On a recent outing with a family member, running my fingers across the blue steel of the Tower Bridge, we stopped. And looking out towards Southwark, he pointed at a row of Victorian warehouses turned luxury flats. In between the long windows and black balconies, before one set of extortionate accommodation turned into another was a dark street narrow enough to be an alleyway. "That," he said, "Is where Fagin's Lair really was".

He wasn't right, but it wasn't hard to believe.

London is the metropolitan capital of England. It's loved and celebrated by locals and tourists alike, and it has been since the days when Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist. What is often criminally underrated about the City is the charming contrast between just how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same. You can pick up any Dickens book set in London and still, to this day, follow his characters step by step around the streets. As a matter of fact, I could quite easily make a series of posts as long and epic as David Copperfield on London's surviving links to Dickens alone.

So when I saw that Accor Hotels was hosting another amazing competition, I knew I wanted to do something different. I grabbed my copy of Oliver Twist, my vintage A-Z and set off on a journey, following a cast of Dickens' most notorious characters from Islington, to Fagin's Lair and the home of the infamous Bill Sykes in one 24 hour trip.
Our story begins on Cleveland Street, long before Oliver Twist had even entered the mind of Charles Dickens. It is on this street that, amongst the hustle and bustle of the University of Westminister and under the shadow of the BT Tower, the inconspicuous, grade II listed 'Strand Union' workhouse still stands. Workhouses played a huge role in Dickens' life and literature, and, despite the fact the 'Strand Union' came under threat from demolition in 2011, it is now widely accepted that this is where his obsession began.

Dickens lived at number 22, just three doors down from this particular workhouse for a hefty six years of his life. Three as a child, and three after he began working as a newspaper reporter at 17. Built in 1775 under the old 'poor laws', there have been some new additions to the building, and some restoration over the years, but it remains largely the same as it did in the years Oliver Twist was set. There's no doubt that this site, so close to his childhood home, had a huge impact on his later writings.

Of course, Oliver's connection with London begins on Barnet High Street, now all the way out in Zone 5 of the London Underground. This is where the Artful Dodger and Oliver Twist first meet. From this street, they walk to Fagin's Lair and, due to the wonderful imagination and descriptions of Dickens' books, it is a route that can still be followed almost step by step.

The reader's real introduction to London is on Liverpool Road. On its corner with Bachelor Street stands the site of the former Agricultural Hall and Islington Turnpike, one of the first landmarks mentioned in the book. Islington High Street has been a significant area for travellers since London's medieval days, and it's almost bursting with hidden history.

Now a busy Intersection, Islington Turnpike was built in 1716 after the foundation of the Islington Turnpike Trust. It stood roughly where the White Lion Street now meets the High Street. This is where tolls were collected, and weary travellers would rest on their way into the city amongst Islington and Clerkenwell's well-renowned inns.

One of the most significant buildings was The Angel, now a Co-Op Bank. Some of its grand facades still remain. Considered the last great coaching inn of the Great North Road, it was rebuilt in 1819 and later converted into a hotel when railways depleted the need for coaching inns.

The Angel sits just ahead of St John Street; one of the most important streets in London's history. St John Street is mentioned in official documents dating back to 1115 and was famously lined with taverns. Old Red Lion is the last remaining one and was rebuilt in 1899; replacing the original Inn that dated back to 1415.

It's clear Dickens wanted to show the reader, through Oliver's eyes, one of the most historically important and interesting routes into the city of London. So, here, we begin to enter Clerkenwell. Clerkenwell gets its strange name from the Clerk's Well on Farringdon Lane; parts of which can still be seen through the window of the Well Court. In the Medieval Ages, this was where local Parish Clerks performed annual mystery plays.

Another significant street in this area is Arlington Way. Now mostly residential houses, there are two buildings that quite obviously stand out; numbers 27 & 28. The Harlequin - established in 1848 - houses a memorial to Joseph Grimaldi inside. Grimaldi was the most popular English entertainer of his time, often working as a Clown. Dickens watched Grimaldi perform in London as a child. Later, they became close friends and Dickens even helped write his memoir after Grimaldi passed away. In the 19th century, all the houses on this street had the same front, but, unfortunately, only two now remain.

It's also worth taking a small detour through Spa Field's Park, which brings you out onto our next destination. Under this site was where the Clerkenwell Detention Centre Stood. The underground chambers are still beneath the park.

Next is Rosebery Avenue. Built in 1899 by Lord Rosebery, it was designed to outprice the back alley slums that used to exist there, and where Oliver and Dodger would have tread. In the book, Oliver notes these streets end at the Sadler's Well theatre; where Joseph Grimaldi often performed. The cheap plays put on in this area, aimed at entertaining the poorer members of society, hugely influenced Dickens' writing.

Down a couple more streets, and close to the Round Pond where the fresh water man-made New River ended lies Exmouth Street & Marker. The New River was built in 1607 by Sir Hugh Myddleton as a conduit and it aimed to bring fresh water into the city. It flowed through a man-made channel at the Round Pond and then through wooden pipes into houses but was abandoned in 1946.

Opposite Exmouth Street was Coldbath Fields Prison. It was the largest in the country at the time, holding 1800 prisoners, and was closed in 1877. Coldbath was also known for its experimental treatments, including the treadmill and the silent system. Mount Pleasant would later be built there, and this building was used as the rather ironically named home of the Smallweed family in Bleak House.

Dickens was also good friends with a famous prison reformist, George Chesterton. Chesterton allowed Dickens to see the treadmills in person and write about them in his non-fiction essays. However, despite being able to witness the prison's holdings, Dickens did not feature it in his writing as heavily as Newgate and Marshalsea; he didn't believe that the treadmill would hold the interest of the people as steadfastly as the gallows.

The next significant site is Farringdon Road. Constructed in the mid-1800s, like Rosebery avenue, it was intended to steamroll the slums that used to exist there. Its building displaced over 16000 individuals who were not rehomed. On this site were three infamous slums - destroyed to make way for the new road- Coppice Row, Chick Lane, and Field Lane. This is where the infamous Clerkenwell Workhouse existed.

As you walk down Farringdon Road, take a detour down St Andrew Street. Don't forget to look up, from the trees across the road to the clock tower, as Bill Sikes instructs Oliver to do in the books. Another side street to look out for is Ray Street; this is where the pub 'The Coach and Horses' stands and it belongs to the area Oliver refers to as 'Hockley-In-The-Hole'.

By the 1700s, this whole area was a notorious slum that sat on the dirtiest stretch of the Fleet River, know as the Fleet Ditch. It got its nickname from its proximity to a malodorous open sewer and its boastful claim to the capital's highest murder rate. Stopping at the junction between Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Lane and Turnmill Road, you can still feel the hidden Fleet River running beneath your feet.

The epicentre of The Fleet Ditch Victorian rookeries was Turnmill street, still standing today. Conditions were so appalling, this road was known by locals as "Little Hell". In between the counterfeiters, pickpockets and women trying to steal the clothes of unsuspecting children, one thing Turnmill Street always has been able to boast about is a stunning view of St Paul's Cathedral. It was there that Dickens attended the funeral of the Duke of Wellington, and, finding the event to be so ostentatious, he vowed then and there that his own funeral would be a much quieter affair.

One of the most famous rookeries in this area was Herbal Hill. It got its name from its beginnings in the medieval ages, when Saffron was actually grown there, and used to hide the taste of bad meat. In the 13th Century, almost the whole area was owned by the estate of John Kirkby, who built the original Chapel of St Etheldreda and later became the Bishop of Ely; hence the ornate gates at Ely Place.

By the Victorian ages, Herbal Hill was one of London's worst slums. Nearby is Saffron Hill. This is the street that Field Lane was incorporated into in the early 19th Century. Field Lane, which once sat on what is now the junction near Shoe Lane and Charterhouse Street. It was one of London's most established rookeries and slums, known best for the resale of stolen handkerchiefs. This is where the site of Fagin's Lair is most accepted to be.

It was also the site of the very real Mother Clap's Molly House - a 'coffeehouse' and possible brothel where gay men could meet in secrecy and safety. It was raided in 1726, and Margaret 'Mother' Molly Clap was sentenced to three days in the Smithfield Pillory, the site of which can now be found on the junction between West Smithfield and East Poultry Avenue. Margaret was also sentenced to two years in jail, but she never made it; she died of injuries sustained in the pillory. To this day, she is considered an incredibly important part of the LGBT subculture in Georgian London.

in 1841, a 'ragged' school was set up on Saffron Hill to teach children and young people the Christian Gospel. Charles Dickens visited in 1843, and was so powerfully struck by the horrors he witnessed that it spurred him to want to do something for the 'Poor Man's Child'. Children in this school would have been thieves, prostitutes, unwashed and mostly illiterate. The smell was so bad that his assistant had to leave the school, but Dickens stayed and was teased by students for his posh clothes and 'fashionable' hairstyle. He wrote about the West Lane/Saffron Hill 'Ragged' School in his non-fiction writing and was very aware of the area and its history. It's no surprise that it became such an important part of Oliver Twist's story too.

The organisation now exists, albeit very differently, as the Field Lane Foundation. Another long-standing piece of history on Saffron Hill is the One Tun Pub. Rebuilt in 1875, it claims to have on been the 'Three Cripples'; the tavern featured in Oliver Twist, where Fagin and Bill Sikes are noted as regular haunts.

Moving forward towards the city, we next come across Pear Tree Court. This is thought to be the "narrow court" from which Dodger, Charley and Oliver emerge onto Clerkenwell Green and conspire to pick Mr Bronlow's pocket. Clerkenwell Green is notable for its lack of greenery; something Oliver himself comments on in the book. It also houses the still-standing Old Session House; the destination that Mr Bumble boasts to be bound at the beginning of the book.

From Clerkenwell Green, go back down CLerkenweel Road, down Ray Street, up Herbal and then Saffron Hill and then down Hatton Wall to 54 Hatton Place. This is the route down which Oliver is chased after being accused of stealing from the man at the bookshop on the 'green'. Number 54, a building with bricked up walls and a grey gate, was once the front entrance to Hatton Garden Police-Court, the 'notorious' police office where Oliver is then taken.

Another local celebrity of this area was the magistrate, A.S. Laing, who was so well known for being harsh and insolent that, when writing Oliver Twist, Dickens wrote to a friend and asked to be smuggled in one morning in order to meet the man. This is the very real life character that the fictional magistrate, Mr. Fang, is inspired by, and whom Oliver meets when taken to court. The area also makes an appearance in Bleak House, where Mr. Jellyby escapes his wife's 'philanthropic' ways to go for a walk.

Just a small walk away is The Old Bailey. This was the site of the infamous Newgate Prison where Fagin spent his last years before being executed and where, in the novel Great Expectations, Magwitch learns that (155-Year Old Spoiler Coming Up) Estella is his biological daughter. It is also where Charles Darney is tried in A Tale of Two Cities, and where (157- Year Old Spoiler) Sydney Carton takes his place to be executed.

The Prison was burnt down during a 1780 riot and rebuilt many times. It was later demolished, and when the 'Old Bailey' was built in its place in 1902 it used some of the Newgate Prison bricks.

The trek to our final destination is quite a walk, but before we set off, don't forget to make note of the St Sepulchre's Church, which sits almost opposite The Old Bailey. This church is noted by the narrator in Oliver Twist, as it is where bells would ring out at 8am if an execution was to take place that day. Public Hangings were moved to the Newgate area in 1758 but, before that, criminals would be walked out of the Prison and past this church on their way to the infamous Tyburn Tree, where executions were carried out for almost 600 years. The site of Tyburn can be found next to Marble Arch, the historically significant junction where Edgeware meets Bayswater Road. Today, nothing marks the spot where innumerable people were killed but an easily-missed plaque in the middle of a busy crossing, cars and pedestrians zooming past.

When I was walking across Tower Bridge with my great-uncle a few weeks before, it was Shad Thames he had pointed out to me. At the end of 24 hours, I ended up back on the Bridge, watching the sunset over the unfamiliar little square of London.

In the Victorian Era, the Shad Thames area (also known as Butler's Wharf) was mostly home to factories. Most of the buildings still remain beautifully intact, and this no doubt influenced the decision of Hollywood producers to film the now iconic Oliver Twist movie here. Visually, this is the place most know as Fagin's Lair.

Just to the West, though, was an area Dickens was very familiar with; Jacob's Island. This was the site of another notorious rookery. It is no coincidence that this is where Dickens placed his most notorious nasty character; Bill Sykes. Since the Edwardian era, it's been widely acknowledged that the site of literature's most famous crook's very own home can still be visited in George's Yard.

Jacob's Island now bears no resemblance to the squalor many once lived in there, and Shad Thames is one of the trendiest areas in the City. Once named the "very capital of Cholera", all that separated the two areas was St Saviour's Dock. This is where Bill Sykes met his gruesome end; falling into the mud of the infamous 'Folly Ditch'.

And here, we conclude our tour of Dickensian London. I hoped you enjoyed the ride as much as I did. In just 24 hours, you can discover a wealth of history on the street of London, if only you know where to look.

24 Hours in Dickensian London

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I've found another way to avoid keeping up with my NaNo targets this month; writing about writing. For those of you who aren't aware, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual challenge in which writers from all around the world attempt to write 50,000 in a month. And that month is November. It's an average of 1667 words a day, and it's just as crazy as it sounds. So why am I doing it? Because the community, the pressure and the excitement might mean I actually finish a novel, for the first time in my life. If you're doing NaNo this year, too; hit me up! Hold me accountable. It's going to be a long 30 days.

I've also decided it's about time to put some of my creative writing out there. My NaNoWriMo project this year is about a woman accused of witchcraft in 17th Century Scotland, and it is inspired by the life of a very distant relative.  That's all I'm going to say for now. I have a pretty clear idea of where the story is headed, but who knows how much that might change over the next few weeks. In preparation for NaNo, I spent a lot of time working on my opening words, so that I knew I had a solid base to start from, and I want to share that beginning with you.

This is the first draft, so it is by no means perfect, nor absolute. Any constructive feedback is always welcome; in the comment section, via email, Twitter or owl post. If you like it, let me know, and sign up for email updates! I don't send emails around very regularly, but you'll get exclusive content, and first access to everything.

Content Warning: allusions to sexual assault.


I was 17 when the men came for me. Ma tied the white skirt around my waist. She said the dress looked as pure as the mountain snow, but when I traced my reflection in the window all I could see was my naked body enveloped in flames, reaching above my head like a drowning man grasping the empty air. I cried as we walked to the Church. After he had done with me that night, I dreamt of the village turned to dust. 

It’s been some time since I last looked at the dress. I don’t count the days anymore. Or the years since I wore it. When I hold the fabric in my hands now, I can no longer remember if the pattern of small, bleached specks were from the rain that came that night, or the tears that came after. Age has worn on the fabric with a quiet dignity, like old Maggie Stewart when the headsman was too drunk to cut her neck clean off, and it sits in my rough hands as wispy as the white gypsy flowers that grow on the bankside. 

I had no sisters to tell me how the first night would be. He was not a rich man, but we had the blessings of our fathers. From the bed, I could make out the outline of the old lantern clock he had brought back from the low lands in France. He did not speak to me whilst he took what was his, so I let the steady ticking flood my thoughts until I could no longer feel the flames of wrath scalding my cheeks. We soon fell asleep. My only other memory of that night is one I cannot know to be my own. 

In the cold winds of that September eve, I woke up on the threshold of the forest that separated the village from the highlands. I was walking, the thick trees disguised the horizon in a shroud of deceitful intimacy. My mind was not mine. I tread carefully as though a stranger in the same land I had lived all my 17 years. Through the dark, I tripped on the creeping roots of ancient pines and could no longer recall my bearings. I did not know which way would lead me back to his cottage, and which to the line of snow topped mountains that seem to frame our whole world, like ever-looming threat of the eagle’s talons; always about to close in on us. 

I do not know how long I walked, but I moved with intention. A storm had brewed, the rain bouncing off my face. The cold seemed to awaken me, and fear finally caught up. A spirit was leading me somewhere, but I did not have the courage to meet neither the face of God, nor the Black Man. Whichever awaited me at the end of the road. As I kneeled, face to the canopy of black shadows above me, a deep orange light bathed the blanket of leaves on the forest floor. I prayed for the first time that day. The light seemed to move westward, and I stalked it as swift as a nymph in a brook. When I found the next clearing, I saw that it was no human that had led me to safety, but that the wane of the moon had led me astray. It seemed closer than I had ever seen it, and it was coloured red as the first days of womanhood.  

Every creak in the wind pricked at my skin like icy needles. Across the clearing, something moved. Every bone in my body knew that this was the Black Man come to sign my name in his book. The sound moved closer and closer until, out of the thorny bush, a doe ambled onto the grass. It was as white as the wedding dress I had worn that day, and even in the dark I could see its almond eyes follow me as it asked itself; friend, or fiend? Its ears twitched, stretched out towards the sound of twigs snapping under my foot. I had never seen a creature of God more beautiful than this, a line of brown fur on its spine. I held back my tears, stretched out my hand and took a step forward. 

Before I could set my foot down, a hurricane of grey knocked the doe to its side, and I fell to the floor. Growling, gnashing, the wolf ripped the throat of the animal, and sniffed as blood trickled down the doe’s neck; an ornate choker of rubies and pearls. The doe twitched, still alive, and I whimpered in the shadow of a tree. The wolf turned her amber eyes to mine. It stalked closer, until I could see its cold breath on the wind. The wolf leant closer still. I could feel it panting, wet blood matted in her fur. If this was to be my fate, it was the design of God. I waited, whimpering still, but the wolf turned her back on me. She sunk her teeth back into her doe and, piercing me with her eyes once more, made sure I was watching as she dragged her prey back into the dark shadows of the wood. 

In all the years of his life, Philip swore he never knew me to leave the bed. But the wedding dress still haunts me when I cannot sleep. I see the storm-like flurry of stains on its skirt, and I cannot remember if they came from the rain that night, or the tears that came after. Even hidden under the dark confines of my bed, its burning white lace commands my mind like that white doe. Tonight, I will end its cold grip on my conscience. Tonight, I am the wolf. 

So what did you think? The book doesn't even have a damn name yet, but I'm super excited to continue working on it, and I can't wait to hear all about your NaNo projects too!

NaNoWriMo Extract: 2016

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I am a self-confessed horror film junkie. I've seen hundreds of horror films; the good, the bad, the ugly, and rewatched my favourites so many times that I don't think I could ever face them again. Naturally, this means October is my month. It's the time of creative costumes, bucket-loads of candy and constant reruns of classic 90s slasher movies on late night TV.

There's a wealth of horror movies out there. Some of them are artistic, genius and just downright good filmmaking. Others are merely entertaining. And the rest are embarrassingly terrible; sometimes in an inadvertently amusing way - Night of the Lupus or The Evil Dead, anyone? Horror movies are hard to write, hard to act and hard to direct. It makes trying to choose one a bit of a minefield. That's where this post comes in...

I'm going to break down my love of Horror Movies and brief you on some serious recommendations. But if you're short on time, I've curated a list of my to 50 Horror movies and painstakingly incorporated them into a fun, short but super precise Quiz you can take at the end! Your outcome will be completely based on your personal preferences and whatever mood you're in, so let me know what you get! My result was 'The House of the Devil'. Released in 2009, 'The House of the Devil' is a grand ode to the 1980s; a Golden Age for the horror genre, and an era when America was at the height of hysteria over non-existent satanic cults.


The first Horror movie I ever saw was 'Jeepers Creepers 2'. I know, it's a really disappointing start to a life-long hobby. We watched it at a sleepover with one of the new girls at our local primary school. The second film we watched that night was 'Valentine'. 'Jeepers Creepers 2' was unintentionally funny, but 'Valentine' was, whilst equally terrible, an unintentional exploration into the fears of male feelings of entitlement over women's bodies. And, boy, did that scare the fuck out of me. 

It was slightly uphill after that; Sometimes at other sleepovers, we would sneak downstairs to watch films like 'Vacancy'. The first horror film I was allowed to watch at home was 'The Blair Witch Project'; and I spent the rest of the night cowering in bed, listening whilst the cats down our street made strange noises all night. The first horror film I saw at the cinema was 'Paranormal Activity', which I still insist is way better than it's given credit for. A few years later, a group of friends and I were sneaking into the cinema to watch 'Insidious', the only horror film that has made me scream out loud, but the best time of the year was always the end of August, when Film4 ran a late night FrightFest season to promote its annual horror film festival. That was when I first saw the 2006 remake of 'The Hills Have Eyes'; the only horror movie that has ever made me cry. It was a few years after that until I could watch the whole thing through. I've watched countless more since then, and If I was to list my 10 all-time favourite horror movies so far, it would look something like this;

1. IT FOLLOWS (2014)

It Follows is one of the most innovative American Horror movies in years. It is poignantly subtle, original and clever. So much so, it just seems to get more intricate and exciting every time you rewatch it, and notice something new. You really have to pay attention. With a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, this is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. As one reviewer said: "It's a brilliant concept, tapping the same primitive fears -- body horror, burgeoning sexuality -- that underpinned the slasher genre, while reining in the wanton misogyny."

2. EVIL DEAD (2013)

Scandalous, I know, to include a remake on a list of the best horror movies. But, in my defense, even Sam Raimi hated the first Evil Dead film. The cult classics were at first unintentionally funny, before learning to laugh at themselves a little more, but this film carries on its own without the satirical undertone. If you love a good all-out 80s gorefest, this one is for you. As one critic said: "This blood-soaked remake improves on its cheeky source material, paying homage whilst establishing its own identity for younger horror fans".

3. INSIDIOUS (2010)

Supernatural films are always controversial, and there are a lot of people who don't like this film, but I'm a sucker for the kinds of films packed with ghostly jump scares. This is one of the first horror films I saw that felt cinematic and had people genuinely screaming out loud during the screening. The acting is solid, and the soundtrack is almost perfect. With names like James Wan and Oren Peli attached to it, it's no wonder this film is so good. I've watched it so many times, I don't think I'll ever be able to so much as look at it again, but if you're one of the few people who has never seen it before, it's a pretty safe choice.


Ti West is another one of my favourite horror movie directors, and this is one of his best works. It's another high-scorer on Rotten Tomatoes, bringing in a solid rating of 86%. It's a cinematic ode to the 1980s, completely nostalgic, familiar and subtle whilst managing to remain completely sinister. It builds atmosphere and tension without relying on shocks, or gore. One particular critic says "The House of the Devil isn't just a movie; it's an experience. It joins the league of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen as one of the most diabolical entries in the modern horror library".

5. YOU'RE NEXT (2011)

You'll find horror fans singing the praises of this film across the internet, and for good reason.  Rated 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, don't be fooled by its package as the average home invasion movie; it's enduringly original. It is energetic, gory and full of black humour that'll appeal to anyone with a love for horror movies. One critic writes; "You're Next might be one of the most audience-gratifying horror films I've seen in quite a long time, rewarding the viewers as much as it likes to screw with them".


It wouldn't be a list of the all-time best horror movies without at least one 70s classic. This legendary low-budget exploitation movie is one of the only 'oldies' that genuinely scares me. That closing scene is hauntingly sinister, and few things make me grit my teeth harder than the sound of a chainsaw. This is where so much of the slasher-genre we are so familiar with today was born, but 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' is still one of the best. It is completely brutal, crude and immoral, but that's what makes it so - well - horrifying. Don't bother with the remake. As one critic put it: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre loses none of its intensity as the years go by".  It is currently rated at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

7. CARRIE (1976)

Another 70s classic, 'Carrie' also fulfills another requirement for every horror movie list; Stephen King. I'll admit, I've never been convinced by 'The Shining', but this adaption of King's debut novel is as atmospherically creepy as it gets. Aside from being a good horror movie, 'Carrie' is also a great piece of cinema, and it is completely iconic. As one critic said, Carrie is "an exercise in high style that even the most unredeemable rational of moviegoers should find enormously enjoyable". 'Carrie' is currently rated at 93% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it's another solid crowd pleaser.

8. THE WITCH (2015)

Another film that relies on atmosphere over jump scares, 'The Witch' is one of the most underrated films in recent years. With a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes, it is, again, not just a good horror film, but a great piece of thought-provoking cinema. Not bad for a debut, it also avoids the campiness of most stories dealing with colonial paranoia over witchcraft. A critic at the Daily Telegraph wrote; "One of the scariest horror movies in years - and not the creep-up-and-prod-you kind of scary either, but a profound, unsettling dread that gnaws at your bones, and which comes back to find you in the dark".

9. THE BABADOOK (2014)

The Babadook marked a real change in modern expectations about how horror movies should be made. It's not scary, but it is heartfelt and incredibly well-done. It might be pretty low on my list of favourites, but with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98%, there's no denying that this is undoubtedly a good film. The focus is not so much on the horror, but on the relationship between a mother and her son. A film as much about the struggles of parenthood, it turns grief into a monster and makes you genuinely wonder what is real, what is imagined, and whether it could happen to you.

10. SCREAM (1996)

If I had to name my all-time favourite horror movie, it would probably be this one; if not at least on a par with 'It Follows'. Wes Craven is a horror icon, but 'Scream' is his most enduring, original and clever film to date. It's a great piece of satire, and immersive to the point you almost forget you're watching something completely parodic. 'Scream' deconstructed and redefined the horror genre, and every one of its sequels is a demonstration on how to follow through. The characters are clever, the dialogue great, and 'Scream 4' seems to prove that we'll never tire of watching Sidney Prescott on screen. If you liked the recent TV series, it has nothing on the original.


There are others that stick out in my mind. If you want a truly horrifying experience, I mentioned 'the Hills Have Eyes' remake above, but few films have made me feel as queasy as 'Cannibal Holocaust'; the 1980 cult classic which was so realistic, the director was taken to court under suspicion of actually killing his actors. My dad once told me the only film that ever scared him was 'Wolf Creek' and the French horror movie 'Ils' (Them) was so well-constructed, I didn't even care that I couldn't get the subtitles to work. 'The Visit' is a return to form for M Night Shyamalan, 'V/H/S' proved that found-footage movies didn't have to be cheap, whilst 'Absentia' and 'The Taking of Deborah Logan' were both pleasantly surprising. The other week I watched two of 2016's most hyped horror movies; 'Hush' and 'Don't Breathe'. They were both incredibly enjoyable; 'Hush' was gratifying and original, if not a little bit forgettable, but 'Don't Breathe' was cruel and brutal in a way that still sticks in my mind.

If you're in more of a binge-watching mood, there's some great horrifying television shows out there, too. 'The Twilight Zone' is still as clever as it was when it debuted, and completely addictive. It's on Netflix, so go search for a list of it's best episodes and get on it. I wholly recommend 'The Hitch-Hiker', 'Nightmare at 20,000 feet' and 'Time Enough At Last' as a primer. 'Twin Peaks' is another cult classic, and a must-watch for anyone who loved 'Stranger Things'. If you're looking for something a little more light-hearted, Season One of 'Scream Queens' was incredibly fun. For me, though, nothing beats American Horror Story. If you haven't seen it already, it is genuinely great. Since it's an anthology series, you're not tied to a particular chronology, and if I was to order the seasons in terms of quality, it would look something like; Murder House (Season One), Roanoke (Season Six), Coven (Season Three), Asylum (Season Two),  Freakshow (Season Four) and - in last place - Hotel (Season Five).

American Horror Story also created two of the most terrifying villains in horror movie cinema. Although I rated the season pretty low down, Twisty from season four of AHS took the collective fear of clowns to a level that out-creeps Stephen King's 'It'.  The most recent season, number six, introduced us to 'The Butcher'. I won't say much, for fear of spoilers, but Kathy Bates is the matron of horror movie villains for a reason. Leatherface is another villain that never fails to freak me out. The image of him running erratically down the road, wielding a chainsaw, still gives me the shivers. And, whilst I fancy my chances against most scary movies, the thought of facing the demons from 'Evil Dead' makes me want to hide under the covers all night.

But horror movies aren't all about the scary villains. The most beloved characters are always the 'Scream Queens' and the 'Final Girl'.  They're by far my favourite horror movie trope. Some of my favourite so-called 'Scream Queens' are; Jamie Lee Curtis (Scream Queens, Halloween, The Fog), Jane Levy (Evil Dead, Don't Breathe) and Sarah Michelle Gellar (I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream II, The Grudge, Buffy The Vampire Slayer). There's no question that my all-time favourite 'Final Girl' is Sidney Prescott (Scream), but I also loved Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Maddie (Hush), Laure Strode (Halloween), Max Cartwright (The Final Girls), Sarah Carter (The Descent), and Erin Harson (You're Next).

And to finish off the recommendations, there are also some really solid directors out there, who rarely disappoint. Personally, my favourite icons from behind the screen are Wes Craven and James Wan. Dario Argento is another amazing classic director, as is John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. They've all earned their status on the horror wall-of-fame. Karyn Kusama is another incredibly promising director, as is Ti West, and I'm a huge fan of Feder Alvarez.

Before we get onto the quiz, I'm going to finish with some horror movies that I don't feel really hit the mark. As a huge fan of the original short, 'Lights Out' was incredibly disappointing. 'The Conjuring 2' never really delivered for me, and neither did 'Oculus', 'The Awakening' or 'Crimson Peak'. 'Hostel' was just plainly gross; and not in a good way. 'Silent Hill' was a mess and most remakes should be wholly avoided. Especially 'The Poltergeist', 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', 'Friday the 13th', 'The Nightmare on Elm Street' and 'Carrie'. Still not sure what'll float your boat? Take the quiz, and don't forget to tell me what you're watching tonight!

What Horror Movie Should You Watch Tonight?

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300 years ago,  novels were a 'fickle' hobby written by, and for women. Popular Gothic novels were made fun of by pretty much everyone; from politicians to Jane Austen, who explored the genre satirically in the timelessly witty 'Northanger Abbey', even incorporating this gender divide into one of the novel's antagonists, John Thorpe, who remarks on Catherine's love for reading "Udolpho? Lord! No, I never read novels". Somewhere along the way, however, men decided that there was some merit in the art of literature, and female authors have been sidelined, ignored, and forgotten oftentimes since.

Women still buy two-thirds of novels, but the picture of this gender divide became ever clearer when Vida, an American organisation that focuses on women in the arts, published a report that proved pretty much every major international publication heavily focused on male writers; from review coverage on books to the people they commission to write about them.

It shouldn't come as much as a surprise, then, that most 'top 100' literature lists are also completely male dominated. Lists such as '100 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime', even from the more prestigious publications, feature very few books by women, and even female-focused articles tend to feature several books by one woman, or mistakenly list male authors like Evelyn Waugh, who was placed 97th on a list of most-read female authors just this year by TIME magazine.

So, inspired by Jean at Jean's Thoughts, who wrote a post bringing this issue to attention last month (link here) - here is my own list of 100 female authors that everyone should read. It features women from around the globe; from the first novel ever written, to books that were self-published just last year. These are women who I see as having a substantial influence on, not just writing, but culture and the world around us. They have written novels, non-fiction, short stories, comic books and poetry collections. I'll be ticking them off as I go along too.

Let me know what you think in the comments below. How many of these authors have you read? Who is your favourite female author? What do their books mean to you? Have I missed anyone out?

  1. Amanda Lee Koe  
  2. Antonia White
  3. Agatha Christie
  4. Ali Smith
  5. Alison Bechdel
  6. Alice Walker 
  7. Amy Tan
  8. Angela Carter  
  9. Anita Diamant
  10. Anita Loos
  11. Anne Bronte
  12. Anne Radcliffe
  13. Anne Sexton
  14. Arundhati Roy
  15. A.S. Byatt
  16. Audre Lorde
  17. Azar Nafisi
  18. Banana Yoshimoto
  19. Barbara Kingsolver
  20. Bell Hooks
  21. Betty Smith
  22. Caitlin Moran
  23. Charlotte Bronte
  24. Charlotte Perkins Gilman  
  25. Cheryl Strayed
  26. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche  
  27. Claudia Rankine ✓
  28. Clarice Lispector
  29. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  30. Colette  
  31. Daphne Du Maurier  
  32. Diana Wynne Jones
  33. Dodie Smith
  34. Donna Tartt
  35. Edith Wharton
  36. Eimear McBride
  37. Emily Bronte  
  38. Emily Dickinson  
  39. Elizabeth Bowen
  40. Elizabeth Gaskell
  41. Eowyn Ivey
  42. Erica Jong
  43. Flannery O’Connor
  44. Frances Hodgson Burnett 
  45. George Eliot
  46. Harper Lee  
  47. Helen Oyeyemi
  48. Hilary Mantel
  49. Isabel Allende
  50. Jane Austen  
  51. Jaqueline Susann
  52. Jean Rhys  
  53. Jeanette Walls
  54. Jeanette Winterson
  55. Joan Didion
  56. Joyce Carol Oates
  57. Julia Alvarez
  58. Kate Chopin  
  59. Laura Bates  
  60. Laura Esquivel
  61. Lisa See
  62. Louisa May Alcott
  63. Louise O’Neill
  64. Lucy Maud Montgomery  
  65. Madeleine L’Engle
  66. Malala Yousafzai
  67. Marilynne Robinson
  68. Marina Keegan  
  69. Margaret Atwood  
  70. Margaret Mitchell  
  71. Malorie Blackman
  72. Marjane Satrapi  
  73. Mary Shelley  
  74. Mary Wollstonecraft
  75. Maya Angelou ✓
  76. Murasaki Shikibu
  77. Muriel Spark
  78. Naomi Wolf
  79. Nora Ephron
  80. Octavia E. Butler
  81. Rebecca Solnit
  82. Rebecca West
  83. Robin Hobb
  84. Roxane Gay
  85. Rupi Kaur  
  86. Sandra Cisneros
  87. Seonmi Hwang
  88. Shirley Conran
  89. Shirley Jackson  
  90. Simone De Beauvoir
  91. Susan Hill
  92. Susan Sontag
  93. Stella Gibbons
  94. Sylvia Plath  
  95. Toni Morrison
  96. Ursula K. Le Guin
  97. Virginia Woolf
  98. Willa Cather
  99. Zadie Smith
  100. Zora Neale Hurston ✓

100 Female Authors Everyone Should Read

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That women are remarkably underrepresented in almost every sector of life is a sobering fact yet to be addressed in any country across the world. Film, television, banking, politics; the push against poor gender representation has been both public and provocative. You probably know about these issues, and you'll also probably know that women are grossly underrepresented in the literary world, too.

From George Eliot in the 19th century to JK Rowling in the 1990s, women have resorted to masculinising their names in order to be taken seriously by critics before, and since the offset of printing began. Female authors review less, are reviewed less, and find it harder to get published. These figures are even more staggeringly disheartening for women of colour.

Still, there are some aspects of gender disparity that don't receive nearly as much attention as they deserve. The business of translating novels from around the world is growing year by year, yet women represent less than 30% of novels, short stories and poems translated into English. This is where 'Women in Translation Month' comes in.

Kicked off by Blogger Meytal Radzinski in 2014, and celebrated annually every August, #WITmonth honours female authors from all across the globe by encouraging readers to support women in translation. Wondering what you can do to help? Get yourself over to your local bookstore, and make the next novel you walk out with one by a translated woman. Stuck for ideas? Here are seven worldly female authors that should be on every book lover's TBR list.

1. The Tale of Genji

Chances are, if you were to ask the general population when the first modern novel was written, and by whom, the vast majority would be able to recall a certain iconic book by Spanish author Miguel De Cervantes, published in 1605. They would be around 600 years and 6,000 miles away from the right answer.

Outdating Don Quixote by a large number of centuries was Hikaru Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese Emperor and the invention of Japanese Lady-in-Waiting, Murasaki Shikibu. Despite the world's first ever novel being written by a Japanese woman, today female authors from Japan represent just 28% of the country's translations.

2. The House of the Spirits

This debut novel from the now-prolific author Isabel Allende, Chile, was an instant best seller in most Spanish-speaking countries, and remains a classic to this day, having been translated into over 37 different languages. The novel began as a letter to Allende's dying grandfather, and ended as an epic story of the Trueba family, spanning four generations. If you liked Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Huraki Murakami or Toni Morrisson, make this the next novel on your TBR list.

It has also been adapted into a film, but rather disappointingly replaced the roles of Allende's very much  Latin- American characters with some very white actors.  Skip the rather lacking Meryl Streep interpretation, and go straight to reading the book instead.

3. Gigi & the Cat 

A hallmark of Parisian culture, Colette is one of France's best known authors, yet women represent just 27% of the French literature translated into English.

Here is the review I left on Goodreads; although it is not so favourable, the book is well-loved by many across the world and shouldn't be disregarded by any means.

"I wasn't sure what to think of this one, and found myself pretty much just racing to finish so I could move on to my next book. The language was beautiful, but reviews of Colette's work maintain that "her books offer a manual on how to live fearlessly and joyfully" - perhaps I missed the point, but I didn't see much of that here. The characters were hard to relate to, the internal dialogue and people seemed unnatural and too constructed, with very little reason to sympathise or care for them. "The Cat" was the most enjoyable story, having a little more tension and energy to it, but I still found little to enjoy about it and instead found myself itching to finish it. Perhaps it's a little too out of my time and culture, but I won't be rushing to pick up another book by Colette anytime soon."

4. Clarice Lispector

Despite being hailed as one of the most influential and innovative short-story writers of the 20th century, the complete collection of her works was only just published fully for the first time, in English less than one year ago when it was picked up under the 'Penguin Modern Classics' collection.

Born in Ukraine, raised in Brazil, Lispector herself is one of literature's most fascinating women. She has had several books written about her, and her works are routinely mentioned in Brazillian pop culture. Although Lispector passed away prematurely aged just 56, after suffering a bad accident some years before, the complete anthology of her works contrains no less than 85 stories and has recieved favourable reviews from just about everyone; including the New York Times and Vogue. Compared to Nabakov and James Joyce, Clarice Lispector is one of the most underrated genuises of modern literature.

5. Persepolis 

This autobiographical graphic novel takes us through Marjane Satrapi's childhood in Iran and Austria, during and after the Islamic revolution. It is beautifully told, beautifully illustrated and one of the most influential graphic novels in the world. Originally printed in French, it has since been translated into over 24 different languages. It touches on religion, politics, culture, and western imperialism, with a strong but incredibly astute and relevant message.

This is the review I left on Goodreads;

"I finished this in less than 24 hours. I just couldn't put it down. Marjane is quite a divisive voice, but that's part of what makes the book so commanding. It's emotionally powerful but also an incredible insight into the recent history of Iran from a very personal perspective. Highly recommended."

6. Woman at Point Zero 

Women at Point Zero is a novel by Egyptian author Nawal Al Saadawi, inspired by her encounter with a woman in Qanatir Prison. It tackles some heavy subjects; FGM, arranged marriages, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation. Although bleak, it is essentially a novel about choice, and about hope.

The novel is considered by critics feminist classic, and the issues it discusses, whilst shocking, are struggles still faced by many women all across the globe. Despite this, it has often been underrated in literary canons - just as many books by non-white and non-western women are. Nawal Al Saadawi is a doctor, and a female-rights activist who has spent time in prison for her radical and 'outspoken' opinions.

7. Ministry of Moral Panic 

I received this book completely by chance, all the way from Singapore and sent by an anonymous angel through a round of #SaveTheCulture book exchanges on Facebook. Amanda Lee Koe is an incredibly talented writer, and one of the most promising young authors in the world.

This is the review I left on Goodreads;

"This is one of the best books I've ever read. Amanda Lee Koe writes exquisitely about various themes of modern life, it is full of emotion, depth and it is un-put-downable. This novel also explores life in Singapore and across Asia, whilst completely transgressing any cultural barriers. Very little is lost in translation. These stories are rebellious, full of heart, and almost omniscient in their wiseness. They explore the flawed emotions and lives of characters that you learn to care and mourn for in rarely more than ten pages, from experiences and points of view very little tend to look for. There is nothing stereotypical, girly or cliched about them. It is a truly modern book. If you ever have the chance to read this collection of short stories, don't pass it up"

So what else can you do for Women in Translation Month? Here are some suggestions; 

  • Read a book by a woman in translation
  • Read only books by women in translation
  • Buy a book by a woman in translation
  • Borrow a book from the library by a woman in translation
  • Read books by women in translation from countries beyond Europe. 
  • Tell friends, family and anyone who will listen exactly what #WITmonth is, and why we need it
  • Tweet, Facebook and Instagram about it. Use the hashtag!
  • Write a post about #WITmonth to raise awareness
  • Or, share this/any other post about #WITmonth to raise awareness
Meytal Radzinski and the team behind this awesome celebration have also put together an incredibly helpful and extensive list of books by women in translation from all around the globe. There is a link to it right -> here <- 

Had you ever heard about Women in Translation Month before? Are you going to participate? Do you have a favourite translated book by a woman? Leave your suggestion in the comment below, i'm always looking for news books to add to my wishlist! 

Women In Translation Month: August Book Challenge

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