Sunday, 19 May 2019

Welcome Back, Gentleman Jack!

Behind her back, she's Gentleman Jack
A Yorkshire lady of renown
Ever so fine, won't toe the line
Speak her name, Gentleman Frown.

At Shibden Hall she had them all
The fairer sex fell under her spell
Dapper and bright, she held them tight
Handsome Anne seduced them well.

Gentleman Jack, oh Gentleman Jack

Watch your back, you're under attack
Their husbands are coming, you'd better start running
For nobody likes a Jack-the-lass.

Jack-the-lass, Jack-the-lass

No one likes a Jack-the-lass
The code is cracked, your bags are packed
The knives are out for Gentleman Jack!

Tonight, there will be a television show airing at 9pm on the BBC that has been over 20 years in the making... well, if you're counting the time when television didn't exist, it's actually almost 200 years in the making.

You may not have heard of Anne Lister before, and there is a reason for that. Up until now, her name has only been mentioned in hushed tones. In fact, after speaking to a few sources, even the tour guides at Shibden Hall in Yorkshire, Anne Lister's home, did not talk about her for years.

Suranne Jones as Anne Walker (left) and the real Anne (right)

This has all changed, thankfully! Anne Lister is a very important historical figure, but simply because she was a gay woman, she is never talked about in schools or most history books of the Victorian era. This kind of censorship is the reason it has taken Sally Wainwright over 20 years to get Anne's story to television - because no one wanted to risk putting a show about a real life lesbian on air.

I'll give you a brief overview, but if you want to know more and read along whilst watching the show, click here to buy the BBC companion biography by Sally Wainwright herself!

Anne Lister was born into the wealthy Lister family of Shibden, Yorkshire. When she was a teenager, she got sent to school but was kicked out (possibly because of the relationship between her and Eliza Raine) so began to seek out her own education. This led her to being very clever, as well as very rich, so she was able to travel the world alone and live to tell the tale. 

She was very different to every other woman at the time. She wore only black men's clothes, had a better education than most women, and she was also an incredible businesswoman. She inherited the Shibden coal mines, and collected taxes when other men couldn't, and was very masculine in her activities. She did not want to be a man, and we know this from her diary - she was simply exhausted by the lack of things women could do at the time, so she fought it.

Suranne Jones as Anne Lister and Sophie Rundle as Ann Walker

She wrote 5 million words in her diary, and a sixth of them were in code she had created with Eliza made of Ancient Greek and other numerals. The coded words told all about her relationships with other women, a scandal at the time! (Bear in mind people already had suspicions, which is how she got the nickname Gentleman Jack, which is supposed to be offensive but Anne brushed it off). 

When they were found by John Lister after her death, despite others saying he needed to burn the diaries, he kept them safe behind a panel in the Hall and they are still being translated today. In fact, they were being translated second by second, even when the cameras were rolling for the television show! The cast and crew were the first people to hear the new translations of this code!

And I am so glad John kept them, because now we have this wonderful first hand account of both Anne's life and the life of pre-Victorian and Victorian society. The television show allows us to join Anne in the 1830's, when she met Ann Walker, who became her 'wife' and who she was with until her death in 1840, when she never recovered from a fever.

Why do I think Anne Lister's story is so important? 

Because it shows people, on prime time television, that the LGBT+ community was always here, and it is not just a trend. Because Anne gave us a detailed account of life during the early 1800's, and this is seriously exciting for historians as well as gay women. Because lesbians deserve to be main characters, and not just forgotten about on the side.

Anne, you may have been silenced for many years, but we are bringing you home. 

Monday, 25 February 2019

Blog Tour: Enchantee by Gita Trelease

cover photo from goodreads

Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries – and magicians . . . When smallpox kills her parents, seventeen-year-old Camille is left to provide for her frail sister and her volatile brother. In desperation, she survives by using the modest magic she learnt from her mother; a cursed talent to use which costs Camille dearly. But when her brother disappears Camille decides to pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette herself.

Using dark magic Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine‘ and presents herself at the court of Versaille, where she soon finds herself swept up in a dizzying life of riches, finery and suitors. But Camille’s resentment of the rich is at odds with the allure of their glamour and excess, and she soon discovers that she’s not the only one leading a double life...

I have a really exciting book to share with you today. As part of the blog tour, I have been gifted a copy of Enchantee by Macmillan Press, and to celebrate I thought I would do something fun.

So, because I am a bit of a French speaker myself, I'm going to share some of the magical things that helped me learn French when I was younger. 

1. Tot's TV

This show was all about puppets, including a girl called Tilly who spoke French to the young audience (such as myself) and introduced the basics. I loved this show, and it even had an element of magic in it! The gang had a magic bag - la sac magique - that they took everywhere with them. Here is a taster episode about them visiting a cat shelter:

2. KidSpeak French Computer Game

Before Babbel, there was KidSpeak! This was pretty much my favourite thing EVER as a child. It was a computer game that had a character called Claudine, who introduced songs and games to learn the french basics. No matter what age you age, I would 100% recommend this if you are starting to learn French. The songs were so catchy that I managed to memorise them and understand the alphabet, animals, birthday song, food, and school supplies. Seriously, check this video of the songs out:

3. Listening to songs in French

Actually listening to French music is a brilliant way to pick up the language quicker, since many people find their listening skills for a foreign language often lets them down. It works even better when you know the song in English and can follow what they're saying. I find that Disney songs sound even more magical in French, and most of us know the classics so it is easy to follow along. Here are a few of my favourites with the lyrics and translations:

And there you go! You don't need to know French to be able to read Enchantee, but I have provided a few tips that work like magic. Pick up a copy for yourself!

Bonne nuit! (Good night!)

Friday, 1 February 2019

Starting my 2019 Resolutions in February

Both gifs used in this post are not mine

I have never been the sort of person to stick to resolutions, and I'm sure a lot of people can relate. I try to make one resolution each about the following things in my life: reading, writing, health, and work. This is what they usually look like:

1. Read at least one book a week
2. Write that book! And publish it!
3. Do lots of exercise and stop taking my anxiety medication
4. Get a fabulous job that pays lots of money

Obviously, they are not realistic resolutions to complete in the space of just one year, and most of them are actually not within my control. I can write an entire book, but it may not be good enough/ready to be published, as well as the fact that publishing usually takes more than a few months. Coming off my anxiety medication is definitely not realistic, because whilst I may go a few months feeling okay I have been known to crash quickly.

The fact of the matter is, I always set the bar too high. Pair that with the cold and depressing month of January where all you want to do is hide underneath your duvet, and you have the recipe for instant failure.

This year, I decided to focus on getting through January without tremendous pressure, and instead set some more realistic goals for February and beyond. Here is what I have decided to commit myself to:

Reading: I have set my target on Goodreads to 45 - the lowest I have ever set it. This adds up to just under a book a week, and instead of buying lots of books, I will support my local library more often.

Writing: This February, I will finish a book that I am already working on. I will get the first draft done, and the editing can come later. I will set myself a target of 2 pages a day.

Health: This includes both physical and mental health. I am going to set specific days to do yoga during the morning, and a day a week to do something more physical, whatever that may be. The first thing I eat every day will be a piece of fruit, but I will not force myself to monitor my intake all of the time. I will also find a more intense way to combat my anxiety, because it is time to take back control of my life.

Career: I will find another part-time job (I have just been let go from my seasonal work) and even if it isn't perfect it will be enjoyable and will pay enough so that I can live comfortably and travel often.

Hobbies: I will take up the violin again, perhaps find a choir to join in my area, and I will indulge myself in all of the beautiful art I can find. I will also go and watch movies more often, because they make me happy.

Extra: I will be less reliant on social media for my life standards, and maybe will even delete a few apps from my phone.

So there you go! I will update you with how my resolutions are going, but I know that by being less harsh on myself, I will automatically be more successful.

Why don't you have a go? Create some resolutions for yourself in February, and be kinder to yourself in 2019.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Review: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton by Anstey Harris

Image result for the truths and triumphs of grace atherton
Cover photo provided by Simon and Schuster

Title: The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton
Author: Anstey Harris
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 10th January 2019
Genre: Adult Fiction
Page Count: 368 
Original Language: English
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

I borrowed an early-release copy of The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton from my place of work, and I am so glad I got to read it before it was officially released out into the world. I picked it up because it was recommended for people who enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and I have to say that for once, the comparison was helpful.

Grace Atherton has an exciting life. She is involved in an eight year affair with David, a married man, and they are deeply in love. They spend weekends in a beautiful apartment in Paris, and then go their separate ways, and Grace goes back to her life as the owner of a music shop. 

Everything is perfect, until David saves a woman from falling to her death on the train tracks, and the whole world wants to know the identity of the Metro Hero. When they finally identify him, his wife and children find out about the affair, and Grace's life comes crashing down.

This book was exactly the kind I needed to kick-start my 2019. You go into the story believing that Grace's life is consumed by her relationship with David and that is all the novel will focus on, but what you actually find is a beautiful story about friendship and finding those people who will go the extra mile to help you achieve your goals. 

Grace is a cello player and a music school drop-out, and the secret behind why she was forced to leave is slowly revealed to us. It is shocking, but allows us to understand the character of Grace and her motivations for the decisions she makes. I'm so glad that romance fell off her list of priorities, because this book deserves to be more than a broken woman stuck in an affair with a married man.

The plot was character driven (my favourite kind of plot!) and there were brilliant contrasts between the three friends. There is Grace, a heart-broken woman in her 30's who didn't know where her life is heading, her school-girl employee Nadia, and old regular customer Mr Williams. The difference in age and circumstance brought different perspectives to the story - especially with Nadia being a teenage soon-to-be mum and Mr Williams an older gay man. These are perspectives you rarely see in books or television, and I really appreciated the range of characters that Anstey Harris brought to us.

Overall, this book was beautifully written, with almost a musical flare in descriptions of the key settings such as Paris and Italy, to the point where I could taste the bread and cheeses. It is a surprising book that points out the flaws in human beings, but also shows how beautifully in-tune we can be with one another.

About the Author

Anstey Harris is based by the seaside in south-east England where she lives with her violinmaker husband and two dogs. She teaches creative writing in the community, local schools, and as an associate lecturer for Christchurch University in Canterbury.

Anstey HarrisAnstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us and the things that can rip us apart. In 2015, she won the H G Wells Short Story Prize for her story, Ruby. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves).