Fantasy History: The Red Wedding and the Black Dinner

I’m not sure which is more shocking: the Red Wedding itself, or the fact that it’s based on not one but two things that actually happened. No weddings, as far as I can track down, but two violations of the real-life version of “guest right.” Scottish politics was a bloody business.

The Black Dinner

Here’s where the “eat a nice dinner and then get brutally killed, oops” thing comes from.

In 1440, the leading families of Scotland were sick of the Black Douglases. This lowland clan had gained a lot of influence over Scotland, with their leader, the Earl of Douglas, acting as regent for the ten-year-old King James II and so basically dictating how the country would be run. Not acceptable, at least in the eyes of all these other people who wanted to dictate how the country was run.

The Earl of Douglas died, of completely normal and natural causes, and his sixteen-year-old son William took over the title. A very Game of Thrones-esque power struggle ensued, as first one family had James, then another kidnapped him, then those two families united against a third threat, and on and on.

In November, 1440, these struggling lords invited William and his little brother David to Edinburgh castle to eat dinner with the young king. It was a dinner of “reconciliation”, showing how totally fine everything was after the last chaotic few months, and the too-trusting William showed up without a worry. Supposedly, he and James got along really well, and everything was going great, until James’ men threw a large black bull’s head down on the table in front of William. The bull’s head was a symbol of death, the color symbolised the Black Douglases, and the resulting “we’re going to murder you” message was pretty clear.

The young King James was not happy, but his advisors ignored him. While James pleaded for them to stop, the two young Black Douglases were beheaded.

Problem solved.

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Is La La Land’s “The Fools Who Dream” about mental illness?

I saw La La Land yesterday, and my favorite moment, by far, was Emma Stone’s final audition scene, and the song The Fools Who Dream. I may have cried, and I’ve listened to it a million times since then.

But I realized something last night, on listen one million and one, and now I can’t un-hear it. Is The Fools Who Dream about a suicide attempt?

I was so convinced that it was obvious, and I’d been a fool to miss it, that I googled it. And nothing came up. No one seems to have written about this. But for all that The Fools Who Dream is moving and inspirational, it’s ultimately a song about a woman jumping into a river.

She smiled, leapt without looking, and tumbled into the Seine.

Maybe, as someone who lives in a European city on a river, I have a very different perspective on this than people living in LA. By far the most common thing that happens when people jump or fall into York’s river is that they die, even if they just intended to swim across for fun. There’s a memorial to someone who did just that not far from where I’m sitting and writing this now. You can’t read those local headlines multiple times a year and read all the “be careful around the river” warnings, and not struggle to find jumping barefoot into a river romantic.

But this revelation has really changed the song for me. Not necessarily in a bad way, but in a different way. It becomes a story about a creative but troubled woman, who had a spark and big dreams, but also struggled with those things, and tried to kill herself in a “romantic” way.

Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem.

Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.

There’s nothing romantic about mental illness, and there are big problems with the tradition of tying mental illness with creativity. But that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of creative people struggle with mental illness (as do, in fact, all sorts of people in all sorts of careers). And with attempted suicide in mind, the song becomes less about “here’s to the people who keep going and keep creating, even though it seems hopeless,” and more about “here’s to the people who struggle and suffer, and yet create something real and beautiful despite that.”

She captured a feeling, sky with no ceiling, a sunset inside a frame.

She lived in her liquor, and died with a flicker.

I’ll always remember the flame.

The aunt paints it all as something story-worthy and exciting, but she’s sad, and she eventually dies “with a flicker”, and honestly, this whole part just makes me think that the aunt did succeed in committing suicide another time. After all, “she said she’d do it again.”

She told me a bit of madness is key to give us new colors to see

Who knows where it will lead us?

And that’s why need us.

I’d like to read this not as a line saying “mental illness is key to creativity”, but the idea that it does provide someone with a unique perspective, and that that perspective creates stories that need telling too. It can create beauty in stories too. It’s validation, a feeling of great sadness and wistfulness but also of hope. Of taking what you have, and making it into something more, something of beauty.

Smiling through it, she said she’d do it again.

Honestly… I don’t know what to make of this line if the song is about suicide and not adventure. Obviously, saying that she’d do it again isn’t good or romantic if “it” is trying to kill herself. If we take the line as metaphorical, the sense that she leapt and suffered and survived, and the beauty she took from it was worth it, that’s one thing. But the line is innately heart-achingly sad to me, like the aunt is saying, “This is who I am. I don’t regret that experience, and I survived, but I know I could find myself there once more.”

Or is it that it’s about going through mental illness, that level of pain, again? Obviously, no one wants to suffer, but if it’s a choice between suffering and getting through it and ending up somewhere better, or not suffering but not experiencing anything at all, she’ll pick the first option every time. It’s hard, but she’s take what good she can from it.

I think I like that third option best. There’s still a lot of sadness there, but also acceptance and hope.

But I don’t know. I’m still not sure how to parse this song, which is why I’m writing about it here and not on Feminist Fiction. What do you all think? Am I overthinking the song, or is this super obvious and that‘s why no one seems to have written about it?

Maybe if I listen to it another million times, I’ll finally figure it out.

Coping with Anxiety Today

Well. Today is… it’s not good, is it?

I don’t know how to make the world less horrifying right now, but I do know a thing or three about anxiety. And if this isn’t an anxiety-provoking situation, I don’t know what is.

So here’s what I can offer. Some tried-and-tested anxiety-fighting techniques to keep us going in the face of whatever’s to come.

  1. Take What Action You Can

First, tackle this on a personal level. Is there anything specific you’re worried about facing, and if so, is there anything you can do about it? Honestly, the answer may well be “not much.” But there may be small things. Perhaps you can think up a “worst case scenario” plan. Perhaps you can practice a script for if a dreaded encounter happens. Perhaps you can reach out to someone you know you can rely on, or put a list of important phone numbers in your pocket in case you need them. Just doing something will put a sense of control back in your hands, and if you genuinely can’t do anything, then knowing that is, in itself, a way to help handle anxiety about it. “I’ve done all I can. I can’t do any more until the thing actually happens.” You can acknowledge that you’re anxious, and then move on to other things you can do things about.

Then there’s the issue of what we can do in a general sense. How do we stop the world going to hell? How do we protect society as a whole, and help people who aren’t us? A lot of anxiety comes from the idea that we should be doing things, combined with the belief that we can’t do anything. Bad things are going to happen, and we don’t know exactly what they are, and we can’t stop them, but we should stop them, and… *brain explosion*.

So, listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s a smart guy, right? And he’s said this:

Decide how you are going to help. Decide how you are able to help, something you can maintain. Maybe it’s being an online crusader, highlighting issues on Twitter or on a blog or on Youtube. Maybe you have professional skills you can lend to a cause. Maybe you’re going to get involved in protesting. But it can be smaller. Find somewhere to volunteer and do some good on a regular basis. Commit to donating to your local food bank once a week. Find something concrete that you can do, and do that thing.

This doesn’t mean you’re washing your hands of every other problem in the world. But one person cannot possibly do everything. We have to keep going, keep living our lives, and we need the energy and mental health to do that as well. But the enemy of anxiety is action, so pick a thing to do, and then whenever your anxiety starts eating at you, tell it no. You’ve decided what you’re doing. You’re doing it. End of discussion.

2. Filter the world

This feels like the opposite of the usual mantra of “stay woke,” but remember Lin-Manuel Miranda. If you let everything in, you’ll drown. Stay up-to-date on the world, but decide how and when you’re going to do that, and stick to it. Maybe there are a few really smart activists on social media that you want to follow. Or maybe you’re like me, and the constant flow of social media makes you more anxious. In which case, pick a time of day to read the news, from a couple of sources that you’ve decided you trust. Get the information. Take whatever action you’ve decided you’re going to take. And then step the hell away from the flood. You’ve figured out how and when you’re going to learn things. Letting yourself get overwhelmed with constant updates helps no-one, least of all you.

3. Distract yourself by living your life

You’ve got to be able to keep living. You’ve got to take care of yourself. So don’t sit with your anxieties. Don’t let them be your constant companions. Find distractions.

First, there’s the obvious self-care stuff, the kind of things that anxiety might say we shouldn’t do when we’re so worried about big-picture things. Watching a favourite Youtuber who makes you smile. Checking out a new Netflix series. Playing a video game. Things that make you feel calmer. Embrace those things. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself right now. It’s more important than ever. You need downtime, and it will help so much, I promise.

Then there’s the other distraction stuff. Hobbies. Passions. Maybe you write stories, or review books. Maybe you’re a fledgling Youtuber yourself. Maybe you dance, or you love studying languages, or you paint, or play the guitar. And maybe you don’t do those things, but you want to. Maybe you think you don’t have time for them, maybe you think you won’t be any good at them, but you want to do them.

Now is the time. It’s time to give yourself a sense of control over something in your life, and a sense that you’re growing, no matter how dark the world gets. It’s time to take care of yourself, and make sure you’re paying attention to what you want.

And those things, those ‘distractions’? They help the world too. Writing things that may one day enlighten or comfort or entertain others. Making people smile with music. Learning new ways to communicate with people and make friends where you otherwise would not. Reading books that broaden your view and understanding of the world and the people in it. Making yourself healthy and strong, so you can keep going, and do more in the future.

Writing Lessons from… Rogue One: Death That Matters

This is part of a new series on this blog, looking at what we can learn about writing from great (and not-so-great) pop-culture hits, from movies to video games and everything in between. You can check out the backlist of posts here. This week is more Rogue One, where I want to talk about…

Death That Matters

Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for. Although its dramatic “anyone can die at any time” attitude initially made for some surprising and discussion-worthy TV, it’s created a new obsession with being as dark and shocking as possible. Everyone wants to kill characters as randomly and unexpectedly as they can, and this creates problems for a bunch of reasons.

  1. It loses its impact. We get accustomed to these dramatic, horrible deaths, so the show constantly feels the need to escalate, make things even more awful and shocking, to keep our attention. Meanwhile, we stop reacting with sadness and horror, and start just going, ‘Oh, another death. Okay.’
  2. It pits writers against the viewers. It no longer feels like the creators are sharing a story with us, but like they are going out of their way to inflict the story on us. And that isn’t fun.
  3. We emotionally detach from the characters. If anyone can die at any time, it’s much harder for us to bother connecting with them or considering them real.
  4. It’s unsatisfying. If characters die randomly, they can disappear without any satisfying resolution to their story arcs or their goals. They just vanish mid-tale, and viewers feel like something is missing from the story as a result. As an occasional trope, this can make a statement. As something that happens constantly, it just ends up being incomplete storytelling.

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Writing Lessons from… Rogue One: Modified Three Act Structure

This is the start of a new series on this blog, looking at what we can learn about writing from great (and not-so-great) pop-culture hits, from movies to video games and everything in between. First up is Rogue One, where I want to talk about…

Modified Three Act Structure

The three act structure is traditionally the setup (who is the protagonist and what are they trying to do?), the conflict (the trying to do it), and the resolution (yay, they did it).

The quintessential three act structure is A New Hope. The first act ends with a key turning point for Luke, when he sees his family farm burned and agrees to go with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Act Two is their pursuit of that quest, ending in the rescue of Leia and a successful escape from the Death Star. Act Three is the destruction of the Death Star.

Rogue One is a very different movie, with a very different ultimate tone. And so, although it arguably has three acts, it’s definitely not the traditional three act structure we see in Episode IV.

Spoilers (obviously) below.

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Welcome to 2017!

Happy 2017, everyone!

I’m so excited for the new year, and all the new things that are on the way. New books! New projects! Star Wars Episode VIII!!! And in the meantime, lemme talk about what I’m going to be doing in this online space in 2017 — where you can follow me, what you can expect, and a few new projects coming up!

This Blog

really enjoyed doing Blogmas last month, and part of me wants to keep it up forever. Another part of me knows that’s insane. But I’ll definitely be doing several posts a week, at least, of the “nonsense from Rhiannon’s brain” variety. Book, TV and movie squees. Musing on current events and cute news stories. Excessive navel gazing about technology and mental health and being a better self. All the normal stuff you’d expect from me. 😛

I’ll also be starting three blog series this year, which I’m pretty excited about!

  1. Writing Lessons From… talking about what we can learn about writing and storytelling from various popular series, including movies, TV shows and video games. First post on Friday will be about Rogue One.
  2. Fantasy History (which needs a better name — coming soon, I hope!). I’m a history nerd, and a fantasy nerd, so let’s combine them, and talk about various dramatic, grisly and frankly unbelievable events in British history that work their way into fantasy. There’ll definitely be a couple of Long May She Reign posts, nearer to release, because I really stole a lot from history with that one.
  3. Tropes in YA Fantasy. This is a bit of a Feminist Fiction-esque series, although they won’t all be feminism based. Let’s talk fantasy tropes, and YA fantasy tropes! How are they reinvented by YA? How does YA tackle the BS that traditional fantasy brings with it? Does it tackle it? Does it create problems of its own? I’m not sure, so let’s find out!

As these are all new, I’m currently committing to putting one of these out every FridayWe’ll see what my schedule looks like, and whether I can make the Tropes in YA Fantasy a separate post on Mondays instead. But for now, check back on Fridays for these.

Goodreads

I’ve started using Goodreads, and I’m having fun there! Follow or friend me for my updates on books I’m reading, and my mini reviews when I’m done, and let’s talk books! I just finished The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet and The Princess Diarist, and I’m just starting The Bear and the Nightingale.

My questions are also open there, so if there’s anything you’re wondering about Long May She Reign, feminism or writing in general, please give me a shout!

Feminist Fiction

As always! The website‘s been running five years now, and although I haven’t always posted as regularly as I’d like, I’m feeling super excited about the new year. Posts go up now on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I talk about feminism in fiction. Obvs. I try to make it as intersectional as I can, considering that all the posts are by me, a British white girl, and I hope it’s a feminism that is thoughtful, challenging, but also kind and accepting of the fact that society forces biases upon all of us, and escaping them is far harder than most of us think. Those are my goals, at least. You can decide how successful I am with that.

Posts coming soon include talk about the video game Never Alone, discussion of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and the problem with female characters in Rogue One.

Instagram

I still have Instagram! I have a cute cat called Hermione, and lots of stuff coming up with the Long May She Reign release. If you like books, animals, and photos around an old British town that looks like Hogsmeade, come join me there!

Coming Soon

Which you’ll find out about in the next couple of weeks! Can’t reveal anything yet, but it’s going to be really fun.

And then, of course, there are books! Long May She Reign comes out on February 21st (!!!!), and you can preorder it now, if you like. And two days after that, the German edition of A Wicked ThingEwig: Wenn Liebe Erwachtcomes out! It’s going to be an exciting week!

In the meantime, have an awesome start to the year, and I will chat to you all soon! <3

Blogmas #23: The One Where I Forgot

Let’s ignore the fact that I’m writing this after 1am on Christmas Eve. I remembered that I hadn’t written a blog post before I went to sleep, so it counts as maintaining the streak, right? Right.

And since it’s 1am and my brain is mostly mush, here are just a few THINGS, in no particular order.

1. I’m home! Back to my parents’ house for Christmas. If the place where I live now is postcard-perfect Hogsmeade-esque England, the place around my parents’ house is very Wuthering Heights. Which make sense, because the Brontes were from around here. We have more horses for neighbors than people. “Oh, there’s a pony in the front garden” is a thing that happens.

2. But there are no pokemon here. I mean, in the Pokemon Go sense. I wasn’t expecting to encounter an actual Jigglypuff while wandering the fields. But I’ve gotten reobsessed with the game over the past couple of days, and now there isn’t even a pidgey in sight. On the bright side, I finally evolved my Gyrados! I feel like that’s my achievement for 2016.

3. Never travel with a cat. I think Hermione has forgiven me for the car journey to my parents’ house. I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven her for the chaos. It’s a good thing she’s so cute.

4. My Gilmore Girls rewatch has got me to the start of Season Three. And even though the sensible, grown up part of my brain knows I shouldn’t like Jess, there’s still a big part of me that squees over that moment at the end of S2. And so many other Jess moments too. “You know, Ernest only has lovely things to say about you.”

5. I’m so glad that I was deeply absorbed in watching Youtube for the past couple of hours (thanks, Dan and Phil and Undertale), and so didn’t learn about Carrie Fisher’s heart attack until it was announced she was in stable condition. I really hope she’s okay. I still keep checking the news, like it might say, ‘Carrie Fisher confirmed to make full recovery and live until she’s 143.’

6. I am so ready to abandon all work and have a festive readathon. I’m still reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, which I’m loving, and then I have a whole host of 2017 releases to dive into. No better way to end a year than getting started on all the amazing books that the next year has to offer!

7. Brainmush turning into official zombie status, so now I’m going to go pass out and hope things are good tomorrow.

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