Archive for books

A Genderswitched Anthology

But it isn’t only that Jeeves’s judgment about clothes is infallible, though, of course, that’s really the main thing. The woman knows everything. There was the matter of that tip on the ‘Lincolnshire.’ I forget now how I got it, but it had the aspect of being the real, red-hot tabasco.

‘Jeeves,’ I said, for I’m fond of the woman, and like to do her a good turn when I can, ‘if you want to make a bit of money have something on Wonderchild for the ‘Lincolnshire.’‘

She shook her head.

‘I’d rather not, miss.’

‘But it’s the straight goods. I’m going to put my shirt on her.’

‘I do not recommend it, miss. The animal is not intended to win. Second place is what the stable is after.’

Perfect piffle, I thought, of course. How the deuce could Jeeves know anything about it? Still, you know what happened. Wonderchild led till she was breathing on the wire, and then Banana Fritter came along and nosed her out. I went straight home and rang for Jeeves.

‘After this,’ I said, ‘not another step for me without your advice. From now on consider yourself the brains of the establishment.’

‘Very good, miss. I shall endeavour to give satisfaction.’

As detailed elsewhere, I have been making something of a hobby of taking out-of-copyright classics and mildly desecrating them by swapping all the genders round. Not just the main characters, but everyone in the story down to every ‘Oh God’ becoming ‘Oh Goddess’. It’s a simplistic, binary change. It’s not a rewrite; it doesn’t introduce any new writing into the mix, unlike such mashups as (the surprisingly good) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. But it does have the effect of creating – not exactly an alternative history, but an alternative literary past. Where women get to own property and men get to do sewing.

After I self-published Prejudice and Pride last year, I decided my next endeavour would be James Eyre. However, partway through editing it, I started thinking of other books that would be just as interesting to switch, and before long I realised that my next project was going to have to be a collection.

I ended up with a dozen writers ranging from the early 19th to the early 20th century; a chapter or two from each, and I found I had an anthology which gives the sense of an entire alternative literary canon. I ordered them by publication date, with Austen the oldest and Edith Wharton the newest. Here’s a bit from Sensibility and Sense, just after young impetuous Matthew Dashwood has had a fall:

A lady carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round her, was passing up the hill and within a few yards of Matthew, when his accident happened. She put down her gun and ran to his assistance. He had raised himself from the ground, but his foot had been twisted in his fall, and he was scarcely able to stand. The lady offered her services; and perceiving that his modesty declined what his situation rendered necessary, took him up in her arms without farther delay, and carried him down the hill.

And here, a century later, from The Age of Innocence:

He made no answer. His lips trembled into a smile, but the eyes remained distant and serious, as if bent on some ineffable vision. ‘Dear,’ Nuala whispered, pressing him to her: it was borne in on her that the first hours of being engaged, even if spent in a ball-room, had in them something grave and sacramental. What a new life it was going to be, with this whiteness, radiance, goodness at one’s side!

Virginal boys, chivalrous women and buffonish ladies-about-town advised by their wise ladies’ maid (or gentlewoman’s gentlewoman?) – and we haven’t even touched on The Wonderful Witch of Oz, June the Obscure or The Picture of Daria Gray, which is perhaps my favourite of all.

So if your curiosity is piqued, James Eyre and Other Genderswitched Stories is available in paperback for about £5.99 or on Kindle for about £1.50 depending where you are – links below. If neither works for you and you’d like a .pdf, email me on fausterella at gmail and we can sort something out. In the meantime, have a freebie chapter: Chapter 1 of The Picture of Daria Gray.

And finally, thanks to my father, artist John Harrad, for providing one of his drawings for the cover art, and to James Wallis for providing advice on formatting (though any mistakes remain my own. Or can be blamed on my toddler for climbing on the keyboard at the wrong moment).


Unexpected items in bragging area

Hello! I should really update about what I’ve been doing elsewhere, as it’s all got quite busy. (And also, I was desperate to use this title.)

In December I was accepted into a Guardian writers’ workshop, and a result of that I’ve written three articles for them – two are linked from my Guardian profile, and the third, on genderswitching the classics, is here.

I’m also guest blogging for The F-Word in January and have written one post for them so far, called “Can’t you take a joke?”

So life is busy (particularly since I have a job and two children and technically no free time) but fun. My most recent Guardian article, about the concept of Twitter as a virtual literary salon, led to a Twitter conversation with Neil Gaiman – which, admittedly, involved him very nicely letting me know that I’d got one of my facts wrong, but he was also sweet about the article itself.

It’s been interesting writing for the Guardian, the Huffington Post and the F-Word (and Choler, of course) as well as my own site. The nature of the comments has varied wildly depending on the site: the F-Word has been lovely, the Huffington has frequently involved people rather missing my point (which is the risk involved in trying to be funny on the internet). I have largely avoided reading the Guardian comments altogether because the commentators there are notoriously often very harsh (and also often miss the point), as I know from years of watching people take Charlie Brooker’s articles utterly literally.

In fiction-related news, I shall soon have some print copies of my novel for sale at £6.50 plus postage: please email fausterella at gmail if interested! The e-book remains available on Amazon etc.

Oh, and you can currently get 25% off my short stories or my genderswitched Austen book at with code LULUBOOKUK305.

I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I think 2012 is going to be exciting.


Have We Become a Nation of Scrooges?

David Cameron recently called for Britain to return to Christian values.

Well, as a non-believer, I’d prefer not to sign up to the actual religion, but I agree some of the values are very much worth preserving. And for me, especially at this time of year, those values are largely summed up by the story of A Christmas Carol - a traditional family tale which should be well up Cameron’s street, surely.

But is he, and are we, really listening to its message? It’s a very clear message, made plain from early on when Scrooge is approached to give to charity.

“Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

Earlier this year, Ken Clarke’s attempt at prison reform was blocked because the government didn’t want to be ‘soft’ on crime.

“I don’t make merry myself at Christmas [said Scrooge] and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”

The government and the right-wing media are full of attacks on benefit fraudsters, ‘scroungers’, and ‘handouts’. But 96% of calls to the National Benefit Fraud Hotline are malicious or timewasting. Of 254,000 calls to the hotline in 2009/10, only 1.3% resulted in a claimant being sanctioned for fraud. The Guardian has also reported that most cases of ‘fraud’ are actually error.

Meanwhile, ATOS is blithely pronouncing people fit to work on the basis of primitive tests and a brief interview. Not that they can get jobs, because there aren’t enough jobs to go round, and employers frequently discriminate against disabled people either overtly or covertly.

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned.

There was a call recently for better-off pensioners to donate their winter fuel payments to less well-off pensioners. David Cameron’s comment on this was: “I would not want to see any pressure put on people to do something that might not be in their best interests.”

“Man,” said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Ken Clarke said after the riots: ”In my opinion our feral underclass in this country is too big, it has been growing, and now needs to be diminished.”

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility.

“…This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that child poverty will rise by 800,000 by 2020. People with cancer could lose their benefits if they don’t get better fast enough, and disabled children are being targeted too. David Cameron has proposed stripping benefits from families where children regularly play truant.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Do I even have to mention bankers?

Is Scrooge really the role model we want to adopt? If so, let’s stop pretending that we have any respect for the (traditional) values of generosity, benevolence and kindness. And while I don’t believe in ghosts, this image from A Christmas Carol never fails to chill me.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

Christmas Eve is this Saturday. Who’s on for putting on some chains and arranging a midnight visit to Cameron?

Or is it the whole country that needs deScrooging?


Toygers, invisible art, and face emoticons

Links! Which are, as always, connected by nothing more than the fact that I like them.

- What should I read next? you may ask yourself, on the occasion of finishing a book. This website answers your question based on existing reader data. I tried it with a couple of favourites and it recognised them and offered reasonable-looking suggestions.

- If you see Einstein, you don’t need glasses. If you see Marilyn Monroe, you do. That’s really all you need to know.

- Cats bred to look like tiny tigers. Can we have tiny lions next? Then I want budgies that resemble cute little mini vultures. I have my reasons.

Handy pocket size, and they probably won't eat your face.

- Once people read books. Welcome to the new world, where they function as technology accessories. (OK, I kind of want this.)

- Like baths? Like boats? You’re going to want to see this.

- Notebook full of photos of New York walls for you to draw on, so you can pretend to be a street artist. Nice.

- I know this is incredibly easy to mock, but I quite like living in a world where someone will pay money for works of art that only exist in the artist’s head.

- Emotion-enhancing glasses, on the the other hand, are just silly. But kind of appealing. Maybe.

- And if your appetite for Things off the Internet remains unsated, try these Simple Ideas That Are Borderline Genius.


Update: Guest posts and more Austen

Guest Blogging

I have a guest post! Mr Brown has written 20 Things You Didn’t Know About Don Quixote and it’s well worth reading. This is part of a three-way swap where I write something for Choler, he writes something for Mr and Mrs Brown, and Mr Brown writes something for me. The only link between our three blogs is that the three of us are old friends, so it’s been a fascinating challenge. Here’s my post for Choler, on the subject of World Femininity Day and what femininity is, and here’s Choler’s entertainingly fictional post for Mr Brown.


Prejudice and Pride

Chapters 2 to 7 of Prejudice and Pride: A Cover Version are up, and not only that, the project has been covered by Austen blog Excessively Diverting and is being considered for review by the Jane Austen Society of North America. I feel somewhat imposter-ish about all this given that I didn’t actually write anything really, but an idea is an idea, and if people are enjoying reading it, that’s brilliant. Some of you are even buying copies!

On the subject of publications, many thanks to Shimmer magazine for posting about my short story collection! (And for publishing my story The Winter Tree in the first place, of course.)



A couple of links from The F Word: join the campaign against forcing young girls to marry; join the campaign to save the last women’s centre in Wales from being closed.


Prejudice and Pride: Singing Jane Austen’s Song

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a husband.

There is a Borges story called Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, in which a Pierre Menard attempts to write Don Quixote, many years after it was written by Cervantes, based on having read the original some time ago and on reading around the history of the times. His version, Borges says, is startlingly different to Cervantes’, yet the same.

This is a very pretentious and presumptuous start to the project I’m about to describe, but in my defence, I read this story when I was about 15 and the idea of it hit me then like a ton of literary bricks: the idea that the same text can be entirely different in different contexts. (The story is about much more than that. But I was 15 and that’s what it meant to me.) You can change one thing – in that, fictional, instance, the writer of the book – and everything changes.

This concept was in my head, I think, when it occurred to me a few weeks ago that what I really wanted to do with my free time (ha) was to create a cover version of Pride and Prejudice with all the genders swapped round. So I did. It’s the same text. I’ve changed the minimum necessary – pronouns, titles, names, a handful of details to keep it broadly believable. I’ve called it Prejudice and Pride, of course. And it’s different. For (an obvious) example, the world of the book is now a matriarchal society. The women ride around on horseback, go where they like, own houses, lead households. The men – or, as they’re more often described, the boys – stay at home, play the piano, and know that marriage is the only realistic aim of their adult lives.

One thing I kept noticing was that, although it’s still a heterosexual book, of course, it feels much queerer, because the men in the book – some of them – are almost stereotypically gay men in some ways: talking about emotions, crying, flirting, exclaiming. And the women – some of them – are taciturn, butch, strong, in charge. The switch from ‘girls’ to ‘boys’ makes so much difference to the feel of it, too.

No scheme could have been more agreeable to Edward, and his acceptance of the invitation was most ready and grateful. “Oh, my dear, dear uncle,” he rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young women to rocks and mountains?”

Some characters are easier to visualise in their new personas than others. Elizabeth Bennet is now Edward and I found that easy to imagine, perhaps because she was already active and outspoken. His brother John (previously her sister Jane) is gentler and far more passive, and I found it hard to see her as male. Which was interesting in itself.

The elopement of what is now Lyndon Bennet and Miss Wickham feels disturbing to me, where the original didn’t: an adult woman in the military seducing a sixteen-year-old boy? Lyndon in general has become quite a different person in my head to Lydia.

In Lyndon’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. He saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing-place covered with officers. He saw himself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. He saw all the glories of the camp – its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, he saw himself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.

The rector Miss Collins (previously Mr Collins) works surprisingly well; her pomposity and heaviness are as convincing as his were. But look at Charles (previously Charlotte’s) reasons for marrying her:

Without thinking highly either of women or matrimony, marriage had always been his object; it was the only provision for well-educated young men of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative he had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, he felt all the good luck of it.

I said above that this was a cover version and that’s the description that makes most sense to me (though for Kindle publishing purposes I’m having to describe it as a translation). Cover versions of songs are often the same song with the genders changed. So I’m singing a song that was written and first sung by Jane Austen; it’s been remixed or sampled already by others (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure) and there are fan versions too, but mine isn’t either of those: it’s almost a straight cover with virtually no creative input from me. And yet, it’s also a fresh experience in some ways, familiar though it is. Certainly it’s given me a new look at a book that I must have read a dozen times during my life, including writing college essays on it. I think it’s worth reading.

Which brings me to the fact that you can buy the Kindle version of Prejudice and Pride: A Cover Version for 70p from Amazon here, or for $0.99 from Amazon US here, and you can buy a paper or PDF copy from Lulu for £7.50 and 75p respectively. I also plan to publish it on this site, chapter by chapter, but there are 61 chapters so it may take some time. The first one is up already, though.

Finally, I found this project so enjoyable that I plan to do it again soon with something else, maybe create an entire library of genderswitched works. Watch this space.


Sense and Sentimentality

“Beware of the man who denounces women writers; his penis is tiny and he cannot spell.” Erica Jong

The male writer VS Naipaul is in the news this morning – well, a bit of the news – because he was asked, during a recent interview at the Royal Geographic Society, if he considered any woman writer his literary match. His answer was “I don’t think so.” He went on to dismiss Jane Austen for being sentimental, claim that he could tell a woman writer within a paragraph or two of reading her work, and explain that women had a “narrow view of the world”. Perhaps unwisely, he also used the phrase “feminine tosh” to describe his publisher’s fiction. Topping it all off, he added “I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

You know that feeling you get when you have a hundred things you need to say all at once and just end up standing there gasping for air and gesturing incoherently instead? That’s how I’ve been all morning with this story. And it’s not really worth paying attentuon to at all, in a sense. Male writer is arrogant misogynist: it’s hardly unheard of. But it brings up so much stuff! About the fact that women tend to read male and female authors more or less equally, but men tend to just read male authors, and why that is. About the fact that female authors don’t get reviewed as much as male authors. About the stupidity of the phrase ‘women writers’ in the first place – who says ‘men writers’? About the way that people use the term women writers to mean women who write about domestic life, and how writing about domestic life gets dismissed. About the enormous number of female writers who don’t actually write about family and romance and children, but about grisly murders, or aliens, or the nature of identity, or politics or, well, anything at all, just like men do. About the male writers who do write about love and marriage and children. About how none of these fictional subjects are necessarily more or less worthy of being written about than any other.

But when I stopped chasing all of that around – because one blog post can’t get it all in, and I hadn’t actually written anything but a series of half-formed angry sentences, and anyway my daughter just woke up – one more specific thought lingered.

Jane Austen? Sentimental?

The pejorative dictionary definition of ‘sentimental’  - and it’s fairly clear Naipaul meant the word in the pejorative sense – basically equates to over-dependent on emotions, mawkish. If Naipaul has read any Austen at all and has concluded  that she’s mawkish, then I can’t really have any respect at all for him as a literary critic. If he hasn’t and is simply using her as a hastily selected example of the kind of writing he dislikes, then he’s sloppy and I still don’t have any respect for him as a literary critic.

And as a writer? Well, I haven’t read any of his books; maybe I will at some point. But I looked up a couple of extracts and here’s a sample from A Bend in the River:

I began to understand at the same time that my anguish about being a man adrift was false, that for me that dream of home and security was nothing more than a dream of isolation, anachronistic and stupid and very feeble.  I belonged to myself alone.  I was going to surrender my manhood to nobody.  For someone like me there was only one civilization and one place — London, or a place like it.  Every other kind of life was make-believe.  Home — what for?  To hide?  To bow to our great men?  For people in our situation, people led into slavery, that is the biggest trap of all.  We have nothing.  We solace ourselves with that idea of the great men of our tribe, the Gandhi and the Nehru, and we castrate ourselves. ‘Here take my manhood and invest it for me.  Take my manhood and be a greater man yourself, for my sake!’  No!  I want to be a man myself.

Without context, it would be unfair of me to comment on the sentimentality or otherwise of this passage. But from a man who’s claiming to write better than George Eliot and Virginia Woolf and Angel Carter and Isabel Allende and all the Brontes put together? Sorry, I’m not rushing out to buy your book.