What I've Missed About Reading

It appears that, in true Lara style, I wrote a whole post about my blogging plans and how I was generally going to get more organised over the next year, particularly by posting more often ... and then went AWOL for a month and a half.

Oopsie.

Sorry for my absence, guys - exam season kind of kicked my butt and I basically lost the ability to read anything except revision guides, write anything except flashcards, or commit to anything except long study sessions in the library. But now ... now it is time for a comeback.

Are you READY, punks? Because I really, really have missed you.

In fact, I am willing to write a whole post about how I have missed the whole book blogging/ bookworm community - in fact, no. I'm willing to write a whole post about just how much I've missed the simple act of reading.

#1 - TALKING ABOUT BOOKS

I've had my head in various books for the whole time I've been away, but the thing is that when people ask "So what are you reading at the moment?", they aren't really expecting me to wax lyrical about the Organisation chapter of my Biology Revision Guide. However I try to phrase it, I can't quite make indicator species sound like main characters, the digestive system into a setting, or the fact that active transport requires energy a decent plot twist.

(BTW, if anyone understood that incredibly geeky paragraph, could they actually write this book? The section set in the small intestine might be a tiny bit gruesome, but ... you'd definitely have me as a reader.)

I've honestly been spending most of my time lately logging on to Twitter and inwardly crying because I'VE MISSED SO MUCH. Half the books people are raving about? I completely missed their release days! *sighs*

I guess I'm just going to have to get stuck in. *settles down to scroll through months of blog archives*

#2 - ESCAPING FROM THE DULL, DULL WORLD

It turns out that life is kind of boring when you don't have fictional people's lives to escape into.

I mean, there are so many cool things that I don't have in my everyday existence - where are all the cute relationships who create banter with fandom references? Where're all my kickass grandmas and my time travelling teenagers and my private islands?

WHERE ARE ALL THE FASCINATING MURDERERS?

Oh. Maybe ... maybe I shouldn't be inviting murderers to enter my life. You're still fascinating, murderers, but please stay on the other side of the paper, where you can't reach my vital organs with your stabby knives.

It's probably a good job that I've managed to get over my self-created reading slump as soon as I have, or I might have gone looking for intrigue in somewhere dangerous. You know, like an organised crime ring.

See, people - reading saves lives! And does anyone have any books about organised crime rings to recommend?

#3 - BEING IN CONTROL OF MY GOODREADS GOAL

Before my exams decided to sneak up on me to steal away all my free time, creativity and knowledge of life outside of a textbook I was actually having a pretty productive reading period. I am naturally bitter about that, but since they have returned all those things to me (minus a few weeks of my life), I've decided not to press charges.

However. My Goodreads goal is now slowly spiralling out of reach, and since I failed last year's so spectacularly, this is worrying. But, fingers crossed, I'll get there; and if getting there means reminding myself that Goodreads goals are arbitrary numbers that don't define anything about my life, then so be it.

#4 - BEING IN CONTROL OF MY TBR

You know the theory that even the smallest TBR can grow astronomically big without any interaction from the person that's supposed to be making it? Yeah, that. I swear they've been breeding.

I can only tackle them so quickly, peeps, and honestly the sheer speed of multiplication is starting to scare me. Do I need to seperate them at night or something? Are they like gremlins, and I've just been getting them wet by accident? If anyone could give any tips on properly caring for them, that would be most appreciated?

But in all seriousness, I think I have a problem somehow linked with Goodreads and the sheer inviting nature of its "Want to Read" button. They should decorate it in more dangerous colours, or something.

#5 - BEING IN CONTROL OF ANYTHING, BASICALLY

*Smiles for an unreasonable amount of time in a near-futile effort to try and convince you I've ever been in control of anything in my life.*

*Fails*

#6 - HAVING AN EXCUSE NOT TO TALK TO THE MUGGLES

Say what you like about books (or actually, don't, because I might spit in your face if you're overly mean) but they are excellent mechanisms for avoiding conversation. If someone can't see your mouth due to the large volume in front of it, they don't tend to expect interesting words to come out. This comes in really handy when you're bored by people generally, or are worried you'll reveal your murder plans if you get talking for too long.

Come on, I can't be the only one.

For whatever reason, revision guides don't have the same effect. Maybe they make the people around me think I need to escape? I mean, I was studying the Implications of Research into Antisocial Personality Disorder at some point - the look on my face must have been pretty torturous.

But does that excuse people talking to me on a regular basis? Ugh.

#7 - THE WHOLE BOOKWORM IDENTITY

I guess there must have been a reason why I decided to become obsessed with books in the first place.

Obviously, there's the books. The whole words-stimulating-imagination thing is pretty darn cool. But ... there's also the whole community surrounding them. The enthusiastic conversations I can have at the library with perfect strangers who are about to check out my favourite book. The people who don't give me a weird side eye when I squeak at the new cover on the display table at Waterstones. The people on the internet (yeah, that's you lovelies) who can look at a Tweet that is basically just incoherent moaning and know I'm complaining about the first Percy Jackson movie.

Again.

I am glad I'm back because I get to hang out with my bookish friends again. I get to put on my proud bookworm cloak and join the army hiding behind a cave of books. And even just writing this post is putting a smile on my face.

So, I do actually have a point. Basically, don't ostracise yourself from this wonderful community just because you're in a busy life season or a reading slump. We won't judge you because your TBR is growing out of control and you can't even remember the exact last time you sat down and cracked a spine. We're all busy sometimes, and you're still one of us.

Come join the party.

***
In the comments: What do you guys miss the most when you don't have time to read? Is your TBR quite as out of control as mine is? And what else do you love about being a bookworm?
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The Keeper of Portals Review (In A LIST! How EXCITING!)

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

So ... V.S. Nelson's The Keeper of Portals releases tomorrow.

Yeah. Up until a few months ago, I didn't know what it was either - but I now know, ladies and gentlemen. It is a fantasy-adventure story about a pair of teenagers who discover not only that the world and everything within it is controlled by Keepers - from the Keeper of Buttons to the Keeper of Causality - but also that these Keepers are being kidnapped.

Which could result in, you know, the entire world crumbling in on itself.
It turned out that I rather enjoyed this, but I'm guessing you might want to know about my opinion in more detail, being the demanding little things that you are, so I made you a list review. Please enjoy it.

Things I enjoyed and would like to cheer about:
  • Isabel. ISABEL. I have so much love for her and her particular brand of 16th century sassiness - she's so brave and smart and incredible.
  • Also loads of girl power on Isabel's part. Huzzah.
  • It took me a while to warm to Martin, but once I did, I saw the truth. He is a cheeky, protective little cinnamon roll and I love him for it.
  • The whole book was just delightfully, unashamedly weird, as all good portal fantasy should be, and - although it took me a while to adjust - I ended up loving that uniqueness.
  • I JUST SHIP MARTIN + ISABEL SO HARD. Misabel? Isartin? I don't have a ship name, but at this point I don't particularly care. (As for whether or not I have canon, well. You'll have to find out.)
  • That ENDING. It HURT. In a frankly amazing way, of course.

Things I did not like so much, thank you:
  • It seemed to take forever to get going. The first two or three chapters seemed to be solely made up of Martin's internal monologue, and WOW it dragged. 
  • Obviously I don't want to say too much, but there were some magical powers involved. I've nothing against magic in general, and mostly it was fine? It just got overly convenient at times ... as you can imagine, I rolled my eyes a little.
  • Martin and Isabel were supposed to be about fifteen. They did not read like fifteen year olds. I don't know exactly why? Maybe it's because the plot and it's lovely wackiness feeling more middle grade? But at times I got confused and had to remind myself of their age.

In summary - don't go into this book expecting a full-blown YA fantasy, because that's not what it is. You'll be disappointed. But if you enjoy MG-style, wacky fantasy with historical elements, squeeworthy (and squeaky clean) will-they-won't-they romance, and kickass, loyal characters, you're in the right place.

If you would like a synopsis, here is one of those. Never say I'm not generous.
Everything in the universe is maintained by its own keeper, from the most insignificant insect to time itself. When 15 year-old Martin moves into a stately home that’s dangerously overhanging a cliff, he meets the Keeper of Portals and learns of the mysterious door at the end of his bedroom.
    One morning, Martin wakes to discover the Keeper of Portals is missing and the door at the end of his bedroom is open. Martin steps through the door to find himself in the 17th century where he meets Isabel, the house’s maid. Upon discovering two imprisoned keepers, Martin and Isabel gain the ability to control time and travel through portals. 
    After being attacked by hordes of brainwashed villagers, Martin and Isabel learn that the master of the house has a devious plan, one the keepers are powerless to stop. Martin and Isabel must jump between the present day and the 17th century in order to hide from the twisted master, avoiding past versions of themselves, as powerful keepers thwart them at every turn. But as items from the future begin to bleed into the past and the present day is plagued by malfunctioning portals, Martin and Isabel’s only option is to confront the master – the Keeper of Questions.
(via Goodreads)

In the comments: Do you like a list-based review, or do you prefer more traditional ones? Does this book sound like your sort of thing? Why or why not?
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5 Ways I Plan to Improve My Blog In 2017

First of all, I would just like to thank everyone for your amazing support with Disability Diaries last week. It meant the world to me to write those posts and have those discussions, and the fact that people were out there retweeting and contributing and actually listening to what we all had to say ... it blew my mind. I think I speak on behalf of Ely, Cee Arr, Angel, Jolien and Dina when I say that you guys were (and still are, of course) utterly amazing.

It was also, as you can probably imagine, a ridiculously busy week. Between homework and music practice and finding the time to chat with you guys on the internet, I don't think I've had a moment to sit and think about my blogging direction since the New Year.

So that's what I'm going to do today. Here you go:

#1 ~ STREAMLINE MY TAGS
Hey - tags?

You've probably never bothered to scroll down far enough on any of my post to get to the tag wasteland, but do it. Do it now.

The amount of tags there that are absolutely useless because they only contain one post ... it hurts me. It's just a painful mass of links that tangle up everyone's brains - especially mine. I've been putting off pruning the whole jungle because the thought of going through every single post I've ever written to fix its tags makes me want to turn my brain inside out just a tiny bit.

But it really is bugging me.

#2 ~ ACTUALLY PUT REVIEWS ON GOODREADS
Yes, Tom Hanks. Really.

I'm doing my first category-based Reading Challenge this year (courtesy of Sorry, I'm Booked) and it has a rule that you have to review the three books you read per month for the challenge. And, therefore, I plan to review not only those, but EVERY SINGLE BOOK I read this year.

Good luck, me.

As I've found that a) I like to write itty bitty tiny reviews which don't always fill up an entire blog post, b) reviews don't actually get enjoyed as much as my other blog posts (based on the stats, anyway), and c) I'm sick of having a Goodreads account that resembles a town abandoned after nuclear disaster, I decided I'd post those reviews there.

I'm not going to completely abandon on-the-blog reviews - in fact, I've got some lovely ones lined up for you in the next couple of weeks - but they will become a rare species. You know, like pandas. Or ... unicorns.

#3 ~ GET BACK INTO TWITTER CHATS
When I took part in the Teen Bloggers' Chat yesterday, my main intention was to make sure that the blogging community at large knew that I was still alive and hadn't just zombified myself for Disability Diaries before returning to my silent grave.

Hush. I'm tired. It's not that long for a metaphor.

Anyway, yakking on Twitter is a very fun (and also very productive/ networky) thing to do, so I need to get around to doing it more. Come join me, if you fancy! 7PM UK Time? Next Sunday? It's on teen voice and opinion and all that kinds of awesome.

You'll be there. *nods with completely hollow confidence*

#4 ~ SCHEDULE MORE POSTS
I don't just say this to myself every year, I say this to myself every week. And I always believe it. Come Saturday, I'm always excited about two whole free days and I think 'hey! I can get two or three posts written and scheduled, no problem!"

Then Monday rolls around, and - well. There's a reason this post is going up exactly ten seconds before my bedtime.

It's as if I'm physically incapable of writing anything unless I am facing a near-impossible deadline, and this is not fun. It might just be the way I work, but if so ... it is not my favourite attribute. Right now, I'm so tired I am typing the wrong words and barely noticing.

This needs to stop.

#5 ~ ACTUALLY COMMENT ON PEOPLE'S BLOGS FOR ONCE
Gosh, am I terrible at commenting.

I'll read maybe two or three blog posts a day, and a lot of them are amazing. I'll get to the end of the post, think something along the lines of "wow, that was good" ... and then CLOSE THE WINDOW WITHOUT COMMENTING.

And I know how terrible this is. I know how much I appreciate comments on my own blog and the people who genuinely care enough to leave them, especially regularly (you guys are beautiful and I love you. Thank you for all your support and gorgeousness), so it's really bad that I love posts and then the blogging geniuses behind them don't get to hear about it.

I guess I just need to get into the habit? But WOW. Someone hit me with a hammer until I hit reply next time, okay?

***
In the comments: Do you have any blogging goals for yourself this year? Why are they important for you? Do you think you'll actually end up meeting them?
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My Disability Diaries TBR

Have you been enjoying Disability Diaries?
There's been some downright awesome stuff going on, from discussions to rants to whatever it is I wrote last Saturday, but the recommendations are my absolute favourite right now. Literally just scrolling through the #DisabilityDiaries2017 hashtag has almost doubled the size of my TBR.

And, because I'm at least a little bit evil - uh, I mean ... because it's super important for everyone to read as many different representations of different disabilities as possible, I've made this post.

Because you want to grow your TBR at a ridiculous rate too, right?

RIGHT?

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whatley

I'd heard of this one a couple of times before DD week, and frankly I was more than a little skeptical about it. The premise involves an MC trying to "cure" another MC of his agoraphobia - which sounds like a recipe for harmful representation to me.

But, according to Gerri @ Coralling Books, it's actually a surprisingly good interpretation, and I'm just fascinated to see how the author manages to turn what looks like a toxic stereotype into ... well, not a toxic stereotype. Also, I know very little about agoraphobia, and this needs to change. Between this book and the next one, I'm hoping I might get at least a basic view of it from a couple of different angles.

(Nice segway there, Lara. Real subtle.)

Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornell

I've seen all kinds of rave reviews about this book over the last week, but I think the honour of convincing me to read it goes to Casey @ AdoptABookAus - apparently it involves a girl with agoraphobia and OCD who meets a guy? But his mere presence doesn't miraculously cure her?

Yes please and thank you. Count me in.

The really eye-opening mental health-related books I've read have been heartbreaking most of the time *cough* All The Bright Places *cough*, but that's because they told the truth, rather than wrapping up these issues in a blanket of "you'll-fall-in-love-and-it'll-all-be-okay". Whether or not I end up sobbing, it sounds like I'll have heard the truth from this book.

And that is kind of the point of Disability Diaries - to promote books that are honest about mental illness and disability and everything in between?

The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine

This one comes from my lovely fellow co-host Angel (the linked post is her DD TBR, so have a look if you're looking for even more recs), and GAH I AM SO EXCITED TO READ IT. After the hella controversial Me Before You, which I read and became pretty upset by last week, I'm desperate for a book with a paraplegic character that a) doesn't perpetrate harmful stereotypes about disability being a worse fate than death, b) doesn't make me bawl my eyes out, and c) doesn't use my concern about representation and emotional investment against each other to make me feel ridiculously conflicted.

According to Goodreads, it's a fun summery read. I'm hoping it wasn't lying - although we all know I cry at everything, so I'm not about to put away the tissues.

Just. In. Case.

The Memory Wall by Lev A.C. Rosen

Another of my co-hosts, Jolien (who, I'd just like to point out, is just as lovely) wrote an absolutely gorgeous piece on dementia last Monday. I've been pretty busy this week with everything that's been going on, so I only just got round to reading it, and wow did it make me think.

This is one of the books Jolien mentioned, and other than the fact that I now have a minor obsession with learning AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE about dementia through literature, the premise really caught my attention. It's about a young boy who escapes his mother's slow loss of memory by playing a fantasy video game ... except he's convinced that she's playing with him from her nursing home. And refuses to believe that she's got dementia in the first place.

It sounds amazing (although I'm guessing I'll need the tissues for this one too) and also cover love. I can't wait to get around to it.

***
In the comments: Has Disability Diaries added any books to your TBR? Which ones? What's exciting you about it?
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Disability Rep Done Good | The First Third by Will Kostakis

This is disability representation done right, people.

The entire time I read it, I was kind of delirious at the fact that somebody had finally represented ME. In an actual book. My disability was being described and, while I'm not 100% like that character, I could identify with them far more strongly than I'd ever identified with any character before. I was so overjoyed it was getting to the point that I laughed - and then cried - most of my way through the book.

There were probably a dozen or more tiny things that made it awesome, and despite having read it almost cover to cover twice, I probably won't be able to recognise and describe all of them. I guess I'll just do some?

Right. So. The disability representation in The First Third comes in the form of Lucas - A.K.A. Sticks - an eighteen-year-old joker and wingman to the long-suffering Greek-Australian protagonist, Bill. He's a hilarious person, he genuinely cares about Bill, and he has Cerebral Palsy, so walks with crutches. When a sidekick character like Lucas is disabled, it's easy for their inclusion to just feel like tokenism, like a joke. It's easy for them to be an afterthought - and that afterthought hurts.

(Sorry. When I get excited, it appears that I use a lot of italics.)

REASONS WHY LUCAS DID NOT FEEL LIKE AN AFTERTHOUGHT (OR, THE PARTS OF THIS BOOK THAT I LIKED THE MOST)
  • His disability didn't define him, but neither was it ignored. Constant little references were slipped into the text enough to make it feel like CP was an integral part of Lucas' (and through extension, Bill's) life, but none of them felt like the author was yelling "HE'S GOT A DISABILITY, REMEMBER?". That takes a lot of subtlety and no doubt some very good editing, but it's so so so necessary if you want to write disabled characters truthfully. Please take note, and remember that the MC was in a particularly stressful situation he wanted to get away from, not just being heartless:
          "Faster," I barked. He rested on his crutches for a second. "Difficult."
  • There's this huge, utterly lovely discussion about dating with a disability (and as a gay person, for that matter), and it was somehow absolutely vital, insightful, and funny all at the same time. I don't want to say too much - because spoilers, amiright? - but it made my heart happy.
          "Says the able-bodied hetero kid." Sticks said. "If you think you have to jump through hoops to find someone - then my hoops are spinning. And they're on fire."
  •  It was really refreshing to see a physically disabled character who wasn't in a wheelchair? There's nothing wrong with wheelchairs - an awful lot of disabled people (including me) use them, and they deserve to be represented too, but there's this frankly useless stereotype in the world that disability always equals wheelchair. And this subverted it! A tiny bit! HUZZAH!
          (I think a lot of this also has to do with the fact that Lucas is based on an actual person, rather             than just being a cookie-cutter of a disabled person, but I'll leave Will to explain that in his                   interview in a bit.)
  • HARDCORE (CANON) SHIP INVOLVING A DISABLED PERSON.
  • The process of growing up with a disability is described at the beginning, and the little details just made that description. The way mini-Lucas explains CP to fellow four-year-olds by saying his "legs won't listen" (I tell small children a similar thing when they get inquisitive). The whole "rebrand" he goes through in early teenage years, initiating the nickname Sticks and shortening the phrase Cerebral Palsy to CP (I didn't have the self-confidence to choose an ironic nickname, but I definitely gave up the long name.) This, ladies and gentlemen, is an able-bodied author who has DONE THEIR FREAKING RESEARCH.
  • I was also oddly comforted by how okay Bill was with the little things of being a special needs friend. 
          Shush. It's a term now. I invented it.

          It might surprise you how much time I spend worrying about how much my friends do for me,             even though they always look at me like I'm crazy when I bring it up (thanks for being                         amazing, you lovely people). But ... seeing how matter-of-fact Bill is most of the time about                 walking a bit slower, or handing Lucas his sticks - and knowing, as you'll see in the interview,             that the author speaks from a position of knowledge on this - just set my mind at ease like                   nothing really has before.

In summary, this book is a testament to disability representation at its finest: and it shows that, while #ownvoices are ridiculously important and we just don't have enough of them in disability lit, able-bodied authors can write really decent portrayals. Beautiful portrayals, in fact.

Not all of them do, but that's a topic for another day. Wednesday's post, in fact.
Now, I'm guessing you guys want to peer into the brain which put this together, right? Well, today's your lucky day, because I have an interview lined up for you. Thank you for agreeing to do this, Will - I'm certainly fascinated by what you have to say!


What made you want to write about a disabled character like Lucas?
In my first year of university, I met someone. We were both seated and we spoke for what felt like hours. The conversation was lively, and my sides hurt from laughing so hard. We clicked. This was back when Facebook first launched and I was genuinely excited to make a new Facebook friend. He went to leave, and walked away with his crutches. As he did, I realised he had cerebral palsy. 

My first thought was, 'Oh, lucky I'm not friends with him, that'd be really inconvenient.'

And then I heard that first thought. I was deeply ashamed. That was my first thought meeting someone with cerebral palsy? I immediately acted to correct it, we became Facebook friends, and now, he's one of my closest friends. And every time we hang out, I'm reminded that had I listened to that prejudiced first thought, I would have missed out on one of the best relationships in my life.

The reason for writing Lucas was two-fold. First, I wanted to capture that relationship, and second, I wanted to make sure that nobody who read The First Third ever had that same first thought.

What was the hardest part of that process?
The hardest part was capturing the reality of being a gay teen with cerebral palsy, without making him read like Oscarbait. His arc has tragic beats, most in the novel do, but I didn't want it to overwhelm. On the flip-side, I didn't want to reduce him to comic relief.

It was a delicate knife edge to tread, and I overcame it by thinking about him less like he was the protagonist's sidekick, and more like his friendship with Bill was the central character. They are two halves of one whole.

What did you do to make sure that you represented CP in an accurate way?
I started by making sure Lucas was a clear character, with a distinct voice. I didn't want his disability to be a plot point, but I wanted it to inform who he was. Much like I didn't want him to "just happen to be gay", I didn't want him to "just happen to have CP". There are two parts to representation - incorporation and exploration. While I think incorporation is admirable, it's that second part that writers should strive towards. It's the exploration of identity, it's the details that make it feel real and less tokenistic. That means research, beyond my own personal experience with my friend, asking questions and listening.

How did your publisher react to Lucas' involvement in The First Third?
Lucas was the best-realised character in the early drafts. From the first pages they read, Penguin Random House Australia embraced him. While his disability was never an issue, his arc was a point of contention. The First Third is about teens taking their first awkward steps into adulthood, and for Lucas, that's acting on his sexual desires.

First, I was asked if the scene was essential. Did it have to be through an app? (Keep in mind this is before Tinder sort of normalised dating apps for straight people.) Did it have to be with a stranger? Yes, Lucas is coming to terms with what it means to be gay and disabled. He has been taught by previous interactions, and an ablest culture, that he cannot be desirable and disabled, so inviting someone over via an app allows him to disguise his disability.

The first time they read the scene, my publisher was its champion. But still, there was trepidation. I understood why. As a touring author without an international name, the local education market is important to me. ‘Difficult’ content begets difficulties, like not being shelved in school libraries and not being invited to speak. They were hypothetical difficulties at that stage, sure, but compromises were still made to reduce the risk of them becoming my reality.

I say compromises — Lucas was aged up to 18, and the scene occurred in his bedroom instead of a hotel room — but these changes didn’t compromise my vision. The scene had changed slightly, but its meaning remained intact, and it was now likely to get into more schools, where more gay kids, more disabled kids and more kids with friends and classmates like Lucas, could read it. 

To make doubly sure we would not encounter roadblocks, we did our research. We sought out similar scenes written about heterosexual teens, often younger, in books that had made school reading lists, and used them as guides. The thinking was, and still is, what makes sexual content appropriate has absolutely nothing to do with the genders of the parties involved. Still, I was overly cautious. If I could gently imply, I gently implied.

By the time the novel was published, and Lucas was embraced, the trepidation was forgotten.

Were you worried about how Lucas would be received by readers?
Reading is a subjective exercise. As readers, we bring our contexts and histories to everything we read. As a writer, I always worry about how everything - from the characters to the punctuation choice on page 65 - will be received by readers. I do what I can on my end to minimise errors and missteps. I won't publish a book I don't 100% believe in.

But I am also aware that believing in a book is subjective too.

If I wrote a harmful representation, I would want it to be received poorly. Identifying issues allows them to be corrected. Nowadays, publishing processes are so much more flexible, and by extension, the contents of stories are more fluid, than they have ever been. What was once literally set in stone can be changed, bettered based on feedback and consultation.

At the end of the day, my worries as an author are not the issue. The impact of being called out for poor representation on me as a writer is nothing compared to the impact of that poor representation on an affected reader.

If a story alarms you, don't be afraid to reach out to a writer. And the inverse is true too. If a story speaks to you, let an author know. It means a lot to know you got it right.

Do you have any tips for writers who want to represent disabled characters, but aren't confident in doing so?
Build confidence the same way you build confidence in all other avenues of life: work on it. Show people, listen to feedback. Listen, listen, listen. Write some more.
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Why Do We Need Disability Diaries?

Today is the day people. DISABILITY DIARIES IS GO.
If you've somehow managed to miss my endless fangirling about its existence in the last few months, then a) you're incredibly talented at avoiding the internet, and b) you're going to need to know a bit about it, aren't you?

Basically, you're in store for a week-long extravaganza of reviews, interviews, discussions, TBRs ... pretty much any kind of post you can imagine, all related to promoting decent representations of disability in literature, especially YA.

If you want to make sure you don't miss a single post - which you don't, right? - make sure you follow me and my fellow mods, Angel, Cee Arr, Dina, Ely and Jolien on Twitter, and keep an eye on the #DisabilityDiaries2017 hashtag: we've got a load of other people contributing, so it's the best way to keep on top of everything.

But ... why do we need an event like this? Why do we need Disability Diaries?

I've attempted to explain why disability representation is so important generally in a guest post at Chasing Faerytales, and also expressed my anger at harmful representation in this little rant here. But today I'm going to answer that question in a new way.

I need to tell you the story of The Woman.
Not Irene Adler. This particular woman was probably a pretty normal person: about my Mum's age, chatty, pretty nice on the face of it. I'd never met her before; I was at a party where one of my Dad's friends lived, and I didn't really know anyone. But she proceeded to be someone I'll never forget.

And not in a good way.

This is the conversation we had. I've removed the boring bits, like me saying "Hi, I'm Lara", but the first words written were basically the first words out of her mouth:

Her: So, do you go to school?

Me: Uh ... yeah. I go to [local Secondary], which is a mainstream school.

Thankfully, I resisted the urge to add "and I'm in the top set, you pig". Would have been entertaining to see her face, though.

Her: Can you tell me a bit about ... why you're in the chair?

I wasn't exactly keen to tell a perfect stranger what's actually private medical information, but I figured my commitment to making sure people are educated about disability still stood, so I told her. Through only ever-so-slightly gritted teeth, I explained that cerebral palsy was a condition that affected my nervous system, that it caused lower-body spasms, and ... well, some other stuff too. I don't remember all of it.

Her: Do you take any medication? Like, to help with the spasms and things?

Me: No, there isn't any, really. I've taken pain meds after operations, but mostly it's just a physio programme, and -

Her: Oh, you should!

Me: What?

Her: I think medication would really help you.

Me: Oh, well I'm constantly in contact with my doctors, and they - we - never really thought that medication would be useful.

Her: Oh, no, no, no! I'm a nurse, and there are a lot of supplements ...

And then she was off. Listing medications and herbal things and - by the end, the only way I could get her to stop was by thanking her and saying I'd bear them in mind. So she got to wander off and think she'd done her daily good deed for a poor disabled girl, and I was left with the feeling that my feelings, opinions and knowledge had been completely ignored.

It hurt.
I came to two conclusions while I sat there, a little bit shell-shocked. 1) The Woman was almost definitely really drunk, and 2) she hadn't actually meant to be offensive.

At no point had she tried to be rude to me, or bully me, or hurl slurs at me, or anything like that. She just fell victim to her own near-complete lack of knowledge about disabled people and how to interact with us - and honestly that's quite sad. As far as I can tell, she was trying her best to be nice.

But solely because the world doesn't contain enough education on disability, she ended up alienating me, treating me like I was stupid, and completely denying me any right to make my own choices. Just because no-one had ever told her how to avoid that.

And that's why we need Disability Diaries.
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6 Great Reading Challenges To Try In 2017

Have you been looking to change up your reading habits next year?

Maybe read some topics that will challenge your worldview, or investigate a genre you've not really tried before? Finally read some of the books that people have been going on about for ages? Or just have a more social reading experience?
Well, luckily for you (and me, because it's a great premise for a post) it's that time of year again - no, not Christmas. READING CHALLENGE SIGN UP TIME.

There's enough challenges floating around the Bloggersphere right now to last for a decade, let alone 2017, and that means that your perfect one has to be out there somewhere - but it can get a little confusing, especially if you're not sure exactly what you're looking for.

That's where I come in. You're welcome. *tips velvet top hat* I've tried to give each challenge a little description, but you're probably best clicking on the links to get a full picture of what it is.

The Goodreads Challenge
Picture from Goodreads
There's probably very little point me telling you about this one, to be honest. The Goodreads challenge is the holy grail of reading challenges, the one that everyone wants to beat. (Spoiler alert - this year, I didn't. Boo.) Maybe what makes it so brilliant is that it's so simple: pick how many books you want to read in a year, then ... read them.

It does get a bad rep, to be honest. People find that, because it has such a concrete goal and a nagging tendency (it's never a nice feeling to be told you're 20 books behind schedule, let's be honest), it can take the joy out of reading. I understand that, but it is incredibly useful simply for tracking what you've read - not to mention that it's a great feeling to see that little orange line creeping up, as well as knowing that every single book you've read - including that poetry collection and the textbook you read for school, as long as it's on Goodreads - counts.

Meh. It's there. And as long as you set a reasonable goal (52, a book a week, is usually a good starting point), it can be a great challenge, especially if you're not that experienced with completing them. Another great thing is that almost everyone does it, so you won't be short on community!

Retellings Reading Challenge 2017
Photo from Once Upon A Bookcase
I stumbled across this due to the fact that I have an obsession with retellings, but just don't read enough of them. And this is a shame. But what this challenge is designed to do is create a community of people who are clamouring to get their hands on as many retellings as possible - while helping each other to find the best ones, of course.

OH - AND DID I MENTION THE MONTHLY GIVEAWAYS? *drools*

They're UK only, I'm afraid, but since I live in the UK I can get very excited about this - right? I'm also very excited about the fact that, not only are there a bunch of suggestions to get one started on the sign-up page, but everyone's going to be reviewing everything. Just think of all the amazing recommendations ... *happy sigh*

Diverse Books Challenge
Photo from Chasing Faerytales
Reasons it is important that you take part in this challenge:

  1.  Mish and Shelley have clearly worked very hard to make it happen, and we ought to support them because they are wonderful people.
  2. I CANNOT OVERSTATE not only how important reading diversely is, but also how much it will enhance your reading experience. This is an amazing way of helping yourself doing it.
  3. There is a reading list to help you choose some reads, which is absolutely priceless, especially when you're looking for a kind of diversity that isn't often easy to find (e.g. disability or world religions).
  4. I think you'll enjoy it. But you know me - I'm an overlord. I care more about the other three things than whether you actually enjoy what I tell you to do. ;-)


Read The Books You Buy Challenge
Photo from Book Date
The basic idea is that you sign up to read a specific percentage of the books that you buy - from 20% to 100% - and try to meet it. The tricky thing is that you aren't allowed (or supposed) to change your book-buying habits too much; you just have to bear in mind how you're going to attack your TBR when doing so. The aim isn't to hurt author's livelihoods by discouraging you to buy, but to give you an incentive to actually read what you've already got.

This one strikes me as the perfect challenge for those of you who, like me, are drowning in your TBRs and STILL BUYING BOOKS. If you're like me, you'll probably also absolutely hate book bans, so this is a pretty good alternative - I've always found that, because a book ban reduces the amount of books around me, it slows down my reading.

This is sad. But IT'S FINE BECAUSE NOW I HAVE THIS INSTEAD.

Sorry, I'm Booked
Photo from Sorry, I'm Booked
The thing I really like about this challenge is how well-crafted it is - the prompts are specific enough to inspire you and encourage you to read certain books / genres, but not so closed that you won't be able to find something you actually want to read. In fact, just looking at that list is making me itch to read stuff. Sure, there are a lot of challenges that have similar premises, but there's nothing wrong with tradition when it's done this well.

It just shows that the most important thing for a reading challenge isn't an inventive premise, but how well it's carried out.

Netflix and Books Challenge
Photo from Bookmark Lit
The basic idea of this challenge is pretty simple. There's a list of prompts that you can use to link together books and TV shows - for example, both contain a shared word or are set in the same time period - the entire list of prompts, once completed with books you want to read and TV shows you've been intending to watch, gives you a joint TBR and TBW list.

If you want to go the whole hog and become a Level Two competitor, then you can track points for books you read and shows you watch. If you're the one with the most points, then you win a PRIZE. (And everyone wants a prize, right?)

Reasons this is a fantastic, splendiferous idea:

  • Um, it gives you an excuse to watch Netflix! Netflix good. Excuse to watch Netflix even better.
  • The whole linking-together-books-and-shows premise is very useful because it encourages you to investigate specific topics through . So you can become an expert in ... 1970s pop culture. Or ... South Wales. Or ... I don't know. Murder?
  • EXCUSE TO WATCH NETFLIX, HUMANS!

I probably won't be taking part in all these challenges, simply because I am one person and I hate reading pressure. But I'd be happy to if I had six clones, if that makes sense. There is not one that I would dread having to participate in.

(If you're having similar trouble, I did write this handy little guide on how to get through a huge TBR. Just ... to let you know.

***
In the comments: What challenges are you guys intending to take part in next year? Which have you enjoyed in the past? What makes you want to join a challenge in the first place?
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A 5-Point Ode to Ginny Weasley


She's an enigma, really. A little sister, a loyal friend, a fighter. Sometimes a chaser, sometimes a seeker, sometimes forced into being a referee for her brothers ... and never someone you want to be on the wrong side of.

Her name is Ginny, and this is why I appreciate her.

(There are gonna be spoilers, but if you haven't read Harry Potter WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE. Go read it all now and then come back.)

#1 ~ Her Quidditch skills are legendary.

I mean, this was inevitable, right? She's a Weasley - her family are literally a Quidditch team and at least one of her brothers was good enough to play for England aged seventeen. With six teachers as highly committed as that, there's no way she could ever be anything but amazing ... surely?

Er, I hate to burst your bubble, but no.

Her brothers wouldn't let her play because - well, because they were little boys who'd learnt sexism from a society where it was institutionalised. That's a conversation for another day. But she broke into the broom shed and she spent eight years teaching herself to fly because she'd been told no and NOBODY TELLS GINNY WEASLEY NO IF THEY WANT TO LIVE.
“The thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.” ~ Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Ginny did whatever the heck she wanted to do, and she taught me that, at least sometimes, it was okay to do that too.

#2 ~ All she needed to get into the Slug club was one Bat-Bogey Hex.
Ah, the Slug club. Everyone's favourite symbol of the soul-crushing, dream-breaking caste system that perpetrates so deeply into Wizarding society that it allowed Voldemort to gain support and go almost unchallenged until it was too late.

Okay, again, sorry. That's a debate for another day. But as far as we know, there have only ever been two other members of the Slug Club who didn't have a family name to get them in. Hermione Granger and Lily Evans. Hermione had every teacher at Hogwarts singing her praises (not to mention Hagrid chiming in with his old "brightest witch of her age" chestnut), and Lily had two or three years at least to prove her skills at potions before she was old enough for Slughorn to consider her.

Ginny had the time it takes to pass a train compartment, a wand, and someone she was mad at.
“Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,” said George. “Look at Ginny.”
“What d’you mean?” said Harry.
“You’ve never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey Hexes, have you?”     ~ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I'm not trying to devalue Hermione or Lily's achievements - getting into what's effectively the inner sanctum of the pureblood elite on sheer brainpower is incredible. But what Ginny did is different because she was overcoming something different: the reputation of her family as muggle-loving, and therefore weak in both courage and magical skill.

For me, it's a similar moment to Molly's duel with Bellatrix in the seventh book - a moment where a strong female character proved someone wrong so spectacularly that they had to look up and accept that she'd smashed through the ceiling they spent so long building around her. To do that, she needed a lot of courage (A.K.A. the exact trait her family 'didn't have').

So, with a little help from her Bat-Bogey hex, she also taught me that power often lies in being the exact opposite of what you're expected to be. And also that what people say means exactly nothing.

#3 ~ She was friends with Neville and Luna when nobody else was.
Maybe it's because she's had so many reputations that just didn't fit. The Weasley. The one who couldn't speak in front of Harry Potter. The girl. But Ginny didn't care about Luna being 'Loony' or Neville falling over his feet constantly. She didn't care what people said. She was just friends with a pair of wonderful, wonderful people; she defended them and encouraged them and was endlessly loyal to them.

So loyal, in fact, that when her crush of four years asked her if she wanted to go to the Yule Ball, she declined, despite that making her miserable. Because Neville had asked her first.
"And I don't know who you are."
"I'm nobody," said Neville hurriedly.
"No, you're not," said Ginny sharply. "Neville Longbottom – Luna Lovegood…"~ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Luna and Neville taught me how great it was to be yourself. But Ginny taught me that, if other people are being themselves - and being awesome - around you, then you'd better damn well accept it if you don't want to miss out on amazing friends.

#4 ~ She got pulled into Voldemort's head and survived.
We know from Harry's scar-burning episodes in the last few books just how painful it can be to have Voldemort inside your head, and that's when you've been trained by one of the country's leading Occlumens (that's Snape, if you haven't been paying attention) in keeping his evil thoughts as far away as possible.

Ginny was eleven and completely untrained, not to mention the fact that she didn't even know it was Voldemort ensnaring her until much, much too late. That web of charming manipulation very nearly killed her, and frankly I think it would have been the end of a lot of people. The fact that she had the strength - not only to stay true to herself and her beliefs in the immediate aftermath, but also to stop the guilt that she had been naive enough to let this monster in in the first place from crushing her - is one of the first things about her character that showed me she was something special.

#5 ~ She's so much more than was ever shown in the films - and the fandom knows it.
There is no character in the whole of Harry Potter - or probably in most popular culture, in my experience - whose book and film incarnations are considered quite so separately. They're basically two different characters at this point. I think it really speaks to how colourful and brilliant her on-the-page persona is: not only have the fandom noticed (and noticed loudly) how washed-up her film adaptation is, but we refuse to accept that the strong, fiery redhead of the books and walking-crush-on-Harry-Potter of the films are even the same person. She's even evaded that stereotype.

Because Book Ginny, in one way or another, has been incredibly important to all of us.

Maybe she taught us to be accepting. Or to be brave. Or break out of the roles that are prescribed to us. But, in some way or another, she changed our lives for the better.

***
In the comments: What do you like (or dislike, if you want) about Ginny Weasley? Why? If she's your favourite character, how come? 
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6 Ways to Bore Your Blog's Readers

It turns out that it is surprisingly easy to be boring as a blogger.
I've done it. There are old posts that I've read and cringed at, posts that I'm not really shocked got zero comments or a handful of views, because even I can admit that they were bo-ring with a capital everything.

(By the way, don't bother trying to look for those posts. They are deeply buried in the trash bin of my Blogger account along with some typoed comment replies and that dead body I promised I wasn't going to talk about.)

Oops. *continues with post hoping nobody called the police yet*

But when I can actually force myself to read the whole thing before pounding on the delete button, I can often put down the cringeworthy boringness to one of six things that I did wrong. And, because I am an incredibly charitable overlord, I figured I'd share those things with you, so that you can make boring content too!

Or ... not make boring content. If that's what you fancy.

#1 ~ Give Yourself An Imminent Deadline
Deadlines ... can be a good thing.

They keep you focused, they mean that you blog at least semi-regularly, and it's a really nice feeling when you meet them. But when deadlines are unrealistic, they are one of the most unhelpful things for a blogger to have.
Why? Well, this is what tends to happen when I set myself a ridiculous deadline.

Firstly, I will procrastinate. Procrastination is your brain realising it doesn't know how to deal with the task you've tried to give it, and buying itself enough time to try and figure everything out - as a creative person, you likely experience it a lot. The problem is that this process will usually happen for longer when you have a more difficult problem, like a shorter time frame to complete the task in ... you see where this vicious cycle is going, right? The procrastinating monster has even been known to make pretty reasonable deadlines impossible much quicker than you'd think, so do watch out.

And then, when I finally decide what I'm doing and sit down to write, I have no option but to rush everything. I don't research, my graphics are horribly sloppy if they exist at all, and the actual post, if it makes sense, is mind-numbingly dull.

That's what we're trying to avoid here, I guess.

#2 ~ Stick Too Closely To A Blogging Schedule
I love schedules, but I never stick to them.

They represent organisation, which is one of my favourite concepts, but also structure, and structure can very easily become - all together now:

BORING!
One of the great things about having a blog is that it's yours to do whatever you want with, and if you keep yourself limited by some abstract framework that might not fit as well as you want it to anymore, then you're denying yourself that freedom. That'll make you fed up, let alone everyone else.

Not only that, but if you tell yourself you have to post on certain days or a certain amount of times, there will be times when you end up having to write posts with zero ideas or inspiration just because they're due, and often (in the eyes of your readers, anyway) a yawn-worthy post is worse than none at all. Sure, have a schedule - go ahead and do your best to post three times a week - but if you're regularly not living up to that, it's time to reconsider either how much content you're trying to create, or the way you're trying to create it.

#3 ~ Isolate Yourself
If you ask a blogger what their favourite part of blogging is, I can bet with almost complete certainty that they'll tell you it's the community they're a part of. Hey, if you're desperate enough to read this, then you're probably one of us too. You'll understand how amazing it is to make friends and interact with the other people that are reckless enough to engage in this crazy little hobby.

So why (WHY? WHY?) would you keep yourself to yourself when it comes to your art? It's only by surrounding yourself with different styles, different opinions - different voices - that you are going to broaden out, to decide where you want to go with your blogging and stop yourself from staying in the same stagnant position the whole time.

(Yeah, you guessed it. That stagnant position is MEGA-boring as both a blogger and a blog appreciator.)

Feel free to go on Twitter or Bloglovin' or whatever super-secret online blogger collectives I haven't been invited to yet. Share your ideas. Those close online buddies, the ones you'd trust to see work you're not quite sure about? Email them. I'm sure they'll be okay with it. If you take the time to use the support system that's available to you (and, of course, keep your voice shining through), it will be incredibly tough to be boring.

#4 ~ Mess Up Your Timing
As a blogger, you're basically a magician, except you use words instead of rabbits and top hats. Which, of course, means that timing is everything.
If your readers are anything like me - with the amount of blogs I find myself on daily, one of them probably is me - then they get bored by seeing the same things in the same place all the time. It doesn't make any difference that you only participate in blog tags twice a year if those two posts are within a week of each other. You're going to get scapegoated as "that one that only posts tags" and no-one gives a second thought to your insightful discussions or how helpful your tutorials are. If your content always seems the same lately, then just take some time to think about what else you could be writing. Try something new.

And remember - what you're working on isn't the wrong idea or the wrong piece. It's just the wrong timing.

#5 ~ Take Yourself Too Seriously
One thing you will, always, always have to remember is that BLOGGING IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

It's not about agonising over your niche and whether your posts properly fit into it 100% of the time, or forcing yourself to write when you really don't want to. It's about getting joy from your craft, and if at all possible, using it to give other people some too. It probably sounds cliche, but readers really can tell if you're having fun or not - and if you're bored stiff, then they're just going to follow your lead.

So ... just have fun with it. Post the even craziest ideas that come into your head. Laugh as you type. Don't you dare think about playing it safe. 

Not only will 99% of your readers be having just as good a time as you are, but the ones that don't hardly matter anyway.
Sorry. I just couldn't write a whole post about boredom and not fit this GIF in somewhere.
***
In the comments: Do you catch yourself doing things that make your content boring? How do you stop yourself? What tips do you have for others to avoid making the same mistakes?
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