Why We Need Stories About Queer Friendship

LGBT+ romance is, thankfully, becoming more mainstream in fiction. But when it comes to stories about besties having adventures together, queer people are frequently side-lined. We’re often shoehorned into the role of the straight protagonist’s “gay best friend” rather than having our friendships with other queer people explored and celebrated.

Why exactly does this matter? I can think of three reasons immediately, but I’ve no doubt there’s a million more. Add them in the comments if you think of any!

We need more than one type of Happily Ever After

Historically speaking, LGBT+ characters in mainstream fiction have not been a happy breed. These characters were likely to wrestle with angst about their identity, face a lot of ugly prejudice, and possibly die an early, tragic death.

Queer romance provides an uplifting, light-hearted antidote to all this. But if the only happy stories about LGBT+ people are romances, this implies that the only way to be happy as a queer person is through romantic partnership.

Plenty of LGBT+ people prefer to remain single, and those of us who aren’t interested in traditional monogamy deserve HEAs too! Love that comes from acceptance and belonging is just as important as love that comes from attraction, and should be celebrated just as much.

It’s an opportunity to celebrate queer culture

If you’ve ever been to Pride, watched a drag show, or spent any time in queer spaces online, you’ll already know that LGBT+ culture is vibrant, diverse, and generally awesome. But when queer characters are shoved into the “gay best friend” role, this culture is often presented in a cartoonish way, or completely ignored.

Queer culture comes from groups of LGBT+ friends hanging out, having fun, and getting creative together. Stories about queer friendship are an ideal way to embrace and celebrate this culture in all its colourful glory.  

It’s a way of combatting myths and prejudice

Because queer friendship is under-explored in the mainstream media, it tends to be poorly understood. This leads to a bunch of myths and misconceptions. Some are old and tiresome, like the idea that gay men can’t love each other platonically. Others are new and dangerous, like the idea that trans teenagers are peer-pressuring their friends into transitioning.

Friendships among LGBT+ people can be as complicated and full of drama as any straight friendship. But most queer people – particularly those without supportive families – view their friendships as a crucial source of love, understanding and happiness. By recognising this in fiction, we can help challenge bigoted narratives.

If you’re keen to dive in to books that centre queer friendships, here’s a list to get started with. And if you have any recommendations of your own, please leave them in the comments. Happy reading and happy Pride month!

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – Victorian Reader

I’ve read five historical fiction books so far this year, which means I’ve reached the “Victorian Reader” level of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. The three that I’ve read since my last reading challenge post are…

The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein

Yes, it’s a YA horror novel, but it also counts as historical fiction since it was published in 2002 and it’s set in the early 1970s (judging by the references to the Vietnam war, bell bottoms, and Cat Stevens).

If you start this novel expecting a sapphic Twilight, you’ll be in for a surprise. It’s more like The Bell Jar with a supernatural twist. It takes a deep-dive into the mind of an intelligent, troubled girl, and explores her obsession with a classmate whom she suspects of being a vampire.

It’s intense, thoughtful, occasionally over-intellectual, and it wholeheartedly embraces ambiguity. Is Ernessa really a vampire? Is the narrator having a nervous breakdown? Is she in love with her best friend? Every question is thoroughly explored, but never truly answered, in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a girls’ boarding school.

So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow

This “remix” of Little Women (Authors are always remixing and retelling and reimagining, and never admit that they are literally publishing fanfiction) imagines the March sisters as four newly emancipated Black girls in the colony of Roanoke, North Carolina. The civil war is raging around them, and they are determined to build lives of their own making.

Being a white girl from Britain, I’m pretty clueless about African American history, and this was an eye-opener for sure. Racism and the after-effects of slavery impact every aspect of the girls’ lives, from Bethlehem’s health to Joanna’s writing career. This makes for a very different story to Little Women, as the “burdens” the girls carry are external rather than internal.

It’s not a perfect book. The male characters are thinly drawn, and a few inevitable anachronisms creep in. But it’s full of love and rage, and a true celebration of sisterhood. Two more things I loved:

1. Joanna’s portrayal as asexual/aromantic. These words aren’t used of course, but it’s made clear in conversation with Meg and in her relationship with Lori. As an aro-ace woman I usually have to seek out representation, but to find it right there waiting for me in a character I’ve always identified with felt like a gift.

2. The last line. OMG, you’re gonna cry (happy tears).

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison

Told from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Edie, this starts out as an evocative, unsentimental picture of life in rural England in the 1930s. It’s also a comedy of manners, with city slicker Connie being entertainingly clueless about the realities of rural life.

But about halfway through it becomes something different and more unsettling. People who seemed harmless are suddenly a genuine threat. Quaint traditions like witch bottles take on a new significance.

Maybe it’s just because I read the two close together, but I couldn’t help but notice similarities with The Moth Diaries. Once again, the protagonist is a thoughtful teenage girl of ambiguous sexuality and wobbly mental health. Once again, the lines between natural and supernatural blur. And once again, antisemitism rears its ugly head.

So, quite by accident I’ve ended up reading three female-focussed coming-of-age stories. I feel like I should balance it out with some stories about old dudes. If you have any historical fiction recs where the protagonist is an elderly gent, please leave them in the comments!

Hello to New Work, Goodbye to Old Work

Guys guys guys I have exciting news! My chapbook 16 Flavours of Ghost is going to be published by Lapwing Publications – a Belfast-based publisher that specialises in poetry. No idea when it’ll be available yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

16 Flavours of Ghost is made up of “character poems”. Each one is from the perspective of a different character, and while they’re pretty diverse in terms of background, occupation and identity, they one thing they have in common is that they’re all dead.

These ghosts are a spirited bunch (see what I did there?) who each deal with the afterlife in their own way. A busy woman develops a new relationship with time, a thief takes advantage of his invisibility, and an elderly man finally lets himself experiment with his appearance.

As thrilled as I am to be getting published by Lapwing, there’s a note of caution mixed in with the excitement. Last year, Dancing Girl Press published my chapbook Monster Hunting for Girls (Ages 8-14). I didn’t receive my author copies, and people who tried to buy it told me of ridiculously long waits and receiving copies with printing errors.

I hoped this was a temporary blip. It’s not easy running a small press, and rough patches happen, but other poets and purchasers have confirmed that the press just isn’t functioning adequately. I’ve taken the chapbook off my “Published Work” page and won’t be encouraging people to buy it anymore, because I don’t want readers wasting their money.

I’ve also had to take my novella The Misfortunes of Oscar Goldberg off the Published Work page, as it can no longer be accessed. The online magazine it was published in, The Fantasist, is now defunct and links to the stories no longer work. It’s a bummer to have one of my longer works disappear like that.

This is one of the issues writers encounter when publishing with small presses. Sadly, not all of these presses thrive. Still, large publishers and self-publishing have pitfalls of their own, and I’ve come to accept that there’s no easy way of getting your work out there.

Onwards and upwards my lovelies! I’m excited to see my new chapbook in print, and I’m keen to hear what’s going on in your writing journeys. Feel free to share any writing news – good or bad, big or small – in the comments.

The Picky Bookworm Indie Book Awards 2022

Voting is now open for The Picky Bookworm awards, and Other People’s Butterflies has been nominated in four different categories! The anthology Common Bonds, which contains one of my short stories, has also been nominated in one category.

If you’ve been reading and enjoying indie books over the past year, please consider voting – just click this link and it’ll take you through all the categories. Awards like this are great publicity for indie writers, and let’s be honest – winning stuff is fun. Here are the categories I’ve been nominated for…

Book you would most like to see as a movie (Other People’s Butterflies)  

If OPB were a movie, I suspect it would have a Mean Girls vibe, but with flashes of 1940s noir thrown in because of the “book within a book” subplot.

Book you would most like to see as a TV show (Common Bonds, Other People’s Butterflies)

As fun as an OPB TV show would be, I think Common Bonds would be better. It would be a speculative anthology show like Love, Death & Robots, with each episode taking place in a different world. Also, when have you ever seen an explicitly aromantic character on TV? This book has aro characters in every story, with a strong focus on platonic love.

Best “friends only” relationship (Other People’s Butterflies)

I’m not sure if the nomination refers to Gwen and Ethan, or Gwen, Martine and Angie. Either way, I’m very happy to be nominated in this category because friendship is at the core of OPB.

Best dynamic between family members (Other People’s Butterflies)

Once again, I’m not sure which family members this refers to. Gwen’s dad makes her laugh, her mum helps her deal with stress, and her brother literally picks her up off the floor at her lowest point. For any teenager dealing with high school drama and the stress of figuring out your identity, a supportive family is the best thing you can possibly have.

Some other awesome books that deserve a vote

Since there are a bazillion categories for The Picky Bookworm awards, I won’t bore you with who I’m voting for in every category. But I will share a smattering of books that, in my opinion, would be deserving winners.

Best fantasy – The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

This adorable fairy tale is suitable for all ages and puts LGBTQIA characters at the heart of the story. A knight, a dragon and a baker’s wife team up to search for the missing baker, and many adventures are had along the way.

Best book based on mythology – Create My Own Perfection by E.H. Timms

Based on the Greek myth of Medusa, this story follows a groundskeeper at a magical college who helps her selkie best friend find her stolen skin. It cleverly uses a timeless story to address a timeless issue – sexual harassment – in a powerful and uplifting way.

Best queer couple – The Murder Next Door by Sarah Bell

Ada and Louisa are a chalk and cheese couple, living together as “companions” in 1912. Their different temperaments make for beautiful chemistry, occasional clashes, and a perfect combination of skills. And they’ll need all those skills if they’re going to solve the murder of their next door neighbour!

Best representation of disability – Streetlamps and Shepherd Moons by Katherine Highland

Diane Abercrombie is an autistic character written by an autistic writer, which is probably why the character never lapses into stereotypes or “inspiration porn”. Instead, she’s a complex, well-rounded protagonist, who’s still figuring out the best way to live her life.

Best paranormal character – The House with the Narrow Forks by Katherine Highland

One of the joys of Katherine Highland’s novels is that the supernatural elements are subtle enough to be oddly believable. Harriet, the spirit of an autistic girl who died young, haunts the living with purpose – protecting those who need it, bringing allies together and making life much more difficult for bullies.

Tips for Coping with Criticism as a Writer

Have you ever had a performance review at work? That awkward meeting when your boss evaluates whether or not you deserve to keep your job, what you could be doing better, etc?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have regular, unscheduled performance reviews, often from total strangers, on a variety of different platforms? Well, that’s basically what being a writer is. Our readers are the boss, and we rely on their feedback to improve our craft, make our books as good as possible, and, ultimately, to get paid.

Of course, some feedback will be encouraging and constructive. Other feedback will be … less so. If writers complain about harsh criticism of our work, we’re often told that we need to grow a thick skin. Which isn’t bad advice, but how, exactly, are we supposed to do that?

The fact is, a lot of writers are sensitive people. And when you pour your heart and soul into a book, harsh criticism of it can kinda feel like someone is pointing at your child and calling her ugly.

So I’ve been thinking about some ways of dealing with criticism, and I’ve come to realise that there are actually a number of different reactions to harsh critique. I think that recognising and understanding them could be helpful when dealing with them, so let’s start with…

The Defensive

“This beta reader has pointed out a whole load of flaws in my book. But she clearly hasn’t read chapter 3 properly – if she had, she wouldn’t be saying the ending needs foreshadowing. And she can’t be right about the pacing, I paid extra attention to that. Yeah, honestly I just don’t think she gets it.”

If your knee-jerk reaction is to scoff and dismiss criticism, try to do the following:

  • Pause. Let the words sink in. Try not to be afraid of them or how they’ll make you feel.

  • Listen to your gut, not your knees. Knee-jerk responses are rarely helpful, but gut feelings can be useful. If your gut feels confident that the criticism is one you can safely ignore (for example, the book simply not matching a reader’s preferences), then go ahead and dismiss it. But if your gut tells you the reader is making an important point, ignore that criticism at your peril!

  • How many people are saying the same thing? If one reader makes a criticism, this may be a matter of personal taste. If multiple readers say the same thing, it’s more likely that you have a problem to address.

The Defeatist

“My writers’ group just gave me some pretty some harsh criticism. I don’t know how I’m ever going to fix this manuscript. Maybe I should just start a new one. Or try a different genre. Or quit writing altogether.”

If you find yourself wanting to throw in the towel, try these first:

  • Remember positive feedback you’ve received. A bad review doesn’t make you a bad writer. Chances are, your writing has brightened many people’s days, and quitting would be a loss to those readers as well as future readers.

  • Read 1* reviews of classic literature. Pick a masterpiece like, say, Pride and Prejudice. Then go and read 1* reviews where readers complain that there’s no kissing and Mr Darcy is a snob. There’s no stronger evidence that perfectionism is pointless.

  • Read a flawed book that you love. Maybe the plot is thin but the characters are fantastic, or maybe the dialogue is a bit flat but the world-building is phenomenal. Remember that a lack of negative feedback is not the goal. Bringing readers joy is the goal.

The Drama Queen

“This reviewer really hates my book. But that’s okay, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. It’s not the end of the world.” (Said while looking up the reviewer’s address and buying lighter fluid and matches)

No judgment. But maybe try the following tips before making any rash decisions:

  • Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Despite what many people say, it’s okay to be hurt by bad reviews. It doesn’t mean you’re over-sensitive, over-reacting, or over-anything else. That being said, lashing out at the person criticising your writing is always a bad idea. Yes, even if they’re talking out of their arse.

  • Use criticism as rocket fuel. So what if certain people think your writing sucks? You’re going to work hard, become a super-successful, widely-read, award-winning author and … well, they’ll probably still think you suck. But you’ll be super-successful and won’t give a shit anymore.

  • Remember – one person’s 1* review is another person’s 5* review. A lot of complaints: “too slow-paced”, “the main character was a bitch”, “too dark”, “too silly”, “too gay” are exactly what other readers are looking for!

I hope some of these tips are helpful. Feel free to add your own in the comments, and if you disagree with any of my points go ahead and tell me … I can take it.

My Published Work

Aside from being a talented, witty, and modest blogger, I am also a writer of fiction and poetry. Yep, this is a marketing post. To make it as painless as possible, I’ve made little mini guides to each of my works, with crucial info such as genre, length, and whether it’s free to read. I’ll start with my most recently published stuff and work backwards.

VOCSS

Genre: Horror

Length: Short story

What’s it about? Beverly chats with Tyler – a troubled teenage boy whose dad may or may not be a vampire.

Price: FREE

Where can I read it? HERE, in the February 2022 issue of Electric Spec

Read it if you like: Blurred lines between humans and monsters.Protagonists who are out of their depth but doing their best.

Don’t read it if you don’t like: Ambiguity. General creepiness.

Any content warnings? Domestic abuse, blood.

Monster Hunting for Girls (Ages 8-14)

Genre: Poetry

Length: Chapbook with 18 poems

What’s it about? The monsters under the beds of tweenage girls, and how those girls defeat, befriend, or learn to live with the monsters.

Price: $8 / £6.09

Where can I read it? You can buy it HERE, from the Dancing Girl Press website.

Read it if you like: Witches, zombies, obscure folklore, mythology.

Don’t read it if you don’t like: Acknowledging that young girls have inner lives that aren’t always adorable.

Any content warnings? Gory imagery

Other People’s Butterflies

Genre: YA Contemporary

Length: (Short) novel

What’s it about? 17-year-old Gwen f*cks up royally by kissing her best friend’s crush, then f*cks up even more by snooping on her classmates. Basically, she’s an aro-ace disaster figuring things out.

Price: $14.99/£11.07 for paperback, $4.99/£3.69 on Kindle (FREE with Kindle Unlimited)

Where can I read it? Get it HERE on Amazon.

Read it if you like: Harriet the Spy. Seriously, it owes a big debt of inspiration to that glorious book. Also, read it if you like ace rep, aro rep, complicated m/f friendships or 1940s spy novels.

Don’t read it if you don’t like: Protagonists who do bad things. Asexual characters having asexual thoughts (sometimes mistaken for sex-negativity).

Any content warnings? Sexual assault, animal death.

Spacegirl and the Martian

Genre: Superhero. I’m never sure if superheroes are sci-fi or fantasy or both – they seem like their own genre these days.

Length: Short story

What’s it about? A superhero and her nemesis wander drunkenly around London and come to realise why they can’t escape each other.

Price: $13.92/£11.35 for paperback, $7.90/£5.99 on Kindle. Pretty steep for a short story, except…

Where can I read it? In the anthology Common Bonds – a collection of 20 short stories and poems focussing on aromantic characters and platonic relationships. You can buy it HERE on Amazon.

Read it if you like: Read this anthology if you like diverse characters and exploration of queer identity in fantasy settings.

Don’t read it if you don’t like: Stories without kissing (It’s OK, I’m not judging!)

Any content warnings: The editors of this anthology gave my story the most content warnings by far – I’m so proud! They are *takes a deep breath*: Alcohol, animal abuse, roofie mention, PTSD mention, forced prostitution mention, abuse mention, thoughts of arson.

The Problem with Magic Shows

Genre: Poetry

Length: Single poem

What’s it about? Human connection, relationships, and Las Vegas magic acts.

Price: $10.39/£7.88

Where can I read it? You can buy it HERE on the Moment Poetry website.

Read it if you like: Poetry in unusual formats. This one comes in a sleeve like a vinyl record, with artwork by Martina Egedová.

Don’t read it if you don’t like: Pink

Any content warnings: I don’t think so.

Thanks for reading my lovelies, and remember – every time you support an indie author by buying/sharing/recommending their work, an angel gets its wings.

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – 20th Century Reader

This year I am taking part in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022, hosted here. There are six different levels to aim for, and they are:

  • 20th Century Reader – 2 books
  • Victorian Reader – 5 books
  • Renaissance Reader – 10 books
  • Medieval – 15 books
  • Ancient History – 25 books
  • Prehistoric – 50+ books

Since historical fiction books are often chunky beasts, and since I don’t want to read only historical fiction this year, I’m going to aim for the Renaissance Reader level. I’ve now hit the 20th Century Reader level, and here are the books I read…

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

You know how I was saying historical fiction books are chunky? This one is 897 pages. It spans the years 997 to 1006, so it’s all Anglo Saxons, Normans and Vikings. It follows a boatbuilder, a noblewoman and a monk as their lives intertwine, and they contend with a Machiavellian bishop.

There’s a lot to like about this novel. It has a consistently engaging plot, full of twists, turns and intrigue. It doesn’t present a sanitised version of the past (slaves are pimped out, criminals are castrated) and there’s no silly straightwashing either (one of the main characters is gay and there are plenty of other queer characters).

Unfortunately, the depth of world-building and plot leaves the characters looking rather shallow, and I wanted more nuance from them. Also, I’m not entirely sold on Ken Follett’s style – too much exposition made me feel like I was getting a history lesson at times. I enjoyed reading this book, but it didn’t linger in my mind afterwards.

The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian

I can’t write anything sensible about Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series because I love it too much. Instead, here are my five favourite things about this novel (mild SPOILERS):

  1. Jack Aubrey’s hat gets eaten by a wombat in chapter one. Stephen Maturin is more concerned with his wombat’s digestion than Jack’s hat. These books are so f*cking funny and I always forget that until I start reading one.
  2. There are a couple of actual, honest-to-God murders. In a series full of battles and bloodshed, these somehow manage to be shocking.
  3. Jack and Stephen call each other “brother” all the time, which I guess is just the 19th century equivalent of “bro”, but it hits those found-family feels all the same.
  4. Stephen’s relationship with Diana Villiers is … rekindled? No, not exactly. Interesting stuff happens.
  5. The battles. OMG, the battles.

I need three more hist fic books to reach the Victorian Reader level, and any recommendations will be gratefully received. Is anyone else doing the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge?

My Short Story ‘VOCSS’ and Finally Embracing the Horror Genre

My short story VOCSS (Yes, I know it’s a shit title. It’s an acronym.) is now published in Electric Spec and you can read it here. I’m not sure if horror stories are supposed to have trigger warnings, but I know a lot of people struggle with themes of domestic violence. If you’re one of these people, take care with this story.

I won’t say too much about the plot, but I will say that Tyler is a troubled and complicated kid, his dad is a bad bastard (and possibly a vampire) and Beverly is out of her depth!

I’ve been pussyfooting around the horror genre for years. Way back in 2015, I joined a writers’ group and wanted to make a good first impression. So of course I introduced myself by reading one of my creepy poems, full of gruesome imagery. Another member of the group asked if I ever wrote horror, and I was rather taken aback. A creepy poem was one thing, but horror? I’d never even watched a single Saw movie!

In retrospect, I had a pretty narrow idea of what horror is, and I suspect this is true of many readers. Seven years and an anxiety disorder later, and I’m ready to write about fear. I want to explore where it comes from and how it affects us, and of course I want to write about ghosts and ghoulies and things that go bump in the night. VOCSS is my first attempt – I hope it scares you a little!

Goons – Chapter 21

Afterwards

We bury her in the Severn Estuary, under a starless sky. It’s not a fancy funeral, or even a funeral at all, really. I wear black, but I always wear black when I’m working. Bossman does most of the digging, and even in the darkness I can see sweat running down his face and soaking through his shirt. Em doesn’t dig at all, since her wound is still healing.

Patty’s remains are a liquid slop, contained in a thick plastic bag and tied with a cable tie. I pick her up and drop her in the hole. Bossman shovels mud over her, grim-faced and silent. He seems different, which makes sense, I suppose. To create something, and then have that something try to kill you because it thinks you’re a danger to the world, must be difficult to deal with. When Patty is all covered up, Bossman leans on his spade, breathing heavily, and says, “I’ve been re-evaluating things.”

#

Airports stress me out. Maybe that explains the tight, bunched-up feeling in my stomach, like I’m a dad sending his kid off to university. The kid in question is 30, and failing at taking over the world, so I should probably be glad to be rid of him. In ten hours, he will be America’s problem.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea, having the meeting scheduled for tomorrow?” says Em. “You’ll be jetlagged.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine. And these guys are pretty serious about the wound filler with the time release antimicrobial. They want it for the military, so…” he rubs his thumb and fingertips together, meaning there is money to be made.

This is Bossman’s idea of a sabbatical. He has put his plans for world domination on ice, and is experimenting with the radical idea of letting other people use his inventions. He looks up at me and says “Remember to shred all the files. Like, literally everything. We need a fresh start when I get back.”

I nod. “Remember to eat properly. Three meals a day.”

“Yeah, I know.”

There is an awkward pause, and then a slightly less awkward hug. Em joins in, and Bossman disappears for a moment between us.

On the way back from the airport, I drop Em off at Gillian’s house. She says, “See you soon” and I say it back, and we both know that we will be seeing each other in a purely social capacity from now on. By the time Bossman gets back from the States, Em will have retired to the countryside and be properly settled, with horses and dogs and roses round the door. It’s a nice image.

I go back to Bossman’s place and let myself in. At first it feels strange to be the only one there, rattling around like a divorced empty nester. I go to the office and sit at Bossman’s desk, spinning around a few times in his chair. Then I find a classic rock playlist on my phone, and start the process of tidying up.

The crazy wall is the obvious place to start. I tear down Bossman’s plans and scatter them on the floor. Then I fetch the shredder from a cupboard and start shredding, piece by piece. File by file. It’s a nostalgic process.

At some point, the insistent whine of the shredder falls silent, because I have stopped shredding and started reading. I’m pleased with how much of this stuff I understand. I’m tickled at how ridiculous it all is. I laugh, and the laughter comes out sounding like a Bond villain.

Something dirty-pink and slow-moving creeps around the edge of the doorframe. Igor.

“Still here, mate?” I say. Igor, obviously, does not respond. “Yeah, me too. Come and keep me company.”

I sit on the floor, with Igor on my lap, stroking him like a cat. I read files without shredding them. At 2am, I am still reading.

***

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed Goons, check out the ‘Published Work’ section of my blog. It has everything from urban fantasy to YA contemporary, because I can’t commit to a genre.

Goons – Chapter 20

22 years until (failed) takeover

Dad read a lot of history books. Military history, and some stuff about ships. I remember him reading a biography of Napoleon, stretched out on the settee with his legs dangling clumsily over the arm. It might have been the year I got taller than him.

“You ought to read this,” he said, without looking up from the page. “Help you with your History GCSE.”

“We’re not doing Napoleon.”

“More’s the pity. Interesting bloke.”

“He was the short one, right?”

Dad finally looked up, and gave me a withering glare. “The short one? Almost done with school and all you know about Napoleon is that he was a short arse? And he was only slightly shorter than average for the time, anyway.”

“I just said we don’t study him.”

“You ought to. He basically ruled Europe. Won a bunch of wars, abolished feudalism, totally reshaped the world.

“Sounds exhausting.”

Dad blew air out through his nose, to show he disapproved of my lack of enthusiasm. But when he turned back to the book, he shook his head a little and said, “Hmph. All things considered, I think I’d rather go fishing.”

“You’d rather go fishing than rule the world?”

“Yep.”