Sunday, 16 October 2016

Words Galore

This has been the best kind of weekend: mellow, satisfying, and full of ideas. A weekend of coffee taken back to bed with a good book, as well as plentiful cooking, and long walks through landscape that would sit well in Wuthering Heights. I’ve had the company of my own thoughts, ideas brewing and bubbling, and the deliciousness of a Saturday night in with Nat King Cole’s voice on the record player, Katharine Hepburn’s arch tones entertaining me in her autobiography, and a glass (or two) of red wine to smooth it all out. I’ve also probably spent one too many hours on Instagram. Ah well. They’ve been fun. To top it off, I spent this evening with family friends, eating crispy potatoes and perfectly roasted chicken. We laughed and chatted and made sure that leftovers were minimal.

I’m sated, in every sense of the word. I’m also knackered: the good kind of knackered that comes from tired muscles and a mind that’s been given a proper runaround. I’ve been dashing all over the place recently. I’ve talked at Trinity College Dublin's Philosophical Society about beauty standards, gone back to Oxford for a poetry reading, as well as graduation (!!), done a shoot or two, and had many, many meetings. New things are afoot. Good things. Things I can’t wait to explore and feel my way into further.

So this last week has been the first chance in a while to properly settle into some kind of rhythm. I’m not sure exactly what it is yet, but it feels good. It’s a rhythm giving room for that burnished, crisp, autumnal thrill of new projects, as well as some space to just dawdle and learn and be (plus, finally doing all my invoices. Oops.)

The first of those new projects was properly kick-started on Saturday, when I decided to join all the other good people with newsletters. Mine is a tinyletter called Rosalind Reads, and - of course! - it’s all about books. You can sign up for it here if you fancy a weekly(ish) reading list, arranged by theme. Expect selections of books in areas from clothes to walking to illness. The first one – Telling Tales - went out yesterday. This feels like a very natural step, and a very fertile one too. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Alongside the various ways in which I’m looking forward, if we’re talking all things words, I also want to pause here to glance back over my shoulder too. The jump from student to freelance writer has been pretty seamless. I have the time – the time! the time! such sweet time! – to pursue things I’d been pondering on and letting percolate for months and months. Some of these are journalistic. Others are longer form. But while those are in progress, I wanted to collate together the work I completed over the last few months.  

Some are very personal pieces, including this set of reflections for The Debrief on the bittersweet summer after university, and this essay for Buzzfeed on scoliosis, puberty, and curves in all the wrong places. Both were a joy to work on (with brilliant editors too).

In print, you can currently find my words in Suitcase, where I explored one of my favourite activities: wild swimming. And in the latest issue of Violet I interviewed the brilliant director and screenwriter Sarah Kernochan about Hollywood, sexism, and what it was like to be the first woman to wear a tux to the Oscars.

I’ve also (unsurprisingly) spent a lot of time writing about all things teenage. Alongside the For Books’ Sake piece looking at representations of young women in fiction, I also had the best fun writing this for the ever-ace ThandieKay in praise of free make-up samples and the power of playing with your appearance during adolescence. I talked about my teen style icons for Into The Fold, praised Hermione and smart women for Mugglenet, discussed the art of self-confidence on Howling Reviews, and dismissed any suggestion of there being a ‘universal’ teen experience for Maximum Pop.

Perhaps my absolute favourite though was this piece for Refinery29. It’s called A Brief History of Men Moaning About Women’s Clothes, and oh the fun I had! It contains modernist misogynists, medieval preachers, and kings pissed off at red lipstick. Also, it featured on Man Repeller, which basically made my month. As with the work I’ve done for Broadly, this is the kind of writing I absolutely relish. Getting my teeth into an idea like this, with plenty of research required (me? Missing uni? Well, maybe only a little) and the chance to analyse clothes and culture - well, it’s the dream. I hope there’s plenty more of that ahead.

These images were taken by my dad In Oxford the weekend before I handed in my dissertation, back in March. It was a rather fraught 48 hours, but I got there – and spent the rest of the day after hand-in elated and bone-tired, lying in bed by myself drinking buck’s fizz and watching Endeavour. About as perfect as it gets. That whole year is already receding into the distance astonishingly quickly. 

My dress is from Stockholm's Beyond Retro, and the boots are second hand. I'd forgotten about these photos until the other day when I pulled this greyish-blue beauty of a coat back out of storage. I bought it from my all time favourite place for vintage in Oxford: Charlie's stall at the Gloucester Green market (he is the most excellent man - the ritual of visiting his stall is worth a whole blog post of its own). I ummed and aahed over it at first, and he, fabulously, told me to take it home, give it a test run, and give him the money the week after if I wanted to keep it. By the time I'd walked home enveloped in fluff, I knew it had to be mine. It’s ridiculously warm, ridiculously joyous, with the bonus of making me feel like a stately teddy bear with a blue rinse. The weather is now cold enough to shrug it on once more. I think it'll be perfect for some of those long, rambling walks.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Walking, Wandering, Striding, and Stomping

I went out at just before 5pm, weaving my way through concrete until I finally hit grass. Grass became woods became ferns became hills and sky – so much sky, stretching gloriously wide and gloriously blue. The wind juddered at my ears. I climbed the final stretch, red-cheeked and out of breath, heaving myself onto a rock to stare at the town I’d just climbed out of. We over-use the phrase “on top of the world”, but here it was apt: capturing what it feels like to stand, elevated above everything, aware of scaling this huge mound of rock and earth that, from down there in the valley, seems boundlessly large; to know that to anyone in that valley glancing out of their window up at the hill, right now you’re a tiny dot – a match-stick speck on this spine of green.

Two days later and I was in London, weaving my way through the streets as I moved from Holborn to the Tate Modern to Embankment on foot over the course of several hours (later to skip on to Tower Bridge for an event with Red magazine and then on to see friends in Arsenal via tube: it was quite the day). I lingered in the LRB Bookshop, dawdled along Drury Lane, poked my nose through the door of vintage shops, and paced my way over Blackfriars Bridge. By evening my blistered toes were impressive, but it had been worth it.

On another recent trip I saw Clissold Park for the first time in bright Sunday sunshine, elated to be exactly where I was, observing and walking and reveling in all the people going about their weekend business. To repurpose Woolf, it embodied what I loved; life; London; this moment of late September. I carried on to have coffee with my friend Rosie. Together we spent an hour in Abney Park cemetery, scrutinizing the ivy-clad gravestones, before moving on to London Fields - chatting all the way about bodies, identity and fashion blogging. It was perfect, made all the better by London having her best clothes on: streets decked out in sunshine and the odd orange leaf.

As you may be able to tell, I like feeling out places on foot. It’s how I move best: connecting up things through motion, through that very simple action of putting one boot in front of the other (for it is, nearly always, a boot). If I can walk around a city, I will. I want to nose down side-alleys and duck into bookshops and work out where the streets connect. I’m slightly uneasy until I’ve got a vague understanding of the space.

This last month I’ve not only paced my way through London, but also Brighton, Oxford and Dublin: two well-known cities, two new. Each yielded up their own offerings: clothes rails, book stalls, racks of fabric, glimpses of living rooms, shop windows, beautiful buildings (and ugly ones), crowds shifting and ebbing. I’ve also spent time rambling around the much more sparsely populated countryside. Pavements and ferns. Streets and narrow, stony paths. Buildings lit up at night and trees with the slant of sunset on them. I love them all equally. Very different environments, but all experienced with the same set of principles: curiosity in the new, comfort in the familiar, and joy in the very simple process of being able to just stride and observe.

This last month I’ve also thought a lot about walking: mainly thanks to reading Lauren Elkin’s marvelous, marvelous book Flâneuse. It’s a delicious read, charting the history and implications of women walking around cities. Elkin lingers somewhere between memoir and cultural criticism, interlacing her own wanderings with thoughts on Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Sophie Calle, and plenty of other interesting figures. Most crucially, she wrestles back the narrative of urban exploration from the men: talking with wit and insight about the ways in which women have moved through space, marked it, made it theirs and, sometimes, been rejected by it (for indeed, who among us hasn’t felt that surge of panic while out by ourselves late at night; suddenly, frustratingly aware that it’s easier for men to stride around without thought after dark?)

Flâneuse is a glittering account of female street haunters, lingerers, ramblers, stompers, and marchers; an examination of looking and being looked at; a meditation on being lost, for better and worse (on that note – also go and read Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City similarly dazzling prose/ thoughts/ analysis); a celebration of being inquisitive and open to whatever lies beyond the next corner; and a manifesto for pulling on your shoes and just having a good old nose around. As she writes, the flâneuse is "a figure to to be reckoned with, and inspired by, all on her own. She voyages out and goes where she's not supposed to; she forces us to confront the ways in which words like home and belonging are used against women. She is a determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk."

Since reading it, I’ve made more of an effort to walk consciously – to not just gallop along listening to music (as much as I love having my own personal soundtrack), but to properly listen, and properly look. It feels different. It feels richer. I’ve been more willing to idle and move around without the little blue dot on google maps tagging along, to just enjoy the scenery and snatches of life caught in passing: or in the case of the hills, to enjoy the total and utter solitude for a brief while. As I said, I’ve been putting one boot in front of another. And sometimes – as shown here – my feet have been clad in gold.   

These gold boots are by CAT. They sent them to me more than a year ago, and I wear them with astonishing regularity. They've taken me through mud, grass, and Edinburgh streets. The dress is a brilliant vintage number my mum bought online and then (begrudgingly) gave to me. Maybe this would have been better illustrated with images of me wandering around a city - but, well, it wouldn't be a proper blog post without some gorse and heather in there. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Girl Trouble, Girl Up, and Girls Will be Girls: Books About Being Teenage

Recently, I’ve been devouring books. Funny word, isn’t it? Devouring. Part of the language we apply to reading: one of bookworms, delectable stories, bittersweet endings, sentences to savour, and novels gobbled up in a single sitting. I mean - it’s not a language exclusive to books. The imagery of taste and consumption can be extended in all sorts of other directions. But I like it here. It sounds (and feels) right. I’ve devoured book after book. It’s been delicious.

If we stretch this conceit out a little further, I’ve also been relishing a feast of great variety: poetry, essays, non-fiction, memoir, YA novels, contemporary literary fiction, classics, page-turners and slow-burners. Things I’ve adored and things that have left me unsatisfied (those ones have their own fun though: why didn’t they work? What was so irksome, or stupid, or dull?) Many of them have ended up on my Instagram - for, of course, has a book truly been read if the reading isn’t publicized and made visible? (I jest. Mostly.) 

I’ve sat in the sun with a coffee and nothing to do but revel in words (especially Jenny Diski’s words), stayed up until 2am as an ending gallops into sight (Frances Hardinge’s books, full of intricate leaps of imagination, are so very, very hard to put down), sat at the top of hills with wind juddering at my ears and poetry in my hands (Owen Sheers’ A Poet’s Guide to Britain was ripe for a revisit), and spent plenty of time on trains with my eyes firmly on the page (a strange but great mix of Roland Barthes and the joyously dazzling Katherine Rundell).

This summer, I’ve also been reading plenty of books about what it means to be teenage - well, there’s a surprise! Can’t think why… In all seriousness though, it’s a very good time for smart, entertaining books addressing adolescence in a variety of ways. As I've said before, to be a part of this growing surge is both a thrill and an honour. Notes on Being Teenage has been keeping me busy: school talks, book festivals, chairing events, and lots of articles. Next up is an event with Red magazine this Wednesday (the 21st), where I’ll be giving careers advice alongside incredible women like Cathy Newman and Nimko Ali.

Given all that, I thought it was ripe time to pick up on a handful of my favourite books on all things teenage – some new, some older, all wonderful:

Ctrl Alt Delete: I feel hugely fortunate to count Emma as a friend. She’s a whirlwind of activity and curiosity – running a brilliant podcast (listen to her episode with me here), newsletter, and blog, as well as giving talks. She’s the kind of person who always spurs me on to want to do more. AND she’s lovely. Anyway, her book is a warm, entertaining, very relatable memoir of growing up online. I found myself turning down page corners and nodding along as she explores the fumbling (sometimes stumbling) way we grow up and learn to negotiate the online world. 

Girl Up: I love Laura Bates. She’s incredible. An absolute force. A necessary one, too. Girl Up had me cackling on public transport, and snapping pictures of the illustrations to send to friends. If I’d read it in my mid-teens, I think it would have offered me those two crucial things: reassurance that I wasn’t alone, and courage to use my voice and make it a little louder. Give a copy to every teen girl you know. It is fierce, hilarious, very, very feminist, and guaranteed to leave you feeling fired up. Plus, it has dancing vulvas on the endpapers. What more could you want?

Mind Your Head: I interviewed Juno Dawson for my book (she mentioned Björk and David Bowie, so I was very happy), and did two events with her this summer at YALC and Edinburgh. She’s sharp, thoughtful and very funny, both on stage and on the page. This is lovely, comprehensive, and, crucially, properly honest guide to navigating mental health in your teens.

Girl Trouble: Teen girls have always been seen as vaguely dangerous – or, at least, vaguely likely to cause upset and push against expectations. Here Carol Dyhouse takes an in-depth look at the many and varied moral panics surrounding young women over the course of the 20th Century. Bringing together sexuality, gender, costume, work, class, the media, and plenty else, it’s a compelling (and excellently researched) publication that illuminates many of the ongoing discussions about teen girls we see today. Also seek out her other fab book Glamour

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? I also had the pleasure of meeting Holly Bourne this summer, and the chance to read the third novel in her fab Spinster series. Here the protagonist Lottie sets herself a rather tricky (but very brilliant) challenge: to call out every instance of sexism she witnesses for a whole month. Hilarity and chaos ensure. Very fun YA with serious undertones.

Girls Will be Girls: Got enough girl titles in here yet? Emer O’Toole’s book is a bit of a dream for me: about teenagers, dressing up, play, performance, and the roles we take on and cast off. I haven’t quite finished this yet, but it’s a pleasure to read – seamlessly swinging between memoir, theory and deft observations on our complex relationships with gender.

We Should All Be Feminists: A short and sweet essay (with a powerful message) for all ages, from the ever-fantastic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Especially relevant here, however, because last year it was reported that every 16 year old in Sweden would be given a copy. Imagine that happening in the UK. Just imagine.  

There are a few others, not pictured here, that would make the list too. Both of Louise O’Neill’s books (see my review of Asking for It on the blog here) are difficult, daring reads, while the charmingly illustrated My Name is Girl by Nina Cosford (out next week) will strike a chord with many young women. Phoebe Gluckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl – the graphic novel behind the film – delves into disturbing, unsettling places (more in the camp of being ‘about’ teen experience rather than ‘for’ teens), but remains an interesting, upfront exploration of sex and desire. 

Next year will also herald the release of both Hannah Witton’s Doing It, and Gemma Cairney’s Open; the former a no-nonsense sex and relationships guide that is really, really needed right now (go see Hannah's excellent vlogs here), and the latter a wonderful sounding toolkit for adolescence by the marvelously sunny, funny Gemma (who, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I also met this summer at YALC, where she chaired a panel I was on). 

Phew! What a brilliant bunch of books. If you want more recommendations when it comes to young women in fiction, you can also head on over to For Books' Sake, where I compiled some of my favourites. Includes Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle (of course), as well as work by authors including Helen Oyeyemi and Daisy Johnson. 

Now, with the sun still golden outside my window, it’s time to hop outside and dive into another one. I wonder what I'll pluck from the shelves next. 

My dress here is a vintage St Michael one that I bought before I realized that off-the-shoulder was the biggest trend of the summer – a fascinating phenomenon I wish I had time to properly explore here... The shoes are Orla Kiely for Clarks (in the Bibi style), and the necklace and belt are both vintage.

OH, and if you've happened to enjoy my book, I'd be hugely grateful for an Amazon review. They really do help. Thanks to all the gorgeous readers I've met and spoken with this summer. It's been such fun. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016


We were on our first cocktail of the night. Many (too many) more were to follow. My friend made reference to the music playing. “This is Christine and the Queens. You'd love her.” As we drank and chatted, he occasionally broke in to comment on the songs. I did that thing each time of nodding, intrigued but dimly aware that I’d more than likely forget and berate myself later when I couldn't recall the name. I do this all the time: with books, with music, with films. Recently I’ve started putting them in my phone straightaway, my notes full of the flotsam of suggested reads, things to listen to, shopping lists, reminders and to-do’s and should-have-been-done’s, scraps of ideas. Sometimes I fish them out again, working up a line of poetry into something more substantial, or just actually bloody remembering to buy milk the next day.

Two weeks later I encountered Héloïsse Letissier’s stage name again in an article. This time I properly paid attention, immediately listening to her music. Then I listened and listened and listened some more. There’s a kind of magic in that moment of falling hard for an album. You impulsively tell people about it. You watch all the music videos you can lay your hands (or scrolling fingers) on. You don’t want to play anything else for a good week because it’s all a bit pale compared to this new, exciting set of sounds providing ideal company on the bus, in the shower, during cooking, while lying on a bed doing nothing but listening and thinking and relishing lyrics not previously noticed.

In the case of Christine and the Queens, a particular snippet kept rattling around my head from ‘Tilted’: “I’m doing my face with magic marker/ I’m in my right place, don’t be a downer.” You need to hear it to get the effect, the jaunty euphoria of (to my mind) looking as you want, doing what you want, being where you want. Those two lines have floated into my head again and again. Others too – not least her description of dancing as something “safe and holy” – but I keep on returning to this image. It pinpoints that superb moment of everything aligning, of all being bright, costumed, painted. To me, it’s the exact moment of feeling capable of facing down the world, whether in a minute grabbed in front of the mirror before a train journey, or an hour of twirling around getting ready in the evening, choosing clothes, daubing lips with red, assembling appearances.

Really, it’s in this suggestion of play, and dressing up, that my love for her work tips head over heels. Like many of my favourite singers (Kate Bush, David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Björk), it’s not just about the music here – but also the performance, and the personas shimmied on and off in music videos, or on stage. All that potential for toying with costume, the chance to embellish, enlarge or downsize posture and personality. In the case of Christine and the Queens, there’s something so totally enthralling in her suit-wearing, sharp-dancing, assertively physicalized act. She swaggers and swoops, a perfect pattern of limbs with her backing dancers.

It’s an act wrapped up in a deft negotiation of sexuality, identity, and spectacle: assembling a space for the audience in which anything goes, and all is accepted. It is deliciously queer and deliciously gorgeous; a graceful, hip-shaking suggestion of the way music should be felt from head to toe (Letissier won’t use songs if they don’t make her want to dance). It’s an exploration of gender at once joyous, subversive, and thoughtful, played out through some thumpingly good songs.

All of this is also played out in clothing choices. Here they’re decisive: blazers and trousers cut with room for movement (or, in the case of Paradis Perdu, with a gradual, gargantuan, parodic spread of fabric). They are agile clothes, practical clothes, clothes that fit the lyrics, full as they are with discussion of desire, bodies, appearance, and, in the case of iT, what it might mean to be a man.

I’m fascinated by the power found in suits. It’s part physical, part cultural. A suit weights you with a particular set of motions, a decisive way of walking and holding your hips. Suits also come with a weight of associations: of business and commerce and long hours in the office, of dressing for dinner, heading out on the town, straightening a bowtie before boogying the night away, of everyone from Don Draper to Marlene Dietrich. Many of these images are gendered. To be female and to shrug on a suit can still hold a subversive thrall, despite it now being a well-worn (in both senses of the meaning) path.

In fact, I set out here planning to write something about the history of the suit and the intrigue that comes with donning a garment we still deem ‘mannish’ (or, in the heteronorm-babble of fashion mags, as ‘boyfriend style’). But the relationships built up between fabric and the skin beneath – well, the more I thought about them, the more I realized just how interesting and complicated they are. It’d require an awful lot more words for them to be done any kind of justice.

So for now, I’ll stick with saluting the suit, and the singer who inspired me to spend a little more time thinking about crisp shirts and good trousers (among other things). After that first, feverish week of listening to/ watching/ reading many, many interviews with Christine and the Queens, I spent plenty of time eyeing up blazers in charity shops and vintage markets, nosing around in search of good tailoring.

What I guess I love most is possibility: the strength and potential found in different types of garments. When I slipped on the outfit pictured, I immediately felt my posture change. I wanted to stride around, to move, to dance away through the heather and across the hills, slithering across the rocks in my brogues. I stood differently. I stood assertively, in my right place, keenly aware in the breeze of how good it felt - this small act of magic conjured up in black velvet. 

The suit is second-hand - blazer and trousers bought separately. The brogues were also from a charity shop. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

Cascades of Earliness

4.45am isn’t a time I’m used to. I’m more of a late starting girl, given half a chance: the kind who loves to laze in bed until mid-morning, reading and snoozing and listening to music (and, if I’m honest, spending slightly too long staring at my phone). But today I am up before the birds, shaking away sleep as I pull on tights, a polo-neck, dress, boots, shearling jacket. By 5.04am I’m in the car with my dad, clutching a flask of tea. We drive out of the village towards the mist. It’s thick, turning trees and hedges into flat silhouettes. Our car slips through the grey. Shortly after, the sky’s edges curl pink.

By 5.30am we’re standing at the top of the hill: a vast hill, looking down over valley upon valley of towns and fields. As the minutes go by, the heather stretching in every direction is illuminated – as is everything else, lines and details soaked clear with daylight. We witness the shift from shadows to green, mauve, blue, tangerine. The tangerine belongs to the clouds. They score the view ahead: great big scratches of light and colour. My dad fusses with his cameras (plural - our reason for being here). I sit on an anorak among the heather, watching. Soon I’m trying to note down everything I can see and hear, scribbling bullet points, only some of which make sense:  

  • ·      Traffic growl only sign of life
  • ·      crows – harsh notes
  • ·      hills holding their breath
  • ·      sheep bleating
  • ·      stillness up here - motion below

But none of it can properly capture the grandeur of it; the elation of watching a landscape wake up, lit by that huge, neon circle swimming up from the horizon; the sense of standing at the edge of a world that is only half-yours, that still, somehow, belongs more to the birds and the insects in the grass and the last gasp of night.

Then there’s the knowledge that this process happens all the time (though, of course, not always as marvelously as this) – a regular spectacle most of us don’t witness. Virginia Woolf writes beautifully in ‘On Being Ill’ about spending time staring at the sky, noting wryly, “one should not let this gigantic cinema play perpetually to an empty house”. But she also knows that the sights up above have “nothing to do with human pleasure or human profit”. They happen because they must. Our joy at these scenes is incidental.

This dawn rising is the culmination of a long weekend spent throwing myself back into the green, reveling in all this gorgeous expanse. I’ve said goodbye to Oxford, and, sad as it is, there’s something galvanizing in the temporary change of scene. There are books to read, slopes to climb, water to seek out, long walks to complete, muscles to tire out, projects to pursue. I’m craving activity and motion. But, at the crown of the hill, there’s just this: a dawn so impossibly beautiful, and so impossibly everyday.  

When we leave, the sunshine is bright, but there’s an autumnal bite in the air. In a few hours it’ll relinquish its grip back to summer, and the garden will be baking hot. I’ll sit on my laptop with all the doors and windows open. I’ll grab some time in the warmth, flowers around me, with Alice Oswald’s poetry collection ‘Falling Awake’ – delighted to find that the second half is titled ‘Tithonus: 46 Minutes in the Life of Dawn’. It will give words to the morning I could never have shaped myself, Oswald writing, “here come cascades of earliness in/ which everything is asked is it light/ is it light is it light”, and I’ll be carried through page after page: “there is amazement here turning/ wishfully pink above the trees”. She’ll talk of “the lurch the/ well-known slap of joy when/ bird-verse takes a regular line”, of how “a great proximity arches overheard”, of the ways in which “the sky’s a cloth the eye a passer-/by with mirrors”.

But here, with the promise of breakfast ahead, I’m still a passerby. The air is crisp outside the car. The mist is lingering on the fields, and we’ll be back home before anyone else is up.

In between all that rapturous watching, I managed to convince dad to take a few photos of me – having stashed away a vintage ballgown in the car. It was probably 6.45am by this point. It was only when I pulled on the dress that I realized how wonderfully the purple threads in the fabric caught and reflected the purple of the heather. First featured here, it originally belonged to the mother of a neighbour of my distant cousin (tenuous, I know). It doesn’t quite fit any more, ergo the strong ‘hands on hip’ poses: I am literally holding it together.