Decided to start a new blog as it’s January, called ‘This Week I Have Been Mostly’ – let’s see how long this lasts! I’m trying to think of it as a good way to remind myself of what I’ve achieved, and the lovely things that happen, since I have a short memory. To update everyone who doesn’t know, my recent life goes like this:
2013: Traumatic car accident injures my (now ex) partner, long recovery, break up, my brain falls apart
2014: Living by the rules of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project enables me to leave the house once again. I basically dirtbiked, and new-experienced my way out of anxiety, something I never thought I’d experience because I’m such a tough mother*cker
2015: Hard graft. More to come. Continued to remember THP rules, including doing the things that make you feel good more often, hence I started to arrange karaoke nights in London in the autumn, headed to the states to live with friends for the last part of the year
And now we’re here. This is all to say that the karaoke nights went well, and friends thanked me for organizing them, and I thought I wanted to do karaoke and ended up just bloody booking a room and saying to people ‘come if you feel’, so if I want to go on a women’s retreat, I’ll have to just bloody create one. So I did.
It wasn’t that hard, truth be told. I sent everyone a survey on SurveyMonkey, asking what they wanted from their weekend, sent an email round when I found an airbnb place that fit our requirements, and 8 people promptly signed up. The problem was that there were 20 people who seemed enthusiastic initially so I booked a place for 12. Perhaps a rookie mistake? I had split the price of the accom into 12 and asked for that as a deposit. More on that later.
A few months went by, and I tinkered around with ideas in my spare time. My main work then was to produce a zine I wanted to include in the welcome pack, to set the tone. This was called I Hope You Like Feminist Rants which, like most things I do, is tongue-in-cheek. It’s about women’s voices, and allowing them to write how they would talk. More on that in about two weeks.
I spent some time emailing for sponsors, because I wanted women from all economic backgrounds to be able to afford the retreat. This went so well, and I’m so grateful to our sponsors Dame Products, two ingenious women who produce a clitoral vibrator called Eva which stays on during sex without straps or other fiddly things!, and French Letter Condoms, who sell Fair Trade, Organic, Natural & Ethical Condoms, Lubes & Adult Toys. Also a shout out to TOTM tampons, non-bleached, ethically produced tampons which I bought for only £3.11 and popped in (pun intended) the welcome packs.
I left the arrangements until a week before the retreat. That sounds slapdash, but I think it’s the best way to do things, because otherwise you faff around forever and you’ve taken a month to organize something that should have taken three days. I chose the activities, designed a timetable cover, and wrote a statement about what I hoped the weekend would be. I designed a menu, worked out how much food would be, and spent an exhausting afternoon at Tesco pushing around a trolley three times my weight with food stacked high on it, and buying a lot of alcohol.
I remember I took a break between the buying food and alcohol and realized I didn’t have my I.D. I’m 28, but I get ID’d regularly, so I wondered if they would let me buy alcohol. I imagined myself saying ‘but I’m nearly 30!!’ and then I same back from my daydream to the moment and thought you don’t look nearly 30 when you’re dressed in a psychedelic t-shirt with a kitten’s face on it, you grumble like a toddler when you’re tired, and instead of dinner you’ve just opened the Jamaican ginger cake and eaten 2/3s of it sat in the car, with your feet on the dashboard. ‘I’m glad,’ I thought. ‘My granddad says the artist must remain forever childlike.’
It was fun to pack the car and drive down. I had a lot of equipment. Here is where I get nonspecific, because… it’s actually somewhat of a secret affair. I like privacy. You have to have it. We just cannot keep splurging every single thing on the internet and thinking that is a fair representation of a human being. What about holding things back for those you really love and trust? What about holding something back, for you? If I think therefore I am, and I share all my thoughts online, are you me? What continues to make exclusively me me?
Let’s say this: it was truly, truly magical. I’ve done things I’ve never done, wholeheartedly and freely, I’ve expressed thoughts I feared to express, I felt vulnerable and open and trusting, things which all women, men, and humans should feel every now and then.
When I left, surprisingly, it was really hard. I drove off, and shortly after, I pulled in to sort out a podcast on my iphone. I found myself a bit upset, thinking about things. One of my friends had mentioned something about how she used to feel that no one knew the real her, but now she is living a much more authentic life. I often think I am, but I realized on the drive back, that although I am an honest person, I’ve not quite “recovered” my authentic life since 2013 and the accident that changed the course of several lives.
In fact even before that in ways, I was veering slightly off course. When you get your first success, then there are people interested in you, and they have ideas about what you should be doing, and some are great, and some just aren’t quite you. It’s the same with when you fall in love for the first time. The person wants you, but they want you to want what they want. Sometimes they want you the way that they want you, and perhaps not for your honest self.
It upsets me that I’m still in remission from that difficult time. I don’t want to feel that something like that still has an affect on me and I wish I had already left it behind. But I guess acknowledging that is the only way to put it to bed.
Happy New Year! Looking forward to so many things this year, but mainly sharing RANTS Zine with you. A tongue-in-cheekily named indie publication, this is a zine featuring contributors from all over the world; women speaking about issues which have personally affected them. I so hope you enjoy it, and will be sharing links with you shortly where you can buy. We hope to have some EXCITING news for you re: launches. Watch this space – you’re all invited ;)
When NBC featured Philadelphia housewives raving about Fifty Shades Of Grey, a novel series from Londoner E. L. James, it sparked a battle between nine major film studios hoping to make the Fifty Shades film. Focus Features eventually won out for a purported £3.5 million, putting the cherry on the cake of 2012’s first publishing phenomenon.
Originally released by a small online house, and later snapped up by Vintage, Fifty Shades is the latest in a growing trend of popular ebooks selling to traditional publishing houses. Downsides of epublished works include bad editing and unoriginal storylines, but with UK novel sales dropping by almost 100 million from 2008 to 2010, formerly cautious publishers are risking their reputations on ebooks, in the hope that ready-made audiences will offer reliable future revenue.
Fifty Shades’ however, is unique for one reason: it’s erotica. While the anonymity of ereaders has seen erotic fiction climb Amazon’s charts, Fifty Shades dwarfs all other sexy successes by breaking into the mainstream. Is this a case of profit above everything, or sign of a progressive movement towards acceptance of female sexuality in literature?
The series’ success has unarguably highlighted our growing tolerance of sexuality. London is, as always, a trailblazer of diversity and acceptance, with Torture Garden providing BDSM events, Killing Kittens catering for upmarket swingers and, online, Fet Life, an alternative to Facebook, offering twelve options for ‘Sexual Orientation’. What would London be without Belle Du Jour and Black Lace? Who would frequent Soho’s bookshops without photobooks of 70’s muffs in the windows? Would ebooks like London Lust by Amber Hunt, Amanda’s Punishment by Clemency Jopling and Nora’s 21: At Your Service by Nora, achieve success without their irreverent Brit wit?
But while James is the latest Londoner to put finger to keyboard, so-called BDSM book Fifty Shades, depicting the seduction of naïve 21 year old virgin Anastasia Steele by dominant Christian Grey, has been panned by the BDSM community, and deemed regressive by critics.
The BDSM complaint is simple, because the books weren’t dubbed ‘Mommy Porn’ for nothing. Fifty Shades contains man-on-woman penetrative sex, a bit of oral, some light spanking – and nothing else. Plus, any turn-on factor is undermined by references to Steele’s ‘inner goddess’, ‘sternum’, constant exclamations of ‘oh my’, and strange, antiquated phrases like this gem: ‘the small, potent powerhouse at the apex of my thighs’. Grey’s love of BDSM is treated as unhealthy and blamed on childhood abuse, with Steele describing him pityingly as ‘poor, twisted Christian’.
When it comes to feminism, Fifty Shades is much more a topic of debate, enabling some women to discuss their sexuality frankly, and forcing others to balk at an incredibly backward female protagonist. Steele, during the first novel, harshly admonishes herself for her ‘wayward thoughts’ about Grey; then decides she has to ‘please him’ because otherwise she’ll ‘end up alone’. She constantly fears his disapproval, but ‘would do anything’ for him, exclaiming ‘I am his’, then becomes distrustful and jealous, calling Grey’s ex a ‘bitch’. The sub/dom relationship could have, in fact, been a brilliant allegory that questioned traditional gender roles in marriage, if Fifty Shades were an ironic, intelligent text. But it isn’t. It’s deadly earnest.
The key in analyzing its’ feminist perspectives is in asking which women find it progressive. Featuring female submission, cattiness and a grumpy older guy who forces Steele on the pill then buys her clothes and a car, one wonders if the botoxed housewives on NBC were so comfortable with Fifty Shades because it represents the 1950’s values they live by?
What egalitarians everywhere can’t deny is that Fifty Shades’ popularity represents a move towards mainstream acceptance of female sexuality, but what we object to is the damning portrayal of sexual women, which still has far to go, both within the book and in literature as a whole. With PHOENIX readers and Londonites being the sexy intellectuals they are, it might be as well to give Fifty Shades a miss. The greater message here however, is that a new age has dawned for erotica, and the likelihood is that we will see more, and better, from mainstream publishers in the months to come. There’s never been a better time to buy that Kindle.
My band has released another single+video! I wrote a long, sort of useless press release below, about fucking with gender and being bold and music. We’ve already been played on BBC Radio Lincs / Derby / Notts / Leics on BBC Introducing by Dean Jackson, who we want to say a huge thank you to! He said:
“Jennifer Lawrence [was] one of my favourite tracks by any artist in the whole of this year, and I can see Girls Won’t Mind being up there with it – just superb.” – Dean Jackson, BBC Introducing
Press release below: For immediate release:
BRITISH COLLABORATION GIRLBOY RELEASES SECOND SINGLE+VIDEO, the genderbending, ridiculously sexy, “GIRLS WON’T MIND”, out September 14th 2015
GIRLBOY, a new collaboration between award-winning feminist author Abigail Tarttelin and British singer-songwriter Michael Reeve, release their second single, “Girls Won’t Mind”, an angsty indie rock slow burner as well as a genderbending meditation on masculinity, along with a ridiculously sexy, twisted video featuring a Harley Davidson, strategically placed gaffer tape, and a hell of a lot of glitter.
The follow up to GIRLBOY’s debut single “Jennifer Lawrence”, dubbed “a funny, horny tongue in cheek paean” and “well-made motoring pop” by BBC6 Music / freshonthenet.co.uk DJ Tom Robinson, “Girls Won’t Mind” takes the band’s sound to a darker, moodier, more adult place.
Reeve’s follow up to “Jennifer”, an “Absolutely superb track…so well-crafted” (Dean Jackson, BBC Introducing), does not disappoint. Reeve’s sexy guitar, drenched in delay, teases the listener through the vocal section of the song, morphing into a powerful, layered instrumental that takes the track soaring into eternity after the last chorus, while Tarttelin’s signature “velvet vocals” (Tom Robinson, BBC6 Music / freshonthenet.co.uk) once again will have critics questioning whether she is Chrissie Hynde’s fatherless love child.
GIRLBOY cites indie rock band The National as a major inspiration, while Tarttelin’s deep, soulful delivery is influenced by the band’s love of Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Debbie Harry of Blondie.
The song’s lyrics tell the story of a young lad who has lost the love of his life because of his philandering, drinking, hellbent ways. Tarttelin therefore, is singing as a man, and consequentially, playing one in the track’s ridiculously sexy video. Tarttelin says,
“If I were singing a song about a girl, I would still be acting out a story. Why not shake up this rigid idea we have of gender right now and say, ‘yeah, no, I play a bloke in this song’?”
Inspired partly by Todd Haynes’ seminal film Velvet Goldmine, and Ewan Macgregor’s punk rock character Curt Wild, Tarttelin’s performance is visceral, energetic, and deeply sexual.
“I expect that people will be mildly disturbed. I play a man. I roughly tape my tits back. I play sexual confidence without making it about grinding up on a rapper in a bikini. There are certain factors in society who are always disturbed when women curate their own sexuality, and it turns out not to look like a porno. By playing a straight man in this video, I’m in a sense competing with straight men, showing them that women can do their kind of male sexuality, can be powerful and disturbing and not give a fuck about looking good, and yeah I expect that will be disturbing to some people. But it’s something I want to say: I’m not here to look good. I’m here to be art. I’m here to make you feel something.”
The video takes pains to represent masculinity in several ways: Tarttelin’s character drives a Harley Davidson, has a gorgeous, buxom girlfriend, played by actress Michelle Crane, and leather and speed both get their share of screentime. But the track has a more sensitive meaning, true to the band’s feminist intentions. Tarttelin says,
“This is a story about how young, mainly straight men are brought up, and it’s a sympathetic one. They’re taught if they fuck around, punch each other, and drink a lot, that’s okay, that’s part of being a boy, and girls won’t mind. We’re doing them a disservice by saying ‘ah, that’s just what boys do’. We’re not teaching them to love. We’re not teaching them how to take care of themselves.”
While Tarttelin is the loudmouth soundpiece of the band, Michael Reeve, known in his own right as a singer-songwriter, is the other half of GIRLBOY, providing the musical talent that turns their not-so-subliminal messages into filthily catchy, beautifully layered tracks. Of “Girls Won’t Mind”, Reeve says,
“I enjoyed the simple, raw, stripped back guitar in the beginning, and then being able to really let loose in the end section. It was a hell of a lot of fun to put together. Also, being painted gold for the video was an experience. It got everywhere. I ate glitter.”
Reeve and Tarttelin met at secondary school in Northern England, and have been friends for ten years. Reeve says,
‘Writing for GIRLBOY gives me the freedom to explore other sounds and genres I’m interested in that don’t necessarily fit with my personal music project. I’m always intrigued by musicians like Britt Daniel, who fronts The Divine Fits as well as his more established band Spoon, or Ben Gibbard, whose Death Cab For Cutie has such an archetypal, but completely different sound from The Postal Service. For me, GIRLBOY is both an experimental collaboration and the natural culmination of a great friendship.’
The video was directed by Tarttelin and shot in East London by Leigh Keily, photographer and editor of queer magazine Jon. Styling was by Coralie Colmez, and make up design and application by artist Rosie Cannon.
The track was produced by Leeds-based Lewis Foster, and mastered at the Salt Studios in Melbourne, Australia, by Charlie Daly from Studio A. Charlie has recently collaborated with Swedish producer WOODZSTHLM, worked with Madeleine Hunt on her debut album, and mixed Allday’s debut album which charted at Urban ARIA #1 and ARIA #3, the official Australian Record Industry charts.
Michael Reeve is a singer-songwriter and was a staple of the 2014 summer festival scene, with packed appearances at The Great Escape, Beacons and Tramlines and supporting gigs with Young Rebel Set, Nadine Shah and James Walsh of Starsailor fame. His 2014 EP ‘Unfold’ saw pundits compare Reeve to Ryan Adams and Bon Iver, citing ‘a great voice’ (Dermot O’Leary, BBC Radio 2), and ‘highly impressive artist’ (Right Chord Music), combining ‘passionate vocals and swelling guitar melodies’ to ‘spine tingling effect’ (Tom Robinson, BBC6 Music). Reeve’s music has its roots in folk, and combines stripped back, intimate acoustic tracks with larger soundscapes, and an almost pop-like aesthetic, with memorable, emotional lyrics and catchy, simple hooks.
Abigail Tarttelin’s seminal 2013 novel Golden Boy, ‘a dramatic, thoroughgoing investigation of the complexities of sexuality and gender’ (Booklist, starred review) with a ‘radically non-binary, pro-intersex message’ (Autostraddle), was published by Orion in the UK, Simon & Schuster in the USA, and in a further 8 languages and over 75 countries, resulting in a 25 date book tour across the USA and Canada and tours in the UK and Spain. Winner of the 2014 American Library Association’s Alex Award, shortlisted for best LGBT debut fiction by the LAMBDA Literary Awards, and featured on numerous industry “best of” lists in 2013 and 2014, Golden Boy’s initial six figure sale in the UK prompted the London Evening Standard to devote a two page spread to Tarttelin and name her one of their ’26 under 26’ and top 1000 most powerful in London in 2013.
Nora Ephron book of essays (because I loved Heartburn)
Edna St Vincent Millay poetry book (ANY! Love love love)
e e cummings poetry book (need to read more)
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (#readwomen)
High-legged whatchamacallits (e.g. swimsuits, pants)
Writing chair (ergonomic for the old cracky back)
A Place To Call My Own
Presents I want from me:
To Sew Up The End Of That Blanket I Crocheted
To Set Up Transatlantic Homes
To Buy That Writing Chair As Soon As I Get Back To England
To Start MMMM Project
First published in London fashion quarterly, Phoenix magazine, May 2013.
by Abigail Tarttelin
After a long, long, long winter, I’m so ready for summer I’m already naked and covered in bronzer, which is, as I type, seeping into the sun lounger on this London rooftop…
Ok, I’m wearing an Aran knit and warming my hands on a soy-cap in Pret A Manger. But it has to get hot at some point, and when it does, we shall be draped languidly beside crystalline water, unable to work because of glare on our laptop screens. What are we to do but read? Or drink wine? Or both?
Summer is unfailingly the best season for fiction and there is something for everyone in 2013.
Say you’re into literary hard-hitters, sumptuously written, slowly unwinding, rich with cultural significance and depth. Perhaps you would like to mix a smooth, spicy, full-bodied Cotes Du Rhone like the Parallele 45 (Paul Jaboulet-Aine, France, 2009) with Sahar Delijani’s Children Of The Jacaranda Tree (June, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)? The ruby wine, bursting with fruity tones, would be a fitting accompaniment to this tale of family, loss and revolution in Iran, from 1980 to the present day.
Or perhaps you are a dry wit in need of a dry white? The ancient Fiano grape hails from Campania, purportedly one of the best grape growing regions in the world. Rated DOCG, De Falco Fiano Di Avellino (Italy, 2010) would go well served with The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (May, Harper Collins). As protagonist Matthew charts his descent into depression with, nevertheless, a cool, entertaining, pacey voice, sip on the aromatic apricot and hazelnut tones of this beautiful beverage.
If you grew up on the American novel and wish F. Scott or Hunter S. were still alive, slip into the dusty nostalgia of New York Times bestseller William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace (June, Thorndike Press) with a glass of Malbec. Plummy, smooth and smoky with notes of light mocha and spice, the Bodega Norton Privada (Argentina, 2009) should suit you, and this story of unexplained death and waning spirituality in 60s’ America, very well indeed.
Or perhaps you like a bit of balance. Meet me in the middle, with Sancerre Rosé Le Mont (France, 2009). Fuller and richer than the typical Sancerre, but light and refreshing with raspberry notes, this is best served with a commercial, but still literary read, perhaps a tale of family secrets, first love and gender identity like Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin (May, Weidenfeld & Nicolson). See how I slipped that in there?
First published in London fashion quarterly, Phoenix magazine, September 2013
by Abigail Tarttelin
The act of writing is a conservation of sorts. It’s an exertion in the name of permanence, in respect to the idea of leaving something behind; memorializing our past; maybe even achieving immortality.
There is much too we learn from nature about mortality, from the flora and the fauna. When the dog dies, or the flowers wither and dry and crumble, we learn about death. When we bury Spot in the back garden or crush the stems that smell of old water in the bin, we learn to fear death and its nose-wrinkling stench.
Another reason to pay attention to our environment: there is nothing human life relies on so much, nothing our fate is so entwined with, as plants. Give your common houseplant its due. Give your dying Bonsai its water. Give your philodendron a look of recognition and gratitude. Its existence predates and precipitates your own.
No surprise then, that conservation has been propagated and popularized by the human being’s most plentiful, most historical, most nuanced form of expression: the written word. By writers.
This issue theme reads close to home for me, a writer who grew up on one of England’s most beautiful nature reserves. My Dad was the reserve’s warden, later working for the Environment Agency, and now a conservationist consultant. For a decade of my childhood, he contributed a monthly diary to BBC Radio, describing what could be seen in the hedgerows and woodlands and skies in that season.
My understanding of his passion for the natural world moved into a new phase when he appeared on our local news programme, and talked about the meaning of conservation which, in its simplest form, is to conserve. To eek out the length of time our environment lasts, to preserve the world’s bounty of birds, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, grasshoppers, wildflowers that we are lucky to enjoy now, for future generations.
In the same way I revered writing for its magic transcendence of time, for the fact that an author could speak from 1850 directly to me, I realized conservation is a line of clear sight through centuries and millennia.
There is a place in Australia where you can see thrombolites, a coral-like lifeform that first existed 4 billion years ago (earth is 4.6 billion years old), believed to be responsible for the oxygen production that allowed animal life to exist on earth.
In the White Mountains of California, you can visit the oldest tree in the world, a bristlecone pine, 5062 this year.
And in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, you can study a stuffed Thylacine, the Tasmanian Tiger, an animal hunted to extinction for its pelt, in 1936.
And if, because of money or luck, you’re stuck where you are for the time being, you can still experience all that nature has to offer, because books have immortalized it.
First published in London fashion quarterly, Phoenix magazine, September 2013
By Abigail Tarttelin
Conservationist Carl Safina is a charismatic and persuasive writer, and human being. His six published books focus in large part on the human relationship with the ocean, and most recently include award-winner The View From Lazy Point, an exploration of the ebb and flow of seasons, habitats, bird and animal behaviour, and environmental destruction from the perspective of his US home on the Long Island Sound.
American Safina is not only a writer but also an effective activist, helping to lead campaigns that achieved a United Nations global fisheries treaty, saw an overhaul of the USA’s fisheries law, and used international agreements to restore depleted marine populations of tuna, swordfish and sharks. Phoenix Books Editor Abigail Tarttelin spoke to Dr Safina about politics, human beings and the morality of conservation.
On childhood interests
I was a child in Brooklyn, New York. My father’s hobby was raising canaries, so there were always birds singing in our apartment. There wasn’t really much wildlife, but we did go to the Bronx Zoo, the New York Aquarium and the American Museum of Natural History. When I was around seven, I saw something somewhere referring to animals as endangered. When I found out what that meant, it seemed like a bad thing. Since I loved animals so much, it seemed like trying to do something about this bad thing that was happening to them would be a very good thing to do.
On home habitats
My favourite environment in the world? I would say shallow, warm water, salt water habitats. The shoreline, where you can wade around and look at minnows and watch birds is where I feel most at home.
On future human beings
It’s our responsibility and I would say moral obligation to people who are not here to argue, in defense of their own interests, that we hand them a world that is not degraded and depleted after having passed through just one or two generations.
On changing the fate of our oceans
We are catching fish much faster than fish can reproduce so getting fishing under control is imperative. Secondly, our use of fossil fuels is warming the ocean and acidifying the water in ways that are destructive to what lives there. We need to shift to clean renewable energy sources at as rapid a pace as we can possibly muster.
On US politics
The US has some of the best and strongest environmental laws and enforcement in the world, along with Northern Europe. That being said, most of our laws that are so important probably would not get passed nowadays, as the climate in the US has so deteriorated. The Republican agenda I view as essentially insane on many issues, from the environment to women, and I do think those things are linked. I stand here, horrified, as my country is run more and more by ignorance and by meanness instead of compassion. I see our political parties committed to making sure each other fail. This has turned our country into a giant gladiatorial match, which is entirely destructive in my view.
On current projects
I’m working on a book that discusses how people have treated a variety of wild animals, like elephants and whales, that have very high functioning, complicated social systems, which parallel human social systems. Part of this book is to show how, in many ways, we and other animals are rather alike, instead of categorically different.
On writing as activism
If I didn’t think it was really important and powerful I wouldn’t be doing it. If you look at how people think about nature and the environment many of their ideas come from writers. The book Silent Spring by Rachel Carson is about 60 years old, yet it still comes up over and over again. It had a huge effect on environmental legislation, so I certainly think that books are an incredible delivery system for ideas. If writers convey their experiences well it can influence how people understand what’s going on in the world beyond what they see around them, or how they relate what they see around them to a much larger picture.
On conservation and morality
I certainly would say conservation is a moral imperative. At some vast level of destruction, the wiping out of other species will threaten the existence of the human enterprise, but there are enormous numbers of truly miraculous things that share the world with us, like albatrosses, elephants, orangutans and warblers, that we would simply survive without. So although the imperative is both moral and practical, I think it has more to do with morality. Whether or not we want these species is a subjective matter of opinion and anybody who thinks that we should keep them is making a moral and an ethical judgement.