Book Review: Only Ever Yours, Louise O’Neill

“All eves are created to be perfect but, over time, they seem to develop flaws. Comparing yourself to your sisters is a useful way of identifying these flaws, but you must then take the necessary steps to improve yourself. There is always room for Improvement.”

Have you ever read a book that made you angry?

I don’t mean pissed-off-at-the-author-that-was-terrible-I-want-to-rip-my-eyes-out sort of angry, but rather a book that made you boil with absolute rage and injustice for the characters and the world which they inhabit?

A book that kept you awake at night just thinking, thinking, thinking, terrified of the parallels you’re able to draw between this fictitious place and your own society?

I have.

I have just read a book that made me want to scream. Correction. It still makes me want to scream. 24 hours later and I am still so affected by this book, that I think I could throw a full-scale toddler-esque tantrum about all the wrongs it depicts.

Seriously, I could throw myself on the floor and cry about the fate of the characters. I snapped my copy shut after greedily consuming the last page and threw it away from me. I wanted to shout at it. I wanted to yell “no” as loud as I could. I’ve always been one of those people who lives in the book they are reading. That sounds weird. I don’t dress up like them or anything because, although that sounds pretty awesome, that would be odd. I just tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what I am reading, and, if I love the book, all of my spare time consumed by it.

And the beauty of it all?

It’s a freaking Young Adult novel.

For all those readers out there who think YA is a genre not worth your time, IN YOUR FACE, because these books exist. There are loads of them; these thoughtful beautiful books, and they deserve our time. Sometimes they demand it.

But less of that. Let’s talk about this particular novel that’s got me so enraptured.

I’d long decided that a huge girl crush on Louise O’Neil was on the cards. She is hysterically funny and witty on Twitter – plus I’ve just discovered her blog on her author page and I don’t think I have laughed that much at anybody’s blog! She reminds me of my mates. These funny, funny, successful girls who deserve to be seen and heard and valued. In short, I fucking love her. I want her to come on a night out with me, do shots of tequila and tear up the dance floor.

I’d ordered O’Neill’s debut novel, Only Ever Yours, during a big Amazon used and new binge. I’m a bit broke after the whole travelling thing but decided to splurge on some books because, YOLO, and all that. I had been absolutely bursting to read How to be Both by Ali Smith and delved straight into that when the books were delivered (and left by our postie in our recycling bin – queue a rather ungraceful me, clad in pjs, rifling through the bins at 8 am) and it ended up taking me a few weeks to get through. Not that I hated the book. On the contrary, I loved it. It was just a bit of a slog for something so short. But Smith is a genius. The novel eventually reeled me – although the different narratives jarred me slightly – and I loved the thread connected between the two narratives.

Then I picked up Only Ever Yours and I was hooked from the first line. It took me a week to read the book cover to cover (and only took so long because I had to grab snatched reading moments throughout the day – 5 minutes on the train, ten at lunch, twenty before bed) and I inhaled it.

O’Neill’s perfect companion ‘eves’ are created at a sinister place called “The School”, and this is where Freida and Isabel, both 16, have spent 12 years being prepared for “the Ceremony”. This is the moment when the best women will be chosen by the most powerful young men. The fate of many of those not selected is to be a concubine.

Already got you irritated, right?

It is a witty and unsettling story. The eves are doped up on SleepSound, their weight is monitored by kcal blockers, their behaviour controlled by the weird controllers called the chastities.

There are rules: Eves must be good, they have to be pretty and they have to do as they are told. The Chastities are on hand to remind the girls what at stake if the rules are not adhered to and reel of mantras like “no man will ever want a companion who thinks too much.” In fact, just to be on the safe side, the Eves are forced into hours of Organised Recreation to prevent female hysteria. Thoughts are quite literally wiped out in a haze of nothingness.

I love the inferences to modern culture in the novel. The Eves are encourage to watch shows such as “The Americas-Zone’s Next Top Concubine,” rate each other on Your Face or Mine, and regularly update their statuses on MyFace with banal gossip and mundane everyday nonsense. Sound familiar?

The eves are ranked in order of beauty and behaviour and their ultimate function is produce children, or be present to the sexual demands of males. I am always willing.

“May you be the mother of a hundred Sons”

One horrifying moment occurs when the Eves are discussing a reality TV star who has beat his companion and admitted doing so.  Why didn’t she just deny it? seems to be the general consensus among the women. One character goes so far as to say, “He’s so yummy. I’d let him beat me.”

The satire is unflinching.

The worst thing for the Eves to be is fat. Below target weight and thin as a bird is acceptable, but fat is a no go. Fat is repulsive. Eating is seen as a weakness and not doing so is a competition. Isabel, an elusive character who lurks on the peripheries of the story, tries hard to reclaim her body.

“Why, isabel? Why are you doing this to yourself? To your body?’
And why are you doing this to me? is the awful, selfish thought that is left unsaid.
‘Because I can,’ she answers, and I shiver as she unconsciously echoes chastity-ruth.
‘But-‘
‘Because it’s my body,’ she cuts in. ‘Isn’t it?”

Youth is desirable, with older Eves (thirty is deemed old, so I am well past my sell-by date) fully supporting men’s decisions to throw their companions on the pyre or redesign their wives at the age of twenty. Rosie, one of the Eves, says: “Do you know what forty looks like? Have you seen chastity-bernadette yet?”

The Eves do not deserve capital letters for names, the men do.

Sexuality is not allowed to be fluid. The gene causing “Male abherants” has been eradicated and any mention of lesbianism is taboo, unthinkable. God help women if they find themselves having lesbian desires, the result is truly terrifying.

One of my favorite characters is Abraham who likes girls who do yoga because “it makes them more bendy” and is partial to a craft beer. There’s also mention of a character who likes to reel off his escapades with concubines involving ping-pong balls and threesomes. So far, so Nuts or Zoo magazine, right?

Porn is also bought it up in a most excellent fashion. Darwin – the #1 Inheritant – shows Frieda a site where avatars can do as they wish with female concubines hooked up to sensors. Taking her through the rooms – S&M, Sapphic – it brings to mind the deluge of clips and videos available on the internet. But it’s OK, Darwin states. These concubines won’t remember what has happened to them. Eves watch porn for sex education.

“I can’t even remember the first time I saw a porno. I presume I must have been shocked, frightened even, but after watching another and another and another they sort of blend into nothingness.”

Yes, it is a feminist book. Does this put the boys off? Probably, but it shouldn’t. Feminism is for everyone, its all-inclusive. It’s just as much about men as it is women because it’s about equality and that’s what matters. Not only are the Eves of this world expected, coerced and shamed into particular roles (albeit with far scarier, violent and permanent consequences), the male characters such as Darwin – son of a judge, urged not to be “such a girl” or a “pussy” – finds that the decisions he must make in life are already made for him by his own father, The Father, and the patriarchal society in which he finds himself.

I don’t want to say anything more about the novel because I really think you should all read it. I hope ever young adult – both male and female – read this book, discuss this book, perhaps even study this book on a syllabus or just as recommended reading from a school, because it really addresses some interesting and relevant issues.

 

Have you ever read a book that made you angry? Have you read something recently that you haven’t been able to put down? Have you read Only Ever Yours? What did you think? Let’s start a conversation.

 

 

Get Brave: How to Deal with Anxious Behaviour

“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”

Jodi Picoult, Sing You Home

Anxiety is in the news. Hurrah.

Well, not “hurrah” because the statistics are pretty damn high and it seems that more and more of us are plagued by irrational feelings, self-doubt and anxious behaviour that we don’t know the cause of, and we certainly don’t understand how to handle.

I’ve made no secret of my own on-going battle with anxiety and have mentioned it a few times on Emma Is Writing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m about to bring it up again because it is important.

I am not ashamed of being affected by this condition, but there was a time not so long ago that I was so embarrassed by my irrational thoughts, feelings and behaviour, that I kept them to myself, locked them all away only to coax these thoughts out at night and let its contents invade my sleep and sanity.

I had insomnia for five years, which is hilarious because now I love nothing more than a good snooze.
I was medicated for two of these but weaned myself off sleeping tablets when I didn’t like how lethargic they made me feel the next day. Plus they gave me a mouth like a badger’s bum which, for those who get hangovers, is not a pleasant experience.

I know this may seem like a crazy amount of time to suffer in silence but, for me, my anxiety and insomnia started off as a product of a traumatic event it my life and then it just festered because I let it.

By day I was OK, fully functioning at work, holding down a good social life, but I was still a fraction of my previous bubbly, happy self. I often felt like I was watching myself laughing and having a good time but not actually feeling that elated. I felt like a fraud.

For me, night time was when I would eventually let these thoughts invade my head. As mentioned in a previous blog post, things finally came to a head when my mum spotted the signs.

I’m not being dramatic when I say that I felt like everyone was against me. That my friends must dislike me. That I was a bad person and deserved the bad things that happened in my life. Looking back I recognise these as irrational thoughts. Let’s face it, even I think they’re pretty bonkers.

I still struggle with other people’s perceptions of me and can sometimes find it difficult to cope if I argue with people or have a particularly bad day at work, and I will probably always be affected by this, but I am learning to address these thoughts and feelings. For me, often talking them over with someone else is a good way of banishing them all together.

So why am I talking so openly and candidly about this mega personal issue? It isn’t for sympathy. I can assure you that I thought long and hard about being so frank in this blog post for fear of upsetting others, including my friends and family, but I decided two years ago when I started Emma Is Writing, that I would like my little space on the internet to be a positive place where people can realise they aren’t alone.

According to Stylist magazine, anxiety is “fast becoming the most common affliction of the modern age.”
Sarah Fletcher, who wrote this recent article for the popular magazine, narrates a story that resonates deeply with me. She writes:

What’s surprising is that anxiety – a feeling that starts in the amygdala region of the brain (the section that controls intense emotional responses) – is quickly translated into a physical reaction…the reason that happens,’ she explains, ‘is that anxiety is essentially our fight or flight response. All very well (and useful) when faced with a wild animal who fancies a light snack, not quite so appropriate when we’re trying to locate the fitting rooms in the Topshop sales.
The problem is that in our non-stop, fast-paced existence, sometimes our brains are simply unable to differentiate between physical and non-physical threats, meaning that our bodies are on edge far more often than they should be.

I hear you!

She goes on to reveal the shocking statistics of anxiety amongst adults in the modern world.

“Anxiety is all around us, and it’s on the rise. A 2008 Harvard Health Publication, Anxiety And Physical Illness, stated that out of the estimated 57million adults who have anxiety disorders, two thirds are women. In 2013, the Office of National Statistics published statistics that showed nearly 20% of the UK population over the age of 16 displayed evidence of anxiety and depression, with women (21%) more likely than men (16%) to report symptoms. Dr Michael Rutherford, a psychiatrist at London’s Springfield Hospital agrees: “Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from anxiety than men.”
“Anxiety disorders affect a significant proportion of the population,” adds Dr Rutherford. “But many suffer in silence.”
The real figures are disguised by the fact anxiety is such a nebulous beast. The term covers everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to phobias, to OCD and panic attacks. To complicate matters further, it often goes hand-in-hand with depression, making it harder still to pin down.’

It is indeed a “nebulous beast.” Often we feel down, worried, and a bit blue – our busy modern lives see to this – but how do we recognise that its becoming a problem and, most importantly, how do we overcome these irrational feelings?

It is utterly terrifying to be in the grasp of such uncontrollable thoughts, especially when you experience the physical manifestations of the problem – panic attacks and insomnia are no walk in the park, I can tell you, but luckily there is more and more being done to help identify these issues and help people to overcome this, often, blip in their otherwise healthy lives.

Along with the informative article, Stylist have come up with a helpful list of tips to combat anxiety, or at least alleviate the symptoms. It’s all about training your brain to think differently and taking the time out of your busy life to put yourself first and think about your own mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

So, although World Mental Health Day has come and gone, I’d like to propose we all take better care of ourselves and that we all get a little braver. Share your stories with each other – and me – don’t be ashamed, help someone who you think might be having a tough time, and just look after each other.

Thanks for listening, you gorgeous lot.

Along with my #itsnotgrimupnorth series where I wax lyrical about all things Manchester, I’ve decided to start another new series on the blog! (Hurah, I hear you all cry) called #getbrave where I’m hoping I can get you lovely lot involved with sharing words of wisdom, tales of inspirations and ways to keep each other motivated.

Sometimes all people need is a little support, a chance to shine, or just someone to listen. Lets help each other out!

Like the sound of this? Visit me over at Twitter @EmmaYatesBadley or leave a message below with your pearls of wisdom

It’s Not Grim Up North: “It’s Vintage, Darling.”

“I want everyone to wear what they want and mix it in their own way. That, to me, is what is modern.”

Karl Lagerfeld

Although I am a lover of all things vintage, I don’t make it my life.

I enjoy sifting through rails of clothes as I search for the perfect dress, top or jacket, but I get equally excited perusing the contents of H&M or (if I am feeling flush) Topshop. I like to mix up my style and, rather than wear head to toe vintage – because, quite frankly, I don’t think I could pull it off as wonderfully as some women do – I like to incorporate old, found, or borrowed pieces (I have recently discovered my mum’s 80s collection lurking at the back of the wardrobe in the spare room like some fashion Narnia) into my everyday wardrobe of denim, black t-shirts, camis and fake gold jewellery.

Now, London is a vintage lover’s dream. There are a plethora of independent vintage shops secreted in alleyways and shopping centres – some by big names such as Lilly Allen’s Lucy in Disguise, or – more recently – the fabulous Dawn O’Porter (my girl crush) and her pop up BOB by DOP shop in Covent Garden – and some that have just been there forever (Beyond Retro is a favourite of mine and you can’t go wrong with a bit of Brick Lane for some vintage treasures).

But enough of our capital.

I want to talk about my favourite place (and my current home) Manchester. It’s widely known that this Northern city has its own unique style. From punk, to indie, to the rave-culture of the Hacienda, and the fashion influence of bands such as The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays (did you catch This is England, 90 recently? I know it was set in Nottingham but the influence of the North, and Manchester in particular, is clearly evident). It’s a place where, even today with our mass-market Primark culture (I love a bit of Primarni, me) you can walk down Market Street and everyone has their own style. I had great fun not so long ago writing a scene in my YA novel, LOL, about the kids who hang out at Cathedral Gardens – all eye liner, skateboards, piercings, black ripped jeans, and attitude. I adore the mish-mash of styles in our rainy city and love nothing more than sitting in the Northern Quarter or St Anne’s Square, and watching these people mill by.

So as you all know it was my 30th Birthday a few days ago, and what I really wanted to do was just have a low key day, including heading into town to sample the EPIC pancakes at Sugar Junction which is fast becoming my favourite place to get breakfast.

Top Tip: It can get pretty busy so head to Sugar Junction on a week day and avoid peak lunch hours. The food is really amazing so to avoid food envy (which you will get) maybe share some breakfast dishes with your companions. The tea and coffee selection is fabulous – my recommendation is the Chai latte (as I love all things Chai) – as is the cake. Go with an elasticated waistband and a good appetite!

Next on my birthday wish list was time spent trawling the Norther Quarter’s vintage shops (although my favourite vintage/second hand emporium has now been replaced by a Turtle Bay) in hot pursuit of my new favourite item of clothing: pleated midi skirts. The obsession is strong.

After hitting up Pop Boutique and trying to decide between all the wonderful sparkly 80s jumpers, I selected a silver and black number, and then headed to COW where I tried on multiple items before finding a green midi that I absolutely loved.

Top Tip: Go forth, vintage shoppers, with a little bit of imagination. I adored the green skirt on the rail but the clasp was broken and there were some questionable looking marks on the material. I hesitated when paying and managed to knock a fiver off  the asking price because I would have to fix the clasps myself. Most places will be open to the haggle, especially when it comes to broken stock.

I ended up wearing my find on a night out that evening – which included a limo ride from my lovely friend Tiff – teaming it with a simple black cami, a denim jacket and some black sandals I have had for a long time. It was an inexpensive addition to my wardrobe that really freshened up an outfit I’d worn many times before. **Black cami addict**

Another top tip, especially if you’re new to the world of vintage clothing or – like me – you like to dabble now and again – is to make sure you visit the free vintage markets and fairs that take place all over the city. My friend, Jess, and I went to Judy’s Vintage Fair at the Freemasons Hall. There was a £2 entry fee but all proceeds went to charity and there were so many stalls we didn’t even know where to start. Although neither of us came away with a new purchase, we did garner an understanding of what styles seemed to suit us. I am an 80s/90s child. I like metallic, full pleated skirts in crazy colours and leather. Jess is a 60s/70s princess. Cord, tan, shift dresses, and lots of leg on show.

The skirt pictured below absolutely broke my heart because there was no way I could alter the pleats and waistband (which was enormous) for a price that would make the purchase worthwhile. Sometimes you find that this is the case with certain items and you just have to let them go. Sob!

Vintage isn’t all about dressing head to toe in a particular decade or adorning yourself with every vintage item you come across, rather it’s about finding pieces you love that can be altered simply by a tailor to modernise the look, or combining new finds with your already existing wardrobe. Plus it’s a lot of fun!

Manchester truly has its own unique style and sense of fun when it comes to fashion. Although in recent years I have seen a change in how people dress on a night out (it seems to have become very dressy) I think it has managed to retain some of its individuality and I hope it stays that way.

So there you go. Vintage, fashion and style. Just another reason why it is #notgrimupnorth and why I think you should visit my adopted hometown.

Thanks for reading this post and welcome back to my new #itsnotgrimupnorth series! Expect photos, tips and tales!

I’d really love to know what you think about the city and my posts.

Remember you can get in touch Twitter @EmmaYatesBadley, Facebook, or drop me an email (emmaiswritinganovel@gmail.com) Just look right for details.

Get Brave: Turning the Big 3-0

“I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun. ”

Virginia Woolf

In four days I will be turning 30 years old. I have four days left of my twenties. Four. That feels so incredibly strange to say – or type – out loud. I am having a bit of a difficult time with the realisation that I am no longer a twenty-something.

Am I finally going to have to behave like an adult? Is this the year it will finally hit me and all of a sudden – like a light bulb moment – I will suddenly understand all the intricacies of the grown-up world?

Probably not. Deep down, I still feel eighteen. I suppose – and hope – this never changes.

It’s a tough age for us women. We’re no longer entitled to the extended adolescence that is the Terrible Twenties, instead we are urged to move forward, make decisions, join the real world, and – quite frankly – its fucking terrifying sometimes. I’ve lost count of the amount of people who’ve asked me if I have a boyfriend, husband, children, or plans for them in the near future. I can barely decide what I want for dinner, let alone what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I feel like I am on a strict timeline now. I have mixed emotions about this.

On one hand, it’s about time I got serious. It’s time I think about what I want to do and what I want from my life, purely because it will make me happy and a little more stable, not because someone has told me I need to settle down.
However, on the other, I am increasingly frustrated with this need to lump people in age brackets and dictate to them what they should be doing and by when.

I overheard a woman the other day saying it was her 30th birthday soon. A fellow Libran and October baby, I told her I was also facing the impending thirtydom.

“How do you feel about it?” someone else asked her.

“I feel fine,” she replied, fiercely. “I feel better than I did when I was twenty-five because I have more now. I have a house, I’m not quite married but I am engaged, and I have a stable job. I feel ready for it.”
“Define more,” I wanted to ask. I mean, look at my situation. To some people – and occasionally I am one of these – my life at 29 might seem a little scary. Officially I am unemployed, I rent a room from my friend, I am seeing someone but it’s in those very early – and exciting – stages and I don’t know what I want to do next week, let alone during the course of the next five years.

I’m not going to lie. This got to me. I felt like this woman was preparing for war, arming herself with “things” to fight off the milestone. House. Check. Husband to be. Check. Stable career. Check. And I felt a bit sad that, as women (and men, I’m sure you feel this too) this is what we chalk our experiences up to. This is what is important.

I’m not saying that marriage, or having a career, or beautiful babies isn’t an achievement, or a worthwhile one – they’re all fan-fucking-tastic (well done the lot of you) rather, we don’t have to have them all at once, in a certain order, or by a certain time. Or at all, if we don’t want.

Married but your job sucks? Oh well.

Got the career but no sign of a baby? It’s OK.

What’s for you won’t go by you.

If you’re meant to have it, you will. It just takes some of us a little bit longer – and a good dose of hard work – to get there. I have always, always wanted to be a writer. I have talked about being a writer for a long time, and how I want to write a novel, but its only now – on the cusp of the big 3-0 – that I feel ready, brave and able enough to go for it. I am almost finished with the first draft of my young adult novel and have made promises to my loved ones that I will at least send it off into the world when its complete.

So yeah, my biological clock may be ticking away like the crocodile in Peter Pan, but I have zero interest in babies right now.

“Oh you’ll have one,” a friend said to me. “You will change your mind in a few years. You’ll see.”

Maybe I will but I don’t like that assumption. Maybe I won’t change my mind. Or perhaps one day something will just trigger that switch. What I am trying to say, I suppose – in a rather roundabout fashion – is that it’s OK to be afraid of turning thirty, or twenty one, or fifty or sixteen.

It’s OK to question your achievements, and want to push yourself further or strive for something else, but make sure you base this assumption on your own values, not those of other people. I can assure you,though, that just by being yourself you have achieved something brilliant

I’ve had a rollercoaster decade. I’ve had great times, I’ve had awful times, I’ve lost people I love, made wonderful friends and lost others. I have experienced interesting things, travelled solo and seen the world, fallen in love, had my heart broken and broken my own in the process. But I am stronger, tougher, wiser, kinder, smarter, sillier and braver as a result.

Yes, I am nervous of what’s to come. I chose to shed my skin and begin again in every aspect of my life. It’s tough especially when you’re compelled to compare yourself to others and judge your lot a little too harshly.

It’s time to shake off the shackles of what you think you should have, and think about what it is that you want to achieve.

Here’s to entering a new decade, you lovely lot, and being happy, healthy and fearless. Because really, that’s all that counts.

Along with my #itsnotgrimupnorth series where I wax lyrical about all things Manchester, I’ve decided to start another new series on the blog! (Hurah, I hear you all cry) called #getbrave where I’m hoping I can get you lovely lot involved with sharing words of wisdom, tales of inspirations and ways to keep each other motivated.

Sometimes all people need is a little support, a chance to shine, or just someone to listen. Lets help each other out!

Like the sound of this? Visit me over at Twitter @EmmaYatesBadley or leave a message below with your pearls of wisdom.