,” (werewolf) a savage beast that, “eats men, wreaks havoc, does no good / Living and roaming in the deep wood.”

Terrified, Bisclavret’s wife refuses to share his bed, and at this point it is revealed that another knight is in love with her, and that she’d hasn’t thought of him with affection until discovering Bisclavret’s Furry-Suit affliction.

They hatch a plan together, deciding to steal her husband’s clothes (without clothing, like a selkie’s seal skin, he will remain in wolf form) she hides them in a chapel near their home and is delighted when her husband does not return to the household after his change. Assuming he has disappeared into the woods, she marries her other man, and takes over Bisclavret’s estate.

A year later, the king of the land is hunting in Bisclavret’s forest when he spots Bisclavret and calls for a chase. Knowing he must somehow convince the king and his party not to kill him, Bisclavret throws himself at the king’s feet, kissing every part of him he can reach.

The king, amazed by this beast's begging calls off the hunt and decides to keep Besclavret as “a great treasure, He tells his people it’s his pleasure / For them to take the best of care / Of it; let no-one harm it, or dare / To strike it, for love of the King.”

Everyone soon comes to be impressed by Besclavret’s gentle and well-bred nature. Apparently he doesn't act like a wolf, which amuses and enchants them all. He and the king also, grow ever closer as time passes. “Wherever the King might go / It didn’t want to be separated, so/ It went along with him constantly / That it loved him was easy to see.”

And when the king visits Bisclavret’s once home land, Bisclavret’s ex-wife, hears of the impending royal visit and attempts to suck-up to the king with expensive gifts. She gets her nose bitten off by Bisclavret for her trouble (who again, is normally gentle) and as she is carted off she reveals the entire scandal, her deed and Bisclavret's identity (see: Villian monologue/Evil Gloating on TVTropes.org) in the hopes that this will work against Bisclavret.

It doesn’t.

The king leads Bisclavret back to his court, invites him into his bed for kisses and then, offers the once knight clothes which he accepts and in doing so is transformed back to a man. Together them embrace and celebrate Bisclavret's return to humanity.

"On the king’s royal bed, they see/Lying fast asleep, the knight./The king ran to hug him tight;/He kissed him a hundred times that day./When he catches his breath, he hands/Him back all his fiefs and lands,/And more presents than I will say..."

Essentially, the king and Bisclavret live happily ever after.

Which is, I think, the best kind of werewolf story. The ones that end happily and queer-sucker-punch scholars who try to 'No-Homo' our myths, legends and history. 

_____________________________________________________________________________

*There is long and treasured history of, analysis and debate in queer theory feat. werewolves, if this is a topic you're interested in I highly recommend diving further into it! Mythological and Medieval sexualities is an invigorating and challenging stream of thought, constantly changing, constantly in debate. Take a peek at   [[“The Werewolf Pride Movement: A Step Back from Queer Medieval Tradition”  or "Why Men Still Aren't Enough" ]] if you're thinking of stepping through this door, if even only for a visit. If queer theory, werewolves and medieval literature interest you, these serve as an interesting intro to the diverse topic.

365 Days, Sister-Wives and Moonlight | Mythology Mondays

On January 1st every year, a whole bunch of countries around the world celebrate the beginning of the new year. And despite all the fancy pyrotechnics, twelve-o'clock kisses and resolutions to 'do more...' there's nothing particularly new about new years. In fact, festivals and celebrations marking the beginning of calendar have been around for thousands of years, with the ever-lasting powers of a Nokia mobile.

While a lot of celebrations summoned in the new year with 'drink a tonne and be merry' most were linked to agricultural or astronomical events. In Egypt for instance, the new year began with the annual flooding of the nile, which coincided with the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (according to Roman writer Censorinus). The Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the spring equinox, and the Greeks celebrated on the winter solstice. The earliest recording of a new year is thought to have been in Mesopotamia, c. 2000B.C, celebrated around the time of the vernal equinox (mid-march). We've already had the Celtic new year, Samhain on November 1st, a time known as the end of summer, coinciding with Halloween and the killing of stock before winter hit.

In thinking of the new year I always revert to thinking of the calendar, trying to plan out my weeks, develop some kind of routine. Three-hundred and sixty five days of 'what's next,' with the shrug kaomoji ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Outside of that though, I get to thinking about how amazing it is that even in ancient civil Egypt they mapped out all three-hundred and sixty five days of the earths orbital period; twelve months, thirty days, weeks made up of ten days, with five extra days tacked there on the end.

Amen-Re, ruler of Egypt some 3000 years ago, toward the end of his life grew old and weary. Thoth, oldest and wisest of the gods (also the god of writing and knowledge wut-wut!) tried to persuade him to retire from his very important very cool duties to the heavens, but Amen-Re, workaholic that he was, said; ‘Na-ah’ and continued on being mediocre.

Thoth challenged him predicting, without agenda or influence, that Nut (the sky) would give birth to four children, and that the first-born would rule Egypt when Amen-Re kicked the bucket. 

Amen-Re didn’t like that idea much, staying stubborn, he swore Nut would never give birth, not in any day or night of the month (a dickish move; Nut didn’t get any say in all this). So, Thoth’s prediction seemed doomed and it would have been, but he had a plan (God of knowledge has to have a plan).

Khons, son of Amun and Mut, was literally the man in the moon at the time. He lived there, alone, in the moon, where he sat in all his hermitute, doing nothing all day but playing a game called senet (the ancient Egyptian version of backgammon). Thoth, totally with agenda and influence, challenged Khons to a game, but demanded a handful of moonlight if he won. Khons agreed.

They played and Thoth won—a shock to all—and with his moonlight, he created ‘five days that were not days, and five nights that were not nights’. Basically a giant middle finger to Amen-Re.

The five new days and nights were, not a part of any month and so, were then added between the end of one year, and the beginning of the next- bringing the year on up to a frustratingly uneven and needlessly arbitrary 365 days. The moon, weakened by it’s loss, wanes a little bit every month since.

FINALLY, Thoth could fulfil his prophesy (a more proactive Macbeth). And though the details are a little hazy on the first new day Nut gave birth to Osiris (the prophesied king, A Jamie Lannister type) on the second; Isis (like the dog on DOWNTON ABBEY, not the other Isis, also a Cersei Lannister type being Osiris’ sister-wife), third; Set (bit of a dick), fourth; Nephthys (that no one ever remembers) and lastly on the fifth day she rested in order to recover from the wacked out multiple births and give herself some breathing room because her last week or so had been crazy hectic and she deserved the break.

Graduating Thoughts

Today, it finally hit me that I’ve reached the point where I’m an actual adult. Classes are done, school is done- I’ve achieved my dream of donning a mortarboard, sticking a series of letters after my name (B.A) and I’m saying goodbye to the past two decades of living my life as a child.

With my car in disrepair, I took a taxi into work Sunday morning, and after going through the motions of 5AM small talk, my driver asked me; ‘So, what are you planning to do after university?’

I’m fortunate enough to not be in the situation of replying; I don’t know- but only in the sense that right now, my goals are either end results or intangible ideals like; ‘be happy’ ‘be more organised’ ‘less hypocritical’. I know what I want to have achieved before I turn twenty-four, twenty-eight, thirty—I just don’t know how I’m doing that, how I’m getting there.

Like getting to the oasis in the desert, only to realise you are in the place that the water and palm trees were- but the oasis is still far ahead, shimmering just off the horizon.

You know the future is really happening when you start feeling scared.

It feels like you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not only miss the people who were there with you (in whichever manner) the routine and everyday minutia, but you’ll also miss the person you were then/are now at this time, at this place- because you’ll never be this person again, you’ll never be this way ever again.

“Writing, reading, learning, eating-”

I think, if I was asked now- what I’m going to do now, with my life and with my time- it would be this.

Whether I earn money in an office or a supermarket, knocking on people’s doors (never again) or being paid by the word, I’d like to strive for theses things to be constants, and my intangible ideals, less fear, more acceptance, more stability, maybe getting a cat- moving to a place where I can have a cat, travel.

“Writing, reading, learning, eating. Getting a cat, travel…loving life, loving myself.”

 

 

2017 #YAShowcase Round Up & Thoughts

Earlier last week I had the fun and pleasure of attending The Centre for Youth Literature's YA Showcase for 2017. In front of an awesome group of YA fans, writers and industry workers, different publishers shared with us their most exciting YA reads coming out in 2017.

With a front row seat I live-tweeted the event which you can peruse here. I've also finally come around to compiling my own round up of the showcase; talking about the YA titles that grabbed my attention, and the shape 2017 seems to be taking now and towards the future with YA and YA publishing.
 

VALENTINE- Jodie McAlister | Jan 2017

Four teenagers – all born on the same Valentine’s Day – begin to disappear. As the bodies mount up, Pearl Linford has to work out what in the supernatural hell is going on, before it happens to her. Finn Blacklin is the boy with whom Pearl shares a birthday, the boy she has known all her life and disliked every second of it, the boy her subconscious has a totally annoying crush on. Finn is also the Valentine: a Seelie fairy changeling swapped for a human boy at birth. The Unseelie have come to kill the Valentine – except they don’t know who it is. And now both the Seelie and the Unseelie think Pearl is the Valentine, and if they find out she isn’t, she’ll disappear too.  Pearl must use all her wits to protect herself. Finn must come to terms with his newfound heritage. And then there’s the explosive chemistry between them that neither of them know quite what to do about.

IDA- Alison Evans | Jan 2017

Ida struggles more than other young people to work this out. She can shift between parallel universes, allowing her to follow alternative paths. One day Ida sees a shadowy, see-through doppelganger of herself on the train. She starts to wonder if she’s actually in control of her ability, and whether there are effects far beyond what she’s considered. How can she know, anyway, whether one universe is ultimately better than another? And what if the continual shifting causes her to lose what is most important to her, just as she’s discovering what that is, and she can never find her way back?

 

 

 

STARGAZING FOR BEGINNERS- Jenny McLachlan | Apr 2017

Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her. And Mum's disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She'll need a miracle of cosmic proportions.

LIFE IN A FISHBOWL- Len Vlahos | Jan 2017

Jackie’s life wasn’t perfect, but at least it was normal. That is, until her dad received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Then he went and did what anyone faced with mountains of medical bills and a family to support would do: he sold his life to the highest bidder. Which turned out to be a TV station. Suddenly everyone from psychotic millionaires to cyber-savvy nuns wants a piece of Jackie’s family as they become a reality TV sensation. Jackie’s life spirals out of control just as her dad’s starts to run out, and meanwhile the whole world is tuning in to watch her family fall apart.Acidly funny and heartbreakingly sad, Life in a Fishbowl is an exploration of the value of life and what memories mean to us. Perfect for fans of Patrick Ness.
 

NIGHT SWIMMING- Steph Bowe | Apr 2017

Imagine being the only two seventeen-year-olds in a small town. That’s life for Kirby Arrow—named after the most dissenting judge in Australia’s history—and her best friend Clancy Lee, would-be musical star. Clancy wants nothing more than to leave town and head for the big smoke, but Kirby is worried: her family has a history of leaving. She hasn’t heard from her father since he left when she was a baby. Shouldn’t she stay to help her mother with the goat’s-milk soap-making business, look after her grandfather who suffers from dementia, be an apprentice carpenter to old Mr Pool? And how could she leave her pet goat, Stanley, her dog Maude, and her cat Marianne? But two things happen that change everything for Kirby. She finds an article in the newspaper about her father, and Iris arrives in town. Iris is beautiful, wears crazy clothes, plays the mandolin, and seems perfect, really, thinks Kirby. Clancy has his heart set on winning over Iris. Trouble is Kirby is also falling in love with Iris…