My Top 10 Books of 2017

It has become tradition at this time of year – well, I did it last year, and I’m doing it again this – for me to tell you my top 10 favourite books of the year.

 

There are literally hundreds of books published every week, and that’s just those from James Patterson, so the thirty or so books I’ve ready this year don’t even cut a small dent in that pile.

 

I like to think that I have some expertise at picking out good books, the cream of that large crop, so this stuff here really should be the creamiest cream at the top of the croppiest crop. I’ve possibly let that analogy run away with me.

 

In November, I ran a tournament on Twitter to find the best book of 2017 – Now, Twitter wouldn’t let me vote in my own poll, so this is where I get my say.

 

Matt Haig won with How to Stop Time while Adam Kay came second with This is Going to Hurt – will they appear in my Top 10 (Spoiler: They do) and if so, where will they appear?

 

There’s only one way to find out.

 

=10. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth – Frank Cottrell Boyce

 

Each time I read a book, I record a score out of ten across various categories – at the end of the year, I sort that list and present it in reverse order here. The list is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.

 

Sputnik – a book for kids – is a slightly surprising entry to the list, but the truth is, this story is a fun romp (I got to use the word “romp” in my original review and dammit, I’m using it again now), it’s a little cartoonish in place, but it tells a nice tale with more than a hint of pathos.

 

=10. Animal – Sara Pascoe

 

Coming in in joint tenth position, and therefore making this year’s list a Top 11, is Sara Pascoe with her autobiography of what it means to be a woman. Not only did I learn more about the female body than I ever cared to, but her powerful chapter on consent takes on a new relevance following recent news stories…

 

9. Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks

 

Who knew the man could write as well as everything else he can do? This anthology of short stories from THE Tom Hanks is a great collection of tales all loosely connected by, of all things, typewriters. Crossing genres and time periods, these are nice bursts of fiction for everyone.

 

8. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

 

I read this one late last December, and it immediately jumped to the top of my ‘one to watch’ list for 2017, staying there for some time. Schmidt takes the familiar – or indeed, not so familiar – tale of Lizzie Borden and transplants the reader right into that creep house in Massachusetts. The writing is so vivid, so visceral you can actually feel the thickness of the air as you read. Definitely one of the best books of recent times.

 

=5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

 

This one stays with you. And not just me – it made it to the semi finals of the twitter tournament. The character of Eleanor Oliphant is bizarre, unique. She stands out for being a one-off, but in a way, she is so easily identifiable. We are all outsiders looking to connect, but Eleanor’s tale quickly veers from quirky to tragic, and takes the unsuspecting reader along with it.

 

Despite that, I will remember this book mostly because every time I try to write about it, every autocorrect known to man wants to call it Eleanor Elephant.

 

=5. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

 

The second of three books in joint fifth position is the runner up of our twitter vote. This often hilarious insight into the life of a junior doctor gives the reader a fresh perspective of a job coloured by what we see on the news and on Holby City. Like many of the other books on the list, the serious turn at the end packs a real punch.

 

There’s also a fucking fuckload of swearing in it.

 

=5. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

 

One of the books I’ve not stopped banging on about this year, and the winner of our twitter poll makes it to (joint) fifth in my personal top 10. I said during the poll that I couldn’t pick between this and Adam Kay, so I’m mildly amused to discover I scored them exactly the same.

 

How To Stop Time takes a corker of a concept – a man who ages at a much slower rate than the rest of us – he’s four hundred, looks forty – and runs with it, using the man’s condition as a metaphor for depression.

 

He also calls the American President a motherfucker.

 

4. The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst

 

So what on earth could beat Matt Haig? I’m a sucker for a gay love saga and Alan Hollinghurst doesn’t disappoint with his latest. The opening half of the book, exploring the viewpoints of Freddie Green and a young Johnny Sparsholt are worth the entrance fee alone. The ending doesn’t quite hold up compared to the first half, but that’s a little like saying Romeo and Juliet isn’t as good as Macbeth.

 

3. The One – John Marrs

 

Proving that it’s not all about the heavy literary scene, this thriller from John Marrs was a bit of a surprise to me at the beginning of the year. I like a thriller as much as the next person, but they can be a little throwaway at times. Not this one. A unique concept linking five separate stories that forces us to question the true nature of love.

 

2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

 

Similar in a way to the Alan Hollinghurst, Boyne charts the history of gay rights through Ireland through the history of one man. By investing in the one character, though, it just heightens the emotional impact, and the ending hits just the right note, managing to bring a year or to the eye.

 

 

 

So the winner.

 

 

If you’ve been paying attention throughout this year, this will come as no surprise to you.

 

 

 

1. Tin Man – Sarah Winman

 

Heartbreaking. Joyous. Triumphant. An exploration of life and love and grief. This book has become part of me since I read it in one sitting earlier this year. I still occasionally hug my copy of it, just to make myself feel better.

 

If you haven’t read it… well, I shan’t talk to you until you do.

 

 

 

All of these books are available now – and I’ve managed to cross quite a broad list this year. Christmas is coming – so consider this your wish list – or a gift guide for the literary lover in your life.

 

I’ll be back at the end of December with a short round-up of the books I’m most excited about for 2018…

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A Twitter poll BUT for books? Why not?

It’s that time of the year again where I’m so busy I don’t get a chance to read. It’s a come a bit earlier this year – so in a desperate bid for some content, I thought about what I might be able to cobble together in less than an hour…

 

So, here it is!

 

Taking inspiration from Richard Osman’s ‘World Cup of…’ series of Twitter polls (and now a book!) – here’s a tournament especially for book lovers – to find Twitter’s Best Book of 2017.

 

The Rules? There are always rules!

 

  • Unlike Fight Club… everyone talks about Book Club – share your votes and tell us all why!
  • The 32 titles in contention have all been published in either paperback or hardback since 26th December 2017 and have had some sort of impact on the literary landscape this year.
  • They’ve all been picked by me (with a couple of suggestions from others) – they’re either my favourite books of the last year – or particularly notable titles. If you think I’ve missed something… hey, run your own poll.

 

The list in full (in alphabetical order)

 

  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  3. Origin by Dan Brown
  4. What Happened by Hilary Clinton
  5. The Party by Elizabeth Day
  6. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
  7. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
  8. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
  9. Creakers by Tom Fletcher
  10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  11. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  12. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  13. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  14. The Dry by Jane Harper
  15. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  16. The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
  17. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  18. Need You Dead by Peter James
  19. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
  20. Sirens by Joseph Knox
  21. A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre
  22. Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
  23. The One by John Marrs
  24. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  25. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
  26. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
  27. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
  28. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  29. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  30. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  31. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  32. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

Voting in the first round starts today (now!) over on my Twitter (@alexjcall) – get voting! The top two from each round will go through to the quarter finals!

 

 

A(nother) Review: How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

The American President is a motherfucker.

 

Just one of the lines from Matt Haig’s new novel, How To Stop Time, which forces you to stop time, stop reading, and laugh out loud.

 

The story is a relatively simple one, but one that I’ve been eager to read since I first heard about it last year. Tom Hazard is old. He’s very old. Four hundred and thirty-nine to be precise.

 

He has a are condition that causes him to age at about a fifteenth of the rate of everyone else, which sounds rather excellent at first, because we’re all a little bit scared of death, and this man will get to live – probably – for a thousand years.

 

Except… everyone else isn’t aging at the same rate. His parents, his friends, those he love. They all die, will die, eventually, while he’ll live on.

 

We join him at the beginning of a new life. Tom periodically, along with others of his kind, starts again, as people become suspicious of his never-changing youthful appearance. As he navigates the new relationships, trying to avoid becoming too attached, we learn about his history, about his wife long-since dead, his past encounters with famous writers and poets… and his daughter who MAY still be alive.

 

Any novel that plays with time is expected to be a little convoluted, hard to follow, but this is such an easy read – because while time is long, there is no time travel in it, the pieces we read of Tom’s past are like the flashbacks we see in any contemporary novel – they’re just to a much earlier time.

 

I found the principle of the story intriguing, just how can someone cope with that much loss in their life, what propels him to keep going when year after year the people around him are dying, the history of the world is repeating itself over and over again.

 

The answer, we learn, is hope.

 

Hope that his daughter may still be alive, hope for a better life, where one day he can be open about who he is.

 

If you follow Matt Haig on Twitter, you’ll appreciate this book on another level. There are references to the trolls he encounters on a daily basis who attack him for being a snowflake, and there is an underlying political point that Haig is making in this novel – but if you miss those, then that’s ok – it’s still a wonderful book.

 

It is a testament to the writing that a book like this can work. Much of what we have is exposition, historical narrative explaining who Tom is, with the plot only really going up a gear towards the end. But a skilled writer like Haig can just sweep you along in the writing – and it takes a certain special something to make a reader instantly remember the name of an obscure character mentioned briefly at the beginning of the book when they later pop up again.

 

If I had one criticism… I wanted more. I could have stayed learning about Tom’s history for pages and pages more. We skip over years and years – because as implied there were great periods of nothing happening.

 

Perhaps a sequel?

 

How To Stop Time is published on 6th July by Canongate

Accidental Resolutions

I’ve spent the last six months or so reading a shit load of books. And with it, I’ve been writing reviews of them. One review a week, written as much for me as they were for anyone else.

 

But, in case anyone was interested, I published them on my blog – this blog – and I did all the correct social media stuff. I had a brand, a regular time, I tagged the authors, the publishers, the publicists and made as many references to pop culture (Justin Bieber, One Direction, etc) to try and boost the number of page hits.

 

It sort of worked, page views and visitors increased every month from July through to December, and while some of the numbers came from people directly clinking on the links I put on Twitter, I was starting to see a lot of traffic from search engines.

 

I can’t see what the search term was when people come through from Google (and perhaps unsurprisingly, that seems to be the search engine most people use), but I can from other search engines. So I plugged in some of the terms myself.

 

  • The one that came up most was Jude St Francis – the main character of A Little Life (my favourite book of the year, and incidentally the post that had the most views across the year).

 

A Little Life was one of the big hits of 2015, one of the most talked about books of the year, so I was surprised to find that my post about it was getting traffic. Surely there must be a million posts out there just like mine?

 

When I typed Jude St Francis into Google – a link to my blog was the first result. Now a month or two later, it’s the second link. This was a huge surprise, I’m not sure how it happened, but it did.

 

Moving by Jenny Eclair is fast proving to be my second most popular post, and when I put that into Google, I discovered mine was the fifteenth link.

 

I’m not sure what I’m doing, but it seems to be working.

 

Last week, I was looking at my ‘Yearly Stats’ on WordPress and discovered I was only sixty views away from hitting two thousand for the year. I was excited to see how close I would come and so re-posted a few links.

 

I nearly made it. I was fifteen views short. One extra day would have done it.

 

And then I stopped to think. Two thousand views in a year, and I only started regularly posting in July. A little bit of quick maths tells me that I could hit four thousand views a year – or more – if I posted regularly.

 

Whether that’s an audience of one, reading things four thousand times, or four thousand individual people, I don’t know, but that’s a big number,. And some of them, I know, are reading more than one page at a time.

People are choosing to read what I write – and some of them, likely, even if it’s just that one maniac, are coming back to read more.

 

I’d considered self-publishing before, but it’s never really appealed to me, even in this world of self-made internet billionaires like EL James. I never thought I would have the energy or the presence to be able to sell an ebook online.

 

But a few things occurred to me last week:

  1. I have an established audience (even if it’s only one stalker)
  2. I write because I like to write, not because I want to make money (although if anyone offered me some, that would be great)
  3. I write well to deadlines.

 

And so I decided two things:

  1. I would publish my already written novel Memories of a Murder on my blog
  2. By the end of 2016, I would write the second novel, already largely planned – a sequel to Memories of a Murder.

 

The first part of Memories of a Murder will be published next week… just as soon as I’ve blown the cobwebs off of it.

(Not) Looking for Love Part 1

Towards the end of 2014, I decided I was going to find me one of those boyfriend things.

I’ve never really had the most successful of love lives – though it’s not been completely inactive – and part of that has been of my own choosing, never really wanting anything permanent.

I’m happy in my own company and I work long hours. Sharing the precious few hours I get to myself with someone else has never really been a priority.

Occasionally, I get a bit lonely and want to spend some time with people, but that’s what friends and family are for. So again, that boyfriend thing never really appealed.

Of course, there are SOME things that friends and family can’t provide, but I’ve always found sex a little overrated, time consuming, and frankly, a bit dull at times. I don’t know, maybe I’m doing it wrong.

But something changed, and I don’t really know what. Maybe it was that three of my friends got into serious relationships – one of them someone who up until that point had a similar attitude to relationships as me.

Maybe it was because it was cold and I needed to find a new way of keeping warm. Maybe I just wanted more presents for Christmas.

The point is… I asked somebody out. Confidence has never been a problem for me, except when it comes to men – so for me to directly ask someone was big news. (Even though it was via a Direct Message on Twitter – it still counts. #BabySteps)

The answer was “thanks, but no thanks” – and I moved on, got over it. Which was a new experience for me. Normally, if I ever do like a guy, before I even talk to him, I’ve idealised him in my mind and planned our lives together. This usually leads to disappointment, but it’s a by-product of the endless chat that has come with meeting people on social media.

Exactly that happened shortly after Christmas, when just randomly chatting with someone on twitter we started sending each other direct messages. He was cute, been following each other on twitter for a few months, not ever really considered anything before. Partly because he lived SO far away.

We spent a whole night chatting, first on Direct Message, then via text. We found we had so much in common, and we were laughing about how fate seemed to be throwing us together. We both talked about the future, about running off to live away from all of society in some forest somewhere – he even jokingly asked me to marry him.

Then, after a week and a half of non-stop chat, he ended it. Said it was nothing personal, but he’d realised that he didn’t want to be with anyone, he wanted to remain single.

I wasn’t devastated, partly because I was expecting it (one doesn’t get rejected by as many men as I have without starting to be able to read the signs), but partly because it was something I’d said to guys before. One specifically comes to mind, where there was nothing wrong with him, a perfectly lovely, attractive guy – I just didn’t want to be in a relationship with him.

But I was a bit upset – because again, I thought I’d made a connection, and again, it came to nothing.

But, I surprised myself, the following day, by being completely over it. And that’s nothing against the guy, but what we had – like most virtual relationships – wasn’t real. Whatever it was, I enjoyed it massively at the time, but found afterwards I didn’t miss it.

And then I realised I didn’t miss it because, he wasn’t the right guy for me. The stuff I enjoyed was all the bits that come with a relationship, someone to chat to (even if it was only over the phone), to tell stuff to, to make me smile when he compliments.

I miss that, but I don’t miss him.

So I’ve learned something. I’m NOT going to find me one of those boyfriend things. I’m not gonna look, because I’ll just try and force it again.

But I AM going to start saying yes to things, going out and doing more stuff, where I might meet some new people, and if one of them new people happens to be the right guy for me, well that’s wonderful, but I’m going to let him find me.

This new attitude has already started to reap rewards, when, last weekend I made the trip up to London for a two hour pre-launch party for Helen Lederer’s new book (review to come soon).

Old me, wouldn’t have wasted money on such a short trip, especially one on my own. He would have just stayed home, watched TV, shuffled stuff around the flat and maybe have ventured out to McDonalds for a burger.

New me, travelled up, had a lovely time, met some new people, made some new contacts, and even made a handsome guy give me his number. It was happening before I even thought about it – didn’t ask him for it, didn’t offer mine, just told him to give me his number.

I might never see him again, I might run into him next time I’m in London – who knows. But I’m not gonna over think it. It’s possible and, indeed probable, that he didn’t want to give me his number, but it was his real one, because I did send him a little text and he text back. We left it with maybe a drink, maybe sometime.

A chance encounter, that came out of me not looking for love, that has led to a ‘maybe’.

I’ll update you sporadically on my non-quest, whether you want to be updated or not – I’m still not looking for love, but I think I’m finally ready for it if turns up.

#BEDM14: Getting Mashed

There are four shelves in my freezer – bear with me on this one.

One of them is currently empty.

One of them is for ‘potato products’ – mostly chips, but sometimes waffles and a delicious new product to the market ‘Mashtags’ which are potatoes in the shapes of commonly used twitter characters: @#*

The third drawer is filled with chicken. Chicken nuggets. Mmm. They are my go to dinner when I just can’t be bothered. If I can’t be bothered, but am feeling a little bit adventurous, then it’s fish fingers.

The fourth drawer is a very special drawer indeed.

The vodka drawer.

It gets a drawer of its own, mostly because one of the bottles leaked once and I was getting pissed on chicken nuggets for weeks, but also because now, I’ve actually started to acquire more and more bottles.

Vodka is my drink of choice (mixed with lemonade) when I’m out on a night out – mostly because after all these years, it’s the only thing that doesn’t give me a hangover. Vodka and coke pretty much floors me, though.

I don’t really drink it at home, though, tending to stick more to wine. I recently had a Eurovision party, and bought myself a bottle, forgetting I already had a bottle. Someone else brought a bottle with them, so the vodka drawer is growing.

I’m going out tonight, and I will be drinking vodka, lime and lemonade – a combination I used to enjoy but had forgotten about.

The reason I’m out tonight, and the reason I’m telling you is because a certain Mr Matthew Hogan is turning thirty and is having a little (big?) celebration. Those of you who like the missing vowels round on Only Connect will find him on Twitter easily, everyone else can find him by searching for @mtthwhgn.

Tonight, I will be heading out and ignoring all four drawers of my freezer, but in fact, possibly paying homage to all four:

I’ll be getting mashed on vodka, and looking for some young chicken to take home with me – though likely will go home with nothing!

Prompt: Why is the freezer always full?

#BEDM14: Raindrops On Roses…

I happen to use six different kinds of social media on my phone. They’re a bit like supermarkets in a way. They’re all very similar, they all offer very similar things, but each of them are just slightly different.

I’m going to use this blog to tell you my favourite thing about each of them

 

LinkedIn – The Boring One

I don’t mean to be rude, but let’s face it, by design it’s the corporate side of social media. All a bit serious, all a bit po-faced. Not gonna be many drunken selfies on here, and if there are, you’re probably doing it wrong.

The good thing about it, though, is it gives me the chance to dream. I can see an amazing job across the other side of the world and I have a shared connection with the person who posted the job.

Maybe, just maybe…

 

Grindr – The Slutty One

Ok, so this one doesn’t actually live on my phone. At the moment. I briefly downloaded it again on Saturday night, before deleting it quickly again on Sunday morning.

Grindr’s great for meeting new guys… when you’re in a town or city larger that Swindon.When you’re in Swindon, it’s just full of guys you’ve already dated, or already rejected.

It’s perfect for when you’re on your own in a new town. Doesn’t just have to be about sex, but it can be if that’s what you want.

 

Instagram – The Arty One

Hot guys. Blokes that take nearly naked selfies of themselves. That’s one – amazing – side of Instagram.

The other side to it is it allows me to fool myself into thinking I’m a photographic genius. Real photographic geniuses probably hate it, probably think it’s a watering down of their art, but I love it.

I don’t like photos of me, but I like more of them since I discovered Instagram

 

Snapchat – The Silly One

I don’t like photos of me, and I like them even less since I discovered Snapchat. But they delete themselves after 10 seconds – hurrah!

Snapchat allows us to have a bit of fun with our mates, and its disposable. It doesn’t matter if we don’t look quite right (or if we’ve taken a picture of something we shouldn’t have), it’s just a bit of messing about.

 

Facebook – The One You Wish Wasn’t There

Facebook feels like the one that you keep because you feel you ought to. It’s quite handy to have around, mostly because it helps you keep track of birthdays of people. In short, Facebook keeps in contact with people so you don’t have to.

The added benefit to Facebook is that you can look at people used to know and feel good about yourself because of how fat they got.

 

Twitter – The Popular One

Twitter kind of has the best bits of all pieces of Social Media. Mess around with your mates. Make business connections. Keep in contact with old friends. Meet new people in new places.

Most importantly, look at pictures of hot guys with their tops off.

Twitter stops you from being lonely. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you are. There’s usually somebody, somewhere doing the same thing as you. You can have quick disposable conversations, or you can really make some good friends.

Best of all, there’s a 140 character limit – you don’t have to put up with people wanging on about anything for very long.

 

 

In summary, social media’s great. But actually, the social aspect of all of these have existed for a long time before smart phones were even invented. The media element just makes it more accessible, more efficient.

Sometimes it’s good to put the phone down, grab a glass of wine, and go and sit outside with a friend.

(And look at hot guys with their tops off)

Prompt: Six of your favourite bits of social media

#BEDM14: Big Bird’s Got Nothing On Me

Dear Nic,

It’s possible that with a few of these BEDM14 posts that I’m doing that I’m not quite doing what you intended with the prompts.

For instance, today’s prompt was A letter.

The assumption is that you wanted us to write a letter to someone. It would certainly make for a different style of blog post and would keep things interesting, if not for us, then for the readers.

What it has done is make me think – which may also be the point of all of the prompts.

Letters come in two shapes and sizes. One is professional, quite dry and not exactly the sort of thing you’d want to write about on a blog (Despite that being exactly what I did a few weeks ago when I wrote about writing covering letters, but hey, everything has a context).

The other kind of letter would be a personal one. A letter to someone with whom I have some kind of prior relationship – or to someone who I’d like to have some kind of future relationship with.

Putting up a letter of that kind would not only reveal a lot about me, but would also reveal stuff about them. At least, stuff that I perceive about them.

The prompt made me question, just how much do I want to reveal about myself to my audience – regardless of the size?

The answer is the same as it would be on Twitter, or on Facebook, at work, or in real life. I don’t want to reveal all that much. At least not yet.

I want to be in control of what I reveal and when, therefore any letter that I wrote would be either dishonest, dull, or revealing what I didn’t want to reveal.

That’s why I’ve chosen not to write a letter. However, by addressing this post to you, I have therefore written a letter, which makes the whole point of it… null and void.

Do I now have to come up with another blog post for today?

 

Regards,

Alexander J Call

 

PS – It’s possible you actually wanted us to write about a letter from the alphabet, which is a little bit Sesame Street. If that was the case, my favourite letter would probably have to be P. I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for it. I think it leaves a nice sound on the lips.

Prompt: A letter

BEDM14: What’s The Problem?

Yesterday I posted a rather flippant post comparing Facebook and Twitter to having kids. The reason for avoiding the prompt ‘Facebook or Twitter?’ was because I feared the resulting blog would end in a diatribe not against Facebook, but more the people that use it.

I’m still not going to go into it, I don’t want to upset anyone just to make an interesting blog. There’s plenty about what people do on Facebook that annoys me, but to be honest it probably says more about me, than it does about them. I could go on and on and on about some of the things that people do and their response would most likely be: What’s the problem?

That’s what this blog is about. It’s my ‘What’s the Problem?’ to something that I recently read in the latest issue of Attitude magazine.

It was an opinion piece by Iain Dale, there isn’t an online version that I can find, so you’ll have to buy a copy of the magazine to read his full article (But why wouldn’t you? There’s a lovely picture of Ben Hardy aka Peter Beale off of EastEnders on the cover).

It is an opinion piece, and I can’t stress that enough, because if it’s his opinion, then that’s fine. He’s entitled to it, but I’m entitled to disagree. It was subtitled Where are the ‘normal’ gay people on TV?

Dale makes a lot of really good points. The article in itself is questioning why sexuality is used as an adjective, as if it’s something that defines a person. He notes that he was described in The Observer as ‘Iain Dale, the gay Conservative candidate’.

Conservative candidate should be a suitable enough label for him – unless the article in itself (Dale doesn’t mention what the article was about) was specifically around gay issues, in which case the label of gay would add context to the article.

There are two sections of his piece that I object to.

Even EastEnders, the show which broke new ground in the late 1980s by screening the first fay kiss fell for the gay stereotype ‘Muscle Mary’ character, Christian

And then later:

One of the few places on TV where you find completely ordinary gay people is in the news. I say ordinary – they are generally extraordinary people, but the thing they have in common is that most people wouldn’t even know they are gay

There are many kinds of homophobia in this world, and the one we all object to is heterosexuals discriminating against homosexuals simply for the fact that they are homosexual.

What troubles me is when homosexuals discriminate against other homosexuals.

If I was a young gay boy reading a copy of Attitude Magazine for the first time, I would be troubled by Dale’s opinion piece. His unconsidered us of the word ‘normal’ is troubling.

What he is linking normal to is people not being able to tell that they are gay. What he is linking normal, whether he intends to or not, is being able to pass as straight.

What he’s actually saying is that these people – and he lists several examples – are not camp.

The people he lists, among them are Clare Balding, Evan Davis and Paddy O’Connell are people that don’t make you ‘automatically think ‘gay’’ but then he goes onto qualify that in O’Connell’s case he would ‘make an exception but only when he’s presenting the Eurovision semis’

Dale wants less camp people on TV. And that’s ok. But it’s not ok to infer that these people are not normal, or that they don’t exist.

Christian Clarke from EastEnders may well be a Muscle Mary stereotype. But these people exist. They deserve a place on our television screens.

I’m not exactly butch – I have a slight wiggle when I walk, and I know my way around a well-timed eyebrow raise – so Iain Dale’s article hits home slightly.

I recently was speaking to a chap on Grindr. Lovely guy, liked him quite a lot, but he told me he didn’t like camp guys. This led to a discussion in my office among a couple of them, where we agreed that on the scale, I’m probably a six – that means I’m not whole row of tents, but I’m more than just a one person pop-up.

I worried over meeting him, I thought he would immediately take offence if I spoke with a slightly higher voice than he, or if I ordered vodka tonic instead of a beer.

I probably shouldn’t have been worried, he was camper than me, not by much, but if I’m a six, then he was a seven – that doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is that I did get worried about it. I worried about changing who I am.

It’s 2014. We shouldn’t have to worry about hiding ourselves away and trying to be ‘ordinary’ so that people don’t know we’re gay.

It’s fine to campaign for a wider representation of gay men and women in our media, but we need to stop using the word normal when we mean non-camp.

Prompt: What’s the Problem

You Can’t Upgrade A Child

I don’t have kids.

I probably won’t have kids

I don’t really know a lot about kids – and I don’t really want to know about kids.

What’s my point?

Well, I do know that you’re not supposed to have favourites, and that most parents when asked will say that of course they don’t have favourites.

But is it possible not to have a favourite?

A parent would probably say that they love Fanny their little first born, but then when little Willie is born a couple of years later, they’ve learned from their mistakes.

They know what to avoid, what to do more of, and more importantly which shops sell the most flame-retardant clothing

Little Willie is just better. Child 2.0.

It doesn’t mean they don’t love Fanny, they just prefer Willie.

And part of them probably does wish they could start again with Fanny, but they got it wrong at the beginning and they’ll probably never invest in Fanny as much as they should.

On the flip side, Fanny hasn’t done anything wrong, she’s just got the unfortunate happenstance of having come first.

Lucky Willie didn’t come till later.

Like I said, I don’t have kids, but I do have experience in this area.

I like Facebook, I don’t want to delete Facebook, but I’d rather spend my evening with Willie. I mean Twitter. It’s just better.

It’s exactly the same.

Prompt: Facebook or Twitter?