Of Disney Villains and Politics

Let’s play a game: which Disney Villain is Theresa May?

Cruella De Vil is an obvious choice and has been joyfully bandied around by the media since her rise to power…

…but despite her recently revealed support of fox hunting, I don’t think that’s quite right.

 

The Evil Queen perhaps?

“Bring me the heart of Jeremy Corbin”

 

Ursula the Sea Witch?

“You can trust me to get us a fair Brexit deal”

 

The Queen of Hearts?

“It’s just strong and stable leadership, my dear. People need the certainty of having their heads removed for the slightest misdemeanour, otherwise it would be chaos!”

 

Nope, she puts me in mind of a villain more dangerous than any of these:Β 

Yes, Mother Gothel, the villain of Tangled. She has no magic powers, no army of giant playing cards, no wealth or resources, no real way to compel anyone to do her bidding, except for one. She keeps Rapunzel in a tower for 18-years without a single lock by convincing her of two simple things: 1) it’s not safe outside and 2) she’s not strong enough to handle it. There are ruffians and thieves out there and “clumsy”, “immature”, “naive” and “chubby(!)” Rapunzel wouldn’t stand a chance alone.Β The threat of danger itself is not enough. A constant diet of criticism and self-doubt are required to keep Rapunzel in line, otherwise she might get the idea that she’s a strong independent princess who can actually do stuff without her controlling fake mother.

Gothel, and Theresa May, present themselves as the symbol of safety and security, despite not ultimately having the interests of their ‘charges’ at heart beyond what they can get out of them. “Mother knows best”, “Mother will protect you”, “On your own you won’t survive”. Critically, the key to May’s power is that we believe her when she says the country won’t be strong enough to survive Brexit. We have to buy into the self doubt and the fear and let ourselves, our public services and our communities be abused in the interests of ‘stability’. If we don’t believe it, she has nothing.

When Theresa May dismisses Jeremy Corbin as not credible, ineffective (“ditsy and a bit, well, vague”), scares us with threats of a ‘coalition of chaos’ and a weak Brexit negotiating hand, she’s playing Gothel to a tee. The truth is we don’t really know what he would be like as a PM. I for one am willing to give him a chance but if you’re not it’s ok. Vote Lib Dem (maybe they’ll pull off reversing this Brexit lark somehow), or vote Green (they always seem nice), or even vote Tory if you honestly believe in their policies. But don’t vote for May just because your scared of the alternatives. You don’t know what’s outside until you go and look, and you don’t know for sure that you’re strong enough until you try. We are stronger than Theresa May wants us to believe and she’ll do anything to keep us realising that we don’t need her or her party.

There’s nothing keeping us in the tower except ourselves.

Life goals 2017: February update

Hello blog fans!

So it turns out that working really hard on your life goals leaves very little time to blog about them. At least that means I’m being productive! Here’s a quick update:

1) Apply for PhD

Done! PhD application is in. Putting the proposal together has taken so much work it might have been more stressful than my dissertation was! OK, maybe not, but the challenge with a PhD proposal is working out what you are going to do in advance. For my MSc I picked a topic, got a supervisor, then we started working. For the PhD I’ve picked a topic, research questions, experimental method, data analysis method, written an extensive literature review explaining why my research is important and unique, and described exactly how I’m going to do all the wonderful things I am promising. This is all stuff you need to do for an MSc dissertation too, however you generally get to work while you are on the course. This is just for an application!

But it’s done, the proposal is looking really strong and the academic staff supporting it are really pleased with what we’ve produced, so if I can at least get an interview I’ll be one up on last year ;).

2) Being healthy

Markie and I started the NHS weight loss plan, and we are doing really well sticking to it. We are also doing the Couch to 5K plan, running around the park by my work during lunch breaks. The NHS plan is calorie controlled. You work out what your ideal calorie intake should be (between 1400 to 1800 for me), and to lose weight you just stick near the bottom of the range. We’ve been doing this for about 6 weeks now and I have actually lost enough weight that my BMI is healthy, so I’ve just upped my calorie allowance to the middle of my range and am sticking with C25K. I’ve also ordered a replacement wii fit balance board to do some more stuff at home. So things are going pretty well with this life goal as well πŸ™‚

3)Publish a book

OK, between spending lunchtimes running and evenings on my PhD proposal there’s not been any time left over to work on a book, but it’s fine. We were expecting this! We planned for it. I should really start working on it now, however I also have work to do to prepare for the PhD interview (even though I might not get one, because I don’t know how much notice I’m going to get!) so I’m still not sure how much time I’m going to have. I expect to get an email next week telling me when I’ll get an update on my application, so the next step will be to work out how long I have, what work I need to do, and how much time I have left over to edit the book. Hopefully it will be some! Of course if I don’t get an interview I will suddenly find myself with ample time for book editing in the spring… 

So that’s my update! TTFN!

2017 Goals

Despite the curse of 2016 (and the woeful lack of new Doctor Who episodes!) it was a pretty good year for me. We had our third son, Asher, and I finished my MSc in Psychological Research Methods. While that it only 2 things they are 2 pretty big things that are jolly hard to do at the same time, and we survived. I’m proud of what I’ve done in 2016. Even though I failed NaNoWriMo :P.
So now it’s 2017, and I’m starting the new year going back to my pleasant enough admin job after maternity leave and a little bit of extra time now I’ve finished university. I wanted to set some goals, but I’ve honestly found it tricky. When I tried to list them there’s a lot of things I want to do, but really only a tiny bit of extra time when I factor in spending more time with the kids and not leaving Markie to do everything in the house (Markie is awesome). So I’ve limited myself to three primary targets that I will try to report on. Other things may sneak in (like building my Lego castle), but these are the three biggies that must be done, or else.

1) PhD Applications

My job is comfortable but it’s not really want I want to do forever. So my first job for the year is to submit PhD applications. I’m done with part-time study. It worked well for my BSc, but now we have a sizeable family to care for I need study to be my day-job, and for that I need funding. Funding applications close Feb/March time so the next few weeks will be very focused on completing this goal. If I don’t get a place, fair enough, but I must apply!

2) Health/Fitness

New Year diets are so cliche, but for the first time I’m making a commitment to be healthier so I can enjoy as much time with my family as possible. I’m not very overweight, just a couple of lbs really by BMI, but according to NHS metrics I need to lose some volume around the waist to be healthy. A quick check online revealed certain diet programmes/groups are a bit pricey. Also I don’t like going out and meeting new people at the best of times, nevermind having to get weighed in front of them and paying for the priveledge. So I’ve decided to try the free NHS weight loss guide. It’s a 12 week plan. I’m not sure exactly what is in it as I’m not reading ahead. That spoils the fun πŸ˜‰

Week 1 is adjust your diet. Lots of fibre, protein, veggies, smaller portions, healthy snacks (not chocolate muffins unfortunately), and stick to 1400 calories per day. I’ve done this for one week and so far it’s not as bad as I though. It helps that Markie is good at cooking low calorie dinners! And I usually have enough calories left in my allowance for a little bit of chocolate :). I’m using an app called My Fitness Pal to track calories. It scans barcodes. It’s like living in the future!

Week 2 is to up your activity levels. I’ve been to the gym a couple of times and am starting the NHS Couch to 5K programme next week (too cold this week!). I’ve had fun shopping for fitness clothes. Using them might be less fun, but we’ll see…

Which brings us to the final goal:

3) Publish a book

Not traditional publishing, alas, but indie publishing is on the rise and my drafts keep stacking up so one way to get out of the endless editing cycle is to publish. And if I’ve learnt anything from my MSc it’s that deadlines are highly motivating, so I’m going to publish by 31st December 2017. Or else. 

Or else what?

Um, not sure really. Meh. Anyhow, that doesn’t give me loads of time. 30 chapters to edit, not really starting until after PhD applications are in, need it ready for beta readers in Summer, so I’m looking at about 3 months to blitz through my next sweep to have a hope of getting it ready in time. Yay, deadlines!

So that’s the plan for 2017. The fact I was supposed to be researching infant language acquisition when I was writing this blog post doesn’t bode well. But at least I was eating a salad at the same time…

TTFN

Facebook break

Warning, I am deactivating my Facebook account!

Fear not, there has been no drama. I have not had a Facebook fallout causing me to have a diva strop and never darken the door of social media again. Nor have I become so depressed at various political debates that I’m losing the will to live (though to be fair I’m not far off!). I have simply become incapable of opening up my computer without checking Facebook and I just don’t have the time to sink hours into the endless sticky web of clickbait. So Facebook has to go until I get the rest of my work/life/play balance into order. I’ll still be reachable on twitter @LeighKeating, and by email if you can solve this cryptic riddle:

My first part is Leigh, and then a full-stop

My second is Keating, and then you must drop

The shift key and press the numerical two*

At the top of the keyboard. You know what to do.

My third is a ‘mail’ that begins with a ‘g’,

Then a dot, and a suffix short for company.

 

Beat that spam bots πŸ˜›

*Edited to add: This particular clue only works on a mac keyboard.

You’ll need to press the apostrophe,

if you’re not an Apple addict like me!

Multiple writing projects

My final MSc assignment is in so I’ve got no university work until October. Though I couldn’t resist signing up for a bunch of free courses on Coursera* and I’ve got a pile of psychology text books out of the library just because they look interesting, I still want to make progress with my writing before I start my dissertation next year. But which project to choose?!

After 10 years of nanowrimo, plus the diary challenge, I’ve got a lot of novels and ideas in various states of completion. I probably should pick one project and give it all my attention, but where’s the fun in that? Instead I’m going to have four projects, each at a different stage of development, to enjoy the benefits of productive procrastination. Productive procrastination is great. I discovered it during my open university course. When I had an essay due but I didn’t feel like working on it I’d start reading for the next unit instead. I still had a last minute panic to meet deadlines but at least I was ahead on the next bit. Procrastinating with something you need to do can sometimes be a good thing!

So, with that in mind, four projects. One editing, one restructuring, one writing and one planning. Daily set writing periods. If I’m stuck on one book or stage, no problem. Procrastination on a different one is fine. Encouraged even 😀.

Project 1 (editing): Cold Spell

I just reread this after a very long break. Having forgotten most of it I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was a fun read! It’s in need of a good edit, but after being faced with two WIPs that need major rewrites having something that’s closer to the final version is a welcome relief! It’s might be worth noting that I used the snowflake method to plan this one, so it may have resulted in a stronger structure from the outset.

Project 2 (restructuring): Technomancer

Needs something more drastic than an ‘edit’. I’m currently working on a new outline that will hopefully fix the plot problems!

Project 3 (writing): Elderwood University

In a departure from my usual style I attempted to ‘pants’ a novel for camp nanowrimo. Pantsing is a delightful term from the community that refers to writing without a plan or outline. I wrote about 20,000 words for camp, in which an interesting world started to develop so I’m going to carry on and see where it goes.

Project 4 (outlining): Otherside (working title)

I have officially created my Scrivener file for what will be my 2015 NaNoWriMo effort. It’s something completely new. All I will say about it now is the idea came to me in a dream (yeah, sorry!) and I wrote a short piece for the diary challenge based on it. And it just might involve parallel universes….

I think that’s enough to be getting on with! Might even finish something one day :).

*who could resist computational neuroscience? Not me!

Diary Challenge Update

Big news, loyal followers: the diary is finished! I repeat, the diary is finished. 366 pages (January 1st appeared twice) of hand-written, totally random stuff. And it only took four years. Yippee! If you have no idea what I’m talking about it all started way back here.

Diary

The Diary – no, I didn’t take a new photo


It would be difficult for me to give a break down of exactly what is in the damn thing. At least 1 complete script, 50,000 words of a novel, and many many many short stories, flash fiction, ideas, characters, bits of novels, plots and poems. There are zombies, pirates, aliens, apocalypses, angels and demons, bond villains, parallel universes and a lot of weird Christmas stories. Sounds like the best book ever, right? Well it wasn’t all fun. There’s at least one page describing my fishtank, some shockingly bad poetry, and some filler days that are just my RPG characters having arguments with each other, just to mention a few of the pages I’m less proud of. But it’s done.

Now I have completed the diary challenge (a tiny bit later than intended), I want others to be able to do it too! The whole point was to write something every day and have enough prompts to get me through the year. My next job is to compile these into one handy document so anyone can do the diary challenge. In time for New Year, you say? Yes indeed! And I will put in proper prompts that anyone can do in place of the few weeks where everything was themed around my psychology revision topics. So get your page-a-day diary ready and you too could have a weird, wonderful, and occasionally cringeworthy, book like mine in just 12 months :).

But what’s next for me? Well I’ve got a lot of raw material to work through now. Who knows how many books and stories I can dig out of those pages. But I’ve also gotten pretty good and writing shorts and I don’t want to get out of the habit, so introducing…

IMG_0203-1.JPG

my new book! This time there is no special challenge or set rules. It’s just a blank notebook. Well, it’s not blank anymore because I already wrote a story in it, and I will write many more. If the diary challenge has taught me anything it’s how to get over that fear of the blank page. There was a time I wouldn’t start writing down story until it was fully formed in my head. And by then I was so committed to it I was terrified of writing it wrong, so often it still got left unwritten. In my head a blank page had the potential to be perfect, and I couldn’t sully it without being sure that it would be. Now I’m free of that crazy notion. If I have an idea I just write it and see how it turns out. If it turns out wrong it’s no big deal, I can write it again, and again, until I get something I like. There’s always another blank page. The point is to not be afraid of starting anymore. It was a lesson worth learning the very very long way.

Maybe I’ll do another diary challenge one year. Maybe even next year, it depends what Santa brings me ;). But for now I’ve got a notebook to fill, two novels to edit and an MSc to do. Whatever happens in 2015, I’m not going to be bored! And I am going to be writing.

NaNoWriMo 2014

NaNoWriMo winner banner

I’ve been pretty quiet on my blog about National Novel Writing Month this year. This wasn’t by design. I’ve just been very busy. When I went into the challenge I wasn’t feeling confident about ‘winning’. I’ve only lost NaNo once, in 2006. What went wrong in 2006, you may well ask. University went wrong. As an Open University student, most of the time I had the wonderful good fortune of an academic year that started in January and finished in October, just in time to completely devote myself to NaNoWriMo. Except for 2006, when the course started in October instead. That year I wrote only 5,000 words.

So let’ s just say I didn’t have very high expectations going into this year. Not only was I only 1 month into a Masters degree, I have the added distraction of two children who weren’t around in 2006, and still work 4 days a week. I planned to fail. I decided that rather than end up with 5000 words of a beginning to abandon I might as well add to one that I still needed to finish. That way even if I only wrote a tiny bit it would at least be a little bit I needed.

At first things did not go well. For the first couple of days getting back into the swing of continuing a story I started six years ago was hard going. Even after spending a couple of months rereading and plotting I didn’t feel very well acquainted with my book. I think my book and I sat together in awkward silence for the first hour of November while I tried to come up with valid reasons to ditch it and wing it on a new one instead. Fortunately the only reason I could come up with was ‘finishing my old book is too hard and I don’t wanna write it’. So since that was a stupid reason, I persevered. I wrote 50,000 words. I finished my book.

So how on Earth did I manage it, with two kids and a job and university, when I failed so badly the last time? I think there are two main factors:

1) Mark
Having a supportive spouse was key! Mark always does NaNoWriMo with me, but after realising he just wasn’t going to be able to make 50,000 words himself this month he’s gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure I had enough time to do it. Thank you, Markie! I would not have finished the first draft of my book this month without you.

2) Experience
2006 was my 2nd NaNoWriMo attempt. I won the first year, with a story I had planned quite well in advance. I had successfully completed one other novel prior to that and it took me about 7 years to finish that one. I was inexperienced.
This year marked my 10th anniversary of taking part in NaNoWriMo. I’ve also spent much more time outside NaNo editing, done Script Frenzy a couple of times, and done my daily writing challenge. I’ve developed good writing habits in that time, and I think it’s likely that my typing speed has improved. I have got better at doing NaNo :).

What have I learned this year? I’ve learned that if I get up at 6am I can fit a lot of writing in before breakfast, and that’s something I’m going to try and do for the rest of the year as I go through the editing process with this book. I also learned that I can do this with University. I can make a little time for writing every day. And next year I can work on something new because I don’t have to plan to fail next time. I can plan to win πŸ™‚

Camp NaNoWriMo

2014-Participant-Vertical-Banner

Yup, signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo! Before anyone says I’m crazy, let me assure you I have not signed up for another 50,000 word monster first draft to lie unfinished and unedited on the hard drive for years. I have signed up to complete another 30,000 words of ‘Homunculus’, my 2012 NaNo tale of androids and psions in the far-future encompassing large amounts of material from the DD303 course books (it was my final year of uni, my head was kind of in that zone). I’m hoping that this will take me to ‘the end’ and I can move it to the edit pile. Since I’m going to be concentrating on that for the next month I had hoped to get two short stories finished this month for my other challenge. I typed up two different stories from The Diary and spent a lot of time thinking before finally admitting that neither of them where right. These were the original challenges:
Point of View Character Tag: http://www.leighkeating.me/?p=56
1 scene written from 2 different PoVs: http://www.leighkeating.me/?p=68

They were both fun writing challenges, and I invite anyone to have a go at them for themselves :). But in the end I just had scenes, not a complete story, and I’d be happy to share them but it’s more of a writing group thing (any of the Lancs & Cumbria Wrimos fancy taking on the challenge?). So, I’m giving you something else over the next couple of months. Probably my favourite piece from the whole of the diary challenge – my 2011 script frenzy script ‘The Captain’s Blog’. This was planned to be a ten-episode web series, so super short episodes of about 5 minutes each. It was also the last Script Frenzy, so a fitting thing to share in April when the challenge used to run :(. I could just publish an episode a month and get to the end of the year very easily, but that seems like a bit of a cheat, so this month I will give you episode 1 and I’ll try and update once a week. That should get me through to the end of May and give me enough time to finish my novel before starting another short story editing job. So check in on Friday for Episode 1: Alone.

Right, where was I up to in that novel now…

Big Bang Theory [Rant]

I saw yesterday that The Big Bang Theory has been given another 3 seasons. Since I have watched this show almost religiously since episode 1 I was a bit surprised that first reaction to this news was disappointment. To be honest I’ve not been enjoying the show as much lately and it is mostly due to the portrayal of the characters, especially (but not limited to) the women on the show.

Let’s start with the girls. It’s a show about archetypes so we shall forgive them bubbly blonde party girl Penny, but TBBT has really missed an opportunity to represent geeky girls and women in the show. I had high hopes when they introduced some intellectual female characters as show regulars with Bernadette and Amy, but at every turn the show enforces the stereotype that girls don’t like sci-fi, or play D&D, or read comic books. Well let me tell you that I am a girl and I love sci-fi, and I play D&D, and I read comic books, and not only that, SO DOES MY MUM! But no, in the world of TBBT girls from all walks of life prefer girlie things like shoe shopping and make-overs and only boys are allowed to geek out over steam trains. The closest the show has come to having a female character who is equivalent to the boys was Lesley Winkle, who seemed to vanish quite early. I suppose it’s too much to ask for a women in the show who’s part of the inner geek group rather than just a love interest for one of the blokes. So I would like to ask TBBT writers to think carefully about what they want to do with those three years they’ve been given, and maybe take a page out of Joss Whedon’s book and give us a variety of believable girl geeks. I do like Amy and Bernadette, but the constant separation of Penny’s girls and Leonard’s boys when it comes to leisure activities is more like a Victorian dinner party than a group of friends in modern day LA.

But it’s not just the female characters that get a tough time from the writers. Let’s take Stuart. Poor Stuart, initially presented to us as a credible rival for Penny’s affection with his own comic book business, shy charm, and wonderful artistic talent. Now his character has been completely rewritten to make him a pitiful joke. The fact that his business is struggling and he has to rely on welfare to survive and is clearly suffering from depression is supposed to be funny? Yes, mental health conditions are hilarious. Please use your three seasons to give Stuart a break, the poor guy deserves it.

I could go on. Poor old Raj probably deserves a place in this rant, but it’s getting a bit long now so I’ll leave it there. Just to be clear, I know I do not have to watch this show, but I am invested in the characters and I’d like to know what happens. The fact that the stereotypes have got worse and the jokes become crueler as the seasons have gone on is what disappoints me. 3 season renewal just sends a message to the show’s makers that this is something they are doing right and it’s what people like, so they’ll probably just do it more. But we girl geeks watch the show because we like the geek culture, and we like Star Wars jokes, and we’re just as gutted as Sheldon that Firefly got cancelled. It would be nice if we could be represented, or at least acknowledged, in the next three seasons.
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