What Ten Years Clear Looks Like

It’s just two weeks until this year’s Race for Life, and I’ve decided that we’re raising a thousand pounds this year. We are currently in terrible shape to hit that goal, but we’re going to do it. I can feel it in my bones. I’m sending it into the universe. Manifesting it like a boss.

Donate.

This year is a big one, pals. My amazing, excellent, unstoppable mum celebrates her ten years clear this year. And that deserves £1000. It just does.

Our Race for Life journey has been a long one, spanning seven years so far, and some of you have supported us all the way. I love you, from the very bottom of my heart. But after seven years, I can imagine that you might be feeling a little…what’s the diplomatic phrase…sick of the sight of us.

So! To combat the inevitable Fiona fatigue, I thought this might be a good chance to have a chat about what the heck your money has actually been achieving over the past seven years, other than stroking my ego. And for that, I’m going to get a little help from my glamorous assistant…

It’s my mum! Hooray!

Donate.

Cancer is a thief. It steals our friends, our loved ones, our heroes. But it also steals time. And the money that you have donated over the past seven years is helping families steal back time every single day. Ten years clear sounds good, doesn’t it? Ten whole years pinched back after cancer tried to take them away. Here’s what that really means.

My mum got to see me turn sixteen. And then eighteen. And then twenty one. And then twenty five. And now I’m old, so who really cares what comes next. But thanks to advances in cancer treatment, she got to see me grow from a gangly, awkward teenager into a gangly awkward young woman.

She got to see Sophie turn thirteen. Isn’t that wild? She could have missed those sweet, sweet teenage nightmare years. And then sixteen. And then eighteen. And then twenty one.

Donate.

And just as Sophie turned twenty one, she got to turn fifty. Chaos ensued.

She got to see me graduate. Later this year, she’ll get to see Sophie do the same thing.

She got to marry this old devil, after we’d all given up hope that he’d ever get round to asking.

She got to meet her first grandchild.

She got to see our football team lift the Scottish Cup. I think this might have been as good as the grandchild.

She got to meet the boys who’d make her girls so very, very happy.

She got to see me realise a lifelong dream and write a book. She got to see that book win a competition. She got to see me sign with a literary agent because of that book. And hopefully, someday in the not so distant future, she’ll get to see my book published.

Donate.

She got ten years of Monday mornings, Friday nights, crazy parties, cups of tea, shopping trips, holidays, Facetime catch ups, bickering arguments, raucous laughter, kitchen dance offs, walking her dog, snoozing on the sofa, baking cakes, drinking in the sunshine, watching TV, clock watching in the office, sitting in traffic jams, eating in restaurants. Ten years of living her life that she almost had stolen away from her.

I cannot even begin to tell you what a gift every single day of those ten years has been. The big ones, the little ones and everything in between. Every single day has been a priceless, indescribable privilege. I race for life because I have a debt that I can never even begin to pay back. All I can do is try to pay it forward.

Donate.

Sister Act VII

There are some sights that just can’t help but put springtime on your mind. Buds aching with blossom, lambs frolicking in the sunshine, Fiona in bright pink warpaint.

*record scratch*

Well, would you look at that! That’s right folks, the other signs of springtime may be lagging behind but the Sister Act Race for Life team are right on schedule, ready to kick cancer’s ass and clog up your Facebook feeds until you give us some money.

Donate here.

This will be our team’s seventh Race for Life season, and it’s going to be a big one. If you’ve been here through all seven years, you might want to go stick the kettle on and catch us in a couple of paragraphs. If you’re joining us for the first time, welcome to the party! Grab a french martini and settle yourself down on the cushions with us. Come on, scootch in closer, we’re all friends here. Alright, good. As always, our story starts with this cracker:

When I was fifteen and my sister Sophie was just eleven, our mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer. This was, and remains, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to live through. Anyone who knows Sophie or me will know that our mum is the biggest and most important person in our lives. From her top notch dancing skills to her fondness for needlessly extravagant party organisation and her ever excellent advice, the loss of our mum would have left a hole in both of us that nothing could ever fill. And the world would have been deprived of the greatest strawberry daiquiri mixologist it has ever produced.

Luckily for all of us, my mum beat cancer with great style and aplomb and now spends her time cruising around the Caribbean, applauding in the cinema at Zac Efron movies and forgetting to buy her daughters birthday cakes. Truly, she is the greatest.

And in fact (if you checked out of the story because you’ve heard it seven times and it’s boring the arse off you at this point, now is the time to check back in), even though we run the Race in her honour every year, she is one of the reasons that this year’s race will be so special.

*pause for dramatic effect*

This year, my mum will be celebrating TEN. YEARS. CLEAR. How good is that? Ten whole years. Make no mistake, this is happening because of organisations like Cancer Research and I plan to celebrate by raising a great, huge chunk of cash for them.

Donate here.

An artist’s impression of me arriving at Cancer Research HQ:

There is another reason that this year’s Race for Life will be a special one, and it’s a reason I wish we didn’t have.

Every year, our team has grown bigger as Sophie and I rope in more and more family members. But as I was looking back through my old Race for Life stuff, I noticed that something else gets bigger every year too.

Every year, we have more people on our back signs.

Every year, we have more people to race for, who are fighting cancer, or who cancer has taken from us. And this year, we are making an addition that has broken all of our hearts.

This year, we lost a grandparent. Liam, my stepmum’s dad, my baby sister’s popsie, passed away in October. My words aren’t enough to tell you what a loss this was for us, what warmth and joy and sweetness he brought to all of our lives.

We’ve had so many moments of joy in the seven years that the Sister Act team has existed, but cancer keeps taking people from us. We’re not going to stop until cancer does.

Join our fight. Donate.

Four More Years

This week, so quietly that I didn’t notice until it was almost over, an anniversary slipped by. The 31st of January this year marks four years since I opened my computer, set up a website and started typing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here, but that wasn’t really deliberate. Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of bloggers fall out of love with blogging, become disillusioned with the whole thing, taking “digital detoxes” that stretch on and on until their sites quietly disappear. That’s not what happened with me. Maybe it’d be a better story if it had. But the truth is much less dramatic. I was focusing elsewhere, working away on other things.

I signed with a literary agent last year. I expect if you’re here, you already know that. We spent the better part of last year working together on my first book. We sliced enormous swathes from it, polished other parts until they gleamed. She showed me how to be ruthless with my edits, gently rebuking me, “Fiona, this is you trying to show how clever you are. That’s not what’s important.”

And I learned to laugh as I snipped away at the manuscript, because she was right.

She unearthed the gems of the story too, showed me how to weigh them in my fingertips, how to hold them up to the light. Four full months after we began working on the book, we were finished. It was transformed, immeasurably better than what we had started with. I had worked so hard and it had paid off. We’d spun straw into gold.

No one wanted to publish the book. That’s sort of the thing with writing, I guess. You have to start fully in the knowledge that no one might ever read it, and you have to pour your whole heart into it anyway. And that is the scariest thing. But also, eventually, it’s a comfort. Publishing is the goal, of course it is. I’d be lying to myself if I said that it wasn’t. But it’s not the purpose. Becoming a writer seems to be learning that lesson over and over, the gradual teasing apart of process and outcome until every pinprick rejection hurts a little less. That the book might never sit on a stranger’s bookshelf doesn’t make me less proud of it. It might not have hit that elusive goal, but that doesn’t make it a failure. In fact, it is my most resounding success. To work hard on something, to put a whole piece of myself into it, to produce something that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is good, that’s the success. That was the purpose.

This month, we start work on the next book. We dust off our scratched knees and we try again, because writing is in me, rooted deep within my heart. I can’t help it. I write, words upon words tumbling out of me always, even when no one else sees them.

Which brings me back, in a clumsy sort of way, to the Escapologist’s Daughter. My beloved little corner of the internet. I’d apologise for the tangent, for the tangled story, the strange way I’ve gotten us here but four years in, my darlings, I suspect you’re well used to that by now.

I’ve never fallen out of love with my little website. Four years after my first post, I’m still as fond of her as ever. And I think that’s because, just like with my books, it’s all about the process. For a while, at the very beginning, I tried to become A Blogger. I was sent makeup and moisturisers and tongue scrapers, and dutifully wrote about them. I learned about SEO. I tried every single week to force myself into a blogging schedule, to schedule my tweets on the bus to my office job. I attended blogger meetups in swanky bars and dealt with the fallout when glossy, gorgeous bloggers realised that the quirky oddball that shone through my writing was actually just who I was.

When you read those years back, you can hear my voice straining, cracking under the pressure of trying to become something. When really, me and my blog, we didn’t have to become anything. We just had to be. This website, just like my novels, just like my endless, countless pages of scribblings in notepads, it’s mine. It’s only mine. I can write about travel and mental health and Harry Potter. I can write poems about sexual assault and instructions for election day and post photographs of me wearing outrageous lipstick. I can be a thousand things, noisily celebrating my multitudes and thumbing my nose at the idea of having a niche. I can use a thousand commas per post and mix my metaphors and write sentences so twisted, so meandering and complicated that sometimes, you have to pause and think, wait, where did this thought start out? I can post on Mondays, or on Saturdays, or Wednesdays. I can post three articles in a week. I can leave it untouched for six months, knowing that when I’m ready to come back, it will be there waiting for me. I can do this because this space, this writing, it’s mine, and I built it brick by brick for me.

Despite all of this, maybe because of all this, the blog and I, we’ve grown. You are here – hello! Somehow, inexplicably, despite my ramblings and my breaks and my self indulgent sentences, you allow me and my words into your lazy Sunday evenings, your Tuesday morning commutes, your lunch break. And that, to me, is the basest form of magic.

I’ve gone on far too long, god, aren’t these things always too long? But before you go, I’d like to share one more story, one more tangent about these four years.

I turned twenty six this year, and a funny thing happened. Every single person I saw on my birthday nudged me knowingly and said with a smile “Nearly thirty now, eh?”

As you may have noticed, I don’t really buy into the idea that your life is supposed to look a certain way, or follow a certain path. But even so, it’s hard not to see thirty as a deadline. With all the will in the world, I haven’t quite succeeded in drowning out the significance of thirty as a milestone. After all, if I don’t make a thirty before thirty list, what’s the point in continuing?

I am, of course, exaggerating for dramatic effect, but there’s no denying that the idea of hitting a whole new decade, of leaving my twenties, is going to force me to stop and take a look at my life. And since turning twenty six, that milestone feels like it’s coming at me faster and faster. Four years, after all, isn’t that much time. How much can I really do in four years?

And then I look at the little blog. The little blog that started as a ramble, as a way to deal with feelings I couldn’t even acknowledge I was having. That started out with 3 pageviews a day, all of which were my dad. Four years ago, I had never been paid for a piece of writing. I had never written a formal pitch. I had never spoken in front of an audience of strangers or marched in a protest or been on TV. I had never finished a piece of writing longer than a couple of thousand words. Me and the little blog, we’ve come a very long way in just four years. And I love you for coming along with us. Who knows what the next four might have in store.

Fiona, Seriously


Here are some things that I am going to do.

I am going to start putting my phone down at nine o’clock, because holding my Twitter feed three inches from my face while I’m allegedly trying to sleep is decidedly not awesome.

I’m going to toss that dried up, miserable packet of baby wipes that sits on my bedside table. At night I’m going to take off my makeup with creamy cleanser and a hot cloth and breathe a long sigh as I feel the day slide from my face. I’m going to floss my damn teeth.

I’m going to get into bed and light my l’Occitane candle and delight in the fact that it is my most frivolous and favourite indulgence. I’m going to ask the boy how his day was and I’m going to actually listen when he answers. I’m going to read and write and stretch, even if it’s only wiggling my fingers.

I’m going to dust my bedside tables and deal with the piles of things that mysteriously accrue around me. I’m going to do my dishes and buy fresh flowers, because I deserve to live somewhere beautiful.

I’m going to stop pouring £20 a week into mediocre supermarket sandwiches and revive my budget spreadsheet, because clawing my way to the end of the month like Leonardo DiCaprio in the freaking Revenant just isn’t cute any more.

I’ve written a little before about the fear of taking myself seriously. Isn’t it scary, to admit that we want things, or worse, that we think we deserve things? It’s so much easier to be the quirky, ditzy, ever-so-relatable girl, than to try and become a woman to be reckoned with.

I’ve always been a bit of a calamity. Recently, I was listening to a serial killer podcast on a bus, when a woman’s elbow became entangled in my hood, yanking my coat back into my throat. I naturally assumed that Ted Bundy had risen from the grave to murder me on a central London bus. Upon sharing this story with my friend, she laughed and shook her head.

“Why does this stuff always happen to you, Fiona?” she asked.

Reader, I don’t know why this stuff always happens to me. But it does. I am unlucky in deeply unlikely but often hilarious ways. I’m the clumsiest person that I know. I snort when I laugh and have absolutely zero control over my limbs or my hair. I’m a relentless overenthusiast. I’m never going to be described as stoic or graceful or even particularly composed. None of that gives me an excuse for being a perpetual teenager. Just because I’m not serious, doesn’t mean I’m not serious, y’know?

But being serious sounds like the worst, doesn’t it? Serious women are unlikable. They’re high maintenance. They’re uptight. So we go the other way, leaning gleefully into the “hot mess” archetype that has sprung up around us. We brag on Twitter about having 17p in our bank accounts, or eating pizza for breakfast four days in a row, or showing up to work hungover for the third time this month. We watch films and TV shows where women buy clothes instead of paying their rent and show up late for everything and don’t know how to turn their ovens on. I think sometimes we make bad decisions and justify them to ourselves in the name of “self care”. And while I’m a big fan of taking joy wherever you can, this kind of stuff isn’t working for me any more. At the age of twenty six, it just isn’t cute anymore. Sometimes self care means getting off your ass and getting your shit together.

I have no intention of becoming high maintenance or uptight. I have no intention of aiming for perfection because…well, where’s the fun in that? But I also can’t justify treating myself like garbage and then expecting other people to take me seriously. So I’m getting out of my own way. I’m taking a little responsibility for my life. I’m daring to see myself as a woman who deserves better than the bare minimum. I’m going to make a real effort to live with purpose, with determination and with as much grace as a calamity like me can reasonably aim for.

Visit Slovenia: Cobbles, Castles and So Much Cake

Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, is one of those places that feels as though it’s been lifted straight from the pages of an old picture book and dropped accidentally into our world. Bric a brac houses scatter up impossibly green hills, little splotches of burnt orange, sunflower yellow, periwinkle blue. Ornate bridges and cobbled streets wind around the river that cuts through the centre of the city. The boats that meander up and down often carry musicians, so soft music mingles in the air with the smells of water and cooking and hot stone. The castle perches on its hill, watching over Ljubljana, its towers visible from almost anywhere in the city.

This isn’t a city that lends itself to a rushed, metropolitan city break. The pace of life here is slower. Tourists and locals alike drift gently through the pedestrianised old town, drinking in the beauty of their surroundings. At night, the restaurants along the river throw open their doors and light their candles and the people spill out onto the riverbanks, eating and drinking and dancing and laughing. It’s impossible not to be charmed.

On our first day in Ljubljana, Niall and I plan to do a walking tour of the city. Unfortunately, we settle a little too comfortably into the laid back lifestyle and end up snoozing and eating pastries in our apartment until 11am, missing the start time for the tour. C’est la vie. Luckily for us, Ljubljana old town is tiny, easily walkable from one end to the other in no time at all. We wander up and down the river, snapping photographs of the beautiful buildings and bridges, occasionally stopping to point and say “I wonder what that is. Dunno. Lovely though.”

Reader, we probably should have gone on the walking tour. But reader, we have such a wonderful morning that I don’t really have any regrets. If you’re there for the history, absolutely get yourself on a tour. If you’re just there for the pretty things, you’ll be fine just wandering.

If you’re planning to visit Ljubljana between March and October, make sure you’re there for at least one Friday. On Fridays, one of Ljubljana’s biggest squares is home to a street food market like no other. The Open Kitchen gives Ljubljana’s best chefs a chance to show off their wares at a fraction of the price you’d pay in their restaurants. Striped green and white tents fill the square selling gourmet pad thai, vegan cakes, enormous burritos, local gin, barrels of mussels, Slovenian sparkling wine. The white wooden tables fill quickly, so we perch on the steps of the square and watch the world go by. We originally wander in for lunch and end up being so bowled over by the food that we come back for dinner. Steaming spoonfuls of spicy chicken served in crisp, warm roti wraps and plates of soft, pink filet mignon piled on herb crusted potatoes…this is no ordinary street food.

Niall genuinely looks a little frightened as I unhinge my jaw like a boa constrictor and shove this entire plate of steak into it.

After lunch, we head for Ljubljana’s castle. You can walk up to the castle but I am spectacularly full and Niall politely declines my request that he roll me up the hill, so we take the funicular railway. The railway has us at the foot of the castle in a few minutes and also gives me the opportunity to make “putting the fun in funicular” jokes several more times than is really necessary. At least I make myself laugh, and I think we can all agree that’s the important thing.

The castle is an amazing building, a bizarre warren of wooden beams and formidable flagstones spiralling upwards to a gorgeous courtyard. If your other half is, for example, a geeky structural engineer, they’re sure to enjoy the step by step explanations of how the castle was restored. But don’t worry, the castle also houses plenty for us normal folks too. While we are there, we explore a National Geographic photo exhibition, a tiny little chapel, a free outdoor library and of course, spectacular views of Ljubljana.

There is also a museum of puppetry squirrelled away somewhere so if you’re into being terrified, go wild!

On our second day, we head out from Ljubljana to the very place that had caused me to book the trip in the first place: Lake Bled. Pals, I booked a holiday based on someone else’s Instagram post and I have absolutely zero regrets about it. Bled is about an hour outside Ljubljana and the bus runs straight from Ljubljana bus station every hour for about €7. If you’re planning to go on the weekend, book the bus in advance. I did not know this was a thing you had to do and end up only getting on a bus because I look so crestfallen that the nice lady calls us over when she got a cancellation and sells us two tickets on the spot. Great success.
Lake Bled is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in real life. Maybe with the exception of seeing the Northern Lights, I can’t remember many other things that have taken my breath away like this does. I literally scream on a bus when we round the corner. Never go on holiday with me, I am an embarrassment.

I feel like the rest of this post should just be photographs but this is the kind of scenery every writer dreams of describing, so I’m going to give it a go. The lake pools in front of us, glassy and impossibly, impossibly blue. If you lean over the edge, the water is clear enough that you can see all the way to the bottom. People swim alongside tiny fish and haughty swans and I am furious that I haven’t brought my bathing costume. The snowcapped peaks of the Alps stretch out in the distance, giving way to emerald hills. Bled Castle clings to the rocky cliff face on one side of the lake, on the other side, is a tiny island, housing only a church. To say that this place is like a fairytale is hackneyed. It doesn’t do it justice. And also, since In Bruges, I can’t hear that phrase without hearing it in Brendan Gleeson’s accent. But really. It is.

We take a rocky wooden pletna boat out to the island and climb the 99 steps to the church. I inform Niall that traditionally, men are supposed to carry their wives up the steps as a sign of strength and devotion. Niall tells me to piss off. I make him take a romantic selfie. He is furious.

The church houses a Wishing Bell, which you are supposed to ring three times. If you truly believe in God, your wish will be granted. As I’m not sure me and God are entirely sympatico, we settle for tossing a lucky penny into the lake and directing our wishes to the goddess of love whose temple stood on the island before the church.

You can walk all the way around the lake and also up to the castle. But we only have a few hours in Bled and I have other things on my mind. If I haven’t yet convinced you that Bled is where your soul belongs, brace yourselves. You see, Bled is home to a proud culinary speciality. One which has become so iconic that it has actually become a symbol of Bled. And that speciality is a cream cake.

Find you a person who looks at you the way I look at cream cakes. We head to Hotel Park, the original home of the cream cake and sit on their terrace overlooking the lake. The cake is a little like a vanilla slice, but twice the size and with double the cream. It is gorgeous. Go to Bled and get one immediately. Waiters fire out cream cakes at a frequency I’ve never seen: it genuinely seems like everyone on this terrace has come for the cake.

This is another excellent thing I discover about Slovenia: going for cake is a thing. It is a completely normal, acceptable thing to go into a restaurant or a cafe and only order dessert.
This is Lolita’s bakery in Ljubljana. We nip under one of their umbrellas to shelter from a sudden rainstorm and end up ordering rather a lot of cake. I eat multiple different cakes each day. Sometimes, waiters suggest specific wines or liqueurs to match the cake you have ordered. I genuinely think this may be the secret to happiness.

Cake and liqueurs at Vander Restaurant.

Slovenia is a beautiful, surprising little country and one I’d definitely like to see more of. Book yourself a flight, and make sure to pack a couple of princess dresses.

Scarlet Ladies: Sex Without Stigma

Preamble: HI THERE FAMILY MEMBERS AND PEOPLE OF A DELICATE NATURE! As the title of this post would suggest, the content of this post is going to be sexual in nature. Why don’t you preserve our relationship and read this nice apple pie recipe I wrote instead?

I climb three sets of dark stairs and enter the room through a door disguised as a bookshelf. A young woman with a clipboard takes my name and hands me a glass of prosecco and a small blue box. Upon investigation, the box contains two packets of condoms, a fingertip vibrator and a veritable wealth of information on safe sex. The room is lit in scarlet and the comfortable armchairs are occupied by a tantric masseuse, an orgasmic meditation coach, a member of the BDSM community, a sex columnist and the cofounder of Scarlet Ladies, a sexual empowerment organisation for women. This is my first Scarlet Ladies event and honestly, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I take a gulp of my prosecco and giggle as I remember that outside of this room, London is proceeding with a perfectly ordinary rainy Tuesday evening.

The small room fills with women: young women, old women, black women, Asian women, trans women. We swap salacious grins as the evening’s panel take their places. The night is presided over by Alix, a tiny, blonde hurricane of a woman, who cracks jokes that would make Christian Grey blush and whose writing has been featured everywhere from Vogue to the Guardian. She keeps the conversation flowing throughout the night, tackling sensitive subjects with tact and sensitivity and making lascivious comments about her low chair placing her knees around her ears at every available opportunity.

The first panellist is Claudia, an orgasmic meditation coach. Every hand in the room shoots up as she starts talking, all of us with one question on our lips: what the hell is an orgasmic meditation coach and how does one go about getting that job? Orgasmic meditation is a practice which distinguishes between orgasm and climax, focusing on bringing our attention to the state of orgasm and enjoying sensations in the moment, rather than racing towards climax. The practice is about connection and wellbeing as much as about sex. Claudia makes a point of having two orgasms before she gets out of bed each morning and while I can’t confirm that this is how she looks 27 while in her fifties, it certainly seems like she’s doing something right.

Next up, we have Alyssa, whose involvement in the kink community helped her work through her transition. She eases us in gently, confiding that she still has bruises on her thighs from the weekend’s activities, before opening up on London’s thriving kink scene. Some audience members start to look a little pale as she enthuses about creating in-body corsets using surgical staples and ribbon but other members look decidedly interested. We chat about trust, communication and enthusiastic consent in BDSM relationships. Huge focus is placed on consent in kink relationships and it’s easy to see why – if you’re approaching someone with a surgical stapler, you want to make damn sure that both of you are having a good time.

Then, tantric teacher Catherine speaks. Catherine is probably the most serene person I’ve ever come across and with three lovers and a career as a tantric masseuse, it’s no wonder. She talks about tantra as a practice that opens up your whole body, as well as your heart and mind. Once again, the topic of sex as communication comes up. She offers a tantric massage as a prize in the evening’s prize draw, an experience encompassing meditation, yoga and massage – all while completely naked, of course. She peaks everyone’s interest when she lists the mind boggling types of orgasms she’s experienced and takes issue with the term “alternative sexual practices”, posing the very good question – alternative to what?

Finally, we come to Jannette, confounder of Scarlet Ladies and self-confessed orgasm evangelist. She talks about founding Scarlet Ladies to help dispel the shame and stigma that surrounds female sexuality, and to provide a safe space for women to have these conversations. Many women feel isolated with their sexuality, sure that they’re the only one having complicated thoughts and feelings. An evening in a room with these women proves that none of us are alone in having complicated feelings about sex. She talks about her experience of growing up in a conservative household and how she balances her upbringing, her experiences as a black woman and her love of sex. She truly is evangelical about having the confidence to ask for what you want in the bedroom and both her confidence and her enthusiasm are infectious.

By the time the first half of the evening rolls to a close, the room is abuzz with chatter. Questions are whispered and scribbled on colourful post its, the air is pricked with stifled giggles and gasps as glasses are filled with more bubbles. Alix draws us back together and opens the floor to questions. At first, questions are surreptitiously handed to Alix on post its, but she is wonderful at making us laugh and putting us at ease and by the end of the night, we’re all talking at once, shouting over each other, screeching with laughter, having conversations that I never would have dreamed we’d be confident enough to have at the beginning of the night. We talk about exploring kink in relationships. We talk about the opposing pressures of the media and feminism in sex. We talk about whether some sexual acts are fundamentally un-feminist (Spoilers: no, they are not. If you are having consensual, communicative sex, it’s *all* good). We talk about boundaries and sex toys and using lubricant as moisturiser. No topic is off bounds and no one is ever made to feel uncomfortable or strange for asking a question or expressing an interest in a particular area. Over the course of the evening, it becomes clear that everyone is different, everyone has slightly different kinks and limits and the only way to have great sex is through – yes, you guessed it – great communication. Alyssa rounds off the evening with perhaps the best piece of sex advice I’ve ever heard: “Every day’s a school day”.

Flushed, slightly tipsy and more than slightly titillated, I head out into the rainy Tuesday night feeling thoroughly inspired and empowered, although not quite empowered enough to stop me panicking that I’m going to drop my goody bag of sex toys on the bus home.

Scarlet Ladies run weekly events ranging from presentations with inspiring women to blowjob workshops with professional dominatrixes. Whoever you are, whatever you’re into, you have something to gain from becoming a Scarlet Lady.

What to Expect When You’re Electing

Election day is drawing nigh and campaigning is reaching fever pitch. You forget what it was like to have normal post. All of your TV shows have been replaced with party political broadcasts. You pick up a piece of fruit and it starts talking to you about dementia tax. That’s what it can feel like anyway.

This Thursday, the nation will take to the polling station to choose what kind of a country we want to be for the next five years. The opinion polls are doing their best but there’s one unknowable factor that will genuinely determine the election’s outcome: who turns up to vote on the day.

Hopefully, lots of people have become engaged in the last few months. Say what you like about our times, they’re certainly not politically boring. If you’re new to voting or are considering voting for the first time in a long time, this post is for you! I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, that’s entirely your call. What I am going to do is run you through exactly what happens on polling day, telling you where to go, what you need to do and hopefully showing you how quick and easy it is to make your voice heard. After all…

uk election 2017

Before election day…

In the run up to election day, there are a few things you need to do.

Most importantly, decide who to vote for!

All party manifestos are available online, but if you’re not particularly enthused by any of the parties, a non-partisan website like Who Should You Vote For will ask you to rate some of the main policy ideas of the three major parties and tell you who will best represent your interests.
If, on the other hand, the only thing you want from this election is to see the back of the Conservative government, this website will tell you how to use your vote to the best tactical advantage.

Check where your polling station is!

Your polling station will be a public building, for example a community hall or a school, in your area. Shortly before election day, you should receive a polling card through the post, telling you where your polling station is. If you do not get a polling card through the post, don’t panic! You can vote without one. If you don’t get a polling card and you’re not sure where your polling station is, get in touch with your local elections office. They will be able to point you in the right direction. Contact details for local election offices can be found here. You must vote at the correct polling station, so if you’re not sure, it’s worth checking!

On election day…

So, the day has finally arrived and we’re all ready to exercise some democratic rights. Hooray! Now what?

When to vote

On election day, your polling station will be open from 7am until 10pm. You can show up at any point during this time but bear in mind that the early evening is likely to be busiest. You do not need to book a slot, just go along whenever you are ready. If there’s a queue, rejoice that so many people are taking part in our democratic process and stay there. This shit is important, you guys. As long as you are in a queue by 10pm, you will be allowed to cast your vote.

What to take (and what not to!)

If you have it, take your polling card with you. If you don’t, or you forget it, don’t worry! You don’t need it to vote. It is just a handy tool that can help the polling station staff find you on their register quickly.

You do not need ID to vote. There have been hints that this might change in the future but for the moment, you can leave that passport at home.

Another thing to leave at home? Your “I Heart Corbyn” t-shirt. Political clothing or paraphernalia is not permitted inside a polling station, as this could be intimidating to other voters.

You do not need to bring a pen with you. Pencils will be provided in each polling booth.

What happens inside a polling station

When you enter the polling station, there will be a registration desk in front of you. If you have your polling card, hand it to the polling station staff. If not, they will ask you for your full name and address. They will mark you off on their register and give you your ballot paper.

If there are other people waiting, you are welcome to talk to them about the weather, their lipstick, the Great British Bake Off…anything except the election. No election chat is permitted once you are inside your polling station.

There will be a number of private polling booths set up. Take your ballot paper to one of these booths before making your choice. The ballot paper will show all of the available candidates for your constituency. The name of the party leader will not be on your ballot paper. Your ballot paper will show the name of your local candidate, and which party they represent. If you’re voting for Corbyn, select the Labour candidate. If May is your dream Prime Minister, you’re looking for the Conservative candidate. You get the idea.

Put one cross in the box opposite the name of your chosen candidate. For general elections, we use a first past the post system, which means you only make one choice. Do not make any mark on your ballot paper other than your cross, as it might render your vote invalid.

Once you’ve put a cross in your candidate’s box, fold your ballot paper in half and put it into the ballot box. The box should be clearly marked but if you are not sure, your polling station staff should be able to help you.

Once your ballot is safely in the box, you’re done! Go buy yourself a pint and congratulate yourself on participating in our democratic process. If you fancy taking a selfie, this is the moment. Photography inside polling stations is frowned upon, as you may accidentally reveal your ballot paper or someone else’s. Once you’re outside, however, go wild! I love an election day selfie.

uk polling station

The result of this election absolutely hinges on who turns up on the day. Historically, the most privileged among us are the ones who turn out to vote. If you feel like politicians don’t represent you, this is the moment that you can take back the power. Make them sit up and listen. Use your voice. Use your vote.

The Story of a Story

The door was green, was the thing. Rockpool green. Christmas tree green. Proper fairytale green. The kind of green door that you could definitely imagine a dream come true waiting behind.

Her name was Sophie, was the thing. Like my sister. It made me feel a little like I had my Sophie there with me. Could feel her squeezing my hand, see her rolling her eyes, hear her telling me to stop fannying about on a cold doorstep and just knock on the green door already. She’s always made me brave, my Sophie.

In September, I wrote a post about admitting that you want things and having the courage to really back yourself and go after them. Lots of people reached out with lovely comments. One of them was Julia Silk. Julia is a literary agent. She had seen that I had written a book and wondered if I was still looking for representation. I was.

I sent her over my manuscript straight away. She came back quickly to say that she loved the book but as it was a YA, she didn’t think she was the best person to represent it. I was a little sad…I mean, what a story, right? Getting an agent directly because of a post about asking for what you want. The stuff of fairytales.

(Like that door. Don’t worry, we’re getting there.)

Julia and I stayed in touch on Twitter and chatted often. In December, she retweeted a tweet about a writing competition into my timeline. The deadline was that night. I almost didn’t enter, you know. There was an entry fee and after a year of pretty brutal rejection emails, I’d started to think that maybe this book I’d written just wasn’t the one. In the end, I decided I had nothing to lose.

At the beginning of December, I found out my book had been longlisted. From 715 down to 26.

At the turn of the new year, I found out I had been shortlisted. From 715 down to 5.

At the end of January, Gareth Osborne was announced as the winner. You can and absolutely should read his amazing opening chapter here. I wasn’t too disappointed about not winning. It was incredible just to see my name and my photograph on the site, to know that kids had read my book and they’d loved it.

The day after the shortlist was announced I got an email from an agent, congratulating me on being shortlisted. Her name was Sophie, was the thing. It turned out that she worked at the same agency as Julia and Julia had passed my first chapters to her. She wondered if I’d like to come in for a cup of tea and a chat.

I painted my nails soft eggshell grey, because I always feel more together when my nails are done. I stood in front of my colleagues at work, squinting at my outfit and asking “Does this make me look like a creative young professional?”

They assured me that it did.

And this was how I ended up standing on the doorstep of that lovely green door. I’m not sure what I expected a literary agent to be like, but I was terrified. I had built the publishing world up in my head to be an army of stern headteachers, wagging their fingers and tutting at my book. But of course it’s not like that. Of course, like everything else important in this world, it’s run by women with twinkly eyes and firm handshakes, who laugh loudly and often, who have shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Women like Sophie. I went in expecting a job interview. I got a conversation instead. I’m not sure I paused for breath for the entire time I was in her office. Her excitement about my work made me excited and I talked quickly, waved my hands around wildly, cracked a thousand terrible jokes.

She wanted to read the rest of the book.

I sent it over and tried, unsuccessfully, not to refresh my email every five minutes looking for a response. I’ve had lots of agents request my full manuscript, was the thing, and thus far, none of them had decided to take it on in the end. I went for breakfast with Julia, who assured me that Sophie had been incredibly excited after our first meeting.

I’d been so excited too. But she could still hate the book.

At the end of last week, I got an email from Sophie to say that she’d be reading the book and getting back in touch this week.

I took a few photos that would go nicely with an announcement blog post. Just in case.

On Sunday, I put a tiny bottle of prosecco in the fridge. Just in case.

On Monday, I opened this blog post and wrote the first sentence. Just in case. Then, I slammed my laptop closed, sure I’d have jinxed it.

On Tuesday, I spent two hours on my hands and knees fixing a toilet. I hoped that the email would come. What a story, right? It didn’t.

When the email finally came, it came on International Women’s Day, because of course it did. I was on my way to a drag show, because of course I was. I was wearing lots of purple lipstick and the biggest earrings in the world and I was drinking terrible wine out of a plastic pint glass. Because of course I was.

I signed with Sophie Gorell Barnes of MBA Literary Agents at 5pm today. What a story, right?

What You Deserve

This week, apropos of nothing, I started to make a list on Twitter of things that, in my opinion, make life worth living. The list ranged from ducklings to lipstick to that moment when someone unexpectedly understands a really obscure reference you’ve just made. People started to join in and before long, my notifications were filling up with tiny little pleasures and moments of everyday gratitude.

Things are so difficult for so many people right now and I have very little time for those who insist that we should all just be a bit more positive. Positivity doesn’t help the women who can’t access domestic violence refuges or our Muslim friends who are being harassed and intimidated or the people who are denied the healthcare they need. When “being positive” means refusing to acknowledge that things are hard, it stops being helpful and actually becomes oppressive and harmful.

But. The flipside of this is also true. Just because things are difficult and the world seems to be falling apart, you don’t have to stop enjoying things. In fact, I think that when the world is collectively struggling, it’s more important than ever to take as much joy as you can wherever you can find it. We will all be fighting the good fight for a long time and honestly, it seems likely that things are going to get worse before they get better. Which means we need to keep ourselves strong. We need to remember to feed our souls as well as our rage, to keep our warmth as well stoked as our heat. So without further ado and with no more half baked philosophising, here are some little joys that you (yes, you, reading this right now) deserve to have in your life.

  1. You deserve to put your pyjamas on the radiator in the evening so that they’re all toasty and lovely when you put them on. There is no reason in the world for you not to do this every single night.
  2. You deserve to wash out old jars and fill them with tealights. You are a magical princess (this is very not dependent on your gender, people of all genders are magical princesses) and deserve a grotto of beautiful light to live in.
  3. You deserve to own a really sharp can opener and a really sharp vegetable peeler. This is a very boring thing that will improve your life immeasurably.
  4. When you get into bed, you deserve to take hold of your duvet by the corners and whip it upwards, letting it slowly settle back down onto your body. This is the best feeling in the whole world. Double points if you can get someone else to do it for you.
  5. You deserve to cook yourself really brilliant food. I am the queen of eating cereal for dinner when the boy is away because it seems silly and frivolous to cook a proper meal just for me. It is, in fact, neither silly nor frivolous. You deserve to eat food that makes you feel brilliant. Whenever you can, invest that time in yourself and cook yourself up something amazing.
  6. You deserve the biggest, softest towels you can get your hands on. You should probably also put these on the radiator when you get in the shower for the toastiness reasons outlined in point 1.
  7. You deserve to sit in front of a crackling real fire at every available opportunity.
  8. You deserve a few quiet moments every day to have a cup of tea (or whatever you fancy) and just breathe.
  9. In addition, you deserve to drink from a beautiful china teacup, or a gaudy patterned teapot, or an enormous tankard, or a champagne flute, or anything else that brings you joy.
  10. You deserve cream on your hot chocolate.
  11. You deserve to stomp on really crunchy leaves.
  12. You deserve to pet that dog over there.
  13. You deserve to laugh, to proper belly laugh until your sides hurt and tears are streaming down your face, regardless of whether or not anyone else found the thing funny.
  14. You deserve to light a beautiful candle by your bedside and read until you fall asleep.
  15. You deserve to stand outside on bitter cold nights and look up at the stars.
  16. You deserve fresh flowers.
  17. You deserve to stand still and watch the sunset, from the moment the sky starts to turn pink until the very last embers of light dip beneath the horizon and know that no matter who you are, how successful you are, how much money you have, it will always be this beautiful.
  18. You deserve cheese and onion crisps in your sandwich.
  19. You deserve sandwiches cut into triangles.
  20. You deserve a hot water bottle under your feet.
  21. You deserve a really good stretch in the morning. I’m not suggesting you get up and do sunrise yoga every morning because, seriously, not for everyone. And by everyone, I mean me. But you deserve a proper, joyous stretch from your toes all the way to the ends of your fingertips.
  22. You deserve to eat really delicious cake with a fork and pretend that you’re fancy.
  23. You deserve scalding hot showers with incredible smelling soap.
  24. You deserve soft, clean socks.
  25. You deserve joy.

Three’s A Charm

Well folks, today is a bit of a special occasion. The Escapologist’s Daughter is three years old today.

Three years ago, I sat at my computer and typed out my biggest secret for the whole world to see: that I had no idea who I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to be doing. The past three years have been a fantastic and often frustrating adventure as I continue to find that out.

In the past three years, I have done things I never thought possible. I have stood up against injustice. I have had my arse featured in the Daily Mail and lived to tell the tale. I have written a book. I have watched my little voice grow from a whisper into a roar.

Now, a lot of the time, I’m still not totally sure what I’m roaring about. It’s a learning process, you guys. And inevitably, that sometimes means that I roar something only to come back five hours later and roar “I AM SORRY ABOUT THAT. I WAS HUNGRY AND CONFUSED.” like the Honey Monster. I’m still not entirely sure who I’m supposed to be. But I’m sure that what I’m supposed to be doing is telling stories.

I guess I’ve always been telling stories. As a kid, this manifested in scribbled pamphlets all over the house, long suffering parents watching another four hour play and the occasional whopper of a lie. I once fell in the swimming baths and cut an enormous great gash in my back. I told my entire class that I had been caught up in a car explosion. I was the most talked about person in the school for weeks. Everyone was so impressed.

I have gotten distracted. That tends to happen. But if you’ve been around this long, I’m sure you’ve noticed that.

What I’m trying to say is that I never stopped telling stories. This entire blog is a story. This is my story. My life is virtually unrecognisable to what it was three years ago and that is largely because of this little blog. This blog has made me brave, given me the courage to do things and ask for things I never would have dreamed of before. You, every one of you, have made me brave. I hope that whatever my future holds, I can continue to tell you stories. And I hope that sometimes, those stories feel like a hand taking yours. Because my darling, you are not alone. If you don’t know who you are, you are not alone. If you feel like everyone else is doing better than you, you are not alone. If you are wondering when adulthood hits and everything sorts itself out, you are not alone. This blog has seen some of my absolute lows as well as many of my absolute highs. I created it to chart the stories and the scars as much as to flaunt the pretty things. This life is a funny old mixed bag. It really is. But I promise you, you can do it. You just need to figure out your story.

Thank you for hanging out with me, for seeing yourselves in me, for letting me be a part of your life. The thought of someone reading these words standing at their kitchen counter with a glass of wine, in bed on a Sunday morning, on a rainy commute…that’s what it’s all about. There really isn’t anything better than that. Thank you for being a part of my story and for letting me be a part of yours. I love you to the moon and back.