Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Feminist knitting designer.


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Fifty Shades of Awkward: a defence of fanfiction

I have a confession to make. Once upon a time, when I was but a wee twelve-year-old pariah, with a nose too large for my face and no social skills to speak of, I would take my escape through other worlds. That itself is not the confession; “gawky kid does lots of reading and goes on to study literature” is not exactly a revelation.

However when – like millions of others – I was going out of my mind waiting for the next Harry Potter, I decided – like millions of others – to try my hand at writing within the world I enjoyed so much.

In other words, I bloody loved fanfiction.

I wonder what to do next. There are still a few days until we go home and nothing in particular to do until then. Most people are spending time with their friends, enjoying the sunshine … but I have no one to do that with.

(Instead of pictures, I have decided illustrate this post with relevant quotes from my own bad fanfic writing for your amusement.)

Just like porn, pictures of cats, and your crush’s holiday photos from five years ago, the internet has made fanfiction more accessible for everyone. However, like all of those things, it existed long before computers.

History lesson! According to Wikipedia, it has been around since people became impatient for the next Don Quixote in 1614. By the 20th Century, all the big writers were at it: E Nesbit revised Lewis Carroll, CS Lewis ripped off JRR Tolkein. It was a literary bloodbath. When Star Trek arrived in the 1960s, things really got crazy.

The thing is, fanfiction is excellent at fulfilling its purpose. Bored kids can read and write about their favourite universes to their hearts’ content. Okay, it’s never going to win any Pulitzer prizes (although I’ll have you know I was once runner-up for the 2008 Marauder-era Quicksilver Quill award on mugglenet.com) but that’s not what it’s trying to do.

If it’s good writing you’re after, of course fanfiction is not the place to start.

What?? Why?? James told her, didn’t he? Bloody hell, I’ll kill him. Oh, he’ll be sorry that he ever crossed paths with Lily Evans, mark my words! But how can I inflict juicy, juicy revenge? It needs to be painful … Oh yes, it will be painful, I can tell you!

Note the abundance of punctuation, awkward repetition, and general bizarre phrasing of the above.

Thankfully, if they’re serious about writing, most authors will eventually move on to bigger things. Writing in someone else’s universe becomes too restrictive, and the time comes when you want to create your own. And now that you have practiced plot development, dialogue, and not-sounding-like-a-total-idiot, it might be that much easier.

At the very least, you will have learnt how to string a sentence together.

She now had the respect of much of Gryffindor, but was still striving for something more – her ambition to be liked seemed to have no limit, although she would not change herself for it.

The problem is when a writer (all right, let’s just drop all pretences, EL James) is told so often that their work is “good enough to be published”, that they go ahead and actually do it. Fifty Shades of Grey, in all it’s totally-not-Twilight­ glory, becomes the result.

“What about her?” Sirius demanded, sharply, his reasonable mood suddenly being replaced by a fire of hurt and anger roaring to life in the pit of his stomach, just at the mention of her name.

Fanfiction just isn’t in the same league as published writing. It’s unedited (although some do make use of amateur volunteer “beta readers”), often extremely episodic, and it can never be truly your own. Not even if you change Bella Swan’s name, remove the vampires, and relocate her to a university in Seattle, where apparently you can study English for four years without an email address.

Which isn’t to say that people who write fanfiction are all bad writers. Once they have used it as a practice tool, they can go on to do better things. Jaida Jones, for example, started with Harry Potter fanfiction, and went on to co-author her own fantasy series which, although I haven’t read it, at least has four stars on goodreads if that is your thing. Then again, so does Fifty Shades.

However, as fanfiction does not show any signs of going away, Jones won’t be the only one who finds her feet using other people’s characters. At time of writing, the top 25 books on fanfiction.net have 1,015,606 fics between them, including 3296 about the Bible (which I couldn’t resist checking out – my favourite by far comes with the summary “So what was high-school like for Mary and Joseph?” I guess there is only one way to find out).

And there are hundreds of other book categories besides these, not to mention the entirely separate sections dedicated to films, TV shows, comics, games, animes/mangas, plays/musicals and miscellaneouses. And that’s just on the one website.

“everything else just seems to … fit, you know? It’s like where you’re wacky, I’m ordinary and where you’re scared, I’m strong. But where I’m scared, you’re the one that’s strong. Where I see a problem, you see a solution. Everything bad about me is good about you and the other way around. You know, together we almost make a whole person.”

In conclusion: although undeniably bad, fanfiction is not all bad. Sort of like the sentence I just wrote. It enables you to practice writing, gives you something to read if you want it, and stays largely off your radar if you don’t. The problem is that it’s only the really bad stuff that breaks that last rule.

Still, there’s nothing funnier than finding the most truly awful and bizarre story out there, then doing a dramatic reading with your friends. And I haven’t even mentioned slash fiction.

“Oh, Minerva,” Dumbledore chuckled, “You just don’t understand teenage boys, do you?”

McGonagall smiled, and went back to reading through Ministry education reports, as Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, and reminisced about his own days as a daring and ruthless teenage miscreant, smiling jovially, and chortling to himself.

Also: This post is also featured as the guest post on this week’s Bad Books, Good Times! Where Matthew and Ariel are reading Fifty Shades of Grey so we don’t have to!

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Four girls, three days: dos and don’ts of Prague

You are in Prague for three days. You want to see as much as you possibly can. You don’t want to spend all your money. You don’t want to your feet to rebel against you and threaten to stage an uprising if you make them walk any further.

I can promise two out those three things.

Do: go on one a free walking tour.

They leave from the astronomical clock in Old Town Square, and they show you all the main landmarks – you can identify them by the bright yellow t-shirts and umbrellas which say “Free Tour”. It’s subtle, but if you look closely, you might just spot them.

Of course, by the time you get to the end and they ask you for tips, you’ll have developed a deep, meaningful love for your Hungarian tour guide’s accent and you won’t be able to say no, but it will be worth it. (Or maybe that was just us.)

Katie and Alice have tracked them down.

Don’t: try the trams without a map.

Once you figure out where you want to be and which tram will take you there, it’s all good, but it can be confusing. This is especially true on your first day, when you spend five minutes trying to locate the elusive Kouření Zakázáno stop on your map, attempt to ask someone for help through a shared third language, and finally realise that it translates to “No Smoking”.

Once you have learnt this valuable lesson, however, the trams are a great way to travel, and a pass for three days also includes buses and the metro (which, with its primary colours and A, B and C lines, is easy enough for even the most cartographically illiterate tourist).

The metro does not look this fun though.

Do: check out the Communism museum.

The history of the Czech Republic is fascinating, but more so was the humour with which this museum often presented it. Which isn’t to say that the past was not taken seriously – in fact, part of the museum was dedicated to the abuse of human rights in North Korea, reminding visitors that government oppression is still very much a reality in many parts of the world – but that it will not be allowed to define the present.

It’s a difficult atmosphere to explain. Perhaps the best illustration is the gift shop, which sold postcards featuring vintage-style propaganda artwork with catchphrases like “You couldn’t get laundry detergent but you could get your brainwashed”. Alongside exhibitions revealing genuinely horrific acts on the part of the Communist regime, the effect was surreal, but undeniably charming.

And that’s not to mention the candles shaped like a bust of Stalin’s head.

There was also no discernible logic to the display choices. (Photo by Katie Davies)

Don’t: spend two hours walking in the wrong direction in search of a giant metronome.

Situated in Letná Park, the metronome replaced the colossal statue of Joseph Stalin which was unveiled, after five years of work, in 1955 – just as he went out of fashion during the period of de-Stalinisation following his death.

The view from Letná Park is beautiful, but the metronome itself is somewhat of a disappointment when you walked a mile or two in the wrong direction, then back again.

If you reach the motorway, you’ve definitely gone too far.

Probably worth it for this though.

Do: eat at local restaurants.

Sure, it’s a tourism cliché, but it’s true. You did not travel all that way for McDonald’s, and the dumplings are not only cheap if you look for somewhere off the beaten track, they’re delicious.

Don’t: go to restaurants without checking a menu outside first, especially in the main tourist areas.

Otherwise you might end up paying the equivalent of £35 for four slices of cake and some water at a place in Wenceslas Square.

You know, for example.

Do: make sure you keep looking up.

The architecture is breathtaking and even local corner shops are often occupying a gothic or baroque-style building with so many elaborate windows and statues, you’ll wonder whether it’s all just a big game of “my wall has more cool stuff than your wall”.

Told you.

For other takes on the same trip, and the “No Smoking” story a couple more times:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Justine Czech-ed out Prague


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“Kill them all!”: a first-ever post about endings

Now, I’ve been thinking a lot about endings recently – partly because another academic year is over (with only one left before “the real world” happens, whatever that includes – I am hoping for more wine and pizza), partly because all the TV finales just happened. Or, they happened a couple of weeks ago, but it’s a new blog. Please forgive my lateness.

As the idea of graduation next year is far too scary, I am just going to ignore it and complain about Glee.

Spoiler alert.

To set the scene, Glee used to be my absolute favourite thing on earth. (Songs! Jokes! Gays!) However, as even its most die-hard fans acknowledge, quite soon it began to slowly self-destruct until it reached the point at which racism and domestic abuse became episode themes, just in the same way that Lady Gaga and Madonna had tribute episodes in the good old days. But, while Gaga songs continued to be covered long after we first saw Kurt in a “likes boys” t-shirt, these sensitive issues were rarely revisited, and everything was handled about as well as Rachel Berry handles rejection.

Rachel grieves for the good old days.

So when season 3 finally ended, I was actually relieved. I’d been threatening to quit for months, but Glee was like a drug which, no matter how depressed it made you, was somehow too addictive to ignore. There were still characters I cared about, the songs were still catchy, and when it occasionally gets things right, it can be pretty great. Besides, my bedroom is covered in Glee merch people bought me when the madness was at its peak; I had to see this through.

The thing is, overall, the finale wasn’t that bad. I mean, sure, it was bad, but not in comparison to all the awkward storytelling and outright offensive decisions that had been made beforehand (remember when that episode about not stereotyping Latin America also introduced a character who was most commonly referred to as “black Sue”?)

And okay, there were a few dubious decisions. Spoiler warning: Rachel choked her audition to NYADA, apparently the only theatre school in the US, but still got in; meanwhile Kurt, who I assume is the only reason there are any viewers left at all, did a perfect audition and was rejected with no explanation. Also, Mercedes randomly got a recording contract without even trying, and apparently every minor character was actually a year younger than everybody else the entire time, because CONTINUITY.

This is an accurate Glee-watching face.

All in all, however, it was not as bad as it could have been. Yes, I refuse to watch it ever again because I just can’t take the skin-crawling agony any longer. But if a balance of emotions is what you’re after, there was enough bitterness in the finale to offset the sweetness – although I still threw up in my mouth a couple of times. It may not have made any logical sense, but if nothing else, it wasn’t just a long series of happy endings and people getting exactly what they want.

Unlike, for example, the train wreck that was the Desperate Housewives finale. (Spoilers.)

When the penultimate episode wrapped up an excellent season with mostly happy endings for all, I was convinced that the final episode would bring it all crashing down. After all, the show has never shied away from killing secondary characters, and now that it’s definitely not coming back, surely they would bump off at least one housewife in a freak accident? Right? The show’s popularity has come from its willingness to make those kinds of decisions.

Wrong. Everybody lived happily ever after, and went their separate ways. Who wants to watch that? What was the point of all the trauma that came before if everything ends up totally fine?

The thing is, dear readers, I’ve had a bit of a thing about killing off characters recently. Personally I blame Joss Whedon, and a conversation I had after watching Cabin in the Woods about how Toy Story 3 would have had a better ending if they’d all gone into that giant fire pit and then the credits had rolled.

(Just sit and think about that for a minute. What is the inevitable outcry that would have occurred in comparison to how absolutely fantastic an ending that would be?)

So. Damn. Fantastic.

Thanks to Whedon and all the years I spent watching Buffy and Firefly, nothing is emotional any more unless your favourite character is senselessly murdered, just to remind you that happiness can only ever be temporary, and the world is a place of totally random needless violence.

After all, if you’re not being reminded of your own mortality in your downtime, what is even the point?

And that is why, people of the internet, I am going to start watching Game of Thrones instead.

Wish me luck.