Thursday, 30 May 2013

Why I Don't Like Blacks and Gays

In the wake of television presenter Eddie McGuire's spectacular foot-in-mouth blunder recently when he suggested on national radio that Indigenous football player Adam Goodes could be used to promote the musical King Kong, I thought now would be a good time to get something off my chest.

Firstly though for those who don't live in Australia (or have been hiding under a rock), McGuire's comment came after an incident a couple of days earlier when a young girl called Goodes an ape during a football game and he used it to draw attention to the issue of racism in sport. What made the whole thing with McGuire so bizarre was that he had played a big role in apologising to Goodes and taking a stand against racism, so many people were left going WTF when he said something so seemingly racist and offensive. I'm no Eddie McGuire fan, but I do think he was trying to make a joke about how this incident could be cynically used by the promoters of the musical to gain publicity, he just wasn't smart enough to pull it off or extract his foot from his mouth after his attempt at humour went down like a lead balloon. Instead he just panicked and made things so much worse.

But I digress. Back to why I don't like blacks and gays. Before you get too up in arms I have to be fair and admit that I hate whites and straights too, as well as coloureds and ethnics and refugees (although asylum seekers are okay). For some reason I have no problem with Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Jews and I don't mind African-Americans or Asians. If you haven't worked out yet that I'm talking about the terms, not the people they refer to then go to the bottom of the class.

The words 'blacks' and 'whites' have such negative connotations for me. They bring to mind race riots and the darkest days of the apartheid regime. They imply that race is the single characteristic that defines a person and they make everything seem so.....well, black and white. It's the same reason I don't like gays and straights, these terms reduce people to their sexuality alone. I'm much more comfortable referring to gay people or straight people. I read a book recently about a person with a disability, and I know that many in the paraplegic community are happy to refer to themselves as 'paras' while able-bodied people are 'ables' but I have problems with these terms as well, although I really have no right to.

For some reason religious labels don't worry me nearly as much even though they reduce people to a single thing, maybe because they don't have such a history of being used in a derogatory way.....except they actually do. Jew has a long history of being used as a term of abuse and Muslim has received a real beating in the media over recent years. Nationalities don't worry me either, except when a word like 'Leb' (Lebanese) becomes a term of racial abuse as it has in Australia. I like Indigenous because to me it has a real gravity to it and is so much better than 'Abo' which makes my skin crawl.

Classifying people on the basis of gender is so naturalized that it's not even noticeable, but the very first thing we do is divide people into male and female by referring to them as a boy, girl, man or woman. The gender division is so deeply ingrained in culture that to question it seems ridiculous, but this ignores the fact that many people don't fit neatly into gender categories or roles, and find them stifling (update: This article which I came across the day after I wrote this post is so interesting). I believe that in a more enlightened society gender wouldn't be as important as it is now, but sadly the world seems to be moving backwards in this regard. Just walk into any department store and witness the sea of pink clothes, dolls and accessories available for girls to get an idea of the identities they have to choose from - princess or skanky Bratz girl (seems a lot like the old virgin/whore division)

It's interesting that apart from words like rich, poor, working-class, middle-class, pleb etc, which aren't used that much to categorise people,  there are no terms to show where a person stands in the social order. Maybe it's because people like to pretend that class doesn't exist and we're all equal or it's harder to pin down someone's social class in the same way you can tell what their gender, race and even nationality are.  One thing I am sure of is that these are very good things to think about when writing if you want your characters to be multi-faceted and complex. This is where character profiles come in handy because you can develop a whole background which will give your characters depth and make them more realistic by considering their race/ethnic background, social class, religious beliefs, gender and feelings about gender roles, sexuality and disabilities and any discrimination they may have experienced in their lives. So many conflicts can emerge from these things alone that thinking about them is bound to generate plot ideas.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Prude & Prejudice: The Epilogue

Prude & Prejudice has been updated to include an epilogue! I've added it here for those who've already read my novella. For those who haven't you can get the full story on Amazon for 99 cents.



18 months later…..

“I know you’re all anxious to hit the dance floor so I won’t talk for too much longer. I’d just like to say what a great honour it is to stand before you here today to toast to the happiness of my dearest friend, William Darling and his lovely bride, Prudence Higginbottom.” A wave of mirth ran through the guests at the mention of her full name and Prue was mortified to see that even the vicar was laughing. Her name had caused her enough humiliation over the years, and the vicar knew how important it was to her that it not be permitted to ruin her special day. She had reminded him at least ten times not to call her Prudence during the service, and right up until the vows were said she had feared he would forget. It was with great difficulty that she kept the smile plastered on her face while giving Charles her iciest look. He just smiled back at her and winked

“Please forgive me, it’s no longer Prudence Higginbottom but Prudence Darling now. You’ll also have to excuse me for using the name Prudence which the bride is not particularly fond of, but I have a confession to make, Prue. Your mother told me she’d disown me if I didn’t address you properly in my speech at least once, and I’m not ashamed to admit she frightens me a little. Apparently she tried to blackmail the vicar too but he’s made of sterner stuff than me.” The audience booed him playfully, and he raised his hands in mock surrender. “Before you judge me too harshly please remember that the vicar doesn’t have to contend with Adelaide as a mother-in-law. We all know that hell hath no fury like a Higginbottom scorned. Besides that, Prudence is a lovely name that no one should be ashamed of. I’m not just saying that because your mother told me to either.” The guests laughed again, and Adelaide Higginbottom looked around the reception hall, beaming with pride.

“It’s one of the four cardinal virtues,” she said loudly, causing the towering plume of red feathers on her hat to shake as if in agreement with her. Prue and her sisters had not believed their mother could possibly outdo the ensemble she had worn for Cate’s wedding three months earlier, but somehow she had managed to find something even more embarrassing for Prue’s day. Her red dress today was low cut, showcasing her ample bosom and the bodice was covered in sparkling diamantes, further drawing the eye to this area. The skirt was huge and billowing, and over the dress was a sheer wrap with red feathered fringing to complement her hat. Prue had tried to talk her mother into something a little more subdued, but she had insisted on buying the most garish outfit in the shop.

“I’m the mother of the bride, and people are going to be looking at me just as much as they’re looking at you. It’s my special day too, you know, Prudence, and I think you’re being very selfish wanting to keep the spotlight purely on yourself.”

“But Mum,” said Cate, jumping in before Prue could reply, “you just look so…so….striking in that dress that Prue’s afraid no one will notice her at all. I mean look at what happened at my wedding, you were in almost as many photos as me.” This was true but only because she had followed the photographer everywhere, telling him how to take the photos and hovering in the background of many of the shots. In her purple gown with orange flowers she’d been very hard to miss. Prue had lost no time in pointing this out, and she half wondered if her mother had deliberately chosen the most outlandish dress she could find just to get back at her.

In the end they had agreed that she could wear whatever she wanted to Prue’s wedding as long as she didn’t touch any alcohol at the reception and stayed far away from the photographer. She was also under strict instructions not to step in and try to help them cut the cake. So far she’d stuck to her promises, and Prue was relieved that she didn’t have to worry about her mother making a spectacle of herself for one day at least.

“Speaking of a Higginbottom scorned,” said Charles, “William of all people knows how dangerous this can be. He and Prue got off to quite a rocky start if I remember correctly. I was there the first time he ever set eyes on our Prudence, and what a sight it was. For some reason that has never been fully explained to me she decided to come in drag to our first function in Merryton. It was very hard to miss her.”

The screen behind him which had shown carefully staged images of William and Prue in the most flattering light suddenly changed to a photo of Organic Feast’s first function. Prue was in the background clearing a table, but the immense white jacket stood out like a sore thumb making her look like a heavyset man with very thin legs. This time the guests roared with laughter, and Prude felt a genuine smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.  She had to admit she looked even more ridiculous than she’d thought, and this was probably her karmic payback for giving her mother so much grief over Cate’s wedding photos.

“Wills couldn’t resist making fun of the poor girl, not realising that she could hear every word he said. He meant no harm, but his wicked sense of humour has often gotten him into trouble. Needless to say Prue was not impressed. To make things worse she somehow got the idea that he wanted to start his own anti-immigration movement in town. Where she got this idea from is another thing I’ve never quite been able to work out, but Prue’s mind works in mysterious ways. Nothing could be further from the truth. The William I’ve known for over ten years is not in the least bit prejudiced against any race, colour or creed. He is honest and generous to a fault, and despite Prue’s bad first impression, a true gentleman at heart. He is also a far better friend than I deserve. Over the years we’ve become more like brothers than friends, and now that we ‘ve married two sisters we truly are family.”

Charles’ voice became a little choked at this point and he had to pause for a moment to collect himself. Glancing at William, Prue saw that his eyes were shining with emotion. “Joining the Higginbottom clan is a very unique experience, to say the least, and there’s no one else I’d rather have as a brother-in-law than William. Together we are an island of sanity in a sea of madness.” Everyone tittered again and Charles couldn’t help laughing too. “Just kidding, of course. My father-in-law is a perfectly rational man and I don’t know how he’s managed to survive all these years on his own.” It was Thomas Higginbottom’s turn to beam now, and Prue could see that he was thrilled at being included in the speech. “All jokes aside, I’m just so glad that William has found a beautiful lady who completes him in every way. I’ve never seen him so happy and it’s with great pleasure that I raise this toast to their future together. May it be filled with all the joy and laughter they both deserve. To William and Prue.”

“To William and Prue,” repeated the guests, raising their crystal glasses for the toast as the bride and groom shared a kiss. Cate finished off the speeches with a colourful account of the night at the Heart and Humble when Prue had accused Will and his kind of taking over the town before promptly passing out face first in his lap. By the time her sister finished talking Prue’s sides ached from laughing.

With the speeches concluded the guests began chatting softly amongst themselves, and Prue finally let herself start to relax. So much could have gone wrong, but now that the formalities were over she could afford to let her hair down and have some fun. The band members returned from their break and were preparing to launch into their next song when the tinkling sound of a spoon tapping against glass cut through the conversation. All heads turned in the direction from which it had come. Prue’s heart almost stopped when she saw a plume of feathers rise towards the ceiling as if some strange red bird was attempting to take flight.

“Excuse me, everyone, can I please have your attention for just a moment,” said Adelaide Higginbottom, smiling sweetly as she scanned the faces in the crowd. Her expression changed to a glare when she reached a table where some guests were still talking, and she waited until there was complete silence before resuming. “Thank you. Now this speech wasn’t planned and I don’t like being the centre of attention, so I won’t say very much today, but on the occasion of my daughter Prudence’s wedding I feel the need to share some of my thoughts”. Prue made eye contact with her father, imploring him to do something, but he just gave a helpless shrug. William reached out to take her hand to comfort her, but also to restrain her so she couldn’t jump up and snatch the microphone from her mother. She had not even gone this far at Cate’s wedding, and Prue shuddered to think of exactly what thoughts she felt the need to share today of all days. She glanced over at Cate who had turned very pale.

“Over the years Prudence and I haven’t always seen on to eye on many things as most of you are aware. She was always a very headstrong girl and our disagreements only increased as she got older. Of all my daughters she has been the hardest one for me to understand as she is so different from me in temperament. I am more the shy, retiring type but Prue has always been very outspoken and, sorry darling, sometimes even a bit overbearing when it comes to her beliefs.” A couple people coughed, but the majority of guests managed to restrain themselves admirably at these comments. “Despite our differences I’ve tried to support her as best I could, even when I disagreed with her decisions. For instance I have never been able to comprehend why she wanted to run her own farm but she couldn’t be swayed from this path so I gave her my blessing. It’s a very unfeminine lifestyle and I began to worry that she would never find a husband, but then she met William who is just as passionate about the orgasmic nonsense as she is. It was a match made in heaven.”

This time there were a quite a few startled looks and a lot of muffled laughter.  Beside her Prue could feel William shoulder’s shaking, and she had to fight the urge to cover her face with her hands. “Oh, did I say orgasmic? I meant to say organic. I don’t know why I always get those things mixed up. No doubt my daughter will be very cranky with me for that slip up, but I’ve made worse.” She had indeed, and Prue dreaded to think what was coming next. “As I said we disagree on a lot of issues, politics being one of the main things, but recently we have come to respect each other and learn from our differences. Prue has taught me to keep an open mind and accept people for who they are, and for this I’m grateful to her. I feel very proud to have raised a daughter who cares so much about others and always tries to treat everyone fairly.” Prue felt her eyes fill with tears at the unexpected kind words, and she was momentarily ashamed for thinking her mother would do anything to embarrass her on her special day.

“I haven’t changed my opinions completely on immigration, mind you, but I’m now willing to accept that in some circumstances it can be a positive thing. Why just tonight I’ve been having a very nice chat with Zahir over there, and if you closed your eyes while talking to him you wouldn’t even know he’s not British. Where is it you said you come from, Zahir?”

A young man sitting at the table opposite the bridal party shifted self-consciously in his seat. “Um, Sheffield.”

“No before that.”


“No, I mean before you came to England.”

 “My family are originally from Bangladesh.”

“Yes, that’s it, Bangladesh. An interesting people the Bangladeshis. It’s hardly their fault they come from a third world country and I’m sure it’s not as unhygienic over there as it looks on television. Anyway, Zahir is a shining example of what civilization can achieve for even the most backward of races.”

A few murmurs ran through the crowd, but Adelaide was unperturbed, clearly thinking they were agreeing with her. As she continued she began enunciating her words very clearly as if the audience were hard of hearing, and gesturing with her hands. “I see there are many other foreigners here today too and I’d just like to extend the hand of friendship and make you feel welcome in our great nation. I think it’s wonderful that you have all assimilated and made an effort to learn the language and adapt to our way of life. At least I'm assuming you have or you wouldn't be here. I hope you will convince others in your communities to follow suit. No one wants to live in a society that is divided by race.  It can only cause trouble as people will wonder why on earth you chose to come here if you don’t want to be part of our culture. We don’t mind if you keep your own traditions, apart from the barbaric ones like female circumcision, but please respect our traditions too and make a genuine effort to fit in. That’s all we ask.”

“At least she’s trying,” whispered William, nodding in apology to Zahir who was one of his closest friends from university.

“She’s very trying,” Prue whispered back, wishing her mother would just shut up and sit down before she offended anymore of their friends. Her face was burning and she couldn’t bring herself to look at the guests for fear of what she’d see on their faces.

“Anyway, I didn't intend to speak of these things today because no one likes it when politics intrudes on what is supposed to be romantic. I really just wanted to tell Prue how very proud I am of her and what a wonderful young woman she has grown into. I hope she and William have a long and happy life together. I give them my blessing and Cate and Charles too. I know my daughters will not waste any time starting their families, so I’d like to dedicate this toast to future grandchildren. May we hear the pitter patter of tiny feet before too long because who knows how much time your father and I have left on this earth. Prue and William might  be considerate enough to get started on our first grandchild tonight.” She gave a suggestive wink before raising her glass. “To grandchildren.”

“To grandchildren,” came the somewhat confused echo.

Returning to her seat Adelaide Higginbottom looked very pleased with how well her speech had been received. Those guests not in shock at her words clearly relished the unexpected entertainment. William couldn’t hold back his own laughter and his chuckling was contagious. Prue was torn between sharing his amusement and feeling upset that her mother had embarrassed her once again. Then the music started up again and William squeezed her hand, and she realised that none of it really mattered. Her mother would always be outspoken and opinionated, but that’s just the way she was. If she could make the effort to change then the least Prue could do was be more accepting of her foibles. One day her own children might see her in the same way and she would hate to think that they couldn’t find it their hearts to show some understanding and tolerance towards her. She blew Adelaide a kiss as William whisked her onto the dance floor, and then her mother was the last thing on her mind as the band played her favourite song and she twirled beneath the fairy lights with her darling Mr Darling, the most perfect husband in the world for her.


Friday, 3 May 2013

Pitch Perfect: A Review

First of all I have to admit that I'm a huge fan of good musicals, and not-so-good musicals (except Mamma Mia which was a step too far, even for me). Pitch Perfect is definitely not perfect. In fact many of the jokes fall flat and some of the humour is questionable, but overall I really enjoyed this movie!

When I started watching it my expectations were pretty low. After a shit day at work I needed a pick-me-up and was ready to forgive a lot of its sins if the music was good. The music is very good, and the audtion sequence with Kelly Clarkson's Since You've Been Gone is gold. Another stand-out scene is the improvised rif- off between the rival acapella groups. In a lot of ways this is Glee / High School Musical type of film, but at the same time it pushes the boundaries in a really clever way that will not alienate fans. It's both a parody and a tribute.

What elevated it for me was that some of the humour comes straight out of left-field and is completely unexpected. Most of the characters are weird and over-the-top, but they work, and Rebel Wilson's deadpan delivery of her lines is one of the highlights of the films (although I am getting sick of seeing her play exactly the same role in every movie she's in. Makes me wonder if she has any range beyond the funny fat chick). Anna Kendrick was perfect in the lead role and Skylar Astin is great too. (he's way too young for me to perve on but what a cutie).

The only sour note was the depiction of the predatory lesbian character who takes any opportunity to grope women. In this day and age it's disappointing that homosexuality is even an issue. The vomit scenes were pretty disgusting, but the scene were the women are all struggling to get away from Aubrey as she blows chunks is like something straight out of a horror movie. It's very funny, at least for a few seconds, but the "vomit angel" took it a bit too far. Both my husband and I agreed that the Treblemaker's performance at the end was actually better than the Bella's, but this is a mnor thing. Do I recommend this film? Most definitely woth a look.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Flash Fiction: A Double Shot of Love

Damn but the coffee was good here. Emily took another sip and savoured the rich, creamy texture and full flavour of her double espresso. She’d almost decided against dropping into her regular café this morning, especially after the shocking start she’d had to the day. It was four blocks from her apartment and in the opposite direction to her office, but the siren call of the coffee was too strong to resist. There was simply no better in town.

She had to be honest, though, and admit that coffee wasn’t the only thing that had drawn her here today.

As she gazed at her iPad she felt someone’s eyes on her, and she was delighted when she looked up to see a handsome blonde man seated a few tables away, smiling at her. He was impeccably dressed in an expensive Italian suit, and he looked like a quintessential Wall Street millionaire. She’d never dated a rich, powerful man before and the thought gave her a little thrill. It was about time she set her sights on someone successful instead of the lowly paid losers she usually ended up with. She was so tired of slackers and commitment-phobics.

She’d seen the man here a couple of times before and he’d always smiled at her in a flirty kind of way but she’d never smiled back. Today was different; today was her birthday and the start of a whole new era in her life. Out with the old and in with the new was her motto for her twenty-eighth year.

She gave him what she hoped was a sexy smile in return, and their eyes locked. For a moment it looked like he was actually going to come over and talk to her. She moistened her lips and flicked her hair back in anticipation.

A loud crash from behind the counter interrupted the moment, causing the man to glance towards the front of the café. Without looking at her again he casually slipped his hand into his pocket and returned to the paper. Emily silently cursed the stupid barista who had dropped a jar of coffee beans, spilling them everywhere. From where she was sitting she could see him scrambling around on his knees cleaning up the mess. She gave a snort of contempt and tried to focus her attention back on her iPad.

She had just taken a final sip of her coffee and she was gathering her things to leave when the clumsy barista appeared at the table with another cup in his hand.

“A short macchiato,” he said.

“I didn’t order that.”

“I know, that guy over there ordered it for you.” She looked over to see the handsome stranger smiling at her again. He nodded at her and she inclined her head towards him and mouthed “Thank you.”

“It’s great to see that chivalry isn’t completely dead.” The steamed milk had been shaped into a perfect love heart. “Look a heart, how sweet.”

“The heart is from me.”

“Oh.” She didn’t know how to respond so she raised the cup to take a sip. It was even better than the last. He’d outdone himself with this one. “Well, thank you, I guess.” She hoped he’d just walk away and leave her alone, but he continued to linger.

The last thing she wanted to do was look into his deep brown eyes, the colour of the richest, most flavoursome of coffee beans, but she couldn’t resist. What she saw there made her draw her breath in sharply. It was love, pure and simple, she couldn’t deny it. Before she could say another word he’d dropped down onto one knee and taken her hand.

“This is not the way I’d planned for this to happen. I wanted to wait till tonight but I can see I’m going to have to do it now or someone else might steal you away before the day is over. Emily, will you marry me?”

“You mean you didn’t forget my birthday?”

“No. I have a romantic dinner all planned for you at your favourite restaurant. I thought if I pretended to forget it would make it even more of a surprise. So what’s the answer going to be?” Tears sprang into her eyes and she threw her arms around his neck.

“Of course it’s yes, you big loser.” It was only when the café broke out in applause that Emily snapped back to reality and saw that they had an audience for this most intimate of moments. The handsome stranger appeared to be very surprised, and she gave him a sheepish look. He abruptly raised the newspaper so she couldn’t see his face anymore, but she could see the distinctive tan line on his finger where it seemed a wedding band usually belonged.
The End