My Poem ‘The Wild Women’ to appear in ‘The Medusa Project’

I bring you lovely news! My poetry will be appearing in The Medusa Project, an anthology celebrating women, edited by Juliette van der Molen and Megha Sood. The call for submissions was launched on International Women’s Day.

Ages ago, I submitted a poem I wrote one evening in my scribbles-book called ‘The Wild Women’.

The poem is based on a little daydream I had about what it would look like if there existed a strange planet where wild women grew on trees and inhabited their own world, where they were free to be strong, capable, hairy, and scary, like bears. I had images of women biting into wriggling salmon and cracking open beehives and little ones wrestling and biting like puppies. I imagined women catching each other and helping one another grow. It was a pretty funny daydream, but it was a place I felt awesome and free in. It was a strange utopia. I wrote this down exactly as it came to me, in a series of images, painting a picture of this amazing land.

I was inspired after reading The Posh Mums Are Boxing in the Square, an award-winning poem of a writer re-imagining his mother before she succumbed to illness, giving her another fighting chance where, this time, she wins. I enjoyed the experimental nature of the poem and it encouraged me to try something a little different – but just as empowering – of my own.

I can’t wait to see the other entrants for The Medusa Project, and I especially cannot wait to share the anthology with you all!

So there we are, some good news.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh Condon

Recent Reads May 2020

Goooood afternoon all!

So here we are, with rules relaxed slightly but still very much in weird lockdown land. The (slight) relaxation of the lockdown rules has meant one thing though – my partner and I were able to look at houses. We managed to find our *dream house* and we’ve already had our offer accepted, so now it’s all just subject to contract. It’s bizarre to think that I’ll be an *actual homeowner* with my partner, because this was something I honestly thought was never going to happen – certainly not on a big ol’ house, anyway.

As always, I’ve been doing lots of reading lately. Take a look at some of the books I’ve been reading and see if you can’t find something interesting for yourself. This is a lighthearted post because, well…I’m in a lighthearted mood!

The Secret Garden

Lately I’ve been really into classic children’s books – ones that I never read as a child because I (wrongly) assumed they’d be boring and long and fuddy-duddy. It’s only now that I’m a fully-fledged adult that I find myself intrigued by these beautiful books. The Secret Garden was a truly beautiful story about how children change and grow, with just a little nurturing, like roses might in a secret garden. This sweet and heartwarming friendship story, about reigniting love in the hearts of the frozen and bitter inhabitants of one lonely mansion, brought me to tears more than a few times. I so thoroughly recommend it – and by the way, in the end, you’ll be desperate to plant your own beautiful garden. The details and descriptions of every single bud will ignite an appreciation for nature’s beauty in you, and if you already had that, it’ll deepen all the more. This was my first taste of Frances Hodgson Burnett; I read all about her after this and found to my delight that she wrote this novel from her own beautiful secret garden!

A Little Princess

Following on from The Secret Garden, I dove straight into A Little Princess and wasn’t disappointed. Again, this story brought me to tears with its honest and sweet telling of true loving friendships that can only occur in childhood. I’m a huge fan of the film from the 90s, which touched me on a soul-deep level, so I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read the actual novel. It does differ from the film, however, in a very sad way – I won’t spoil it – but you’ll wish it was more like the film in some ways. Again, Frances Hodgson Burnett wove a beautiful tear-jerking story about a child’s need to be loved – really loved – no matter how rich or poor they are. I’ll definitely be reading more from this author – I believe the next on my list is Little Lord Fontleroy.

Whitefern

Whitefern is the ghostwritten sequel of an amazing V C Andrews novel called My Sweet Audrina, which is one of the few novels that was actually written by the woman herself before she died. I’ve never taken much to the ghostwritten sequels or series’ that were created since her death, although people still voraciously read them. This one was different, however, because I genuinely felt a strong pull to read this “sequel”, even if it’s only really official fan-fiction. Unfortunately, while I still enjoyed the ride and re-visit to the Whitefern mansion, I was overall disappointed. This had so much potential, but it was drawn-out and thin on story and pretty boring. I guessed the major twists and turns very early on in the book, so it was a slog to finally get to the end. A part of me is tempted to write my own damn sequel, because they could have done so much more than they did. It had very little of the mystery and creepy hints at the occult that the first novel had. This was a long-awaited book and I felt they did very little with it when you consider its potential, and most fans have said the same thing.

The Outsiders

This book has been recommended by just about everybody who has ever known the joy of reading. The Outsiders was apparently the first ‘young adult’ novel, published in the 60s after it was written by S E Hinton between the ages of 14 and 17. Amazing, huh? Imagine being a published, runaway success at 17! I thoroughly enjoyed this story and found it to be so much more than clichés about the Greasers and the Socs – there were so many very touching moments, especially between the brothers Darry, Sodapop and Ponyboy – not to mention their friends, especially Johnny – that made it a highly sentimental read. This novel has been loved from generation to generation, even though it’s a pretty short story, and I can absolutely see why. It’s a great piece of storytelling and incredibly heartwarming. I look forward to seeing the movie!

Practical Magic

And finally, I’m currently reading this gorgeous, mysterious book about a family of witches – the Owens family – called Practical Magic. I wasn’t far into this novel (another beloved classic, as you can see by the cover!), when I realised the voice seemed ‘familiar’ to me. Ah! I realised! I’d read Alice Hoffman before! I borrowed a book from my nan’s bookcase called White Horses and I fell in love with that story – it was realism mixed with hints of magic, just like this novel. It had a V C Andrews vibe, with the magic and mystery and peculiar relationships. Houses seem to feature a lot in Hoffman’s books too, much like V C. With that in mind, I know I’m going to love this novel come the finish – and again, I cannot wait to see the film everybody raves about. I’ve been told the film seems disappointing to most compared to the book, but I’ve no problem letting filmmakers take creative licence – I see them as two separate things. I’ll tell you what – I cannot wait to see that house!

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well.

See you next time!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

These Are the Hands Live Readings

35-40 people read their poetry in a recorded session from These Are the Hands

Join the LIVE poetry reading event for These Are the Hands on Zoom, Thursday 21 May 2020 at 7.30 p.m. Link to join: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85820383728?pwd=U1lmUUFEUlp1d3pvMmhUUGtSa0dwdz09

244 people have already signed up to watch, which is amazing.

I personally hadn’t planned to be involved in the live reading, but I did participate in the recorded reading. The recordings of these fantastic poems will be used to further promote the anthology (raising funds for NHS Charities Together and the battle against Covid19) and also serve as a keepsake for those of us involved.

Last Thursday (21 May 2020) I read my poem, ‘Only the Cleaner’, in the recorded session. I had the privilege to listen to all the other poems too, and I can tell you now that hearing them live from the poets themselves adds a wealth of meaning to the poetry that cannot be felt in print. Some of the poems I recalled from the anthology but struggled to remember are now imprinted in my mind in the beautiful voices of the writers. One that springs to mind is ‘The Gondoliers’, a poem in dedication to the hospital porters who move the beds between wards. That was an amazing image and the passion in Anna Bosanquet made it an unforgettable experience.

Hearing the poems from NHS workers themselves brought tears to my eyes on many an occasion throughout the recording. If you want to be involved, you should absolutely attend the live reading this Thursday.

I, of course, do not work for the NHS any longer and haven’t for years. In fact in one of my poems I’ve implied I worked there in 2010, but in fact it must have been more like 2011 or 2012 (or spread across both). Maths was never my strong point! I was working as bank staff at Southend University Hospital during my final year of university and it is to this day the most rewarding role I ever had. I have so many memories of my experiences while working there, like the sun rising over the houses and the lights just blinking on. It coloured my career path, leading me to explore work in social care, and eventually my work in charities and nonprofits. My work with IA sees me often communicating with doctors, surgeons, and stoma care nurses from all across the NHS – so I didn’t leave completely.

One thing I’ve learned is that I can absolutely read poetry under scary circumstances! When all this began, I was so nervous that I had even planned to skip the book launch – absolutely unthinkable now! I was asked to speak on the radio (which got cancelled because of covid-19 incidentally, as did the book launch) and I remember fretting over that. Now-days, while I’d be nervous, I think I’d value the opportunity so much more.
Connecting the voices of the artists with the work is so very important, as I discovered when I listened to all these beautiful contributions.

You can buy your copy of These Are the Hands here.


Until next time!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Novel Vs Movie: Our Affair with Hooper

Smile, you son of a bitch.

Read my new article about Jaws!

I’m pleased to share my article about Jaws on Mookychick
It’s a piece about the novel, the movie, and the differences between the two – namely the very different portrayals of the character Matt Hooper.

Here’s a completely unsurprising verdict: the Richard Dreyfuss Hooper is a whole lot more fun.

I hope you enjoy this entertaining read about an animatronic shark as a welcome distraction from the absolute chaos of the world right now.

You can find the article here!

Check it out!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

My Cancelled Covid Concerts of 2020

This is a short ode to the cancelled, the refunded, and the rescheduled – I look forward to seeing your talented selves in brighter times when there isn’t a plague on all humanity.

Photo by Molchat Doma

Molchat Doma

There are no real words for how talented and creative these guys are. I describe them (and I believe many others describe them) as a Belarusian Joy Division, though their music is more melodious and certainly danceable. Their records are haunting and hypnotic, with that soviet brutalism vibe to paint a bleak landscape on their album covers – but wait until you watch them live; the dancing alone is an art form. I always value bands who are writing poetry first and a song second, weaving dreams and ideas into the fabric of their music. The guys themselves remind me of Marc Ryden paintings. I desperately wanted to watch them live when they played in either Chelmsford, London or Bristol earlier this year, but they were mid-week concerts and it just wasn’t to be. That was probably my last chance for a very long time and I am absolutely gutted. Have a look at their live performances below on Belsat Music Live and enjoy their phenomenal talent.

Shortparis

Shortparis are hard band to pin down in terms of genre – I guess you’d call them synthpop, but they have more darkwave vibes and certainly their subject matter is incredibly bleak and gloomy. I discovered them recently by a Spotify recommendation. Would it surprise you if I told you they were Russian? I swear to god, man – these Russians and their amazing music. The first Shortparis video I saw was for their most popular song, Страшно (Strashno) ; skinhead creeps infiltrate what looks like a refugee camp inside a school gymnasium, look threatening at first, before treating them to an immense song (which translates to ‘Scary’) and some slightly homoerotic dancing (and I mean that with all the love in the world, it’s fantastic). How could I not be intrigued by that?! I was excited to see these guys in Bristol in June, and had hoped that *just maybe* this whole covid-19 nastiness would have blown over by then. A week or so into lockdown, with the death toll piling up, I realised this thing was enormous and deadly and we wouldn’t be escaping any time soon. Sadly, my tickets were refunded last week.

Photo by She Past Away

She Past Away

I believe this goth darkwave duo were another Spotify recommendation, and I loved the danceable synth music paired with poetic verse. Their lyrics actually put me in mind of a favourite band of mine, Rammstein – their songs are pretty abstract and often tell dark, melancholy tales. Another thing that fascinated me was the fact they’re Turkish! My experience of Turkey was of a hot but desolate place stuck in an 80s time-warp, so it’s refreshing to see such artists coming from there and representing a different side of that culture – perhaps a dark li’l goth underbelly? I was excited to see these guys were playing in London, but the gigs were unfortunately cancelled. I believe they hope to play sometime next Autumn, but I’m not holding my breath.

Photo by Anton Corbijn

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

This was one big, massive, kick in the teeth – Nick Cave needs no introduction at all, least of all by the likes of li’l old me. In spite of the fact that this would have been an enormous concert venue, and therefore not the intimate experience I looked forward to with the bands above, I was still *so stoked* to see Nick. I remember first hearing Red Right Hand and then looking up the video, becoming absolutely beguiled by this spooky, eloquent bard. I say ‘bard’ because he’s another one who tells stories and creates characters, which the bookworm in me falls in love with. My father bought me standing tickets for my 29th birthday and I was so looking forward to it, but alas – weren’t we all? The tickets are still valid, but the tour has been rescheduled to occur the same time next year. At least I have something to look forward to for my 30th – I’ve never been a party -person.

Funny story – I told my friend and colleague Kate that I was seeing Nick Cave, and she was excited and envious and very tempted to book tickets of her own (I believe she would have). She then said, “Oh, Troubled Soul…” and I sort of looked baffled for a second, because I didn’t recognise that, and I said, “Oh, I’ve not heard that one – Troubled Soul?”.
“…I meant him. He’s a troubled soul.”
Cue me facepalming.

Anyway, there we have it – all the amazing bands I never saw in 2020.

And now I’m very sad.

Until next time, stay safe and healthy.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

The Southern Gothic Novels of V C Andrews

One of my early writing heroes – Virginia Andrews

Most young women, coming of age, at the tender ages of 12 and 13, might be reading Jacqueline Wilson or Stephanie Meyer, or perhaps the latest of the Harry Potter novels. At least, they were when I was around that age.
But, I was different.
I was among the tribe of very peculiar young girls who read the dark, incestuous southern gothic novels of V C Andrews, and my god, how we loved them.

These were not the sorts of novels that were marketed and promoted to young girls. No, membership into the secret society of V C Andrews fans was by invitation-only, and I remember my invitation very well. A little friend of mine at school in year 8 (or it could have been as early as year 7) was a fellow avid-reader, and she started telling me about this whacky book she was reading. I remember thinking that she was telling me tales, because they didn’t make books like that. She was describing the story of four children who are locked away in the attic of a huge gothic mansion called Foxworth Hall, where they are abandoned and then poisoned by their own mother, who kills one of the twins and causes the later suicide of the other, who couldn’t bear to live without her sibling. Not only that, but the two elder children, Cathy and Christopher, became so lonely during their hormone-riddled teen years that they develop an incestuous relationship.

My friend told me about all the raunchy scenes (and not just those between siblings, which was shocking enough), and all the dirty bits about mysterious stains on sheets and how the children navigated their developing sexuality while being trapped in an attic.

So, naturally, I asked my mum if she could buy me this lovely, quaint little novel called Flowers in the Attic by V C Andrews. I devoured this book and was utterly thrilled to find there was a whole series, and I gobbled those ones up too. Not only was it every bit as filthy, scandalous, and raunchy as my friend had warned me, but it was a fascinating gothic tale of abandonment, of loneliness, of greed, and of the raw human need to be loved. I remember crying buckets at certain scenes, truly invested in these wild and unhinged characters.

The amazing thing about V C Andrews’ writing was that, in many cases, it was actually so bad it was good. I read an article once (I forget where) which stated that one of the pulls for the literary agent who read VC’s work (her ninth attempt at a novel after a successful career as an illustrator) was that she wrote in such a bizarre and dreamy way. Her characters spoke in a highly dramatic and unrealistic way, and yet it’s what keeps you turning the pages. The twists and turns were outlandish too, almost too bizarre, which meant that you could never ever guess where it was going next.

Looking back, what I loved about the Flowers in the Attic series (and subsequent novels by V C before she died and subsequent works under her name were ghostwritten) was that her characters were ultimately flawed by their lack of self-control when it came to their needs. And my god, were her characters needy. Men were pathetic, woman-hungry, and even the most powerful were in want of a mother-figure in their lives; their relationships were awash with Oedipus complexes of the highest magnitude. The women were desperate, love-starved, vengeful, furious and sometimes psychotic. Oh, and beautiful – breathtakingly, divinely beautiful creatures, every one of them.

I would later go on to read the Heaven series and My Sweet Audrina, the deliciously spooky standalone novel. As far as I know, this very sadly concluded the books V C herself actually wrote, though her estate was to later to approve a ghostwriter to come up with Andrews-esque titles, of which there are now about 4 billion.

On the surface, these characters were unreal. But in other ways, they were somehow too real – unnervingly so. They were our ugly underbellies, and the melodrama that we craved in our boring, mundane, very British lives.

Which brings me to the other draw for me: these novels were written and indeed set in Virginia, USA. There ain’t no gothic like southern gothic, and that’s a fact – (look at the game Red Dead Redemption for a modern example). Now, all right – that’s the deep south, with marshy swamps and hanging willows and dirty secrets in hidden pond shacks. But V C Andrews’ works had that same feel; that earth-deep drama of the kind Joan Collins would be proud of.

Actually, the 1980s series Dynasty reminds me a lot of V C Andrews’ novels; something about the 80s glamour shots, the pouffed satin sleeves, the shoulder pads, the power suits, the eccentric blow-dried hair, the bitch-slapping. Then there’s the wealth; the dripping, seeping wealth. V C Andrews wrote a lot about young women going from rags to riches as their beauty and secret lineage led them to huge sprawling estates and spooky mansions with hidden passages and candle-lit liaisons and forbidden love.

Say no more, right? Hence, my eternal love for these spooky, outlandish, beautiful gothic novels.

So what about Virginia Andrews herself?

V C Andrews at home with her mother

Even though our dear southern belle Virginia sadly died in 1986 of breast cancer, I still feel guilty for posting that photo above. Allegedly the author absolutely hated it, because People Magazine covertly took the picture and published it without her consent. This was one of only two known interviews Virginia did (the other was in a horror anthology of authors called Faces of Fear, which I’ve yet to read). She was famously reclusive and private, and ashamed of the back injury and terrible arthritis that can be seen in the photo above.

I read that Virginia often wrote her novels standing up, because her back would be too painful to sit up straight for long hours while she typed on an old typewriter. She had been made disabled by an accidental fall down a staircase at school aged 15, and it changed her life forever. She became dependent on care from her mother and, as far as we’re aware, never married or had children.
Which to me is a terrible shame, because any fan of her novels will know what a flame that woman had in her heart. You can see from her photographs at the age of about 60 (though she never revealed her age – a true southern belle of Blanche from Golden Girls standards) that she was beautiful and unique in her appearance; a true individual. She looked like a character from one of her novels, though I’m sure which one exactly depended entirely on her mood.

The fact that her novels span the genres of horror, gothic, romance and family saga all in one go should give you some idea of just what page-turners they are, and how thrilling they are to her adoring fans of the past and present.

Now, many people would call these novels fast-fiction, or pure trash – and you know what? I think V C would be the first to agree with you. She said:

I think I tell a whopping good story. And I don’t drift away from it a great deal into descriptive material. When I read, if a book doesn’t hold my interest in what’s going to happen next, I put it down and don’t finish it. So I’m not going to let anybody put one of my books down and not finish it. My stuff is a very fast read.

V C Andrews in Faces of Fear.

What V C Andrews taught me from a writer’s perspective is to be entirely true to yourself, your vision, and to never be afraid to write outside the lines. We wanted melodrama and we got it in spades; she turned it up to 11. Nobody before or since has managed to quite capture that peculiar mix of gothic horror and lusty romance; not in my opinion. Maybe some have come close, but if you ask me, they’re imitating – and that’s the highest form of flattery.

Are you a V C Andrews fan? What did her works teach you as a reader and/or writer? How old were you when you discovered her?

I hope you enjoyed reading about one of my favourite authors.

Until next time, keep well, keep safe, and stay indoors.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Isolation Projects Part 2

Me on a beautiful spring walk in the sunshine.

Welcome to my blog! I used to put out content every Wednesday, but since we got into the thick of lockdown, my routine has been so screwed up that I’ve found it difficult to blog at all.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been up to this and that, however – I’m as creative as ever, and probably more so, with all this time to fill. I’ve been working at home and I’m one of the very fortunate people who can collect their full paycheck every month, with no need for the furlough or to claim universal credit. I’m hugely thankful for that, and I’m thankful for the fact that my family, my partner (who is 180 miles away) and my loved ones are happy, safe, and healthy. I’m also thankful that it appears all the third parties I’m in contact with for work are still ticking along as essential services, which means I can continue my job like normal without any bumps in the road.

As you can see from the photo above, I’ve been enjoying the sunshine! Mostly in the garden, mind you, with my family and my darling little dog – but on this occasion I took a walk to the local park and enjoyed the pond and the blossoms.

I also “celebrated” my birthday recently, which was a beautiful day with presents, wine, food, cake – what more could I honestly ask for? (My boyfriend is the answer, but it was still a great day). At the time of writing, I am 29 years old. I find that pretty depressing and difficult to deal with, but I’m trying to see the beauty in ageing. Hey, at least I’m here.

Writing

My children’s novel is ticking away nicely! I’ve made a lot of progress on my current project, but I’m usually very well-disciplined and so far I haven’t had too many snags. I’ve just been enjoying the process of creation, as I always do. If anything comes of it by the finish, I’ll let you know.

Reading

I’m currently working my way through the old children’s classics. I fall in love with every book I read, especially if it’s a children’s classic, because they just had a knack for capturing a certain magic that I find so rarely in fiction today. Currently I’m reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who I was amazed to see also wrote A Little Princess, which is on my to-read list and was a huge favourite film of mine as a child. TSG parallels the maturation of emotionally and physically stunted children with the growth of flowers, against a backdrop of adults who have cast the ‘gardens’ of their lives, and their offspring, into the shadows of their own grief. I’m enjoying this enormously in ways that I couldn’t enjoy The Fireman by Joe Hill, which I recently started. Getting 200 pages in was like wading through treacle and about as fun, which is such a shame – there was a time when I described him as one of my favourite authors. Given that it’s an 800 page book, you can see why I’ve put it to one side for now. Much like his father, I do fear that the publishers simply aren’t cutting his work down to size, perhaps to justify the price or the hype.

Watercolour challenge

Here’s a cute idea; great for children and adults. If you can’t think what to draw, but you feel like being creative, then try this out: simply blob on a load of watercolours, any you like, and let them run and play on the page. Once they’ve dried (you can use paper towel to soak up excess and a hairdryer to dry it off if it’s too soggy), you can perform a sort of inkblot test on yourself. Hold it up at different angles: what shapes emerge? What can you see? Once you see something emerging, get a pen and start drawing. As you can see from my two pictures above, I saw a snail slithering over some twigs and leaves. Nifty idea, hm?

Other than that, I did some baking today: I chucked some cupboard ingredients together with a few spotty bananas and made a delicious, springy, *moist* (god I hate that word) coffee, chocolate and banana loaf cake. I sat in my dad’s little art workshop in the garden, listened to music and painted while my cake baked in the kitchen on a beautiful warm spring day. I even had my faithful companion by my side, snoozing in the sunlight.

Times may be very difficult right now, and very frightening – but you can still see some beauty in the world.

Keep indoors, keep social distancing, and keep safe, folks – I wish you all the good health in the world.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

My handsome little boy, Sputnik.