Why do I keep measuring myself against someone else’s success?

At 23, my mother was married with her first child on the way and was living in her own house.

At 23, my grandmother was married with three children, living in her own house and holding down a job.

At 23, I am unmarried, with no children, still living with my parents and am on my third ‘real’ job.

Three similar yet very different women and I still can’t decide who was doing best at this point.

My situation is not an abnormal one. Perhaps the third job thing is less normal but nowadays it’s becoming increasingly harder to get onto the property ladder, and even harder to settle and find ‘the one.’ In a world where the divorce rate is at 50% and you’d like to, ideally, only do it once, we are taking longer than ever to decide on whom we’ll share our life with.

The above statement is logical, understood, and digested. The twice a year break down where I cry and worry my life isn’t how it’s ‘meant’ to be ignored all the above. My situation is not one that is dissimilar from many people I know. And in a world where mental health is become more talked about and more strained through the pressure of social media and appearing ‘happy and successful,’ it seems that we’re all secretly struggling to live up to something none of us quite have.

My friends and I recently reunited for a particular birthday, I can’t count how many time’s during this we all individually compared ourselves to some ‘ideal’ we’d seen on social media.

“I need to lose weight.”

“Mate, why am I not travelling?”

“Did you hear? … just brought a house.”

“I can’t believe they’re engaged!”

Are these statements familiar to you? Probably. We’re all living in a cycle of striving to ‘have it all’ the way our mothers told us we could, and now that it seems far away and difficult, we’re all crying. Admittedly, not always at the same time, and to varying degrees.

Trying to calm the brain is easier said than done, I’ve come to diving into a book whenever I feel the anxiety rising. Other times I’ll text a reliable friend who I know will feel the same, swimming in our own self-doubt and empathy.

We’re told that our 20s should be full of fun, the time of our lives. So why is it that no one in real life seems to be feeling this way? Is it because we haven’t faced the coming challenges of family and love that we can’t appreciate our freedom? Is it because there’s so much opportunity we don’t know which one to jump at first? Or, is it that we don’t know how to go out and grab life by the balls when we’re a generation who complains when something isn’t delivered the next day?

I’d like to think that it’s a mixture of everything, hindsight is 20/20 after all. I think for a generation that’s told ‘you can have it all’ we feel the pressure of trying to maximise this. We want to be well-travelled, high-earners, loving our jobs and falling for our soul mates.

Ultimately though, I think the only solution is to break away. Admit to ourselves that maybe we can’t quite have it all, or at least, not yet. Experience is the most valued thing we can apparently possess and while I’m struggling to reconcile how to, I think the only way to achieve this really is to just go live.

Whether it’s travelling, working hard, dating wide and far, but admitting to myself that I can’t have it all just yet, because I have no clue how to. And also, taking myself off social media more and reminding myself that I can’t be anyone but myself, so I need to stop trying to, or at least comparing myself.

I might not have a perfect gym bod, be in the dream job or have travelled all over the world but frankly, I don’t even know what the dream job IS yet, or where to go next, and I like carbs. So maybe, I’ll just have to take it slow and read a good book while I try to figure out a next move. Even if it’s the wrong one.


Growing Up Poor: 10 Things You Learn Living in a Working Class Family

1. You have a parent who works in some form of trade. While not ‘cool’ this will inevitably be useful for future DIY if you EVER can afford your own place.


2. Your mother is the scariest person you know. You have learnt to run when she gives you ‘the look’. giphy


3. Window shopping is an acceptable weekend activity. Can we afford to shop? No. Do we need something to do? Yes! So, let’s go walk around behind our parents for 3 hours and try not to get caught fighting and pulling faces.


4. You will eat just about ANYTHING. Pot Noodle sandwich? Ok. Ketchup on toast? Of course. Pickled red cabbage on pringles? Hell yes!giphy (1).gif


5. Your school uniform will always be too big, or hand-me-down. You’re either brought something MASSIVE that will last for 5 years and STILL be too big or you’re wearing your older brother/sister’s rugby t-shirt for P.E.


6. Your technology will NEVER be new. Your best friend has the latest IPhone, you’re still on a pay-as-you go Nokia your mum brought 10 years ago.giphy (2)


7. Your name is boring. You are a Tom, Sarah, Sam, Jack, Hannah, Katie NOT Summer, Barclay, Quentin, Alexandra, Arabella or Sebastian. Sorry Octavia, you don’t belong here.


8. Wrestling is never far away in your house. Your brother would have told you he had a totally cool new move he just HAD to show you. I’ll be gentle he said. He was not gentle. You will walk around with bruises, and your parents will be accused of abusing you.giphy (3).gif


9. Your imagination is your best asset. Few toys? That’s fine, I’ll just use this cardboard box as a spaceship and make my brother evil invading alien Gargon. (Note: this may have actually happened).


10. You will have HUGE respect for your parent/s. Fed you, clothed you, kept a roof over your head with very little and tried not to let you know. You’re my heroes.giphy (4).gif


The Female Sex Drive – Too high?

There is an anomaly that half of society is talking about amongst the population, but somehow it doesn’t seem to have made headlines. No, it’s not that Hugh Grant was never actually a good actor, that one’s been thought about a lot! This issue is that women, of all ages, actually like sex and want to have it.

For women reading this, there is no surprise. Meanwhile, the men (if there are any?) have just fallen out of their chairs, off the toilet, couch – insert your own platform here please. “I just don’t get it. He can’t keep up with me,” is a phrase I have heard all too often from friends, colleagues and even relatives (please, let’s never discuss that again).


It seems there is a persistent, probably patriarchal, myth that sustains in our society that men have a higher sex drive and women don’t enjoy sex. As someone who explored my personal sexuality fairly late in life (15 – ok it’s not THAT young!), when I came to explore sex I was lucky to have a partner whom I trusted implicitly. Puppy love at it’s height.

This meant I actually learnt what I enjoyed, how to avoid getting a black eye from someone’s rogue knee during, and also how to talk about it. What I did not learn however and would not have the bravery to discover some while later…was masturbation.

Self-love, spanking the monkey, tugging the gherkin, touching yourself, fiddling, wanking – whatever you want to call it…it took me a while ok!?! Even now, as much as I love it, I still prefer the human connection that another person during allows, the smell of someone’s skin, the mutual desperation to climax, even the awkwardness after of disposing of the mess (if you haven’t done the clench everything and run to the bathroom as it drips out then you don’t belong here honey).

Physicality aside, for me sex has always been about a connection, starting it, growing it, keeping it alive so it’s something I enjoy, a lot, as often as possible, maybe in weird locations… and this is something I’ve found with a lot of other females, the trouble comes when your partner (note: this is based on heterosexual relationship discussions but feel free to ignore gender) doesn’t feel the same way.

A battle of wits ensues. Feuding genitals in a war of egos that if won on the side of good, joy, peace and love can follow – but if lost, self-doubt and resentment are likely to follow. In the pink corner (again please ignore gender stereotypes -they are useful for this image) the tenacious, slinky otter determined to mount the glorious stallion in the blue corner currently running away and feigning sleep in the corner.

I’m not entirely sure where the dated idea of women hating sex comes from, Freud, 1800s Victorian propaganda, Christianity – but it’s an outdated concept that leads to many women wondering, “is there something wrong with me?” The answer should be a simple one: NOTHING!

giphy 3.gif

But of course, we are fickle humans who base the majority of our self-worth on our partner/stranger/society’s view and often find ourselves further battling confidence around sex. Are we having it enough? Do we have enough experience? Am I sexy?

I wish there was a simple trick I could offer: a love potion, talking it through with said sexual partner and it miraculously changing things, a perfect orgasm every time from masturbation. Unfortunately, I do not have one. My offer in place of one? Touch yourself. Often. Do not rely one someone else for your pleasure; believe me this is one I need to get to grips with myself.


In time, we will all be (men and women) self-satisfying fierce queens (yes you too Boris!) who don’t need to rely on anyone else to love yourself – physically or otherwise. It’ll just be a nice add on.

Giving up the chill and learning to value yourself post-break up

How many of you have ever been met with the “I just need to be by myself right now,” speech during a break up? And yes, for the purposes of clarity, just seeing someone and that ending counts as a break up.

So many of us will greet this angle with sympathy, with an air of chill because of course we want the person we’ve invested in to grow and find happiness. Unfortunately, this is not the response that will give you satisfaction.

While everyone is entitled to self-doubt and not knowing their path using this as an excuse to cut someone out of your life is not an adequate reason. It’s a quote that allows the deliverer to avoid the real issue – lack of emotional maturity, they’re just not that into you, or even….and this may hurt…. they miss feeling single and playing the field.

Relationships, no matter how serious or casual, are a battle ground of the minds where the shots fired come in conversation. Simply saying you’re not interested anymore feels like launching a missile across a village when you should have just used the sniper and taken the single casualty. Honesty, however, really is the best policy.

During the post-break up period everyone goes though the “what did I do wrong?” phase, and the truth is, probably nothing. Sometimes people genuinely do throw away a good thing because they’re not ready, and sometimes it really is the other person and not you, but regardless of whether you find blame in yourself or not, this self-flagellation won’t bring them back, and it won’t change the ending.

My experience with this leads me to say – be angry, feel whatever emotion you hold inside. It’s ok to be frustrated. You felt like this could have been something special, whether they did or not, and they haven’t valued you enough to continue.

The only path now is to pick yourself up and value yourself. The best advice I have received in this scenario, is don’t doubt yourself. I know, cliché right? Your personality, your looks, your figure, your actions – they are you, and if someone doesn’t appreciate them, another will. Taste is personal and varied and eventually there will be someone on the other end who will value you as you deserve.

I don’t pretend it’s easy. I don’t pretend to be able to say that I’m totally chill about the “I just need to be by myself right now” but why the hell should I be? Relationships, again no matter how casual or serious, take investment – you care and it’s ok to not be chill when it ends.

Post-break up really is the time to value yourself, so let out those emotions and start being selfish about you. Say no to things that you don’t want to do and say yes to things you’re scared to do but always thought about. It’s time to be by yourself and value that person, because regardless of when you eventually meet someone who sees how special you are, you’re going to be stuck with yourself for a very long-time.

The Quiet Feminist: a reflection on the unhistoric woman in my life

Kathleen Barter (Credit: Gordon Barter)

‘But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been’

– George Eliot, Middlemarch (1972)

Inevitably, as a university educated young woman I call myself a feminist – as I believe everyone should. In the wake of university I have found my path constantly drawn back to those secondary readings I should have paid more attention to in study. Here, however, it is not the classic revolutionaries that call me back, but women of our time who mark themselves and continue the public dialect of feminism.

In 2013, Virago Press – the female founded British publishing house, published Fifty Shades of Feminism, and it was this first text that drew me back into this discourse. While there are many debates that are re-raised here, and many others I had not fully explored,  it is the celebration of previous women that has latched onto my consciousness.

It is easy to be critical of those before us, and of course easy to celebrate the loud success of those who have contributed to our freedoms. My deliberation in this writing focuses on one figure in my life. One who was both my biggest supporter and my biggest confoundment; my grandmother.

I name her this way as I know it was a point of contention. “I’m not a grandmother, I am a nan.”  She deemed herself to be too youthful to be considered someone’s grandmother. This proclamation was always delivered calmly. No need for exclamations for the woman who perfected the steely eye and raised eyebrow. A face I know I have bore far too often myself.

My nan was a woman who pushed my mother and aunt into work as early as possible and away from education – yet encouraged me towards university as the clear and easy path. Encouraging of relationships and early marriage though critical of her daughters’ firsts. A woman who loved having the company of her grandchildren but would, without hesitance, point out their obvious personality flaws. To say she was a complicated woman in my life seems almost too easy.

Nevertheless, despite our stubborn differences, the times we would obviously avoid certain subjects, and the constant need I felt to appease her – I thank my luck for her example.

Though she married and had children young, my nan worked tirelessly until her last months. She loved without abandon and her passion for my grandfather and her family, though often difficult, was startlingly visible. Stories of her throwing things at my granddad over the years during arguments were legendary – the record player remains to this day the most impressive. While she may not have been a revolutionary, her dedication to her own life proves worthy of this title.

She worked because she loved the independence it gave her, she was honest and frank with her family to the point of upset because she refused to live a false life, and her unwavering strength in the face of loss and illness will always stay with me. Immaculate, disciplined, determined – these are the traits I have always hoped to inherit and emulate.

As feminists, men and women, we will always find family figures in our lives who present challenges. While my nan was definitely one of them, I thank her for the greatest lesson she could have passed to me: to live selfishly. This does not mean to harm others or to cause detriment but simply follow what you want to do without premise. Obvious though it seems, it is a path many fall down on. It was this that led me to travel to Paris as soon as I could after her death.

One afternoon during her final days, she admitted that this was one of her only regrets. She didn’t visit Paris. Something so simply achievable for a woman whose life held so much wealth in other ways, and she took the chance for granted. I promised her then that I would go for her, and that I would never willingly miss out on an opportunity again. My grandmother was not a historic woman, not a revolutionary by any sense of the mark but she left with all those who knew her a distinct memory of an outstanding personality.

It was one that in its outlook was wholly feminist and sought to enable her journey to be as fulfilling as possible. I believe it was this that gave her comfort in her final days, she had lived a full life, filled with love and memories.

As I move forward on my own journey I hope to have the same comfort one day and I thank her for that example. At my young age of 22, post-university, when the majority of people around me see my next big step in life as marriage and children, I remind them that there are many, many other interesting things that will happen in between – if I choose to take on those milestones later on. I am grateful that a woman who so obviously supported these milestones for herself, her children and her grandchildren could prove in her own example there is also so much more.

While once I used to feel ashamed of her jests at my lack of maternal inclination, I now look at them as an encouragement to continue on a path centred on my own desires and passions. A quiet feminist, a staunch woman and historic to me, thank you.

“There’s no place like home” or is there? An exploration of belonging through the Wizard of Oz and Shrek.

Wizard Of Oz and the concept of home

Dorothy Gale’s famous chant of ‘There’s no place like home’[1] to call her Kansas into physical existence is an odd one. The action remains to date one of the most famous lines from film. However, there remains something unsatisfactory about the film’s ending. Her sudden reawakening seems too simple and works to undermine Dorothy’s journey. While the first understanding is that Dorothy is claiming there is no better place than home, in reference to Kansas, the mere action of calling for home undermines this.

Home does not exist, to the narrative or Dorothy, unless we name a specific place home, but the act of calling for it makes it’s very existence seem uncertain. The action implies that the very nature of ‘home’ is allusive and once left does not exist, or has never truly existed. This implies that home spaces are defined by the inhabitation of people. We can see this prevalently in both Shrek[2] and The Wizard of Oz[3]. Please bear with me here.

Cinematically this is certainly true. Once a protagonist leaves their home, such as Shrek leaving the swamp, we no longer see it. It doesn’t lurk in the background but merely in memory, an intangible shadow of what existed implying that the place only exists when the protagonist inhabits it. Once they leave, home becomes obsolete. Even when Dorothy views her aunt in the crystal ball when imprisoned by the witch it is only because of her presence that the image is seen. The witch would not conjure the image of Kansas without Dorothy’s presence. Instead this shadow that both Dorothy and Shrek hold throughout their narratives exists to represent safety, to provide a sense of belonging along their adventure. In the same way that one inhabits their own mind, the home is only a tangible concept through personal existence within.

Shrek wants to build a ‘ten-foot wall around [his] land’[4] to keep those out that wish to discriminate against him despite claiming it’s because he wants to be alone. The home, whether Kansas or the swamp, works as a reminder of belonging to provide the protagonists’ with comfort along their journey, an unseen anchor while they remain mobile and an eventual stopping point. However, though this is true of Dorothy, she returns to Kansas and the narrative ends, this is not true for Shrek. He returns unfulfilled and finds his beloved home provides no comfort and so once again leaves to seek another home, Fiona.

The home is typically envisioned as utopian, a place without imperfections where there is only acceptance. This utopian space provides motivation to the protagonists’ plot and becomes nostalgic. The protagonists’ idealise their past, which here is represented by the home acting as the starting location of their narratives, but only exists within dialogue throughout the films and not physically so becomes ephemeral.

Laura Bieger claims that narrative itself is a ‘resource of orientation and emplacement that sustains our being through its capacities to articulate unsettling experiences’[5]. Bieger argues that the narrative acts as a method of understanding structure for the protagonists and is a ‘fundamental constituent of human being’[6]. However, this is not true for The Wizard of Oz or Shrek. The narrative cannot stand-alone and act as a guide for understanding the protagonists’ function because their narratives are embedded in a starting location that they are both forcefully removed from. Shrek and Dorothy have no control over the beginning of their narratives, it is not a choice for either of them to leave their homes. Dorothy is removed through an act of nature where her house is stolen away to Oz. Shrek is invaded when fairy tale creatures are dumped on his land and he is therefore forced to leave for Duloc to have them removed.

Pinocchio sums up the dilemma with Bieger’s theory in Shrek when confronted by the ogre stating that ‘no one invited us. We were forced to come here.’[7] The protagonists are not invited on their journeys but forced onto them and so the narrative cannot become their mode of emplacement for dealing with unsettling experiences because, for them, the narrative is the unsettling experience. Instead the utopian depiction of home becomes the point to which they centre themselves and also their end goal, despite Shrek’s clear loneliness at the beginning and Miss Gulch’s attempted removal of Toto. While the home ceases to exist physically once the protagonists’ leave, so there really is ‘no place like home,’ it functions as a mode of emplacement within the narrative, providing both with a goal to achieve whilst simultaneously acting as the driving force behind the plot. The narrative cannot exist without the original performative nature of belonging. The space becomes untied from its conception as a stable backdrop and is carried within the dialogue of the protagonist throughout the two films.

Ironically it is only when Dorothy leaves the farm that it becomes this utopian depiction of belonging she carries. The film opens in monochrome and compared to Oz’s Technicolor this is a clear statement that somehow Kansas is lacking in someway. The narrative also begins with Dorothy beseeching her aunt and the farm hands to listen to her troubles with Miss Gulch. The problem of Toto and Miss Gulch is the original trouble but soon Dorothy finds herself falling into a pigsty, begging Zeke to ‘get me out of here’[8]. Dorothy is expressing an unconscious desire to escape, from the pigsty but also from Kansas and those that won’t listen to her. This is emphasised later when her surrogate maternal figure, Aunt Em, tells her ‘you always get yourself into a fret over nothing. Now you just help us out today and find yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble.’[9] Claiming that Dorothy’s worries are ‘nothing’ patronise her and belittle her emotions. This combined with a plea to help out by ‘finding yourself a place where you won’t get into any trouble’ again does this by placing Dorothy as the problem in the scenario rather than the victim. It also encourages Dorothy to be away from them, to escape.

Dorothy’s rendition of ‘Over the Rainbow’ is full of yearning, demonstrating a need for a place where ‘troubles melt like lemon drops’[10]. While referencing the problems Dorothy has already encountered on the farm, it also speaks of the way she is perceived as a problem child and furthers the peripheral trauma Dorothy has suffered. Her parents are absent and she lives with her aunt and uncle, so there is an implied trauma of parental death that conveys her role within this family unit is uncomfortable for her. Todd S. Gilman expresses that Dorothy needs to escape even when she returns from trying to with Professor Marvel, seemingly accepting her position seen ‘when the storm begins, the narrative articulation veers still more insistently from Dorothy’s straightforward verbal self-articulation.’[11] The narrative forces Dorothy away from Kansas in order to reflect on her function within this unorthodox family and return home after she can accept her position within this unit. Dorothy’s desperation for escape is another way in which she wishes to find a place of belonging. The utopia of home, here Kansas, is lacking because it does not contain a favorable nuclear family, Dorothy’s parents are absent so the utopia is incomplete. At first, Dorothy’s utopia is anywhere but Kansas, somewhere over the rainbow. But to belong, to accept her position in Kansas, and her home, she must temporarily venture outside in order for it to become utopian.

Shrek, conversely, opens with a subjective utopian depiction of an ogre in his swamp taking pleasure in using a book to wipe his bottom. This rejection of the book signals DreamWorks’ intent to dispense with the fairytale formula set out in Disney’s animations and offers a more modern tale. What is key, however, is that though this is Shrek’s personal utopia it is clearly not a traditional one. Shrek’s home is heavily satirized compared to that of Disney’s princes but this demonstrates Shrek’s difference and illustrates quite literally that you shouldn’t ‘judge a book by its cover.’ Shrek is an unconventional hero but unlike Dorothy who is passive throughout The Wizard of Oz, only really acting to throw water over the Wicked Witch, Shrek is active. Fully aware of himself as a fairy tale creature he takes action when they are prosecuted and dumped on his land, seeking out Lord Farquad. Dorothy comparatively is forced into Oz because of a Tornado and is then set on the path to ‘follow the yellow brick road’[12] to the Emerald City by Glinda the Good Witch.

We see later that Dorothy has been used to rid Oz of the Wicked Witch of the West when Glinda reveals she could’ve gotten home the minute she gained the ruby slippers. Salman Rushdie points out that this ending remains unfulfilling as we have to ‘accept that [Dorothy] now accepts the limitations of her home life, and agrees that the things she doesn’t have there are no loss’[13]. Rushdie, however, sees this through the gaze of a post-feminist movement where women have considerably more choice. During release, Dorothy’s acceptance of the domestic sphere would have been deemed favorable in 1939 conservative America. What is also forgotten is that Dorothy is still a child and so must accept her home; there is no other choice than an implied death by remaining in OZ, removed from reality. In Shrek, though the protagonist is used to retrieve Princess Fiona for Lord Farquad, he is at all times in control of his path and does so to reclaim his home. However, while Dorothy ventures out in order to accept her position in Kansas, Shrek returns from his quest unfulfilled. He finds that the swamp is no longer utopian as he has changed and fallen in love. While Lewis Roberts argues that Shrek shows ‘a confident, independent ogre who learns to resolve his crises of identity’[14] what we have really is an ogre who has abstained from society because he hasn’t fully matured and eventually does so through love.

What we see then is that there really is ‘no place like home’[15]. The utopian home that the two protagonists hold onto remains allusive throughout their narratives. Dorothy begins yearning for escape while Shrek is happy in his swamp alone. Kansas only becomes home for Dorothy when she leaves, it is then that she finds a way to belong there despite the absence of parents. In leaving, Kansas comes to represent safety throughout her journey in Oz. However, Shrek’s swamp remains a utopia all the time he remains alone and childlike in his simplicity. The minute he evolves through love it is no longer enough. This shows that there really is ‘no place like home’ for Shrek as by changing, so must his home and this can only happen with the co-habitation of Fiona as her ogre self. Shrek, unlike Dorothy, holds the freedom of choice in his ending, he can either try to find solace in solitude or he can go get Fiona. Dorothy, meanwhile, has to accept her position within the domestic sphere or remain unhappy in her desperation for escape, which cannot be granted, as she is still a child. While Dorothy appears to mature during her journey, her acceptance of a role, as a submissive child back in Kansas, seems unsatisfactory.

However, Dorothy’s assimilation within the family unit is necessary. She must find a way to belong to Kansas, as she is not old enough to support an independent existence. Although she regresses, Dorothy shows an emotional maturity that sustains a utopian depiction of home to provide herself with one, though it is unfulfilling for spectators. If not, she would become a destitute orphan. Shrek, meanwhile, deals with ‘an adult challenge: in the first, to find love and see beyond appearances,’[16] and as an adult Shrek can choose his path. When his home fails to remain a utopia he seeks another, developing the swamp as he has with the acceptance of Donkey and Fiona’s inhabitation. Crucially, this is when the narrative ends.

Home, therefore, is never simultaneously present or utopian.

[1] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[2] Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Shrek, DreamWorks Pictures, United States, 2001

[3] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[4] Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Shrek, DreamWorks Pictures, United States, 2001

[5] Laura Bieger, ‘No Place Like Home; or, Dwelling in Narrative,’ New Literary History, Vol. 46 No. 1 (Winter 2015) <> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 17

[6] Laura Bieger, ‘No Place Like Home; or, Dwelling in Narrative,’ New Literary History, Vol. 46 No. 1 (Winter 2015) <> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 17

[7] Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, Shrek, DreamWorks Pictures, United States, 2001

[8] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[9] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[10] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[11] Todd S. Gilman, ‘”Aunt Em: Hate You! Hate Kansas! Taking the Dog. Dorothy”: Conscious and Unconscious Desire in The Wizard of Oz,’ Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 20 No. 4 (Winter 1995) <> [Last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 163

[12] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[13] Salman Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz, (London: British Film Institute 1992) pp. 56-57

[14]Lewis Roberts, ‘“Happier Than Ever to be Exactly What He Was”: Reflections on Shrek, Fiona and the Magic Mirrors of Commodity Culture,’ Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 45 No. 1 (March 2014) <> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 3

[15] Victor Fleming, The Wizard of Oz, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United States, 1939

[16] James Poniewozik, ‘The End of Fairy Tales?,’ Time International (South Pacific Edition), Issue. 21 (June 2007) <> [last accessed 3rd January 2016] p. 60

Review: The Cows by Dawn O’Porter #DontFollowTheHerd

The Amazon Description:

Fearlessly frank and funny, the debut adult novel from Dawn O’Porter needs to be talked about.

COW [n.]

A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.

Women don’t have to fall into a stereotype.

THE COWS is a powerful novel about three women. In all the noise of modern life, each needs to find their own voice.


It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

And everyone is going to be talking about it.

The Cows is Dawn O’Porter’s debut adult novel and, like the author herself, the book is wonderfully frank, brilliantly bold and incredibly perceptive on the struggles of women in modern London. The books centres around three key women and their different struggles with themselves and with the world’s perception of them.

We begin with Tara, a single-mother, and TV producer currently working on a sexual harassment documentary. While Tara captures the chauvinists on camera it seems she battles them every day in her own office. Instead of outright sexist remarks, Tara battles the subtle patronising and man-splaining that seems to be so familiar to millennial women nowadays. As a single-mother, her work ethic is called into question. How dare she leave on time at five to pick up her child. This battle is something all working mothers are used to facing, the balance between work and motherhood, professionalism against personal, career versus family.

Cam is on a very different playing field. A renowned blogger, making her money through her words and living in a lovely London flat all on her own, Camilla is who we’ve all secretly –or not so secretly- wished to be. Her trouble? Her family can’t accept her for who she is. Cam doesn’t want children, doesn’t want to get married, and is happy all on her own. What strikes me about this scenario is that O’Porter places this battle firmly between the women. It’s Cam’s dad who is the supportive parent here and her sisters and mother who cannot grasp her lifestyle. Cows makes a bold statement and one that needs to be heard here, expectations for women do not just come from men; they come from our own gender too.

We finally come to our third and final character that makes up the third perspective in the novel. Stella is the sister to a dead twin, and daughter of a deceased mother. Having lost her family to cervical and breast cancer, she is faced with a choice. To remove the parts of her that make her a woman, or to suffer the same fate as her family. A grieving woman wrapped in her own pain, Stella is, arguably, the most complicated character, and also the most un-relatable. Her pain is not something that can be empathised with by every woman, but it is one that needs to be brought to attention.

Dawn’s structure is an easy one to settle yourself into. Three women, three different problems with society and three very different outcomes for them all. While I won’t spoil the most shocking part of the book which is sure to have you blushing, Tara, easily the key protagonist and most like Dawn (or at least in my mind), soon becomes a viral sensation and has to deal with the world’s prejudices on female sexuality. Cam, enjoying her blogging life and young lovers, soon finds herself trapped in her worst nightmare. Her solution however, is a simple one, or at least to many modern women, but not, perhaps, to her own family. Stella, lost in her own search for meaning after the death of her twin, soon finds herself embroiled in a tangled web of lies that at times proves hard to read.

Wickedly funny, Dawn O’Porter’s adult debut deals with relevant issues that women face every day and bring them to the forefront of our minds. Are women allowed to express their sexuality? Why do we lie to our partners about our sexual past? Does a functioning womb make us female? And if we choose not to use it, should we be punished for this?

While at times it may feel like a few of the characters become caricatures, Dawn’s fresh perspective and bold story-telling transports us through the novel quickly but with care. This is a book that will make you blush, laugh out loud and maybe even cry. Well worth a read this book could be the next bestseller. It certainly wouldn’t shock me.

So if you’re looking for fun but relatable female characters that are struggling to deal with the world and all its perceptions sometimes, this this is the novel for you. Bold, brilliant this is a book that is perfect to pick up at any time and will likely be on everyone’s reading list this spring and summer. Funny and feminist, The Cows is a sure hit.

Available to buy on Amazon here.

Review: Terror at the Sweetshop by Lawrence Prestidge

Oscar Tarrant and his close friends Emma, Reece and Ishy are regular customers to McNulty’s Candy Kingdom, the sweet shop next to their school. The shop is run by its jolly namesake, Mr McNulty. A cheerful soul, he is always happy and friendly to all the children that enter his shop, but one day he mysteriously disappears…

The shop is soon taken over by the horrible Miss Primrose who starts to serve revolting treats to its customers. However, Oscar and his friends soon discover Miss Primrose’s evil intentions. Determined to find out what has happened to Mr McNulty and dispose of the evil Miss Primrose, they make a cunning plan. What surprises and secrets do they discover along the way?

The story features a whole host of colourful and entertaining characters, including the gang’s parents, teachers and others that help along the way. I’m shocked this wonderfully woven tale hasn’t reached more children. My 7 year-old niece who I tested the book on simply loved it and once completed finished by asking “does he have any other books?”

Prestidge does, in fact, have other stories and it’s simply perfect for those of 5-10 years of age. While some of the language may seem like a challenge, most of the longer words are easy for a child to sound out and adapt to. My niece was thrilled that she could so easily pick up what appeared to be difficult words. When describing the book to my mother afterwards she called the book “fun and thrilling,” a new favourite word she learnt from the book.

She topped off her comments by awarding this book a strong four stars.

Terror at the Sweet Shop is an imaginative tale that boasts funny characters, believable dialect and wonderful illustrations courtesy of the talented G. William. Prestidge uses common childhood memories that are relatable for all but spins them into whimsical fantasies full of fun.

Prepare to battle Miss Primrose and purchase your copy by clicking here. Terror at the Sweetshop is published by Matador Books.

‘Sexually Explicit’ books shouldn’t be feared

Writing this, I have a slight notion that I need to put a disclaimer here: I am not a sex pest. I think. A recent news article from The Washington Post on a Virginia bill proposal suggests that schools in the state would be forced to highlight which books on a given syllabus contain sensitive or “sexually explicit” material.

“All local school boards would be required to set up a way for parents to opt out of objectionable materials; teachers would have to provide replacement texts for those who ask for them,” Washington Post writes.

The proposal resembles a bill that the state’s governor vetoed last year. Nevertheless, its implications have educators and activists vocally worried, particularly as this is the second time restrictions have attempted to be placed on the literature syllabus.

The chief concern: such a rule could prevent young readers from accessing stories of literary and educational merit. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha — celebrated classics — are among the many books that’ve been banned or challenged due to sexual content since 2014.

And, in the past, books deemed “sexually explicit” have often been titles featuring queer characters or women asserting their sexual personhood. For access to be cut off to such stories could be damaging to kids who otherwise have no way of meeting fictional representations of their own experiences. According to the American Library Association, Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about two male penguins raising a baby penguin, is regularly featured on the organisation’s annual list of most-challenged titles.

As someone who picked up Judy Blume’s Forever at eleven, I feel sexuality is not something that should be seen as harmful in books. While I’m not saying that you should place a book with an explicit sex scene into the hand of an eight year old, I am saying that if you follow age appropriate guidelines, a class will usually be ok – aside from a few giggles and blushes – to read something that holds a sexual context. Truth be told, many of these moments in classic novels go over students heads until they are much older. I remember being in class, age fifteen, and the majority of the class didn’t get why Curly has a glove full of Vaseline in Of Mine and Men.

However, why is it important to be exposed to a little bit of sex during literature education? Crucially, it is the only other form of media that is not visual that can represent the act itself and dispel other representations that seem to only tell one story. Yes, I’m talking about pornography.

It’s no secret that porn is often where young adults especially teenage boys, get their understanding of sex from. Along with sex education it is crucial that young people are exposed to different variations of sex and sexuality through literature. It doesn’t need to be a Mills & Boon-esque escapade but it does need to show that sex isn’t something wholly based on male dominance and female submission.

Sex, like literature, is a bird of many features and this is why it’s the perfect medium to explore this part of life in education. The simple talk of anatomy and what it does is not enough as a teenager. They need to know that sex isn’t perfect, it comes in all shapes and sizes and it certainly isn’t just between a man and a woman for procreation purposes.

While a parent has the right to be informed on what their child is studying in school, limiting their resources in this nature often takes out books that are incredibly culturally and socially important for their learning. If a ‘sexually explicit’ book causes upset in the classroom for the students, it’s important to talk about why this is. Why are we disgusted by Humbert Humbert in Lolita? Why are we revolted by Curly’s candour towards his sex life?

This is the teacher’s moment of action, where they can encourage young adults in education to openly discuss sex in a safe environment. Where sexuality, possibility and difference becomes a discussion rather than a perverse revulsion that eventually leads to obsession.

I certainly wasn’t corrupted by Forever, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Roxana, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Canterbury Tales certainly didn’t corrupt me, yet all hold references to sex and even ‘sexual deviancy’ or so it was thought to be around the publication date. Instead, the books normalised sex, and the discussion of it. Literature made me realise that you don’t have to a perfect porn star, though some people might wish you to be, and that sex, like death or power, violence and romance, is often part of life and should be demonstrated through novels in all its difference.

To ban a book in a school because it may be ‘sexually explicit’ without understanding its social or textual context only limits the students and their learning ability. Instead, you simply have to educate and be prepared for a blushing classroom.

Please don’t give Lolita to an eight year old though, unless they’re really mature.

Review: The Legacy of Lucy Harte by Emma Heatherington

The Legacy of Lucy Harte is something of a wonder. This book promises to be life-affirming and poignant and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Not my usual cup-of-tea, this cover highlighted one woman’s search and discovery for a better life. This is certainly the main strand of the novel, but without ever getting trapped in cliché, the protagonist leads us from her manic beginning through a heart-warming story.

Maggie O’Hara is 34, a successful business woman who rocks a power suit, and is slowly losing the will to live. Recently separated, Maggie spends most of her days hiding from her concerned family and friends, drinking away her pain and turning up late for work. At 34, Maggie should have it all, but somehow she hasn’t quite met her own expectations for life. This thread is something that is becoming more familiar within narratives, and it’s something we should be proud to see.

After years of feminism telling young girls they can have it all, it’s finally time to acknowledge the pressure this places on women. Success is something that is relative to the person, but so often we categorise it by other people’s standards. Maggie, like many of us, felt that meant a high-stress career, marriage and eventually children. After her husband of seventeen months, “safe” teacher Jeff, leaves her for a young air stewardess, she soon realises that she’s not quite truly living her life.

The kicker? Seventeen years ago, Maggie was granted a new heart taken from a dead fourteen year old girl, Lucy Harte. Maggie visits a church every year and talks to Lucy, and she wonders whether she has truly lived well enough to pay tribute to this young girl, to her heart.

However, this year’s heart anniversary will prove integral to Maggie’s future. Her boss, concerned for her personal welfare, urges her to take a paid break and recover. After passing out drunk at home again, Maggie wakes to find a letter from Tain, Scotland – Lucy’s home. After failed attempts to make contact with the Hartes through hospital channels, it seems the family has finally reached out to her. Maggie has always needed this closure, to say thank you, to express her gratitude to this grieving family. Simon Harte, Lucy’s brother, grants this chance.

The need to share both their sides of the same story is paramount. And both are desperate for a meeting. Maggie’s is fairly simple. A healthy girl finds out she has congenital heart disease and, luckily, after two weeks in hospital is granted a new heart. The Harte’s is somewhat darker. An alcoholic mother who causes her own death and that of her daughter’s in a car collision. Simon and Lucy’s brother, Henry, is also left with severe brain damage and in need of constant care ever since. A twenty-eight year old man with the mind of a young boy.

This isn’t even a third of the way through the book, but the message here is clear. Maggie must live better, and make the most of her heart. Her husband puts the final nail in the coffin that is their marriage by announcing his new girlfriend is pregnant, and Maggie promptly knocks him out. Soon to return home to Scotland, Simon grants Maggie a lifeline. A tin that Lucy had kept, filled with different things – clippings from newspapers, photos and trinkets. After finding a ‘things I want to do when I grow up’ list, Maggie is spurred into action. She needs a focus, a new life, and this is it.

The book then breaks into Maggie’s adventures and discoveries based on diary entries and wishes from Lucy. The combination of a woman’s desperate struggle to find relief from her pain combined with a young girl’s musings on an unhappy household and future dreams is somewhat bittersweet but on the whole, I can’t believe I’m saying this, life-affirming. Maggie isn’t perfect, she has breakdowns, setbacks and for all of this, she is all the more real. The book covers everything from life-threatening illnesses, family drama and divorce. This is a protagonist who is struggling, and thankfully it’s real struggle, relatable struggle, and that is why you can’t help but read this book cover to cover.

With beautiful settings ranging across the world including Ireland, Scotland, France and even Nashville this is a pleasant, scenic read that feels wonderfully easy to get through.

Maggie, and Lucy, are relatable and following their path together draws you in and sets the tone for a narrative that is funny, sweet and makes you want to go out and explore. This is a book that I would gladly pass along to friends and one that took me by surprise, but in the best of ways. A book that is never dull, and doesn’t fall into the trap of creating a character that is utterly selfish, or at least not for long. A good read for the New Year that’ll hopefully make you want to travel, and turn those old wishes into memories. While organ donation doesn’t seem like the lightest topic, this book handles it with care and a delicacy that is pure and honest. Without ever getting too dark or heavy, The Legacy of Lucy Harte lives up to the hype and will make you laugh along the way.

To pre-order The Legacy of Lucy Harte by Emma Heatherington, click here. The e-book will be released 6th January with the paperback released 12th January.

The Legacy of Lucy Harte is published by Harper Impulse, and author Emma Heatherington can be found @emmalou13 on Twitter and Emma Heatherington Writer on Facebook.