The Sleeping Princess – upcoming gigs

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have heard me talking about Red Hoods and Glass Slippers. To put it relatively succinctly, it’s a poetry and storytelling project about fairytales, which invites the audience to see them through the eyes of characters both new and familiar. It’s a project that is constantly growing and changing, but one thing coming out of it is The Sleeping Princess – a poetry show that is effectively “volume one” in a collection of interlinking fables. It’s early days but I’m very proud of it. And you can come and see it for yourself! Gig details below, followed by more information about the show 🙂

Gig number one is part of Bed Time Tales at the Oxford Playhouse (Burton Taylor Studio). It’s Saturday 2nd April, i.e. tomorrow (why yes, I did leave this a little late) – it starts at 7:30pm and you can buy tickets here for £10. I’ll be performing the first 40 minutes of The Sleeping Princess, and you’ll also get to hear amazing storyteller Tori Truslow.

Gig number two is a FREE scratch night featuring me and the inestimable poet Fay Roberts, each doing a show-in-development at the (wheelchair-accessible!) Poetry Café in London at 7:30pm, Thursday 7th April. I’m doing the one-hour version of The Sleeping Princess and Fay will be peforming The Selkie – A Song of Many Waters. You can RSVP to the Facebook event here.

Fay and I will also be putting on The Selkie and The Sleeping Princess together in Oxford (The Albion Beatnik, May 27th) and Cambridge (details TBC), and we plan to bring the shows back to London as well.

If you want to know more about how I approach and work with fairytales, I wrote a blog post about it for the Oxford Playhouse’s website (which I’ll mirror on here once the show has happened). And if you want to know more about The Sleeping Princess and The Selkie – behold, our promotional material!

FBIcon Scratch London April 16

Fairytales tell us a lot about who we were and who we are. Fairytales are encoded secrets, travelling through time. Fairytales aren’t always happily-ever-after, because fairytales are true.

Hel Gurney and Fay Roberts explore two takes on the way we shape myths, and the way myths shape us. Come and enjoy a scratch night of two hour-long shows-in-development at The Poetry Café, London (wheelchair-accessible). Entry is free, with donations taken, and we would love to hear your feedback…

The Sleeping Princess (Hel Robin Gurney)

A fairy curse. A sleeping princess. A kingdom in turmoil. A story you think you know. All actions have a consequence; all magic has a price. Borrow the skins of beloved characters treading unfamiliar paths, and find yourself spellbound.
Subversive storyteller-poet Hel Robin Gurney invites you to immerse yourself in a dark fairytale of love, trauma, and resilience.

The Selkie – A Song of Many Waters (Fay Roberts)

The seal woman’s skin has been stolen, stranding her on a reef of rage and tragedy. Can she find her true home, freeing her voice? Explore love, family, and destiny in the company of mythological creatures.
Fay Roberts (Other Voices, Allographic, Hammer & Tongue) navigates a modern mythological sea voyage of hiraeth, poetry, and music in this haunting solo show.

“If you like poetry and fairytales and being emotionally destroyed, you are going to love this!” – Hel & Fay

ACCESSIBILITY: The Poetry Café has a lift down to the basement, and a disabled toilet. If there’s any other access information you need, please let us know!

Mermaids, poetry, Nine Worlds, and the Edinburgh Fringe

Other Voices will be on at the Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, 14:50 - 15:40 every day except Wednesdays. (Image from the Other Voices website.)

Other Voices will be on at the Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, 14:50 – 15:40 every day except Wednesdays. (Image from the Other Voices website.)

Hello, dear readers! Once again, doing all the things has left me with little time to blog about the things – so here is a quick flying update on what’s coming up in the next week!

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: this year I’m joining the cast of five-star poetry show Other Voices, and I am excited beyond belief about this. I’ll be sharing the cabaret stage with a number of very talented spoken word performers – catch me at The Banshee Labyrinth at 2:50pm on the 10th, 12th, and 14th. Expect queer-feminist rage, mythology and fairytales as you’ve never seen them before, and a dash of wit and witchery. I’m also hoping to make it to various open mics while I’m there!

Nine Worlds Geekfest: I’m not at Nine Worlds myself this year, but my work will be! (I hope you like mermaids. If you don’t like mermaids, what are you even here for? :p ) After The Mermaid’s Wish was listed as a source material for the Nine Worlds Game Jam, I wasn’t sure what could top that in terms of artistic collaboration/cross-pollination – but Eithin is giving it a go! Jewellery based on my poem ‘Washed Up’ (yes, that’s another take on The Little Mermaid) will be available from the Eithin stall at the convention, 9am-5pm on Saturday, and costing £15 per piece. Seeing my poem cut up and turned into jewellery feels really interesting – I like the way that it focuses the attention on certain juxtapositions of words that perhaps are less obvious in the complete poem. I’m absolutely in love with the use of colour and texture (images of a type of seaweed mentioned in the poem), and frankly thrilled at the idea of people wearing something I’ve had a part in making.

'Washed Up' jewellery, available from Eithin at Nine Worlds. (Image from )

‘Washed Up’ jewellery, available from Eithin at Nine Worlds. (Image from )

#RefugePoetry 100-poem Challenge: on August 15th I’ll be joining poet Claire Trévien and a number of others for a day of high-intensity creativity, to raise money for domestic violence support service Refuge. The 15th is the day after I get back from Edinburgh, so I plan to spend the day in a  caffeine-fuelled haze of writing! Can I write 100 poems in one day? No idea, but it’ll be fun finding out! I’ll be taking inspiration from postcards, random word generators, and prompts from whoever wishes to give them – including YOU. If you’d like to make sure I write something for your prompt, you can sponsor me here – but you’re welcome to prompt without sponsoring, sponsor without prompting, or indeed do neither (though I’d love it if you did). Our team page is here; you can read more about how Refuge is under threat here. I’ll be posting the results online!

(A note about the fundraising: transphobia/transmisogyny is endemic in some women-only services, and is backed up by a loophole in the 2010 Equality Act that allows women’s crisis services to discriminate against trans women. To the best of my knowledge, Refuge does not exclude trans women from their services. I telephoned them on Monday and the person I spoke to said it was her understanding that trans women were welcome as staff and as service-users, and offered to check through their Equality & Diversity policy and confirm this. I have not heard back since; if it does transpire that Refuge operate a transmisogynist policy then I would welcome guidance from trans women on what to do next.)

That’s all for now – thank you for reading!

A statement pendant made from the first three lines of 'Washed Up'. I love this so much - hope it finds a good home at Nine Worlds! Image by Eithin.

A statement pendant made from the first three lines of ‘Washed Up’. I love this so much – hope it finds a good home at Nine Worlds! Image by Eithin.


Upcoming things!

The longer I leave off writing a blog entry, the more convinced I come that I need to re-enter the arena of online writing with something stunning, long, detailed, or all three – and so the longer I put it off. This is probably something that gets in the way of the main purpose of this blog – to tell people about things! So, dear reader, here is a short and sweet blog post about some things which are happening soon (and to which you should come, if you would like to and have the means to).

Wednesday 26th February, Brighton – the multivocal collage of thoughts, words, pictures, and experiences that is the Queer In Brighton anthology is coming out! (Pun unintended, but oh well.) I have a short piece published in this, about the first time I went to Brighton as a baby queer, and the year-or-so I spent living there while doing my MA. You can read it by clicking here. The anthology will be available to buy for £12.99, and I am very excited to attend the launch and get my contributer’s copy!

Sunday 9th March, London – I’ll be reprising my workshop on queer/feminist fairytales at Wowzers, a community-led feminist arts and music festival. This workshop was very popular at LaDIYfest Sheffield – you can read my write-up of it by clicking here. It was excellent fun to run, and I can’t wait to see where the participants take it this time round.

Saturday 15th March, Oxford – I’m sharing some of my poetry at the next installment of glorious queer-feminist performance night and punky crafting circle, Quiltbag Cabaret. I’m really looking forward to it – and I’ll be performing some of my newer and/or lesser-heard poetry, rather than my usual trademark pieces like ‘Hair’.

And with that, I shall leave you with a thought that I tweeted earlier: the other day, when confirming that my name is indeed Hel, I added: “with one L, like the terrifying chthonic Norse deity”.  I think I might just start introducing myself with that addendum from now on!

Magic and mythmaking: (re)writing queer/feminist fairytales

On Saturday I ran a workshop about fairytales at LaDIYfest Sheffield! I had a lot of fun, and all the feedback I’ve had so far has been very positive.

I promised a write-up of the workshop, so here it is! This is for attendees who want to have an easier time of finding some of the texts we discussed, people who couldn’t make it due to the numbers cap, and anyone and everyone else who is interested in queer and/or feminist fairytales.

For most of this post, I’ve endeavoured to capture the flow of conversations in an organic and impressionistic way, rather than trying to follow a strict model of “X said this, and Y replied with that” (aside from anything else, my memory isn’t that good!). This means that the many voices and opinions and questions have been subsumed into a single voice – I hope I’ve done a good job of capturing the tides of conversation, but: attendees, please do let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed, or if there’s a comment or idea you’d like to be specifically attributed to you, and I’ll be very happy to oblige. I haven’t been able to provide citations or sources off the top of my head for some of the things that were discussed, as they came from the group – I’ve done so where I can, but decided to prioritise getting this posted while it’s still fresh.

Comments, additions, and questions are all very welcome – I’d love this to be a living document rather than a static record!

The workshop was attended by 25 people (I raised the initial cap of 15 due to lots of interest and LaDIYfest being even more popular than anticipated). Although it was a child-friendly workshop by request of the LaDIYfest organisers, we ended up with a group of adults. We began with introductions, everyone being invited to share their name, pronoun, and one thing from a fairytale that has stuck with them (for any reason). Responses were very diverse! Many people mentioned Disney – some with fond memories, some citing it as their early encounters with the beauty myth (all the princesses had such amazing hair!) or with the idea that women’s main purpose was heterosexual romance, others remembering moments of agency and resourcefulness displayed by the Disney heroines (such as Belle in Beauty and the Beast, bravely attempting to rescue her father). There were two participants with different memories of a similar story: one remembering that a girl was married by a prince because gems fell from her mouth when she spoke to him (making what she actually said meaningless, and his supposed love for being based entirely on her material worth); the other participant forgot the marriage element and remembered the backstory, in which this girl is rewarded with her gem-speech for being kind to an old woman (in contrast to her two older sisters, who were unkind and so punished by having snakes and toads fall from their mouths).

"Diamonds and Toads", by Carliihde at Deviant Art

“Diamonds and Toads”, by Carliihde at Deviant Art. [Crediting but used without permission; I will take this down if requested by the artist.] I note with interest that all the pictures of this story on my Google Images search showed the “good” daughter with blonde hair and the “bad” daughter with dark hair…

 From these snippets of people’s experiences, we moved to the next stage: what sources do we have for fairytales? Where do we first encounter them, and how do we receive them? Answers from the group: Disney; other films; picture books; being told stories as children (by teachers and relatives); story books. What books do we remember? Which authors can we name? The group came up with these names: Hans Christian Andersen, the Grimm brothers, Perrault, Aesop, Neil Gaiman, Terry Jones, Roald Dahl. I noted with interest that these were all men – even though women such as Angela Carter and Emma Donoghue were mentioned in the initial sharing of memories – and led into a talk on the gendering of how we receive fairytales. (Why don’t we remember Marie de France in the same way we remember the Grimms?) While we often think of (for example) the Grimms as ‘sources’ of fairytales, their versions are not ‘pure’ or ‘original’. The stories in Grimm/Perrault are collected from oral tradition: stories often passed from mothers to daughters (consider the term ‘old wives’ tales’!) were written down by men of letters. What we see in these fairytale compendia is a moment where oral traditions become frozen in time – a static snapshot of one particular point in a constantly shifting set of stories. Telling, re-telling, and changing fairytales is intrinsic to oral tradition – as are women’s voices. In this context, then, feminist (re)writing of fairytales can be seen as not simply an intervention, but as participation in and restoration of an old and important element of fairytales, how they work, and what they do. (Fascinating further reading recommendation on this topic – Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers.)

"From the Beast to the Blonde" cover

“From the Beast to the Blonde” cover

How else do fairytales work? What do they do? What is the purpose of a fairytale? Fairytales can be about showing possibilities, and strangeness – a fantastical world intruding on the ‘normal’ world. Changelings and kitchen fairies and gnomes in the woods – ordinary people coming across them.They can be aetiological – that is, providing explanations for things, whether for natural phenomena (like storms), features of the landscape (like an oddly-shaped mountain – could it be a giant, sleeping and turned to stone?), or local folk practices and traditions. They are often a didactic form – stories intended to teach the listener in some way. Fairytales told to children are often warnings against danger – cautionary tales about telling lies (The Boy Who Cried Wolf) or talking to strangers (Little Red Riding Hood), showing extreme and unpleasant consequences. They’re a safe way of demonstrating danger, instilling fear and good behaviour. They allow children to experience risk and excitement without actually experiencing it. More generally they are often about moral conduct – the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. One participant proposed that the two key “good” attributes to possess are cunning and kindness, which I loved as an idea! They’re ways of transmitting moral lessons, which (necessarily) mean they reflect the cultural values of the time. They can also be ways of teaching about the rules of the time – which is different from morals, in that often social rules can be unfair or oppressive, but the listeners are still being taught to negotiate life under them. In this way, some fairytales don’t so much demonstrate a moral as demonstrate the amorality of the social order they’re depicting?

So, if fairytales teach culturally-specific lessons about morality and society, this is another way of thinking about how we can write “our own” fairytales. Many of the lessons of fairytales are ones that we would still broadly support – morals about kindness and acceptance continue to be valuable to us, but as feminists and/or LGBTQI people, we may want to jettison (for example) morals about enforcing appropriate gendered behaviour, or about the importance of heterosexual marriage (whether in the service of social climbing, where a kind shepherd marries a princess; of preserving monarchical order, when marriage takes place between royalty; or of more seemingly-mundane goals such as reproduction or simply the adoption of the ‘correct’ gender roles). (In a discussion about this at the LaDIYfest gig, with a school teacher, we talked about this being a good way to engage children with (re)writing fairytales – by talking about them as being ways to teach people about a belief. She said she’d discussed Frankenstein as a moral tale with her class, and asked them to write their own stories with the same basic moral of “don’t mess with nature” – one of them came up with an ecological fable about dumping waste into the ocean leading to a tidal wave! Fairytales with simple morals such as “girls can do things just as well as boys” or “love is love, no matter who you are” would be good ways of talking about these! (There’s an interesting discussion to be had about the role of children’s books in terms of LGBTQI representation – e.g. books like Heather Has Two Mommies and And Tango Makes Three – but for the moment I’ll settle for just linking to Liz Chapman’s resource list, drawn from her research into this very topic.)

Also on topic of rewriting: we tend to think of fairytales as taking place in an “other” world, a world that is already far from ‘normal’ – a world of wolves and forests and kings and princesses and millers and shepherds, which feels miles away from the majority of contemporary life here in the UK. But these stories, which seem to take place in a mysterious past, were recorded as literary artefacts at a time where these stories were taking place in a mundane present. Especially given the focus we’ve had so far on examples from the Germanic tradition, which was long before the unification of the smaller kingdoms into one country. At the time they were recorded, they were taking place in the contemporary world. Thus, ‘modern’/contemporary fairytales are a completely valid way of doing things. (Another interesting digression: the modern equivalent of fairytales is perhaps the urban legend? Stories passed around through word of mouth, with vague connections to ‘a friend of my aunt’s hairdresser’ or something – close to the reality and the now, but supernatural, strange, sometimes evincing a belief in some form of natural order/justice… And what does the internet mean for this sort of tradition? Stories can be quickly reproduced and disseminated, regardless of how true they are – consider the necessity of, or the “creepypasta” format of horror story … It’s interesting and I’d like to think more about it, but anyway – onwards!)

So, having thought about the ways that fairytales often impart morals and/or behavioural standards at the end, let’s take a closer look at the resolutions we see in fairytales. What does a “happy ending” look like? Is it different for male characters and female characters? One common resolution is marriage, either a commoner marrying “up” or two members of the ruling class marrying each other. With male protagonists, we see a lot of instances where marriage to a rich and/or noble maiden is one part of a wide array of successes: for example, a poor youth who completes a series of challenges set by a king, and in the process is awarded riches, land, and the king’s daughter. In contrast, most female protagonists that we can remember are only offered marriage: while this may involve a rise in social status (e.g. Cinderella marrying a prince), there is no corresponding acquisition of wealth and power (except in a sort of auxiliary way: wealth as a consequence of marriage and power inasmuch as she can influence her husband). Other common resolutions are a long and happy life. Different cultures may have different ideas of what this entails – French versions of fairytales having a stronger emphasis on reproduction, on procreative marriage as the goal rather than marriage which affords higher social status. All these resolutions are to an extent ideological – they are transmitting messages about the place and purpose of women, and about the importance of heteronormative relationships. In making our own fairytales as queer and/or feminist writers, we can engage with these messages about gender and sexuality, subverting or undermining or outright getting rid of them. Other resolutions can be simply about escaping danger – avoiding the troll under the bridge, escaping the wicked witch. Survival is sometimes all a fairytale character can hope for! And then, we have the flipside of the resolutions where the good are rewarded – we have resolutions where the wicked are punished. These punishments can be brutal and extreme – dancing in red-hot shoes until death, being dragged through the streets in a barrel full of spikes, vomiting snakes every time you try to speak. These can be genuinely horrifying – are they meant to scare children into good behaviour, or provide them with a gory thrill, or both? Are these punishments disproportionately meted out to female characters? There seem to be a lot of wicked queens, cruel mothers (or stepmothers), and deceitful/lazy young girls who are punished in these ways – can we think of many (or any?) male characters who are treated in this way?

Moving from gendered resolutions to thinking about women in fairytales more generally –  what female characters have stuck with us? How “active” or “passive” are  these characters? Who are our favourite female fairytale characters? The Snow  Queen is very much about women who act – the little girl Gerda goes on a quest to rescue her male friend from the Snow Queen who has captured him; on the way she is hindered by an old sorceress and helped by a robber girl, and the majority of the other incidental characters are also women. (The new Disney version, Frozen, seems to have changed the story in very significant ways – there have been a variety of responses about the gender politics of this so far, both sceptical and approving.) Different aspects of the Cinderella story came up – while the Disney version (based on the French Cendrillon) has her in a quite passive role, other versions (like the German Aschenputtel) have her being cunning and resourceful, and aided by the spirit of her dead mother. (It’s also worth noting that Aschenputtel doesn’t have the “ugly sisters” – they’re beautiful but cruel!) There is a brilliant analysis/deconstruction/rewriting of this story by Angela Carter called Ashputtle or the Mother’s Ghost, which explores three different versions of the relationships between the dead mother, the stepmother, the sisters, and Cinderella/Ashputtle herself (there’s some discussion of it currently visible on Google Books).

A version of Rumplestiltskin was highlighted as interesting because the female protagonist is displaying hubris – she gets herself into her dilemma by boasting that she is able to spin straw into gold. Is this a fable about putting women in their place? (Having done some checking post-workshop, in the Grimm version it’s the woman’s father who boasts about her skills – but in another Grimm story called The Three Spinners, it’s the mother. The Three Spinners is interesting, because rather than the moral of rewarding hard work and punishing laziness, the girl who hates spinning (and accepts the skilled help of three women who are good at spinning) is rewarded by never needing to spin again! I feel like this story might speak interestingly to our later discussion about politics and labour and solidarity…) Another story mentioned was The Wild Swans, in which the sister’s fortitude and courage saves her eleven brothers. But on the other hand, it’s also about sacrifice and enduring pain, in order to aid male family members – is this just a reinscription of the idea that a woman’s highest purpose is to help the men in her life? (It’s also worth mentioning Andersen’s tendency to write himself into his stories as self-sacrificing female characters – mostly notably in The Little Mermaid, which has been read as an expression of his love for another man.)

A number of Disney stories also got brought up – more about them below! But I found it interesting that there wasn’t much recollection of stories involving women actively going on quests, except for Gerda in The Snow Queen – I remembered East of the Sun, West of the Moon and The Girl with the Iron Claws, both of which have women undertaking more traditional heroes’ journeys (and rescuing men!). I also remembered Catherine and Her Destiny, which has the female protagonist journeying for seven years and working for different women while pursued by a cruel (female) anthromorphic Destiny, before eventually, she finds employment with a kind woman whose own Destiny is able to intervene.

A shot from The Wrong Crowd's production of "The Girl with the Iron Claws". Photograph by Steve Ullathorne.

A shot from The Wrong Crowd’s production of “The Girl with the Iron Claws”. Photograph by Steve Ullathorne.

Although there are these stories with cunning and resourceful women, and women going on quests, they seem to be harder for people in this group to call to memory. Does this tell us something about what sort of fairytale gets remembered, transmitted, almost “canonised” by popular media such as Disney movies? I find it useful to think about Marta Wasik’s paper on Disney princesses (from Roles 2013), which she divides into three areas – ‘classic’, with princesses who are often passive and literally immobilised (Sleeping Beauty in her castle, Snow White in her glass coffin); ‘renaissance’, with princesses who are more rebellious and active, but presented as rather more sexualised and still defined primarily by their romantic interests (Ariel, Jasmine); and ‘modern’, with princesses who are considerably more active agents in their fates, and more like young girls than young women, both in terms of their appearance and their attitude to romance (Rapunzel, Merida).

Christine Gritmon's satirical take on "Beauty and the Beast", from

Christine Gritmon’s satirical take on “Beauty and the Beast”, from

Disney films kept on coming up as we discussed female characters, and so it was definitely time to move on to the next point of discussion: modern fairytales. How do they use / re-frame / alter / respond to the images and ideology of the originals? (Can we even talk about about fairytales as having ‘originals’? Does that erase the continuity of oral tradition, or is an acknowledgement that modern responses to / versions of fairytales frequently do use specific written sources rather than drawing on a general oral tradition?) Belle in Beauty and the Beast was suggested as a good example: mostly interested in reading (and unashamed of this), and she’s brave enough to attempt to rescue her father – and she’s given the opportunity to get to know her eventual partner, rather than falling into the ‘love at first sight’ trope. This can be seen as improvement on the original source – the moral of which was less “beauty is found within” and more “if you’re stuck with an abusive husband, be kind and patient and eventually you can change him”, which is considerably more damaging! – or it can be seen as a whitewashing of it (after all, the Beast still does treat Belle poorly).

Disney’s The Princess and the Frog was cited as positive – Tiana is hard-working, talented, and independent; her dream is to run her own restaurant. But does the moral of the story undermine this, as she learns a lesson about not being single-mindedly ambitious and having time for love as well? Is this about balancing ambition with emotion, or is it more just about limiting women’s ambition? And how does her race come into this – is it somehow more acceptable for a Disney princess to have a working-class background if she’s a woman of colour? She does get her restaurant in the end, but partly due to the money from her new partner… The Princess and the Frog also has what I read as an interesting comment on the “Disney princess” marketing machine in the character Charlotte – a rich white girl who owns innumerable pink princess dresses and is obsessed with finding romance.

In general, Disney seems to be becoming more and more self-reflexive – Enchanted is also a self-parody with regards to the idea of the “Disney princess”, and both Brave and Tangled seem invested in subverting the traditional “princess” role. Brave and Tangled are also more invested in relationships between women than previous Disney films (and perhaps this also applies to Tiana, who has her friend Charlotte) – specifically, there is a strong focus on mother/daughter relationships. Marta Wasik has spoken about how in Disney, the parental figure with whom the princess character most “identifies” is the father – he may be bumbling or disciplinarian or otherwise difficult to deal with (consider the fathers of Jasmine, Ariel, Belle, and Pocahontas) but he is always “recuperated” in some way: in contrast, the mother (or stepmother) figure is usually either completely absent (Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas) or in some way “false” or “malevolent” (Snow White, Cinderella). Tangled explores this abjected mother figure in ways which are, on the one hand, important – various people have commented that the relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel is a scarily accurate portrayal of abusive relationships, and having this depiction in a movie for children might help them to recognise abuse and name abuse in their own lives – but on the other hand, continues to feed this image of the Disney princess’ mother as absent and/or malicious (Rapunzel’s real mother is far away, and we see no interaction between them until the end of the film). Brave is a film focused almost entirely on the relationship between a mother and daughter (as well as the rejection of romance by the latter, and the consequences this has) – Merida’s mother Elinor being turned into a beast literalises the difficulty they have communicating with each other, and their eventual reconciliation and understanding (with the use of sign language during a speech!) is, in my opinion, the emotional climax of the film. (Themes of motherhood are, of course, also important in fairytales more generally, but their specific examples in Disney is where the conversation went!)

What modern fairytales aside from Disney are doing interesting things with gender? The Wizard of Oz – and indeed the spin-off story Wicked – both focus on interactions between female characters, and Dorothy is the hero of a quest. A few participants remembered a story in which a princess rescues a sleeping prince from a tower, and then decides she doesn’t want to marry him because he is too lazy. I think this could be one of the stories from a book called The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairytales, which was an expressly feminist collection of fairytales for children that was published in the late 70s. It might also have been from the collection Don’t Bet On The Prince (edited by fairytale expert Jack Zipes, with contributions from Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood). Other suggestions were Mary Poppins and the work of Philip Pullman (particularly His Dark Materials and The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, both of which feature capable heroines) – but at this point, it was time to move the conversation to the next stage: considering the process of (re)writing fairytales.

So – modern fairytales are not necessarily written with the intention of making some kind of ideological intervention, although they usually do end up reflecting the values of the author in some way. If we’re talking about deliberately creating works which are feminist and/or queer, then (and I take this idea from a talk by Sophia Morgan-Swinhoe) there are two broadly-defined ways of going about it: deconstruction or reconstruction. That is to say, ‘deconstruction’ entails exposing the patriarchal and/or heteronormative and/or cisnormative elements at the heart of the tale and bringing them to the fore in a way that makes them unavoidable – for example, the many retellings of Little Red Riding Hood that emphasis the nature of the wolf (which is frequently read as a metaphor for a sexually predatory man – see Zipes’ The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood for a fascinating analysis of how this tale interacts with rape culture and ideas about sexuality). Whereas ‘reconstruction’ involves using the tropes, motifs, structure, and even stock characters/stories of fairytales, but building them into something which is at odds with patriarchal or cis/hetero-normative ideologies – for example, The Practical Princess tales discussed above.

At this point, I asked the group what they’d like to do with the remaining time – continue with discussion, or move on to some writing of their own? As the group was bigger than I’d initially planned for, and I’d wanted to make sure that as many people as possible had space and opportunity to contribute to the discussion, there was not as much time left for writing as I’d intended. I offered some A4 prints of a Josef Madlener series of postcards based on German folklore as sources of inspiration – including a wild-haired man with glowing eyes (Rübezahl), and a fairy riding an appaloosa unicorn to a mountain stream (Die Bergfee). The group split into two – one taking the pictures and throwing ideas around about what they might write, the other continuing with a facilitated discussion about rewritten fairytales more generally. The following is an account of the second one – I’d really love to hear details from the group focused on actively rewriting!

How about the political dimension of fairytales? Many fairytales can be seen as individualist – dealing with the exceptions, people who transcend the social order, the poor third sons of millers who become dukes and princes through their bravery, the goose girls who become ladies and princesses through their kindness. We linked this to the idea of the carnivalesque –  are the rags-to-riches fairytales a contained way of upending the status quo, in such a way as to satisfy and pacify people at the bottom of the social order by highlighting these successes as possible? But the carnivalesque’s contained forms of resistance can also have revolutionary potential – giving people a taste for freedom, a spark or springboard from which to begin more sustained disruption and dismantling of social hierarchies. If rags-to-riches tales are individualist, what might a collectivist fairytale look like? What might an anarchist or anti-capitalist fairytale look like? How the Steel was Tempered was suggested as an example – written with an expressly communist ideology and framing the hero’s success in terms of the greater good. Another example was The Mouse that Made the Butter, a story of two mice who fall into a pail of milk: one sees that there is no way to climb out, so gives up and drowns; the other continues to stay afloat and swim vigorously for as long as possible, and the motion of the swimming churns the milk into buttter so the mouse can at last clamber out. (A cursory Google search didn’t find me a source in any of the old collections, but I did find this, credited to ‘an American newspaper’.) This valorisation of persistence in the face of seeming impossibility, and of struggle and resistence, might provide an idea for what a socialist or collectivist fairytale might look like. (I have tried my hand at an anti-capitalist fairytale – it’s called The Boy Who Ran With Wolves, and it’s about youth and cruelty and exploitation. I think it needs some more refining before I read it in public, though!) Perhaps fairytales are able to universalise stories of struggle and resistance in a way that makes them more accessible? The power of telling our own stories and having them heard is vital and can be agents of political change and awareness – one example brought up was the writing and art of Palestinian activist Shahd Abusalama.

What about fairytales as escapism? It was suggested that there’s a sense in which it’s necessary for them to be portraying things which are generally unachievable – because otherwise they lose their escapist, fantastical quality. On the other hand, they can’t be considered purely escapist, because of their aforementioned qualities as didactic forms, moral forms. There has been comment (somewhere; possibly in relation to Angela Carter?) to the effect that fairytales were “the pornography of their day” – a voyeuristic way of accessing sex and violence, which also continues to be (safely?) contained. But certainly some fairytales are purely about little moments of comedy or wonder – one example I’ve read recently is a very short story in Anna Altmann’s collection of traditional German fairytales. A man is driving his coach down a narrow road through the forest, and sounding his horn to alert anyone who might be on the road – but his horn is so cold that it can’t make a sound. He tries in vain to warm it up by playing as many songs as he can remember on it, but still nothing comes out. When he finally arrives at his destination, he takes his horn and hangs it up indoors. As it slowly warms up, it sounds several blasts and then plays every song he played, in the same order: the story concludes by saying that all the songs had frozen inside the horn, and when they thawed out they filled the house with music. There’s no moral, no lesson – just a little brush with the fantastical in everyday life (and it becomes even more magical when we remember that this story was told centuries before the invention of sound-recording technology!)

It was at this point that our time ran out, but here are some other questions I would have liked to consider.

Which fairytales speak to (or can be brought into dialogue with) lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex and queer understandings of self? Of the world? Which fairytales do you feel are most ‘ripe’ for queering? Or are they all fair game? As a genderqueer person I would have loved to further explore what sort of spaces for transgender and/or genderqueer perspectives can be carved within the domain of fairytales, which is a genre often invested in normative gender roles. (I have written a number of queer fairytales myself at this point – The Prince Who Loved A Monster and The Girl and the Mermaid are probably the queerest of my finished ones, although The Artist and the Bird has a protagonist who is never gendered in the narrative (and neither is their lover). I would also very much recommend Emma Donoghue’s book Kissing the Witch and The Mechanisms’ albums Once Upon A Time (In Space) to anyone looking for queer fairytales!)

How are fairytales racialised? Fairytales from the Germanic traditions we’ve been discussing seem particularly invested in a beauty standard that is very much about white womanhood (pale skin, and often golden hair). What might a race-critical (re)telling of Snow White or The Goose Girl look like? (In some versions of the Goose Girl, the pale skin and golden hair of the “true” princess are a sign of her royalty contrasted with her imposter servant who is supposed to be dark and ugly – a very problematic construct.) Does the word “fairytale” necessarily invoke this early European tradition? What sort of terms govern the discourse around fairytales in a more global setting? Is it erasing of non-European cultures to talk about “fairytales” when meaning only this European tradition, or is applying this term cross-culturally an act of imperialism? Or is it more complex than that? How have modern versions of fairytales, such as the Disney movies, engaged (or failed to engage) with race? What sort of racial dynamics get constructed? Tiana is the first black Disney princess – how does her portrayal compare with that of the other princesses of colour, Mulan, Jasmine, and Pocanhontas? How about the reception of these characters?

Can/should we define Disney fairytales as “reworkings” of fairytales? Or are they too conservative/sanitised to count? Is this a meaningless semantic difference?  Does something need to be subversive to be a “reworking”, or should it just be different? What do we think of the marketing of Disney’s female main characters under the “Disney princesses” umbrella? What about the backlash when Merida was “crowned” an official “Disney princess”, losing her bow and gaining a considerably more feminised appearance in the process? What sort of composite text is the ABC/Disney-owned series Once Upon A Time – particularly given that the character Mulan has been revealed to be bisexual? Would depiction of a queer woman of colour be possible in a mainstream Disney film – and if not, what makes Once Upon A Time different? Why are queer lives/sexualities not seen as child-appropriate? (And what (if anything) does it mean, with regards to a hierarchy of “acceptable” queerness, that Mulan has been written as a bi woman rather than a trans man or transmasculine person? Anecdotally, I know a number of people who read Mulan as trans, citing not just Mulan spending most of the film living as male, but the words of the song “Reflection“) In terms of non-Disney visual media – what about the trajectory of the Shrek franchise – has it lost its edge?

This blog entry has already reached quite a mammoth length, so I’ll end it here for now – but I’ll hopefully be posting some more things of interest soon, including a more organised list of interesting resources.

Autumn to winter

It’s been a while since I updated with what’s going on in my life, so – for anyone who might have been wondering – here comes an abridged account of the past few months. (I’d like to talk in more detail about many of the things below, but perfectionism means that I’ve been putting off posting anything until it’s just right, which means this blog has carried on being empty! So for the meantime, a whistle-stop tour of what’s been happening since August.)

Nine Worlds was an absolute blast – I was shattered by the end of it, but I had an amazing time. I spent most of my time in the Queer Fandom track, with forays into various others, and loved performing at the Bifröst cabaret. The “Better History = Better Fantasy: Writing Outside the Binary”  panel that I spoke in was an incredible experience: the audience, the chair (Alex Dally MacFarlane), and the other panellists (Koel Mukherjee and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz) were all bursting with information and enthusiasm, and the discussions sparked were so valuable. I took a lot of notes and really should write about this properly at some point, but, yeah, it was such an awesome space – and I was really pleased that even though this wasn’t a panel “about” race, the other two panellists were women of colour (because structural racism/sexism still exists in queer spaces, and definitely exists in SFF, and can only be addressed by empowering marginalised voices). I enjoyed every session I attended, was wowed by the beautiful things for sale in the vendors section, and briefly cosplayed as Queen Chrysalis. And the geeky disco was great. (Absurdly, I think a favourite moment was when I realised that every time I was a speaker (and one time I wasn’t), I had managed to get the room briefly and intensely angry about all the inherent misogyny in Steven Moffat’s oeuvre. Seriously, he’s all over British television right now, and there’s insidious sexism oozing out of everything he creates.)

If you’d like to read more about Nine Worlds right this minute (as opposed to waiting for me to write more, if I ever get round to it) there are some lovely reviews up on blogs Serenity Womble  and Ferretbrain – I’m linking to those because even though I didn’t go to all the same sessions as those bloggers did, their experiences and perspectives (as feminist and/or queer people who felt welcomed) are pretty close to mine. Oh, and following my talk in the Academia track about Margaret Cavendish as an early writer of (or precursor to) SFF, I was invited to contribute an article on this topic to the first issue of Holdfast Magazine: it’s available to read online here.

If Nine Worlds was intense, the Edinburgh Fringe was… well, perhaps a new word needs to be invented to describe how intense it was. I’d been in Lashings show-runs before (Oxford Fringe 2012 and 2013), so I’m used to them as distinct from our more variety-show style gigs; I’d stayed in the Edinburgh Lash-flat before (as a guest) so was prepared for the delightful ‘queer feminist vegetarian commune’ vibe of life there; however, combining the two for a week of performances was new and challenging, particularly as someone with unreliable health (I was unwell for quite a bit of my time there). The packed auditorium of radical queers on the last night was the perfect reward. As well as performing in the Lashings queer panto Fanny Whittington, I managed to do some poetry at Flea Circus‘s 3-day slam and Other Voices’s alternative spoken word cabaret, and saw some great shows (highlights included Sophia Walker’s poetry, Rachel Parris’ musical comedy, and Lisa Skye’s highly individual one-woman show Ladyboner).

My costume for Transpose as The Queer Agenda - a hand-lettered t-shirt (reading "To Do: - Feed cat - Buy soy milk - Smash heteropatriarchy and cissexism") and a rainbow bustle. I wore this with rainbow galaxy leggings!

My costume for Transpose as The Queer Agenda – a hand-lettered t-shirt and a rainbow bustle. I wore this with rainbow galaxy leggings!

Staying with the topic of performances, my absolute favourite thing the past few months was the Hallowe’en edition of Transpose. There were readings from Kat Gupta, Jacq Applebee, Sandra Alland and myself; films by and about trans disabled people (introduced by Sandra Alland, who was given funding to mentor them in making these films); and music from Squid and the Krakens (moonlighting as They Came From The Sea) and of course CN Lester. Everyone was, pardon the expletive, fucking brilliant – and €385 was raised for Transgender Equality Network Ireland. I also loved how creative the costumes were – CN came as the Gender Binary, which led to a number of similarly conceptual costumes such as the Lavender Menace (a superhero/ine in delicate shades of purple) and Fifty Shades of Grey (an all-grey outfit strung with housepaint colour sample sheets) . My costume was the Queer Agenda (see picture!) and there was also a contingent of Lashings villains: Dick and Osbourne from Fanny Whittington; and from Cinderella, the eeeeevil Baroness Scratcher and her son Boris (who, along with Dave, comprised the Snotty Stepbrothers). The auction was full of highly tempting items, including a year’s supply of CN’s baking (!!!) and a cross-stitched “Don’t be a dick” sign. Again, I really want to write more about everything, but for now – there’s an review of Transpose (written on Facebook by a long-time fan of the events) reproduced in CN’s link above: there’s also a review (with pictures!) on Jacq’s tumblr, and another review here.

At Transpose I read one of my fairytales, “The Mermaid’s Wish” – a response to the Andersen story, rather than a retitling of my other mermaid-related fairytale – and, honestly, I’m really proud of how it went. As I said in my post about Verse Kraken, I find it interesting that I’m moving away from my initial model of expressly not-doing responses/retellings to specific stories, in which I was more about making use of prevalent tropes/themes/motifs as “ingredients” for new stories. I think it’s partly because the more research I’m doing, the more I want to engage actively with specific source texts as well as the genre as a whole. (I also keep meaning to blog about what I’m researching  – maybe soon…)

Related to this, I’m doing a workshop on fairytales at the upcoming LaDIYfest Sheffield this Saturday. It’s an all-ages workshop (by request of the organisers), and will hopefully get people thinking about gender and sexuality in fairytales and even inspire them to get writing their own. I’m very excited to have been invited to do this, and am really looking forward to it. The whole event looks like it will be fantastic – check out the full workshop timetable here. (If I feel up to it before LaDIYfest, I’ll write a longer post about fairytales – and I’ll definitely try to write something on here summing up the workshop, as I imagine it will be really productive and interesting.)

And on the topic of workshops, I also facilitated a workshop about transgender representation in student media at the recent ULU Autumn Liberation conference, using as case studies pieces published in student media in the past few years. Unfortunately it was the day after I received news of a good friend’s death, so I didn’t manage to cover everything I’d hoped to do. The group were forgiving, though, and I hope it was still more valuable than if I’d simply dropped out.

I’m currently unwell again – apparently grief lowers your immune system – and so have been spending a lot of this month indoors  and at something of a low ebb. I’ll admit I’m scared that this could be a health relapse, even though I know it probably isn’t. Most of this post was drafted a few days ago – before I went to the third in the Trans Seminars series at the University of Warwick, and in further advance of LaDIYfest, which is now tomorrow! So, I’ll leave discussion of the seminar for another time, and finally post this entry. 😉 I hope you’re all well, friends and readers, and I’ll try to get into the swing of updating more regularly!

Transpose: London Pride Edition

This is another one of those flying updates along the lines of “hey, I’m doing some stuff – come see it!”

This Friday is the biggest and most packed Transpose yet – see above for details, and if you’re able to make it, then please do come along.

And while you’re checking out CN’s blog, there’s a lot of writing from me in the “Beyond the Binary” panel answers – we’re over half way through now…

a gentleman and a scholar

Transpose poster



Just in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid my constant chattering about this, I’d like to invite you (ever so cordially) to join us this Friday, June 28th, for the London Pride edition of Transpose. It’s everything that Transpose normally is, but BIGGER – but still for charity, and only £5 on the door.



We’re back in the gorgeous Cinema Museum with videos from My Genderation, storytelling from Roz Kaveney, Jacqueline Applebee and Hel Gurney, art and a videobooth from the Translations project, art from Claudia Moroni and Sara Moralo, poetry from Lyman Gamberton, AJ McKenna, Kat Gupta and Elaine O’Neill, and music from me and Wild. 



This time we’re raising funds for You Are Loved, the trans suicide prevention project – I don’t need to tell you how important that is. The more people through the…

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In the writ(h)ing tentacles of the Verse Kraken: fairytales, the Tempest, writing on skin

(Sorry for the title – I couldn’t resist…)

So, a lot has been going on for me lately, but in this blog I’m going to write about one exciting thing in particular – Verse Kraken.

Verse Kraken describes itself as a ‘journal of hybrid art’, and the first issue was launched on Thursday at an event in London. The editors, Tori Truslow and Claire Trévien also organised a three-day residential writing retreat, at which I had an absolutely amazing time (and wrote an incredible amount of fairytales).

So – first off – if you want to read the first issue of Verse Kraken, the online edition is here. Each issue collects responses to three ‘spurs’: in this instance, a silent film version of The Tempest, a short fairytale about a girl transformed into a fish, and a photograph of the heavily-tattooed Maud Wagner. Collaboration and hybrid forms are encouraged, and the use of spurs rather than a single theme allows a lot of variety (translation and adaptation are amazing things for creativity!) while also retaining some amount of cohesion. My own submission – a visual poem about how bodies and skin can be ‘read’ (and misread), inspired by the Wagner photograph – didn’t make the cut, but considering the high quality of the magazine, I don’t feel bad about that. (Although if anyone can think of another publication it might work for, please drop me a line!) At the launch, we also got to see the offline edition – rather than a traditional magazine format, it’s a little box of treasures, with text and image individually presented as tiny booklets and prints, and a CD with the audiovisual contributions. It’s a lovely way of organising the pieces – like the online hypertextual version, it allows the reader to browse without having a particular order dictated.

Dana Bubulj and me, with our ephemeral tattoos (and a rather nice shadow effect).

Dana Bubulj and me, with our ephemeral tattoos (and a rather nice shadow effect).

The launch event featured readings from the first issue, as well as some more interactive elements. James Webster offered temporary tattoos with kraken-themed fragments of poetry on them, which proved immensely popular by the end of the evening – see attached photo of me and Dana Bubulj showing off our newly-decorated skin! (I’m currently really interested in the poetics of skin, and writing-on-skin and art-on-skin as ways of changing how the body is read, so this was an unexpected treat for me! The temporary tattoo is still around, and last night at the FWSA Conference 2013 (where I was performing with Lashings) I had a few people wondering whether the words across my chest were ‘real’ or not! I’m sorry to have missed Claire O’Callaghan’s paper at the conference, as it sounded like it had interesting things to say about tattoos as ‘challenge’/ ‘provocation’ with regards to the male gaze… But anyway, I think a post about skin is something for another time!) The Verse Kraken launch also held an ‘ekphrastic poetry/art challenge’ with a physical copy of the first issue as a prize: audience members were invited to treat the readings as ‘spurs’ of their own, and spend the interval creating responses to them in a different form. I was very pleased to win this, with my response to James Webster and Dana Bubulj’s ‘Bound’ (a curse-poem about the imprisonment of Sycorax, based of course on the Tempest spur). For posterity, here’s the piece of five-minute flash-fiction that won me a box of kraken treasure:

My father said, “don’t go out at night. The wild woods on this isle would set you shrieking. The trees there whisper, tendril-torn, gnarled like ancient flesh. In one of them a witch sleeps.”

My father said, “the howling sobbing child you think you see is but a wraith. He is the substance of your bad dreams. But still, upon this isle, dreams may have teeth. Stay safe. Stay in the cave.”

My father said, “no need to touch the books. They are but dusty-dry sheafs of words that have nothing to tell you. Your grubby hands might stain them; and besides, they are not yours to read. I may show you some pictures if you are very good.”

My father said, “dear girl, if nothing else, you will be safe.”

All the words I knew were the ones he had stuffed into my mouth. But my dreams beyond language dragged me from my bed, our cave, the safe side of the isle. I awoke scrabbling at the roots of a crooked tree. My fingers ran with blood – nails torn, the bark bleeding too. In speech without words, the witch was calling me, and I would come.

I whispered to the knotted trunk, “I am here. Teach me.”

I didn’t give it a title at the time, but retroactively I think ‘Miranda’s Dream’ works as well as anything else. Like Webster, I’m very interested in the backstory of The Tempest – probably even more interested in it that the contents of the actual play! During my MA year I wrote a 15-minute script (in iambic pentameter!) which explored that backstory – it was going to be put on as part of the ‘Shakespearian Shorts’ show put on by the university drama society, but unfortunately cast illness prevented this from happening. The Tempest is definitely something I want to come back to, though – I think that looking at the interactions between Prospero/Miranda/Caliban/Ariel are really fruitful for thinking about the divide-and-conquer methods of kyriarchy. I’m very excited by Sophie Mayer and Jacqueline Wright’s film project, The Storm, which is coming out of their Verse Kraken piece ‘How To Curse’ – a lesbian Caliban! (Oh, and while we’re talking about female Calibans, here’s another recommendation: Kate Tempest, ‘What We Came After’. Kate Tempest is one of the first slam poets I ever saw, and I adore her work. This video is less loud and raw and ragged than her live performances – qualities which I absolutely love – but the poem remains incredible.)

So, now onto the other exciting Verse Kraken thing – the writer’s retreat. It was the first creative retreat I’d been on, and it was perfect. After a week containing my last days officially working on All About Trans, the debut performance of Fanny Whittington at the Oxford Fringe, speaking at ‘Being Ourselves’, and some high-intensity personal stuff – well, spending three days living in a quiet farmhouse with a small group of creative people was exactly what I needed. It was a perfect mixture of relaxing and hard-working: expressly having no job except from writing seems to be something that really works for me, so I’ll definitely be making an effort to set aside days/weekends again in future. The surroundings were utterly beautiful, the pool was surprisingly conducive to creativity (we all did a lot of thinking about mermaids…), and there was (in my opinion) exactly the right balance between structured workshop time and free time to relax or engage with our own projects. The workshops were very creative, encouraging us to engage with different senses, media, and sources – and there was also a weekend-long project that paired us randomly to work on collaborations. (I worked on a short and spooky screenplay with Jacqueline Wright, of the aforementioned lesbian Caliban project!) I’m unsure how much detail to go into about the workshops – I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone who might go on a future one! – but basically, it felt like the equivalent of a full MOT for my writing-brain, with its focus on unlocking as many different ways of being creative as possible.

I think the best thing that I’ve taken away from this retreat is the idea that I don’t need to just wait for inspiration to strike – it doesn’t need to be primarily bursts of late-night manic-creativity where I need to write this amazing idea down now now now – but rather, there’s a tonne of enjoyable ways of getting myself into the right mindset for writing other than those bolt-from-the-blue moments, and that inspiration can be taken from unlikely sources. Or perhaps, the best thing I’ve taken is the reminder that I can write passably good things very quickly – I hadn’t really written poetry or fiction on a tight time limit for years, and those moments of being put under time pressure in the workshops resulted in some things that I’m really quite proud of. (Had it not been for these workshops, I’m not sure how confident I would have been in my ability to write flash-fiction at the launch!)

While I don’t normally post my poetry online, I’m going to make an exception for this next one. In Claire’s workshop on form, we were asked to spend 10 minutes transposing a poem from one form to another. From the poems we were given, I chose Eaven Boland’s long free-verse poem ‘Amber’ – it’s a beautiful autumnal poem about mourning and loss, and it’s readable online at The Atlantic magazine – and adapted it into sonnet form.

This plastic gold which grieving trees once wept,

which I now hold, which in its heart is holding

the feathers, leaves, and seeds which have long slept:

is honeyed sunlight, slow-dripped and enfolding.

What reason knows: the dead have left the living.

Those who have passed shall not be seen again.

Clean gulps of air – the sky, bright and forgiving –

our meetings here have moved from ‘now’ to ‘then’.

Yet in the flawed translucence of the amber,

the ornament that you once passed to me –

the life that froze, the insects, vines that clamber –

all that which breathed and moved is there to see.

Though you are absent from this fine September,

I hold you as in amber, and remember.

Other fruit of the workshops included more poetry of various kinds, a map of my childhood imagination (that was a fun workshop!), some fragments of a short story, and the seed of an idea that became another mermaid-focused fairytale. Unlike ‘The Girl and the Mermaid’, this one – I’m calling it ‘The Mermaid’s Wish’ – is much more of a direct reply to (and deconstruction of) the famous Andersen tale, as well as being about embodiment and the often-coercive nature of gender roles. All of my free writing-time went on the fairytale collection – as well as ‘The Mermaid’s Wish’ I wrote two more stories (plus the collaboration with Jacqueline, which (given its subject) may well end up in the collection too). A bit of polishing after the retreat and I think they’re done – my fairytales project is growing, and I’m really excited about it.

So, basically – many thanks to Claire and Tori for their awesome work on Verse Kraken, which has been challenging and inspiring me (and many others) to new creative heights. Long may its inky tentacles continue to ensnare us. 😉

Flying update + last day to register for ‘Being Ourselves’

Hello, world!

A very quick thing – I’m speaking at ‘Being Ourselves’ in London next Saturday (June 1st), a free Albert Kennedy Trust event aimed at young trans and/or intersex people, and their friends and supporters. If you’d like to attend, today is the last day to register (which you can do by emailing with the subject line “Being Ourselves”).

As a more general update, the gloriously hectic month continues – I’ve been to #roles2013, #qfpraxis, #transseminars, and #troublinggender – all academic conferences to do with gender and/or sexuality, where I’ve listened to some fascinating ideas and research, delivered papers of my own, performed radical queer feminist burlesque twice, and (in one particularly surreal instance) heard a paper which examined my project The Cutlery Drawer as an example of the “cut-and-paste” and “DIY” nature of the trans music scene (which, the paper, concludes “isn’t”, in the same way that punk “isn’t”). On top of this, I’m continuing with my very exciting internship working on All About Trans with On Road Media, and am in rehearsals for the premiere of Lashings’ newest endeavour, queer lefty pantomime Fanny Whittington. Oh, and I’m still writing, of course.

If the long list of academic conferences above has whetted your appetite for hearing people talk about transgender and/or genderqueer things, then you’re in luck: the videos from the Spotlight on Genderqueer conference are now appearing online! The YouTube playlist currently has Zowie Davy’s keynote speech, my own talk ‘Approaching Genderqueer Historiography’, and James Hooper on anachronism and ‘transvestite monks’. (I am, of course, desperately wanting to go through the video and correct all the little slip-ups, as well as add back in five minutes’ worth of the material that I excised to be sure of coming within the time-limit – but as a good friend informs me, unchanging perfection is the death of creation, so I should be glad that there’s an imperfect talk of mine up on the internet. 😉 ) For anyone who is interested in my work on Woolf, the Prezi from my more detailed discussion of Woolf at ‘Troubling Gender’ is available here.

That’s all for now – see you on the other side! (And perhaps either at ‘Being Ourselves’, or the opening night of Fanny Whittington at the Oxford Fringe…)

Gig: March 23rd, London, The Feminist Library

In brief: I shall be performing a poetry set at the Feminist Library’s spoken word night on Saturday 23rd, at the Library itself (very near Waterloo station)!

Unless you happened to be at the NUS Women’s Conference the other week, my last live poetry performance was October. Having at last (hopefully) recovered from the last vestiges of my frustratingly-lingering illness, I’m aiming to get back into the live poetry scene as much as I can. (And I’m very pleased that shortly after making this resolution, I was invited to perform at this night and  this Thursday’s “Human Writes!” slam in aid of English PEN – unfortunately I can’t make the latter because I’m conferencing in Oxford until the evening, but if you’re able to be in East London on Thursday then it promises to be an excellent night.)

I’m excited to be performing again. I’m bringing out the loud, angry, feminist stuff – so unless there’s a clamour for them, don’t expect any of the more meditative things, or the translations… “Gender Rubble” will almost certainly appear, as will the latest version of a never-before-performed poem about words and rebellion.

Oh – and if you’re in Oxford this Monday, I’m planning to be at Hear the Word. Undecided on whether I’ll perform or not, but I’m looking forward to it either way!

More detailed updates coming soon – a write-up of NUS Women’s Conference, and some thoughts about fairytales (both in general, and with regards to my own project).

P.S. Another amazing event to which I (very sadly) can’t make it is happening TOMORROW: exciting feminist performance event including Rebecca Morden of Scary Little Girls, whose work I have loved for something like 4 years now. Go, go, go – and then tell me about how it went!

Weekend wondrousness: Nine Worlds party and ‘Transpose: Cinematic Edition’

So, last weekend was amazing. I went to two fantastic events in London – the Nine Worlds end-of-Kickstarter celebration, and the latest iteration of Transpose.

The Nine Worlds celebration was held in the same venue as the launch – a friendly warehouse crammed with sofas, mattresses, and rope lights, with table of donated drinks and snacks. The Kickstarter aimed to raise £10,000 – it ended up with over £23,000! I’m so excited about attending Nine Worlds, and it looks like I’ll be speaking about early science fiction there on one of the panels. I loved the convivial atmosphere, and left feeling like I’d made a lot of new friends – which is always a sign of a good evening. We were treated to a double-set from Oxford-based ‘space folk’ band The Mechanisms. The Mechanisms have a very special place in my heart – they played their last gig as ‘Dr. Carmilla and the Mechanisms’ at the first Transpose. After Dr. Carmilla left to pursue her solo career, they played their first gig as ‘The Mechanisms’ at the first ever Cutlery Drawer event, Moulin Rage. I’ve followed them with adoration and interest for a long while, and I’ve been proud to book them or share the stage with them at various events. At the Nine Worlds gig, they played a full run-through of their album Once Upon A Time (In Space) – which I’ve actually discussed at length in an essay about queerness and orality in modern fairytales – before playing the second ever run-through of their new album, Ulysses Dies At Dawn. They’re currently raising money via IndieGogo to produce a studio version, but you can have a listen on their website to the recording from the first live performance (which I was also at – and yes, it was fantastic). Where Once Upon A Time situates a number of altered fairy tales in an intergalactic war in the futuristic dystopian world of the Mechs, Ulysses Dies At Down revisions Greek myths and places them on a single planet, which has been taken over by a single sprawling city. I recommend both very highly.

On Sunday, there was Transpose: Cinematic Edition. It was absolutely incredible. I spent most of the evening either smiling so widely it was almost painful, or on the edge of crying, or both. It was held in the atmospheric Cinema Museum, which is fast establishing itself as a new hub of trans and queer culture, having hosted the album launch of night organiser CN Lester’s project ‘Dark Angels‘ and initiated a series of ‘Transculture‘ arts events. As befitting the venue, the ‘cinematic’ theme of the night meant that rather than the usual mix of music and spoken word, it was instead music and film. Jason Elvis Barker opened with two of his short films: one comparing his trans puberty with that of a younger cis male relative; one documenting his partner’s struggle with cancer and their attempts to conceive a baby. Both were raw, tender, and funny. Next up was a film from The Devotion Project – ‘a series of short films celebrating LGBTQ love ‘ – presented by Neil Young (who answered questions afterwards). It was a portrait of a heterosexual-appearing couple and their young child: only once their personalities and the loving, stable nature of their family had been established did we learn that the man was trans, the woman was bisexual, and both continued to consider themselves part of the queer community. It was incredibly sweet: and as I said at the time, it was wonderful to see documentary representations of trans people living their lives happily, and presented without sensationalism or fetishising. Finally, we saw three pieces created and presented by Fox and Lewis, who made their names on Channel 4 documentary ‘My Transsexual Summer’: firstly, the first two short episodes of a ‘catch-up’ show about the stars of MTS, and secondly, the first episode of their exciting new project ‘My Genderation‘. It was joyous and sad and beautiful and amazing – in particular the first episode of My Genderation, looking at the life of a trans guy in Brighton, was at once heartwrenching and hopeful.

And then there was the music. The immensely talented CN Lester played a set combining requests, classics from debut album Ashes, and two songs from the in-progress album Aether. I was honoured that the set commenced with my request – a slow, sad rendition of the wistful song ‘Between Us There Is Nothing‘, as written by Clive James and released by Pete Atkin. (Incidentally, I sometimes fear I am the only fan of Pete Atkin under 40: so please, check out his albums, they are pure lyrical brilliance.) The Ashes songs were beautiful as always, and the two new ones from Aether – well, I was almost in tears. The last act of the night was singer-songwriter Wild, who treated us to guitar music in the tradition of folk and blues: I’d never heard Wild sing before, but I was instantly converted into a fan.

Both Saturday and Sunday daytimes were spent working – rehearsing, writing, and plotting with Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, and writing and submitting an abstract and performance pitch for an academic conference. On the second note, I found out just this evening that they’ve both been accepted – so if you happen to be at the Troubling Gender conference in Sheffield, you’ll be able to hear me talking about Virginia Woolf and androgyny, and singing with Lashings of Ginger Beer Time about our usual range of queer-feminist topics. (I’ve just made an Academia page for this blog in celebration, as I’ve now got four conference papers to my name!)

So that was my weekend. It was bloody brilliant. And in the process of just describing the things that were on stage, believe me that I haven’t properly captured the warmth and friendliness and general wondrousness of both events: old friends, new friends, friends I’d not seen in years, people I’d heard of, people who’d heard of me (?!), all in a dreamy melting-pot of camaraderie. I do love socialising in London. Stay tuned for more on my incredibly busy week – attending NUS Women’s Conference and giving a talk on the history of the interaction between trans and feminist discourse at Sussex University…