To Bigger, Brighter Things! The CW Class of 2017

On Tuesday the 4th of April, the third year class of the University of Winchester’s Creative Writing programme all gathered together for an evening of celebration, smiles and prizes!

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend part of the evening and hear some of the performances given by the students. Short stories, poetry and non-fiction – the variety and quality blew me away and exhibited, once again, the diversity and range of the students at the University. I was able to also see the first batch of prizes that were given out for excellence in different areas of the course, including script writing for mainstream television, and fiction.

During a brief break, where were given the chance to refill our drinks, there was also a little quiz given out – with us (the lecturers!) as the subject. Students were asked to identify, from a list, which book we wished we’d written, which book we’d read forever, and what the title of our own books would be! Needless to say, as I meandered about about under the guise of photographer, I was able to take a peek at some of their answers, curious to see who they really think we are.

Unfortunately I was not able to stay for the duration of the evening, however I am confident when I say it was a roaring success. The Creative Writing class of 2017 should be proud of themselves and everything they’ve achieved. I wish them all the best as they venture out into the world to bigger, brighter things…

Or just stick around at the University, like I did.

diverse-fairy-tale-project

Mag Mell Publishing is currently looking for authors to contribute to our Diverse Fairy Tale Project!

What is the Diverse Fairy Tale Project?

From 2017, Mag Mell Publishing will be putting together our own anthology of our favourite Fairy Tales. The twist—the project is all about diversity. We’re looking for new, fresh versions of these popular stories that will represent minorities – including having POC and/or LGBTQA+ main characters.

We are particularly interested in hearing from minority authors who would be interested in contributing a short story between 3,000-8,000 words. Authors will be paid between £10-£20 ($12-$24) per story.

This would be a Kickstarter funded project. Authors would not be expected to undertake any work until funding and payment was guaranteed for them.

To get involved, or find out more about the project,visit our webpage here!

COLOURING COMPETITION

YES! THAT’S RIGHT – YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY

To celebrate the re-release of The Sons of Thestian, I will be holding a colouring competition between October and November 20th.

image

A small series of Harmatia Cycle art (Including above designs by Amelia Mackenzie) will be released, and you will have the opportunity to colour the images. Entries can be done digitally, or printed out and coloured traditionally! What’s more, there are no limit to the number of entries permitted, meaning you can colour all the images if you want, or even do the same one twice!

There will be a number of prizes available, and top entries will be featured on my website and on my tumblr.

For more details about the prizes, and how to enter, please check back to my website in October, or subscribe to my newsletter and have all the details and download links sent straight to your inbox at the beginning of the month!

THE HARMATIA CYCLE – PUBLISHING NEWS

Hello my wonderful readers!

I have some very important news for you all. Last night, my Publisher The Zharmae Publishing Press announced that they would be closing down. As of the 31st of August, The Sons of Thestian will no longer be available for purchase.

The news came suddenly, but fortunately I have a back-up plan, which I will now be implementing.

For those of you waiting for Blood of the Delphi, it is still going to be released! I have decided to self-publish my work, and though I may have to push the publishing date (possibly to December), I am going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure that the book is released this year!

What’s more, I will be publishing the 2nd Edition of The Sons of Thestian hopefully at the same time, for any who want a new, matching set.
I will be working on making sure the prices for the books are lower, that the quality is higher, and that they are more easily available for anyone who wants to read them.

As I try to sort through this process and get everything together, I
cannot guarantee that there won’t be further delays. These delays are as frustrating for me, as they are for you, and I hope you will all be patient with me. Your readership, your support, is incredibly important to me, and I want you all to know how much I appreciate it and your loyalty.

I hope you will continue to support me, and my work. I will post updates as regularly as I can, and the moment I have more information, I will make it available.

In the meantime, you can expect the following from me:
1) I will be publishing a short-story with the Random Writers this September. This is a short based on my next project The Kestrel Saga, and I am incredibly excited to share it. More details to follow.
2) I will be releasing images for the Cover-art for Blood of the Delphi, and will be commissioning new matching cover-art for The Sons of Thestian, which will also be released soon.
3) I will be working on designs for merchandise, and other nick-knacks for any fans who may be interested (Message me, and tell me what you’d like! – Notebooks? Stickers? Badges? Posters?)

I am, as always, open to any questions or queries, and will remain highly active in the coming months. I will be seeking the advice of other writers who have gone down this path, and will be doing my upmost to get it all right and perfect for you guys.

Again, I ask your patience during this time, your continued support and thank you for everything you’ve done so far. I have some exciting plans for the future, and I hope you’ll all be there to see me realise them!

In the meantime, if you would like to keep track of what’s happening, please show your support by subscribing to my monthly newsletter here!

Many thanks everyone!

Creating Loki – Writing for Video Games

I wrote the following article as part of a series for Enigmatic Studios to promote our upcoming game A Tale of Three – Loki. The original posting can be found here.

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Loki began, as so many characters and stories do, with a question. It was a question about the qualities I felt most represented me as an individual, and about which of those, if I found myself bound into a fictional universe and dosed in magical juju, would define me.

The answer of course, was story-telling. It’s just what I do. And that’s where Loki began.

I feel it worth stressing here that Loki is not, and has never been, just another version of me. She was merely born of a part of me that allowed me and my associates to fill her out and create the world around her. Before we knew anything else about Loki, even before we knew her name, and the world she came from, we understood a fundamental aspect of her: she was a story-teller like all of us. And from there, the rest of it all grew.

The decision to name our bard Loki was based on two elements. The first was the Nordic setting we decided to focus on, feeling that this was the best place to put our bard, and let her flourish. The second was the fact that Loki was a bard, and there is no greater weaver of lies and stories in Norse Mythology, than the mischievous Loki, of whom I have studied for years. Now Loki (the god), has always been of interest to me, not least because of his interpretations in modern fiction – I’m looking at you Marvel – and because of the general understanding of him as a villain. I, personally, have always understood Loki (the god) differently. He – or she, as Loki lived several lives and was want to switch genders and, occasionally, species – was someone who had a greater understanding of humanity than the rest of the Asgardians put together. He lived several lives as a human, going through cycles, living amongst them, weaving tales and spreading mythology, being child, mother and then grandmother. Loki’s purpose, as I saw it, was to be a bridge between the worlds, and to bring the lofty Asgardians down from their high-horses and remind them always of their own mortality and infallibility. He insulted them, he tricked them, he mocked them, and ultimately he destroyed them.

Our Loki, thus, came from a similar mold. Whilst not a god, we chose to make her a Mage, able to use her voice to hypnotise and control, as any good story-teller strives to do in captivating their audience. And just like the god she was named after, Loki too once stood among the powerful and great, and left their lofty halls to live a simple life among humanity, weaving tales. We also gave Loki the same flaws as the god, which is that whilst she is capable, and almost designed to topple the tyrants, she stands the risk of forgetting, or disregarding her own mortality in the process.

And thus, we had Loki’s background, her personality and a basis for the world she lived in. We knew who she was. And that led us to our next question:

If Loki was now living a life of peace, pursuing her passion of storytelling, then what could bring her back into the fray of danger?

The answer to that, well…We got the plot to our game.


 

To find out more about Loki, and the game, why not follow us on facebook, or find more articles from our coders, writers and artists on blogspot!

The Witches of Macbeth: Echoes of the Ancient Faerie

“When shall we three meet again / In thunder, lightening or in rain?”

 (W.Shakespeare – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Macbeth 1.1, page 858, lines 1-2)

The Witches of Macbeth are recognised throughout the Western World as an archetype which has been popularised over centuries, spawning dozens of interpretations, spin-offs and reincarnations in production and literature. Even Harry Potter, which recreates witches in a benevolent light, referenced Macbeth in its third movie The Prisoner of Azkaban, using the spell from act 3, scene 1 for the song ‘Double Trouble’.

Needless to say, we are all very familiar with these characters, who struck such terror into the heart of King James I that he banned the play for five years after first watching it.  It is possible, however, that these well-known characters are actually echoes of much older figures in mythology. The play’s Scottish setting, as well as certain passages, lends itself to the idea that Shakespeare’s Witches may actually be faeries in disguise.  Through an analysis of imagery, historical context, and the evolution of mythology, we can begin to uncover the source materials that Shakespeare may have drawn from when writing his famous play.

              …plays on magic suddenly became of vital concern in the 1580s and continued to be such a compelling subject on the stage until 1620s…the interest in plays about magic also correlates directly with a resurgence of pamphlet literature on alchemy and other Hermetic subjects, as well as with an increase in the number of works published on mathematics, applied science, and Paracelsian medicine…

              (J.S. Mebane – Renaissance Magic & the Return of the Golden Age, page 6, lines 12-20).

Macbeth was written in 1606, during a time of great innovation. The previous Tudor reign had left England in a state of flux with a lot of churning religious politics, and many free-thinkers were beginning to emerge. Similar to the Victorian era which also boasted a rapid progression in industry, both periods saw a rekindled interest in mythology and magic, which is reflected in their literature.

Previous to Macbeth, between 1590 and 1594, Edmund Spencer published a poem called The Faerie Queen. The poem earned him high favour in the court, due to it being in part an appraisal of Queen Elizabeth I, whom the poem alluded to being a descendent of King Arthur. The appropriation of the Arthurian mythos into the Tudor family was not only designed to flatter, but also emphasised the ideal of the Tudors’ divine ruling right. King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I’s father, made a claim on King Arthur himself by commissioning the painting of the Winchester Round Table. The table, believed at the time to be the original of legend, was painted with an effigy of King Arthur based on King Henry VIII.

The Faerie Queen also featured Elizabeth I as a parallel of Gloriana, the Faerie Queen herself.  Previous to this, the word ‘faerie’ was actually used to describe the place in Celtic mythology where supernatural beings resided, rather than the beings themselves. The term faerie then, as it was used by Spencer, was a modern appropriation that allowed him to reshape the image of legendary figures such as the sidhe into more appropriate, Christianised figures. Just as with Henry VIII’s claim on King Arthur, faeries and folk-lore were being evolved and shaped into a literary tool in which to spread the ‘right’ ideals to the English public. For example; in Act 1, scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio’s passing speech about ‘Queen Mab’ states:

O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream
              Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues 
              Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are: 

               (W. Shakespeare – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Rome & Juliet 1.4, page 251, lines 76-81)

Mab, who brings young lovers pleasant dreams of kissing, will then punish women for these unchaste desires. She will help women, however, in doing their wifely duty and ‘bearing the load’ of their husbands. This is more a reflection of a Christian male agenda, than one of original faerie disposition. Faeries in mythology were usually more likely to punish lechery in men, than in women.

Data recorded by Alan Macfarlane for his book Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, revealed that in correlation with the public’s renewed interest in magic, 1560 to 1650 also saw a rapid rise in the number of witch trials in Britain. Witches, who were believed to be in commune with the Devil, could be blamed for any number of things, including storms, illness and death in the family.

The number of Witch Trials peaked under James I, who succeeded Elizabeth in 1603. James, who instigated the North Berwick Witch Trials, where several ‘witches’ confessed under extreme duress, considered himself to be an expert in the subject. His book, Demonology, contains precise instructions on the hunting, and appropriate tortures for witches. James’s paranoia about witches led him to pass a new Witchcraft Act in 1604 which made the summoning of spirits punishable by death. His obsession, according to James Sharpe in his work Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1559-1759, may have also prompted the trial of the Lancashire Witches, orchestrated by local magistrates keen to earn the King’s favour.

The fear of conspiracy, renewed by the infamous Catholic gun-powder plot, and the public’s obsession with witches, gave Shakespeare the perfect setting for Macbeth. In it, he combined these two elements to create the ultimate drama for his audience. The Witches’ characters however were defined by another characteristic which made them pariahs in the eyes of the Shakespearian audience. It is this aspect which encourages the school of thought that the Witches may be faeries in disguise.

At this time, there were two popular images of the faerie, both of which feature in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. One was of a small, mischievous creature, like Puck who was almost always androgynous or male, and the other was the elegant, courtly faeries like Oberon and Titania. Rather than be based in mythology, the Courtly Faeries were a reflection of the Tudor and Stuart Courts, and therefore they reflected the suppression of women during this era. Women, both faerie and real alike, were summarised by their beauty and their virtue. Those found lacking in these qualities would often be condemned, regardless of status.

The Witches of Macbeth were different. They were not beautiful, they were not virtuous, and they possessed great power onto themselves which they used as they wished. On the one occasion they bow to a higher power, it is not to the masculine figure of the Devil, but instead to the goddess Hecate. This female empowerment would have been all the more baffling in the male-centric Stuart Court. Indeed, Sir Anthony Weldon, in his The Court and Character of King James, remarked of James I that he actually ‘hated women’. The strength of this statement, though made in regards to James’s sexuality, does seem to imply that his disregard went beyond preference. He, and his court, would have no doubt felt intimidated and undermined by this ‘unnatural’ reversal of power in a patriarchal society.

This empowerment is not the only aspect of the Witches which echoes the original faeries of mythology. The Witches’ behaviour can be closely compared with a Breton faerie known as a ‘Korrigan’. The Korrigans, in Breton Folk-lore were water spirits often attributed with the power of fore-sight. They enjoyed kidnapping children, had an immoral disposition, and like many faeries possessed a predilection for meddling. Described to be ugly, red-eyed and wrinkly when seen in daylight, they also had a connection with the ancient Celtic religion.

       What distinguishes the Breton version is their association, in oral folk-lore, with ancient worshipers of earth goddess or with women druids, from whom the korrigans are said to be descended.

              (P. Monaghan – The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore, p. 275, lines 25-29)

It can be logically proposed then that the Witches could be korrigans themselves, the priestesses of an ancient religion that predated Christianity. The setting choice to include Hecate rather than use the Devil favours this idea. This distinction separates the Witches from Christianity not by aligning them with the Devil, but by connecting them to a much older religion.

Historically, the repression of the Celtic tradition in the British Isles was done through the demonization of beliefs. Druids, who were the academics and spiritual teachers of Celtic society, were diminished to the role of conjurer or mage. The old Celtic Gods became the faeries of mythology, and some traditions even merged the religions by stating that faeries themselves were fallen angels. As the Celtic people faded into history, their gods and beliefs, which Christianity demonised, were appropriated.  But the domestication of these old gods, retitled by Spencer as faeries, left a power vacuum, which witches subsequently occupied. This may be why Shakespeare chose, knowingly or not, to refer to his characters as ‘witches’ rather than ‘faeries’, even though they demonstrate typical faerie behaviour.

The inclusion of Hecate gives another strong connection between the Witches and faeries. Hecate, who originated from Greek mythology, holds no place in the Celtic Tradition. However, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, he created a link between faeries and the Greek gods by setting his play in Athens, and including mentions of the goddess Diana. Macbeth, in contrast, is obviously set in Scotland, but the renaming of Celtic Gods with Roman or Greek equivalents was a regular practise in writing. Julius Caesar himself, in describing the Celts during his invasion of Gaul, used the names of his own gods when referring to their beliefs.

The avid suppression of the Celtic lifestyle, meant that Shakespeare’s English audience were likely to be far more acquainted with the Roman and Greek gods, than the Celtic ones. Hecate would be better known to the English public, than Morrigan, who is likely to be Hecate’s equivalent in the play.

Morrigan, who is a prominent figure in both the Mythological and Ulster Cycles of Irish Mythology, is a complex character. In some versions of the mythology, she is one of three sisters who together make up aspects of a war goddess, whilst in others the Morrigan is onto itself a trio of the three sisters called Badh, Macha and Nemain. Interestingly, and straight away, we are given this theme of ‘three’ which reoccurs in Macbeth. Now, some arguments claim that Hecate was a late edition to the play that Shakespeare did not include. Even if this is so, the Witches could, in their set of three, still represent the Morrigan themselves.

In Irish Lore, the Morrigan was often considered as the goddess of war. She could foretell deaths, transform into various shapes, and could influence the direction of a battle by giving courage, or striking fear into the hearts of her enemies. She also had a strong connection with the earth and the underworld. If we disregard the Witches’ ability to conjure storms, which was a reference to the aforementioned North Berwick Witch Trials conducted by James I in the belief that witches sent storms to sink his boat, the rest of their abilities are highly in-keeping with Morrigan.

All of the Witches predictions to Macbeth are predictions of death. Their prophecy that he will be Thane of Cawdor, and then King is based on the capture and impending death of the previous Thane, and the future death of Duncun. The Witches also, through their influencing of Macbeth, would withhold and twist information, but always told the truth. This is not in keeping with the perception of witches in Shakespearian society, who were regarded as notorious liars. It does, however, ring similar with the Morrigan who, as one of the Tuatha de Danaan, could not lie. The inability to lie is a common theme in mythology with the sidhe and other faeries too.

There remains one final key factor to the theory that the Witches of Macbeth may be faeries or Celtic Priestesses in disguise, and that is that at only one point in the play, outside of the stage-directions, are they ever referred to as witches at all. This happens early in the play, when the First Witch recounts a conversation she had with a woman, who refused her chestnuts and called her a ‘Witch’.

  ‘Aroint thee, witch!’ the rump-fed ronyon cries

 (W.Shakespeare – The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Macbeth 1.3, page 869, line 6)

Considering the associated risk and repercussions, it is unlikely that a woman would knowingly deny and anger a witch. As such, her usage of the word ‘witch’ may have only been intended as an insult, rather than a direct label. If this is the case, than she could not have called her a ‘faerie’, simply because the audiences would associate that with beauty and virtue. Beyond this singular usage of the word, there are few indications in the dialogue that the ‘weird sisters’ as they are more commonly called, are witches at all.

Whether Shakespeare wrote the Witches as faeries and then substituted the names to pander to the King, or whether he too was a victim of the amalgamation of mythologies and superstitions around him, we can never know.  Of one thing however we can be certain: the Witches of Macbeth are timeless figures who have existed in one form or another for thousands of years. And as long as they resonate with our fear of the unknown and the unnatural, they will continue to exist among us in the darkest hollows of our literature and our myths.

 

REFERENCES

 

BOOKS:

Macfarlane A. 1970. Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A Regional and Comparative Study. Harper & Row

MacKillop J. 1998. Dictionary of Celtic mythology. Oxford University Press.

Mebane J. 1989. Renaissance Magic & The Return of the Golden Age. University of Nebraska Press

Monaghan P. 2004.  The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. Infobase Publishing

Shakespeare W. 1994. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (First Published 1623 by Edward Blount, and William and Isaac Jaggard) Barnes & Nobles, Inc.

Sharpe J. 1996. Instruments of Darkness: Witchcraft in England, 1559-1759. Hamish Hamilton

Spender E. 2008. The Faerie Queen (First Published in two parts in 1590 and 1594) Hackett Publishing Co, Inc

Stuart J. 2008. Demonology (First Published 1597 by King James VI of Scotland) Forgotten Books

Weldon A. 2009. The Court and Character of King James (First Published by R.I. in 1650) Kessinger Publisher

ONLINE:

Caesar J. 1994.  Commentarii de Bello Gallio: Commentaries on the Gallic War (First Published by Julius Caesar 58-49 BC) translated by W.A. McDevitte, W.A. and W.S. Bohn. [Online] [Accessed 20 November, 2015] Available from:
http://classics.mit.edu/Caesar/gallic.html

FILMS: 

Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban. (2004) directed by lfonso Cuarón [Film] USA: Warner Bros

 

This article was originally published in the 2016 British Fantasy Society Journal, Issue 15 edited by Allen Stroud.
Find out more about the BFS at http://www.britishfantasysociety.co.uk

Me, God and the Atheists

A Catholic and an Atheist walk into a bar. Ok, no, scratch that. A Catholic and an Atheist walk into a party. The Catholic is dressed as a clown, the Atheist as a French Onion Seller. By the end of the night, the Atheist has the Catholic’s phone number, and few years later they’re married.

There’s no joke here, though all the elements are pretty much there. The Catholic and the Atheist come to know each other Biblically, or, Biologically if you prefer. Over the course of two years, two children pop out. Cute little half-breeds – Atheist/Catholic, Atholics-Catheists, a veritable yin-yang of contradictions and belief, existing harmoniously. The Atheist agrees the children will be raised Catholic. The Catholic agrees that the children will be given the choice of whether to stick to the faith.

The Atholic-Catheists grow up. They experiment with their beliefs. They question. They exist in a pleasant between that constantly shifts.

And then, the Catholic gets sick and dies.

And that’s where we are now.

Incase any of you aren’t very good at guessing, I was one such Atholic-Catheist, my father the devout Athiest, and my mother the sceptical Catholic. And this post is about my very personal relationship with God and the Atheists. (There’s a band-name in there)

When people ask me now a-days how I would define my belief, I am usually quite unwilling to respond. My reasoning for this is that I have a deep-seated fear of fundamentalists on either side of the spectrum. Perhaps the advantage of being raised by a lukewarm Catholic and an Atheist who enjoys Church music, is that I never had to pick a side, because there was always a middle ground.

I am suspicious of anyone who is 100% certain of anything because, as Obi-Wan put it, only Siths deal in absolutes. And because I’m a John Mill girl, personally, and I believe that we should be willing to question everything. Blind faith, in whatever form, is utterly abhorrent to me, and it makes my flesh crawl.

Until recently however, it wasn’t something I paid much mind too. Depending on the company, I defined myself differently, willing to play Devil’s Advocate and challenge conceptions. Since the loss of my mother however, I have learnt to keep a tight lid on my spiritual beliefs. And this is because of the ugly habit fundamentals have of attempting to use my grief and bereavement as a recruitment tool. I don’t know, maybe they get a ‘Faith-Miles’ for every person they convert.

I remember the moment it became clear to me why I was so uneasy with people telling me my mother’s death was part of God’s plan. You see, nothing could endear me less to a God than the idea that the entity of whom I should rely and pay homage to was actually directly responsible for the loss of my mother. Why on earth should that make me feel better? I’ve just been told I have to worship an invisible asshole, who sits on his ass, picking off people by the millions and leaving us to suffer and guess as to why.

I was always more comforted by the idea that God did exist, but that he had no control over us in our earthly lives. He was just there to listen, to understand, and to welcome us when we died. Like a benevolent pen-friend we’ve spoken to for years, coming to pick us up at the airport. Except there’s no return ticket. The pen-friend kidnaps you, gives you a harp and puts you on a cloud to chill for eternity. Awkward.

Atheists, as it turns out, aren’t much better at the comforting thing. I can’t talk to them about my uncertainty of the whole “God’s Plan Malarkey” without incurring a torrent of cynical, self-satisfied mockery about the baseness of the belief and its ludicrousness. (Because sure, comfort me about my dead mother by insulting her, and what she believed: that’s smart). For all their criticism of religion, I’ve never met a fundamental atheist who hasn’t acted like he’s an elite member of a ‘Chosen people’, going out into the world and leaving debasing comments on religious posts like an inverse-missionary, spreading the word of science.

“You’re right, of course Madeleine,” they say, “There is no plan. There is no God. When we die, that’s it. We are extinguished from this earth. Worms eat us. Or crazy grandchildren keep us in a pot on their mantelpiece. End of.”

Thanks guys. Great. Fucking. Comfort.

I know what you’re thinking at this point – Madeleine, you can’t live as a contradiction for the rest of your life, becoming more Atheist in the company of Christians, and more Christian in the company of Atheists, but currently I don’t see a way around it. I want the comfort of Catholicism without having to associate with a misogynistic, militant pedo-ring and their Machiavellian God, and I want the empirical nature of atheism without having to join the smug-club and their ‘hope you enjoyed the last few months with your mother, cus you’re never going to see her again’ attitude.

I don’t want to call myself an Atheist, but the day my mother died, I was no longer a Catholic. And it wasn’t because I was angry at God. It was because she was my link, my connection to the crazy bastard, and when she went, there was nothing in me any more to believe in him. Maybe I stopped believing in him a long time ago.

So where do I stand? Agnostic? Pagan? Spiritual? Where do you go after living 22 years as an Atholic-Catheist, only to lose the Catheist?

I think the worse problem is that there’s no answer to these questions which isn’t religious, and apparently I’m thoroughly allergic to those. It’s no good telling me that she’s with God, because I won’t believe you and it’ll just be uncomfortable, and it’s no good telling me that she lives on inside of me and my recollections of her, because that’s not good enough.

At the end of the day, I keep my religious belief to myself because I am un-swayed. I live in perpetual flux. I am a rambler of religions, a tourist of spirituality, and if anyone tries to – however kindly – impose any one ‘right’ answer onto me, I will run a mile, screaming the other way.

“But then Madeleine, what do we say when you’re upset? What do we do to comfort you when you come to us, desperate for answers?” they ask.

I don’t know. How about shut up, and give me a hug?

Before I’m Twenty-Five

Time, when you’re young, tends to give you the impression of being endless. At five years old, an hour feels close to a day, and a year is practically a century. Being asked ‘what did you do over your holiday’ is the adult equivalent of ‘where were you at 5:45 pm on the 12th of February 1996?’

My point is that even when you’re ten years old, life doesn’t seem to go that quick, and it feels like you’ve got all the time in the world to figure everything out.
In my case, ten year old me had some very exact ideas about what I was going to have achieved by the time I was twenty-five. Twenty-five, to me, was the pinnacle of adulthood. By twenty-five, I was going to be famous, be married, have children, a house of my own, and adoring fans, and then I’d have plenty of time afterwards to enjoy it all in luxury.

Well, I’m twenty-three now, and my ten year old self is still tapping her foot, waiting on a lot of things. Apparently, in order to fulfil myself, I have one hell of a busy schedule to catch up on in the next two years.

It may seem silly to some readers, especially anyone older than me, but you have to understand that from my perspective twenty-three is the oldest I’ve ever been, and that the ten year old inside of me is incredibly demanding. Call me idealistic or foolish, but the self-expectancy I placed on myself from a young age has never really gone away, and even though a lot of my goals have changed, I still have that internal list of ‘Things to do before I’m twenty-five.’

A part of me wishes that I could go back in time, and talk to my little self, and explain how things are going to work out. Talk to her about fighting with depression, and bereavement, and the hours spent struggling not to let my dyslexia rule what I could or couldn’t do. I wish I could go back and say, ‘You’re going to make some really stupid mistakes’ and then assure little me that these weren’t a ‘waste of time’ but rather a lesson in how to use it better.

Mostly, if I could go back in time and talk to anybody about my ‘list’ it would be my mother. Because, let’s be honest, little me would nod at everything I told her and take none of it in, because little me is a ten-year old with no perspective of time, and high expectations of herself.

For a majority of my life I was under the impression that my mother wasn’t a great achiever. I don’t mean this in a rude way: she built and cared for our family, and I thought she was invincible, and amazing, and strong. But she wasn’t a movie star, or a big business woman, or any of the other qualities that we place so much importance on in our society. She was just my Mum.

It was only in the last few years of her life, that I really got to talking to her about what she did do with her life. And it was only after her death a year ago that I started bubbling with even more questions about the adventures she went though, and what she achieved.
This was a woman who could speak several languages, was highly educated, with a degree and masters-equivilant from a very prestigious French University. Even the fact she could speak English so fluently should have flabbergasted me, seeing as there wasn’t a drop of English blood in her body. These things never occurred me growing up.

My mother was a woman who had a long line of qualifications under her belt. She went through a number of different jobs, had skills in writing, admin, language, geography and teaching. She could sing, and dance, and my God, but could she throw a great party!
By the time she was my age, she had only just met my Dad. She was studying in the Lake District, taking a year out from France. She ended up marrying the strange Englishman she met at the fancy dress party, and then spent several years on an adventure, travelling and seeing the world.

If we regard achievements as the amount of stories you have to tell at the end of the day, than my mother had one hell of a life.

I wish I could talk to her about it, I wish she could talk me through this transitional period as I try to be both the person I wanted when I was ten, and try to be more realistic with myself. If she was around, my mother would probably scoff at me for my feelings of disappointment and self-doubt. I think the first thing she’d do was remind me of all the things I have achieved.

You see, the list of things to do before you’re twenty-five is always growing. As my life takes me down new and unexpected routes, there are going to be some things on the list that no longer stand for who I am, and others that need to be added.

Ten year old me would have never dreamed that I’d earn a black belt in Karate by the time I was eighteen. Or that I’d get a music scholarship to my University, and start directing my own choir, and writing original music. She wouldn’t have guessed that I would be accepted for a PhD, or that I would start lecturing the year after.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that alot of us have a screaming ten-year old in our head that tells us what we should have done by the time we hit a certain marker, but when that voices gets too loud its good to remind yourself of the things you have done. Because at the end of the day, that ten year old has no perspective of the trails and tribulations you’re going to go through, and whilst they can be a good motivator, they have no right to bully you.

Life is not a checklist of things you need to tick in order. Life is a bunch of stories and experiences, some of which come at the worst possible time, and from the least likely places.

So with that in mind, here’s my list of things to do before I’m twenty-five:
1)      Do the best I damn well can
2)      Write a new list for ‘30’