Archive for creation

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).


Things to which I have been up

I think building her a snow throne may have given her ideas above her station.

I haven’t been making blog posts as often this year as I did last year. Partly because last year I had a baby who slept a lot, whereas this year I have a toddler with very firm beliefs about how often Mummy is allowed to sit at the computer before she gets to have a go too. Resulting in the very real possibility that anything I write will accidentally end up with ‘dfjgoehodnvlos!!!!’ in the middle of a sentence. Soon she will learn to type and I’ll probably have to implant a virtual iPad in her head or something, but for the moment, she’s mainly of use as an agent of chaos.

And partly because I’ve kept half-writing posts, then having a crisis of confidence about whether they’re too dull, controversial, niche, obvious, or all of the above. (All of the above would be quite a feat, admittedly.)

However, I have done a few things that you wouldn’t immediately be aware of from this page, so here they are:

- My eight-year-old has written some more stories for her bit of this site. I’m pleased I set this up for her, because it’s motivating her to finish stories rather than getting halfway through and then wandering off to kick trees. (Don’t ask.) I particularly like ‘Friday‘, which features grape-eating cutlery.

- I wrote some ebook reviews, and am in the middle of writing some more (but it’s taking a while – the good books are hard to write about and the bad ones are hard to read).

- I did a guest blogging stint for The F-Word and wrote three posts for them about musicals, porn genies and why I can, in fact, take a joke.

- I wrote a guest post for Choler speculating on whether David Cameron saw himself as a plucky maverick or as a Bond villain.

- I wrote a post on Sherlock Holmes and genderswitching for Bookshelf Bombshells, as part of their blog bonanza for the start of Sherlock series 2 in the US.

- I had my novel reviewed by The Future Fire!

- I created a Pinterest board of all the things you’d have had to own in the 1980s to equal one smartphone.

-  I started using tumblr, which turns out to be fun, although I may be reaching my social media threshold soon.

- I created The Almost Art Project: photos of found-around-the-house art accidentally designed by my children.

I’m trying to write a second novel in theory, but – well, see my first paragraph: it’s hard to find the time. So while I wait for my children to get older and less needy*, I’m working on a couple more genderswitching projects – an illustrated ebook of genderswitched Grimms fairy tales, and an ebook anthology of genderswitched extracts from classics including James Eyre, June the Obscure and The Picture of Daria Grey. To be continued…


*Sometimes people take things I say very literally. I would like to clarify that I am not spending my time resenting my children and waiting for them to get older. Well, not all of my time. Sometimes I sleep.  


But is it art?

Because I have children, I tend to find objects in random places and positions around the house. If I like the resulting tableau, I take a photo of them on my phone.

After a while I started putting them in their own folder, labelled ‘accidental art’, and playing around with them on Picasa.

My house is full of stuff like this.

At this point I started wondering about the definition of ‘art’ in this particular case. My personal definition of art is “life, deliberately rearranged”. But how did that fit with the process where my daughters played with toys and left them around, and I took pictures of them? They had created the arrangements, but (mostly) not intentionally. Was that art? Or had I created art by taking the photographs, or by editing the photos?

Or was none of this art? I am not a photographer or an artist, after all. If my dad – who is both – had taken the pictures instead, would that have made them art?

I realise it doesn’t especially matter. But I like the idea of life being turned into art in stages, even though each stage isn’t in itself art.

Anyway, the one thing I did know was that I wanted to put the pictures up here and call it the Almost Art Project. So here they are, with commentary (and mouseover text).


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.


How I predicted the iPhone (not really)

So my novel is set in a different world from this one, but only very slightly, like the width of one quantum universe away. If quantum universes work the way I think they do, which they probably don’t since my ideas on the subject come exclusively from science fiction. Anyway, one of the minor differences in my world is that there are items called iTems, which act as phones, GPS services, people finding devices etc.

If you’re thinking “Well, that’s not much of a stretch, is it? Bet it took her all of five minutes to come up with that,” then you have hit on the exact reason why I’m annoyed about this, because I came up with the idea in 2002. When it was genuinely science-fictiony, or at least more so. I didn’t called it the iTem then, just the Item, and I called it that mainly because my mother has a habit of calling all objects she’s looking for “the item” (as in “Have you seen the item?” “Yes Mum, the remote control/cup of tea/cat food bowl is on the sofa/ in your hand/ on the floor in front of you.”) In the book it functions as a minor plot device, nothing more. Nevertheless, I felt it helped to signal that my book was a little bit set-in-the-future, a little bit speculative.

And then it took nine years to get the book published, and in the intervening period Steve bloody Jobs invented the iPhone plus everything else beginning with ‘i’ (the launch of i-Cecream and the rebranding of i-Celand, i-Reland and i-Srael can only be a month away at most). So when I came to write the final draft of All Lies and Jest, I realised that I had lost the only tiny shred of science-fictionality my book possessed.

On the other hand, in order to bring my invention up to date all I had to do was move the capital latter across one. So it became the iTem and it does all the things the Item did except much less impressively because everyone already knows about the idea (or iDea) of multifunctional phones beginning with i.

Thanks, Apple. I could have been a visionary.


I was going to take a photo of my iPhone for this post. Then I realised it was the one thing I couldn't photograph.


More genderswitching: Miss Shirley Holmes

I have been genderswitching again. A short story this time: A Scandal in Bohemia, by Arhur Conan Doyle. Here is the genderswitched version: below are my comments on it, and on the process in general.

I didn’t really write up the experience of genderswitching Pride and Prejudice, although it involved a few interesting questions, some of which also come up in this story. For example, titles. The easiest thing would have been to swap Mr. for Ms. all through, but I preferred to use Miss. and Mrs. to be more in keeping with the period. This inevitably led to using Master and Mr. as replacements for Miss. and Mrs. (A custom I would be fascinated to see revived, at least for men who insist on mocking the use of Ms. as a title. Let them find out what it’s like to have everyone know your marital status.)

More difficult, in a way, were military and other titles. Colonel Foster in Pride and Prejudice remains Colonel Foster in Prejudice and Pride, because Colonel is a gender-neutral title. Except that in practice, people think of colonels as male, which meant the genderswitch was annoyingly less obvious. The same is true for Dr Watson. I couldn’t bring myself to call her Mrs Watson – a doctor is a doctor – so Dr Watson she remains. Doctors, these days, have lost some of their assumed maleness, but Dr Watson is known to be male, and because he is telling the story, his gender is not mentioned very much. Therefore I decided that in my version, when Shirley Holmes addressed Dr Watson familiarly, she would address her as Jane (Watson’s original forename being John). I considered making Jane Watson address Miss Holmes as Shirley, but decided that Miss Holmes better expressed the relationship.

In Prejudice and Pride, the one thorny problem I encountered was towards the end of the book, where Mrs Bennet describes Mrs Wickham as “as fine a fellow as ever I saw”. There is simply no good female equivalent of “fellow”, particularly in this sense, where the word is meant pejoratively. In the end I used ‘personage’ – not ideal, but it was simply impossible to use ‘woman’ or ‘lady or ‘girl’. “As fine a lady as ever I saw” just doesn’t sound insulting at all.

In A Scandal in Bohemia the problem was facial hair. One character is described as ‘moustached’, another as ‘side-whiskered’. Now, I could postulate that in this genderswitched world women grow facial hair*, but it undermined the picture I was trying to present.** So I replaced the words with ‘glossy-haired and ‘dirty-faced’ respectively.

One more interesting point, which comes up in A Scandal in Bohemia and will also turn up in my next genderswitching extract: I had expected my process to create a matriarchy rather than a patriarchy within the world of the books, and it did; I had not realised I was also going create a pagan rather than Christian universe. But of course, once you change ‘God and ‘priest’ for ‘[the] Goddess’ and ‘priestess’ you’re giving quite a different visual image and context.

Which reminds me: the name of the royal personage in A Scandal in Bohemia was originally Wilhelm Gottsreich Sigismond von Ormstein. Wilhelm easily became Wilhelmina; I searched German baby name sites to find Sigesmunde for Sigismond; but I was briefly stymied by Gottreich until I realised it meant God’s realm and must therefore become Göttinsreich – Goddess’s realm.

It is also thanks to A Scandal in Bohemia that I know now the male equivalent of a prima donna is a primo uomo.

One more point, a telling one I think: I found myself, during the genderswitching of A Scandal in Bohemia, thinking: “What a lot of women there are in this story!”

Finally, I must thank the commentator who pointed me to – it doesn’t replace the process of manually genderswitching (and I wouldn’t want it to – I’m only doing this because I enjoy it!) but it certainly helps things along.

*Of course, women do grow facial hair. But you know what I mean.
** I still haven’t quite decided whether in a genderswitched universe, men have the babies. I think they probably do.


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.


How I Stopped Thinking Goblin Kings Made Good Parents

Pregnancy is a perfectly normal experience which is also just about the weirdest thing that can happen to you. What other life experience involves your eyeballs changing shape? Not to mention the part where a live human being is inside you. Inside you.

(I remember lying in the bath watching my skin ripple with hiccups that weren’t my hiccups. Something in my body had hiccups but it wasn’t me. It was as though my liver had suddenly started whistling showtunes.)

And then there’s the effect on the rest of you. Not just your body but practically everything that identifies you as you gets shaken out and restructured, like Lego, to whatever best suits your little parasite.


Children. They make you weird.

Now, you must understand that I have loved David Bowie since the age of fifteen, with a love purer and more intense than anyone else has ever felt. No, seriously, we are soulmates. This soulmatiness began in 1990 when I first saw the film Labyrinth. If you haven’t seen it, Bowie plays a shaggy-haired, tight-trousered Goblin King called Jareth who steals the baby brother (Toby) of a teenage girl (Sarah) with the help of his many goblin minions, and thereby forces her to go on a Dorothy-like quest to retrieve him*.

Obviously, for me, Labyrinth was essentially a film about David Bowie and his amazingness, with some plot and stuff. And so it remained every time I saw it. Until 2003, when I had a baby.

Of course I knew that being a parent was going to change me, but I didn’t fully understand that so many of the little corners and pointy bits of my personality were going to get redesigned, rubbed out, and ruthlessly realigned. When I watched Labyrinth after becoming a mother, I suddenly discovered one of the aspects of the new me.

It had become an entirely different film. When I saw the scene in which Bowie performs Dance Magic to the baby he has acquired while his goblins play around him, every bone in my body screamed at me: “OH MY GOD, THAT MAN HAS KIDNAPPED A CHILD! WHY IS HE LETTING GOBLINS BE IN CHARGE OF A BABY? THEY’RE THROWING HIM TO EACH OTHER! PUT HIM DOWN! GIVE HIM BACK!”

What had once been a straightforward tribute to Bowie’s godlike talent and trousers had now become a terrifying story about a child who is taken away from his parents and held hostage by creatures with no trained childcare skills led by a king who tossed children around like tennis balls. I could barely watch, even though I knew perfectly well that Toby would be fine (and in fact appeared to be enjoying himself hugely whenever he was on screen). It took years before the balance shifted again, and it’s still only gone halfway back (and I haven’t yet tried watching it since having my second child).

And that was only the most striking example. I became unable to watch or read any narrative that featured children in peril – no matter how slight or unrealistic the peril, no matter how much I loved the film or book, and no matter that nothing bad had actually happened to my own child. On the worst days, I couldn’t cope with fictional children of any kind, even if they spent all their time merrily skipping through fields of rainbow-shaped kittens. The world in my head tilted, and everything slid to one side, and I lost all sense of perspective for a while, and it’s never come back completely and probably never will. (I may never be able to read Toni Morrison’s Beloved again. I love that book.)

And of course that kind of thing goes on all the time, with everyone. There are far more trivial examples. You might take against a fictional character because they like tuna and it makes you feel sick, or because they look a bit like the doctor who was dismissive of your ankle rash. Or, of course, you might be unable to judge the merit of a book or film because it features a dying father or a traitorous girlfriend and that’s just too close to home.

Basically, and I apologise if this sounds obvious but it’s taken me years to realise: a writer/creator doesn’t have a lot of control over how their audience reacts to their work. There’s too much context going on. They can do their best to inspire amusement, terror, anger, awe, but their painstakingly crafted prose or script might easily be derailed by a sudden realisation of where a lost Oystercard is, or a moment of inattention during which a vital sentence is missed, or a phone call, or an itch, or your audience being slightly the wrong age, sexuality or background to appreciate what they’re trying to get across.

I guess all you can do – if you’re trying to be a writer/creator – is try to look at your work from an audience perspective as much as possible, try to make it as compelling as possible, and hope. And make sure nothing bad happens to children.

*I originally wrote ‘Alice-like quest’ and then it occurred to me that Alice isn’t actually on a quest, just wandering aimlessly through a random dreamscape. I prefer quest stories.