Twenty-one year old Beth is in prison. The thing she did is so bad she doesn’t deserve to ever feel good again.
But her counsellor, Erika, won’t give up on her. She asks Beth to make a list of all the good things in her life. So Beth starts to write down her story, from sharing silences with Foster Dad No. 1, to flirting in the Odeon on Orange Wednesdays, to the very first time she sniffed her baby’s head.
But at the end of her story, Beth must confront the bad thing.
What is the truth hiding behind her crime? And does anyone – even a 100% bad person – deserve a chance to be good?
All the Good Things is released on June 1st by Penguin Viking.
Guest post on self acceptance for women writers by author Clare Fisher.
I Dare You to Fail
There’s a voice.
You know the one.
It goes something like this: You’re not good enough. You’re not enough. Too much. Not enough. Not good… And repeat.
No doubt plenty of men hear this voice. But I believe it’s a particular problem for women. We grow up bombarded with messages about how we should be better, kinder, cleverer, prettier, thinner, more caring, quieter, better buyers of better brands of make-up, etc, etc. Over years and decades we absorb them until we don’t hear them anymore; we mistake them for ourselves.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard my female friends introduce a meal they’ve made, a poem they’ve written, or even just an opinion, with an ‘It’s probably no good…’ or ‘I think I did it wrong’ or even just an ‘I’m sorry.’ It pisses me off when other women do it. It pisses me off when, despite knowing how annoying it is, I do it myself. Sometimes I succeed in not doing it for a time. But then I let down my guard, and there I am, back in the same old trap.
Writing is never the most practical thing to do. It is never practical at all. There is always a shirt to be ironed, a carpet to be vacuumed, a loved one to comfort, a meal to cook or an email to write. What it is is a step into the unknown. It is terrifying. What if people hate it? What if you hate it? What if your house turns into a hovel in the meantime? The voice, if you let it win, will tell you not to bother. It will tell you to focus instead on those activities that are expected of you, and which have a certifiable gain at the end of them. It will sound a lot like the truth.
If you want to write, you must answer back. Try: fuck off. Or: tell my husband to pick up the vac.
If you want to write, write. Write even if you feel it’s no good. Write even if you feel it is maybe a bit good and then you send it off to a magazine or a competition or two or three and are slapped with an endless no. Write some more. Write because you want to. Write for you. Write through your fear and out the other side. Write until you look around, you see your imperfections, you look back to that moment when you began and it’s hazy; somehow, in all this writing and trying and wailing and failing, you’ve come home. Writing means taking what for way too many women will feel like the biggest risk of all: to be something other than perfect: to say this is who I am and what I want: to fail. But as someone who, for the longest time, believed it was a) possible and b) desirable, I will tell you now: perfect is not possible. It’s dull. No good writing will come out of it. Letting yourself be imperfect is letting yourself be vulnerable. It’s not always easy, but it is more satisfying and a LOT more fun.
If that voice is still there, take it to the tip. Banish it to the cellar. Replace it with other, kinder ones; supportive family and friends, writers whose words make you tingle, writing friends with whom you can swap work. Find a writing group or a spoken word night. Try a writing course. Keep submitting to competitions and magazines. Share your writing-related insecurities: discover — shock! horror! — that others have them, too. Recognise good criticism as a chance to become a better writer not a reason to stop.
All the Good Things is about one woman’s journey from feeling like a bad thing or ‘no thing’ to seeing that she is, despite being in prison, good. That she deserves to be a human who takes up space, makes mistakes, tries and fails. This is a process we all have to go through, particularly if you want to write. It’s hard. It’s terrifying. But it’s definitely, definitely worth it.
Huge thanks to Clare for this inspiring piece.
Do check out the other posts on the Blog Tour, and come back here tomorrow to see what I thought.
From Andie in Pretty in Pink to Tai in Clueless, the makeover trope has long been one of my favourites. It’s that wish fulfilment fantasy of being able to make ourselves into someone completely different – an escape from our own boring identity. We like to believe it’s possible.
When I was in sixth form, I used to dye my hair a different colour every week – bleached blonde, jet black, purple, pink, pillar-box red and (just the once) a terrible sludge green. Every time, I hoped it might change my life. Every time…it didn’t.
My best friend and I would walk around Camden Market, watching the cool people go by and trying to decide who we wanted to be like the most. We were indie kids who wanted to try out being goths, punks, 60s beatniks, 70s hippies… Anything that would give us the identity we craved.
We ignored Actual Fashion and trawled charity shops, made our own clothes and got new piercings whenever we were bored on a Saturday afternoon. There was a flirtation with stick-on Bindis. The phase of blue lipstick, which prompted my stepdad to say ‘you look nice, have you recently drowned?’.
I had a total style crush on the girl who worked in Rockit on Camden High Street. I had my hair cut just like hers (short bob with unfortunate tufty fringe that didn’t suit me), had a lip piercing just like hers (I took it out after a month because it went gross). I imagined her life was so cool and glamorous; as I got the train home to my own suburban small-town home, I dreamed that a little bit of it would rub off on me. It wasn’t just a haircut, it was a magic spell. It never, ever worked.
In Becoming Betty, Lizzie is so uncomfortable in her own skin, she will do anything to change it. Whether that’s with a new name, a new look, new friends. Like all of us, it takes her a while to realise that’s not how it works…
Top five movie makeovers
1. Andie in Pretty in Pink: when she cuts up that pink prom dress, it’s the coolest thing ever. I mean, it still looks like a hideous 80s nightmare by the time she’s finished with it, but that’s not the point.
2. Tai in Clueless, courtesy of Cher: OK, Tai looked better before as a skater grrl, rather than a generic California babe, but Cher means well and they are both the cutest.
3. Sandy in Grease: It’s really not cool to change your look for a guy, but you have to admit she looks super-fierce.
4. Mrs Doubtfire: Yeah OK, it may not be capital-F ‘Fashion’… but you’ve got to admit it’s impressive.
5. Gracie Hart AKA Gracie Lou Freebush in Miss Congeniality: because I will never not love Sandra Bullock.
Thanks Eleanor. Gracie Hart is my fave of those five. I adore that film. I’d also add in She’s All That and The Princess Diaries for fun makeovers too. I also coincidentally watched the documentary Embrace by Taryn Brymfitt on Monday and I highly recommend seeing it if you can. Will make you think twice about transformations, which I’m guessing this book will do too.
Becoming Betty is out on 20th April.
Lizzie Brown’s life is one big to-do list:
1. Start college
2. Become cool
3. Decide wtf to do with her life
So when she meets Viv, the crazy, beautiful lead singer in a band, she thinks she’s on her way to achieving number two on her list. And when Viv asks her to be the bass player in the band, there’s only one problem – Lizzie can’t play a single note. And that she’s nowhere near cool enough (ok, two problems). And that she has a huge crush on the guitarist (ok, three), who happens to be Viv’s boyfriend (ok, this is a terrible idea).
But Viv won’t take no for an answer, and decides that a makeover is the answer to everything. Boring Lizzie Brown is going to become Betty Brown the Bass Player and there’s nothing Lizzie can do about it…
I also spoke to Eleanor about her previous novel Gemini Rising a couple of years back and am look forward to catching up with her new release.