A Playlist for ‘Other People’s Butterflies’

I’ve stolen this idea from Sara Flower Kjeldsen’s blog, but I couldn’t resist! It’s a lot of fun to make a playlist for a coming-of-age story, because there are so many great songs that really capture the turbulent emotions of being a teen. Here’s my selection for Other People’s Butterflies. Have a listen, and have a read!

This is What Makes Us Girls by Lana del Rey

 The Calculation by Regina Spektor

Keep Your Head by The Ting Tings

All My Girls Like To Fight by Hope Tala

Hunger by Florence and the Machine

 What Can I Say? by Skinny Lister

Best of Friends by Palma Violets

The FRIENDS Book Tag

Forgive me, I couldn’t resist!


A book based on a game or competition

In Throne of Glass, a bunch of assassins and thieves compete for a chance to be the King’s Champion. A daft-but-fun YA read with plenty of action.

Organisation queen – How do you organise your books?

Err, I don’t. They’re shoved in my bookshelves every which way and kept in piles on the floor.


A book you read for the hype

I bought Song of Achilles because I’d heard so many people speak highly of it, but I just couldn’t get into it. Not to sound like a straight dude (because I’m neither straight nor a dude) but I was hoping for a bit less romance and a bit more fighting the Trojans.

Shopping addict – What makes you buy a book?

Oh damn, so many things. But lately I’ve been making a conscious effort to read more indie books, so I’m more likely to buy something self-published or published by a small/independent press.


A science fiction book

Let’s go with Klara and the Sun. If you’re a fan of the Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence, this is a must-read.

On a break – Which books have you put down to pick up later?

I started reading The Amber Spyglass at 15 but didn’t get around to finishing it until I was 19. I feel like those four years made a difference to my understanding of it.


A book that made you laugh out loud

I rarely laugh out loud at books but OMG, that scene with the tin of pineapple! Three Men in a Boat is possibly the funniest book I’ve read and it was published in 1889. It just goes to show that some things are timelessly funny: slapstick, crap holidays, and young guys being very bad at adulting.

That time at space mountain – Are there any books you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve read?

Ahem, I think you’ll find it was Ross who had the embarrassing incident on space mountain. I don’t see the point in being embarrassed about reading something you enjoy, but I have read some stereotypically “guilty pleasure” books, such as…


A scary book you’d keep in the freezer

Don’t laugh! I doubt any book will ever scare me quite as much as this one did when I was a kid.

V is for encyclopaedia – As an adult, have you read any books with words you had to look up to understand?

I’m sure I have, but can’t think of any in particular.


A book with a spiritual or supernatural theme

This one is about the Norse gods, doing very spiritual things like fighting, playing tricks on each other, and tying their genitals to a goat (that last one is Loki in case you hadn’t guessed).


A book with an “Oh My God!” twist



A British classic

You can’t beat a good Dickens.


A book nobody seems to be talking about

All the indie books! I’m going to take this opportunity to shout out the Inverbrudock trilogy by Katherine Highland, particularly A Lattice of Scenes and Seasons as it’s my fave. These three #ownvoices books centre autistic women and girls as they navigate the joys and challenges of everyday life in Scotland.

Carol and Susan

An LGBTQ+ author and book

This list needs some poetry, so who better to add than Carol Ann Duffy? I love her Selected Poems, which contains work from five of her books. Some of her poems explore her experiences as a gay woman, while others take vastly different points of view. All are vivid, sharp, and full of feeling.  


Romance novel

I don’t usually read traditional romance novels. I need to be tricked into reading romance by disguising it as another genre like historical fiction.

If you’re reading this, consider yourself tagged! Unless you’ve already done the FRIENDS tag, which is entirely possible since it’s about four years old.

Three Poems

OK, here we have some aromantic feels, some accidental sexiness, and a poem that is just a little scrap of weird. Enjoy!


Here is What I Know of Boyfriends

They are mostly called Dave.

They start out small and badge-shaped

but grow like Japanese knotweed.

They wrap around you like vines, wrist-thick,

tendril-slender, sticky as ivy.

They take you places.

Restaurants. IKEA.

Their kisses are cigarettes and brandy.

They are very important.

They have very important eyes.



Did you know that if you snip the stem of a small, white rosebud, it will bounce on the hard ground like a marble? You can’t kill those soft, sweet things – they only harden in a blink, turn the texture of teeth, take on the lustre of pearls like they were born to it. A thwarted flower is worth a baker’s dozen bouquets and that is God’s honest truth my girl.


Old Heat New Thunder

We sleep and we don’t sleep on the deck

under an unfaithful sky.

My wideawake hands seek hipbone



They are a bunch of thumbs, all idle.

I could dip below deck, catch us some rum.

I could dip below sea like a ladle,

pour the waves on your hot feet.

I feel like the inside of a seed.

I feel like the bit of air that lightning runs through.

I feel like the itch sealed up inside a mermaid’s tail.

I feel okay, all things considered.

The sail fills right up and the heat breaks

loud enough to wake the whole ocean.


Comments are welcome! I know people get shy about commenting on poetry because there’s a misconception you’re supposed to say things like “Oh, I enjoyed the classical pastoral imagery in the second stanza but found the excessive use of assonance a little grating”. It’s a myth! Poetry is for everyone, regardless of how familiar you are with it.

If you enjoyed these poems, I have poetry for sale here and here. If you have a UK address and would like a paper copy of my chapbook 16 Flavours of Ghost, message me on Twitter @corastillwrites. It’s on special offer throughout the month of October, so it’s yours for just £3.65 (postage included).

“16 Flavours of Ghost” is on Special Offer for Spooky Season!

Just a quick post to say that my poetry chapbook 16 Flavours of Ghost is on special offer throughout the month of October. If you live in the UK, you can grab a copy for just £3.65, postage included! That’s the price of a pumpkin spiced latte and I can assure you these poems will linger longer. Though they may not be quite as comforting!

Each poem is written from the perspective of a ghost adjusting to the afterlife in their own unique way. Some are hung up on old loves and old habits. Others are embracing their newfound freedom. Others died in a rather unsavoury way and have some trauma to work through.

If you fancy a copy, message me on Twitter @corastillwrites.

Social Issues in Fiction: Activism vs Exorcism

Let’s not sugar-coat it – the world is a ball of flaming rubbish right now. There’s the largest war in Europe since the 1940s, climate change is already causing havoc, and the rights of women and minorities are constantly being pooped on.

Since writers are a passionate bunch, we often feel strongly about social issues. And since we’re an egocentric bunch, we often feel like it’s up to us to solve the world’s problems. Lately, I’ve read a lot of fiction that engages deeply with social issues, and I feel like it can be divided into two broad but distinctive categories: Activism and Exorcism.


Activist fiction presents a shitty situation and says explicitly “This is not OK and we need to fight against it”. It often acts as a vehicle for the writer’s ideas about how to change things, and behaviour change in the reader may be a goal of the writer.

This type of fiction is more likely to name problems – it doesn’t shy away from words like “bigotry” or “privilege”. Characters engaging in harmful behaviour are more likely to be punished, or at least told off (or “called out” as the kids say). Activist fiction is also more likely to present potential solutions to problems.

An example would be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s also easy to find indie books that fit into this category, perhaps because profit-driven traditional publishers are more likely to shy away from overtly “political” books, while small presses and self-publishers can take more risks.

When done well, activist fiction can be genuinely empowering. As well as getting readers fired up, it can give valuable guidance on how to tackle problems. When done badly it can come across as preachy, or seem naïve if it presents overly simplified solutions as the key to solving all our problems.


There are activists and there are exorcists. Exorcist writers, rather than guiding readers on how to fight against injustice, are purging their own demons by putting their thoughts and feelings about an issue onto the page. Their aim is not to guide readers on how to think or act, but simply to bear witness to what’s happening in the world.

This type of fiction often explores social issues rather than tackling them head-on within the plot. There may be more moral ambiguity, with the protagonist experiencing different sides of a situation. Solutions to problems are likely to be incomplete or flawed. Exorcist writers tend to embrace the mess.

An example of exorcist fiction would be The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Though it’s beloved by feminist activists, this is a book about the system rather than fighting the system. Offred is an observer, recording the atrocities that surround her as she tries to survive.

When done well, this type of fiction can have a lot of power. By letting readers come to their own conclusions, it’s more likely to reach people across the political spectrum and those who are resistant to engaging with social issues. When done badly, it’s just bloody depressing – presenting a terrible situation with no clear path out of it.

Confessions of an exorcist

Although I read and admire many activist writers, I place myself firmly in the exorcist camp. I’m not well-educated enough on most social issues to confidently tell readers what to change and how to change it. I’m content with this and don’t feel any pressure to write more like an activist, as I believe the world needs both types of books.

However, recognising my style does raise certain questions that I need to consider. For example, am I “normalising” harmful behaviour if I present it in fiction without it being challenged? How can I hand power back to marginalised characters in ways that are believable?

Like most of us, I’m still figuring it out and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. If you’re a writer, would you consider yourself an activist, an exorcist, neither or both? And if you’re a reader, what do you prefer to read?

The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – Renaissance Reader

Woop woop, I met my goal of 10 historical fiction books this year, which means I’ve reached the “Renaissance Reader” level of the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. The five hist fic books I read since my last reading challenge post are:


True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

I picked up this book after enjoying the film adaptation. While I’m well aware that THE BOOK IS ALWAYS BETTER, I must admit that it took a while for me to warm up to this book about the famous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

It’s written in long, rambling sentences to reflect Ned Kelly’s lack of formal education, and this distinctive style means it’s not always a smooth read. It’s also difficult to discern the thoughts and motivations of other characters since the reader is kept totally in Ned’s head. Luckily it has enough action, humour and Huck Finn-ish charm to reward perseverance.

Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne

Another historical novel based on true events – this one follows a teenage pickpocket as he ends up on HMS Bounty before the infamous mutiny. John Jacob Turnstile is spirited, funny, complex, and generally great company. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the rest of the characters.

JJT gets bullied relentlessly by the uppity crew of the Bounty, which makes for depressing reading. But arguably the biggest stumbling block in this novel is the portrayal of Captain Bligh – I couldn’t understand JJT’s loyalty to him because he seems like kind of an arsehole. Judging by the mutiny, his crew would agree!

Sailing by Orion’s Star by Katie Crabb

Nautical setting aside, this was a very different read to Mutiny on the Bounty. Rather than a typical swashbuckler, it’s a story about found-family that follows a diverse group of characters as they deal with the restrictions society has placed on them. Some lose their way, while others rebel in spectacular fashion.

The writing is sometimes overwrought, but hopefully this will be less of an issue in the second and third parts of the trilogy, as Crabb gains confidence in her characters and the relationships between them. The story is so genuinely affecting that there’s no need to over-egg the pudding.  

The Pup and the Pianist by Sara Kjeldsen

A pattern emerges! Nautical fiction might seem a bit niche, but I don’t see how anyone can resist a book with a beautiful old ship on the front cover, beckoning the reader to run away to sea.

In less than 100 pages, Kjeldsen crafts an intimate epic of war, young love, and the struggle to survive, as an English boy and a French boy find themselves washed up on The Galapagos islands. An uneasy alliance eventually softens into a tentative romance, but don’t go expecting a happily ever after.

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory is such a well-known historical fiction writer that I was expecting to be blown away by this. Objectively speaking, I can see what all the fuss is about. The historical detail is rich, the pacing is exemplary and the court intrigue is, well, intriguing.

Subjectively speaking, I think there are two reasons why this book didn’t wow me. The first is my squeamishness with all the “wooing” of adolescent girls by grown men. The second is that the central characters are so well known, the author’s personal interpretation of them can be a little jarring.

Like most English schoolkids, I learnt of “Bloody Mary”, burning Protestants at the stake, and “the Virgin Queen” ruling England well and wisely. So it was odd to see Mary presented as a sympathetic character and Elizabeth presented as a scheming flirt. In future, I’ll go for hist fic books about invented characters, or ones I can’t remember from history lessons.

Have you read any of these? And what hist fic books would you recommend?

A Sneak Peek for “16 Flavours of Ghost”

Here is a little sneak peek of my new poetry chapbook 16 Flavours of Ghost.


The Ghost with a Thousand Suits

Workdays: Dark grey suit, wool tie

Weekends: Cords, jumpers, jeans

After I died, I decided to get a piercing.

Set my heart on a big, Roman nose with a ring

through the right nostril.

Slipped into that youngster and wriggled

his fingers. His skin was like soft leather gloves.

Maybe it should’ve felt wrong

to push my face into the mask of his skull

and peep out, but I did it anyway.

My new nose caught the light.

I went to bars I’d always avoided

and moved through the crowd,

body to body, borrowing

tattoos of tigers

hair in great spikes and waves

black nail polish


Each outfit had something new –

an unfamiliar ache, itch, gravity.

A way of being looked at.

A way of growing, shrinking, swelling, tensing

under different pairs of eyes.

Now and then, I take a moment

to dance badly in booze-laced flesh.

I am sweat-drenched, ecstatic.

I have never been or seen so much beautiful.


I hope you enjoyed that. Many of my ghosties are pretty much the same person in death that they were in life, but I also liked the idea of someone being liberated to try things they’d always feared – in this case, experimenting with appearance and perhaps exploring gender identity.

If you would like to read more about the post-death shenanigans of my sixteen spooks, I am selling chapbooks to anyone with a UK address for £8 (postage included). You can message me on Twitter @corastillwrites if you’re interested.   

My Poetry Chapbook “16 Flavours of Ghost” is Published

You may remember that back in May, I was cautiously excited about having my chapbook 16 Flavours of Ghost published by Lapwing Publications. The big day has arrived and my ghosties are now out in the world!

If you fancy reading a lovingly crafted collection of character poems about a spirited (sorry) bunch of dead people, you’re in the right place. ‘Super Ghost’, ‘Glitter Ghost’, ‘Thief Ghost’ and all the others are eager to meet you and share their stories of life, death, and life after death.

I have some author copies, so if you are in the UK and would like to buy a copy for £8 (postage and packaging included), you can message me on Twitter @corastillwrites.  

Ranking the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ Novels from Worst to Best

Disclaimer 1: I’ve only included the Anne of… books, and not Rainbow Valley or Rilla of Ingleside, since these are more focussed on Anne’s kids.

Disclaimer 2: This ranking is based on the musings of a fannegirl (me) rather than a thoughtful exploration of literary merit.

Disclaimer 3: SPOILERS AHEAD!

#6 – Anne of Ingleside

The sixth book is going straight in at sixth place, because unfortunately Anne has become a bit boring. She’s sniffy about who her kids hang out with, she pities women who don’t have children, and she doesn’t write anymore. She has become, in the words of Bridget Jones, a “smug married”.

So maybe it’s a good thing that the book spends so much time focussing on Anne’s children, who are every bit as prone to dramas and misadventures as Anne once was. Another thing that bothers me, however, is the absence of true friendship in the book. There’s a lot of focus on how much nicer Anne’s kids are than other kids.

#5 – Anne of Avonlea

I have no real gripes about Anne of Avonlea, but I do find it one of the less memorable books in the series. Anne works as a teacher at her local school before going to college, and there’s a pleasantly wistful sense of a girl who’s all grown up, but hasn’t yet ventured out into the world.

#4 – Anne of Windy Poplars

By modern standards, Anne seems ridiculously young and underqualified to be the Principal of a school, but this is rural Canada in the early 20th century so maybe the schools have, like, 30 pupils. Anyway, Anne throws her heart and soul into her work like she does everything else.

This book employs a familiar but charming narrative device of having part of Anne’s story told through letters to her fiancé, Gilbert Blythe. The letters veer from matter-of-fact, to poetic, to a wee bit risqué!

#3 – Anne of the Island

Friendship is one of the central themes of this series, so it’s a joy to watch Anne go to college and live happily (but sometimes chaotically) with three other girls. Her new friend Phil is one of my favourite characters because she is simultaneously a genius and an airhead. Also, Marilla Cuthbert and Rachel Lynde don’t need no men and are raising twins together.

#2 – Anne of Green Gables

The one that started it all by introducing readers to the imaginative young girl sent to live at Green Gables. This is Anne with her rough edges intact – hot-tempered, stormy-souled, and always making mistakes.

The first book also introduces a number of themes that run throughout the series, such as embracing the natural world, and finding love in unconventional families (Anne is raised by siblings who basically adopt her by accident).

#1 – Anne’s House of Dreams

My favourite book in the series was a delightful surprise because I thought it would be my least favourite. As a woman who doesn’t want marriage or babies, I thought this would be the point at which I lost interest. But Anne’s newlywed happiness is the genuine, giddy, infectious kind, and when tragedy strikes it hits like a sledgehammer.

This book also has something that none of the other books have – an absolutely batshit, telenovela-worthy subplot involving a friend’s unhappy marriage and a dude getting a hole drilled in his skull. You have to read it to believe it.

So there’s my personal ranking of the Anne books. Feel free to disagree, agree, rant or rave in the comments!