Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.


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Why I’m changing my name for SEO

Open up the January issue of Diva magazine when it hits shops tomorrow (Dec 18th), and you’ll find a huge picture of me on page 53, sitting in Gaudi’s Parc Güell in Barcelona and talking on the subject of bold changes in the new year.

Six weeks ago, I told my boss that I was quitting my job. I work at a knitting magazine in Essex, and I’ve learnt a lot there – not least how to make Fair Isle jumpers, cabled cushions and top-down baby cardigans – but moving on has been a long time coming. I’ve dreamed of living in London since I was about 13, since I was old enough to know that very little really happens in Leicester, and I stood in Trafalgar Square outside the National Gallery, looked at Big Ben, and felt like I was finally in the centre of something.

I decided that if I was moving to London, I wanted to try freelancing. I wanted to write and proofread for different clients every week, to have flexible hours so that I could work at my most productive times instead of forcing myself awake, and for the money I earned to line my pockets, not a company director I never saw.

But one thing that freelancing kind of depends on is people being able to contact you pretty easily. And since I share the name of Oscar-nominated actress, I’m not particularly easy to find on the internet. So, at least as far as my online presence is concerned, I decided to choose a new one.

Inventing a new name is hard. I always planned to keep it if I got married, and I could never really imagine being called anything else. I knew I wanted to keep Amy, but I liked the emphasis of a single-syllable surname, so I roped in my family and friends, and started brainstorming:

Amy Stark, Amy Fox, Amy Sky, Amy Green, Amy Fox, Amy May, Amy Bird, Amy Fox, Amy Brown, Amy Wood, Amy Fox.

There was a clear winner. Don’t ask me to explain “Amy Fox” any more than the fact that I like the way it sounds. I would have loved to have chosen a name with a more meaningful story, but sometimes these things are disappointingly shallow. And yes, I have noticed that it rhymes with Jamie Foxx. I like it anyway.

So that’s where I am – about to embark on a freelance career, planning to move house for the sixth time in about as many years, and creating a professional pseudonym. For SEO.

Wish me luck? And recommend me to your friends?

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A summer which I intend to spend blogging: round two

I am going to start blogging again.

These words are, of course, words that the internet – the poor, content-saturated internet, which must find the idea of sharing and reblogging utterly exhausting – has heard before.

But as I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, a conversation between journalists Mary Hamilton and Adam Tinworth about the importance of blogging started to make me feel guilty. The argument, in summary, was that it is undeniably important to keep writing on the web. It is important creatively, for people who work with words for a living; intellectually, for people who have a lot of ideas and opinions, and for whom writing is a way of refining these; and logically, in a digital world where declaring yourself a writer of any kind without easy-to-find evidence is a pretty avoidable mistake to make.

Also, for reasons I will get to in a minute, I am desperate to write about something that isn’t yarn.

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The internet is stupid: my existential ParaNorman crisis

So yesterday I did my first film review of the year for Concrete, the student newspaper that someone (for some reason) put me in charge of. I was super excited about it. A lot of what I’ve been doing since becoming editor involves answering emails and passing on the more interesting work to other people so that I can free up time to answer more emails. So when the film editors desperately needed a ParaNorman review at short notice, I jumped at the chance to go back to basics (and get a free trip to the cinema).

It was a pretty good film. There were better animations this summer (bravebravebrave) but overall it was funny and smart and cute.

Now for the angry ranting.

Before I went into the film, my housemate told me it was the first kids’ animation with an openly gay character. Awesome, I thought. I can totally write about that in my review!

In the end, I didn’t think it was really worth mentioning. The two “older sibling” characters are set up as a potential romance throughout the film (by which I mean the seemingly-shallow sister outrageously tries to get the attention of the oblivious older brother whose shoulders are four times as wide as his waist). After all the zombie shenanigans are over, she finally gets the courage to ask him to see a movie with her. He responds positively, and tells her that she’ll really like his boyfriend, who loves chick-flicks.

Awks.

I thought this was pretty cool, but ultimately not really something I wanted to write about when there was so much else going on – the storytelling, the humour, the cute stop animation effect. With only 200 words to play with, Mitch’s sexuality was not really relevant to my enjoyment of the film.

And then I started reading all of the other reviews people had written. My aforementioned housemate found this terrifying collection of responses from parents who were outraged at that one line which had very little to do with the rest of the plot. Let’s illustrate this point with a randomly selected sentence: “had to try explaining it to a nine year old that we hate the sin, love the sinner, and that some boys are just confused by their gender.” Followed by more exclamation marks than could fit in a single line of text.

God dammit, mothers on the internet.

My immediate response was to completely rewrite my own review in defence of a children’s film’s choice to not only include a gay character, but to include a gay character whose sexuality is of absolutely no consequence. Sort of like, you know, everyone in real life who is defined by more than one aspect of their identity, which is in itself a fluid and ever-changing process.

But then, after the second half of my review became a thinly-veiled backlash to the film’s politicised responses, I realised exactly what I had done. Part of what annoys me most about those other reviews is that they let something which shouldn’t even be important colour their whole opinion of the film. So by giving such a disproportionate amount of space to defending the action, I was really doing the same thing.

The fact that Mitch is gay is not a big deal. He admits it freely, and clearly no one else in the film has an issue with it. His line takes up maybe four seconds of screentime, in a film which is 92 minutes long (roughly 5,520 seconds). That means that Mitch’s sexuality makes up 0.072% of the movie.

I’m so mad about this issue that I did maths, you guys.

In the end, for me, or anyone else, to spend most of my supposedly objective review talking about 0.072% of a movie actually does it a disservice. And it politicises something which shouldn’t be political in the first place.

Chris Butler, who wrote and co-directed the film, had this to say on the matter when speaking to Indiewire: “I wanted it from the start, absolutely. It seemed like the best bookend to that whole tolerance thing and to do it as a joke, a kind of throwaway thing, but something that has NEVER been done before. I think we’re telling a story about intolerance, so you have to be brave about it.”

And he’s exactly right. It’s important that gay people are included across the media, and it may be even more important that their sexuality is portrayed as only a small part of their identity. Not every gay character on TV or in movies needs to struggle with coming out and defy ignorant bullies by spreading glitter and rainbows wherever they go. A lot of people just happen to also be gay, and that should be reflected too.

In the end, I took the response to the film’s responses out of my official 200 words. For me to rise to the unfairly negative reviews and focus on that one issue would just invalidate my own argument, and ignore everything else about the film which I enjoyed.

Cue angry blog post instead.


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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!