Thursday, 12 October 2017


Hello, lovely readers! It's been a while since I've updated, I know - I've been spending a lot of energy rewriting and refreshing posts for my Patreon, a lot more energy settling into my RLF post at York St John University, and what was left over working on the new WIP.

And it's the new WIP that's been causing me to tear my hair out. You see, two days a week I've now got access to a lovely quiet office in York from 9am until 6pm. There's light, heat, a window, a computer and the internet - not to mention my WIP notebook and the copious amounts of stationery I've ferried over there, plus ready access to coffee and the odd snack - which ought to be everything that I need to work.

Now of course, I'm there to see students and help them to improve their writing. But currently it's quiet (things pick up toward exam deadlines) so most days I have a few free periods, or even a whole free morning or afternoon in which to work in total peace, plus the time after my work day finishes but before the Student Centre closes and I need to leave my office. No dog that needs walking, no parent calling me in a panic over a leaking roof or virus-infected computer, no meals to cook (I'm staying in a hotel), no cleaning or other household chores to do. It ought to be bliss! I ought to be churning out thousands of words! I even made myself a Pacemaker schedule confidently expecting huge amounts of progress!

I haven't managed to write more than one or two awful, stilted paragraphs on any day that I've been in York.

It's baffling and infuriating. This is a book that I am super excited about. I mean, super excited. I LOVE this idea. I've been sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night to scribble down ideas in my notebook, I love it so much. I've done my research. My Pinterest board is stuffed. I have a playlist on Spotify and a white noise mood track on Noisili. My agent loves it. My editor loves it. I'm ready.

And yet... no words.

What's going on?

What's going on is I'm being deeply stupid, is what.

I realised it yesterday, and it made me want to smack myself in the forehead.

When I first went full-time as a writer I used to get up early, do all my household stuff (cleaning, walking the dog, breakfast, whatever) and get myself into my study by nine... and then sit there, staring at the screen in mounting frustration, wanting to write, needing to write, but paralysed. There just weren't any words! WHERE WERE THE WORDS??

It took me weeks to work out what the problem was and work out methods around it - many of which I shared with you on the blog over the years.

Don't sit down at 9am and expect yourself to write for three or four hours straight off. It's far too intimidating and your brain freezes up. Set a timer and work for half an hour or forty minutes, as fast as you can, then break and do something else for five or ten minutes (check emails, Facebook, get a new coffee, stretch) before you look over what you've done. Forty minutes is way more manageable than three hours - and usually you've then broken the morning-blankness and can carry on in forty minute sprints until you're done for the day. But even if you can't, you'll often surprise yourself with how much you can write in a timed sprint like that - certainly more than you'd write if you stared at a white screen for an hour and then gave up.

If you get well and truly stuck, don't just sit there staring at the screen until you either cry or get a migraine, or both. Get out. Work somewhere else - the library, a coffee shop - or if you can't face that, go for a walk, get the blood pumping, think about your story and what makes it special, work through the problem in your head.

Write longhand so that you remember this is just scribbles, just noodling about with ideas, getting stuff wrong so that you can work out what to get RIGHT, not deathless prose that needs to be perfect.

Don't sit down with vague ideas like 'Today I've got to get Sarah from the bridge over the river to the Capital City'. Some days - great days - you'll be inspired and can take a boring task like that and run with it, but MOST days you'll spend ages trying to just figure out WHAT COMES NEXT because it's so non-specific and anyway what you want to write is the scene where Sarah gets to the Capital and runs into the King's Guard. Always jot down a quick plan the day before, a few bullet points that will act as a road map to what you want to achieve, the shape of the next section. For instance:
  •  Sarah wakes up under the bridge (covered in dew? Frogs in hair? Stiff and damp)
  • Wearily washes in icy water while remembering swimming in river as a child (family memories! Better times)
  • Packs up (brief descrip) and slogs down hill
  • Avoids riders on the road in case it's Kings Guard, then hitches ride w/friendly farmer
  • Arrives in city, smells food, feels lifting of spirits, crosses through City Gate (jostling other people, seeing Castle on the hill)...
  • Bumps straight into Captain of the Guard!
Even if the scene you want to write is really cool and you're dead keen to get started on it, it can be a bit scary to start cold - especially if there are lots of actiony bits or subtle foreshadowing or information threading you need to do. Make a quick note of what you need the scene to accomplish just so that you're not searching for WHAT HAPPENS NEXT at the same time as figuring out the words to describe it. It's much easier to find great words to describe something you've already visualised and can imagine perfectly.

Dear Readers, I know all of this. This is how I work. It's how I've worked for over six years. And yet. I've basically been rocking up to my RLF office at the uni at 8:50am every morning, logging into my OneDrive and sitting there staring at a blank page in my Word doc, waiting for words to come. That's not going to happen. I can't even describe how much it's not going to happen. I know this. AND. YET.

During my lunch break yesterday I went for that long walk. I was feeling so cross with myself, and really gloomy. I didn't even want to eat, which anyone who knows me knows is Bad Juju. But as I wandered around the leaf-strewn Minster Park - with glowering brow and slumped shoulders - I slowly, slowly felt my brain clearing.

I realised I should have gone for a walk an hour before instead of just sitting there during that free period staring at my computer and willing the monitor to burst into flames. And that reminded me of all the other things I normally do on a working day - and eventually I worked out what was going on. Finally. It was a true D'UH! moment. I had to sit down on a bench for a little bit just to comprehend it, and to sigh with relief and actually appreciate the autumn colours I'd been way too grumpy to look at before.

This is is a lesson. Stupidity can happen to anyone, and that includes professional writers. You can spend years figuring out the best methods of working for you, but when faced with a new situation it's all too easy to revert to bad habits. And even the very best methods (and mine have worked pretty well for me so far) will be useless if you don't employ them. Basically, I'd been cheerfully sabotaging myself for weeks and then wondering why I wasn't getting anywhere.

*Le Sigh*

I hope no one else is self-sabotaging at the moment, but if so, and you're reading this? Knock that right off, muffins. Tell me all about it in the comments.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017


Hi everyone! Happy Tuesday to all. Various exciting and/or nervewracking things are happening here at Casa Zolah (or, more accurately, in London and Wales, but directly affecting Casa Zolah) over this week and next week (and maybe the week after, Iunno), and I basically can't talk about a single one of them, which is making it... a liiitle tough to know what to blog about right now?

BUT! I have found this great new YouTube Channel (belonging to the author Rachael Stephen) and one of her videos is already making me have a big-ol' writer-crush on her because it is BRILLIANT.

So here it is. Check it out and see if it helps you the way it helped me today when I came across it!


In other news, my Patreon is still steadily ticking over with updated content every week. I'd love to see some new subscribers, but although I only have three right now I very much appreciate each and every one of them, and the fact that they're motivating me to re-read, update and improve so many essays I've written in the past. It's fun!

If you can't subscribe but you've found my writing and publishing advice useful in the past, or have had questions answered by me, please do share the page to your Facebook, Twitter, or wherever and maybe some other folks will have their memories jogged or their interest piqued and decide to subscribe themselves or share too.

Read you later, my lovelies!

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Hello, Dear Readers! BIG ANNOUNCEMENT today!

No, I'm not giving up on writing and moving to Tibet to herd yaks. I'm not changing my name to Lady Floreline P. Scumbletrump, getting a nose job, or switching genres to sexy romance novels with barechested hunks on the cover and titles like 'Seducing the Laird's Virgin Mistress'.

It's far more exciting than that.

I've launched a Patreon page!

Right here:

What the flying pamplemoose is a Patreon page, you ask? I would be happy - nay, delighted - to explain, Dear Readers.

But first we need to back up a little bit.

You see, for years and years and years here on The Zoë-Trope - since 2010, eep - I've been writing in-depth essays about all aspects of the writing craft and providing individual advice on issues like writer's block, motivation, publishing and the reality of the writing life. The blog's grown from teeny-tiny beginnings to the point where it gets around 1500 hits per day - nearly 50,000 a month. That's more than I ever could have dreamed when I started out! I used to get excited if I got 30 hits a week!

Professional writers have (with permission!) reproduced my essays in their classrooms order to teach creative writing at university level. My words have been quoted in writing magazines and even national newspapers. The All About Writing Archive contains hundreds of posts, hundreds of thousands of words, and represents years of my life. It's helped make me so many friends and I also believe that it's made me a better writer.

What it doesn't do at the moment is help to support my actual job, which (to my continuing surprise and joy) is writing ground-breaking, diverse, Feminist fantasy novels for young adults.

I'm a full-time writer. This means I'm effectively running a small business on my own. I spend a lot of time on things like organising receipts, keeping accounts, writing and sending and chasing up invoices, completing tax returns, arranging and attending book events, and promoting my work. If I don't have a contract with a publisher (and right now I don't) I need to find the money to support myself through other work (like my Royal Literary Fellowship) or through writing grant applications and entering competitions and prizes and crossing my fingers.

All of this takes time. A LOT OF TIME. I can't emphasize this enough. Actual writing doesn't even make up 50% of the time I spend working. Every writer I know is the same: we're constantly scrambling for any extra moment (in a cafe, on the bus or train, while in the hospital waiting room) to actually get some writing done.

And one of the biggest draws on my time, historically, has been my blog.

Now, I love this blog. I love YOU GUYS and having the chance to interact with you and talk to you about books and publishing and writing. I can't even express how much it means to me. But if I spend a day organising my receipts and chasing invoices, that has a direct and positive result on my business - I know what money is going out and am making sure I have money coming in. If I go to a book event to promote myself and sell a bunch of signed books, that is literally keeping my business afloat. And if I spend a day writing, and produce 2000 words, then that's contributing towards my art AND hopefully producing a piece of work which I can one day sell so that I can keep my business going for another year.

But if I spend a day writing a 2000 word essay for this blog, or answering someone's writing related question? It doesn't contribute towards my income or the well-being of my business at all. This isn't promotional stuff - it's not like sharing updates on book releases or events or even snippets of what I'm working on. In fact, it's taking time away from tasks that DO help to bring in some income. In other words, running the blog basically costs money that I (and, you know, my dog and the cats) need to live on.

As a result, the busier I've got trying to keep my business going - and the more worried I've been about money - the less time and joy I've had to dedicate to answering questions and writing essays.

That's been pretty sad for me, if I'm honest. I'm sure it's also been sad for you, Dear Readers. I've let Reader Questions and Tips for Young Writers nearly disappear from the blog at this point. The All About Writing archive hadn't been updated for over a year, and it was never really complete. Given the somewhat sucky search function on Blogger, that's a lot of advice and information that's not being utilised to its fullest extent, and a lot of questions going unanswered.

And that's where Patreon comes in. 

Because Patreon is a rather cool platform on which artists and other creative people like myself can offer exclusive content and rewards to fans who help support them.

I've taken down the (somewhat crappy) All About Writing page that used to live here - and I'm going to recreate it there. But better. I'm going to re-write, revise and refresh every single essay and piece of advice I've ever given and then repost it on my Patreon feed. I'll post at least one, preferably two pieces of writing or publishing related content every week, and sometimes more. I'll go back to answering reader questions on a regular basis. Once I reach a certain number of followers I'll open up a monthly poll that Patrons can vote in to tell me what aspects of writing they'd like me to explore, explain, and offer advice on.

This blog will still exist, and will still be updated a couple of times a month. I'll still rant here occasionally about Feminism, offer book reviews, and talk about what I'm working on and what I've got happening in terms of book releases and events. But readers who want more than that - which I know isn't everyone! - can subscribe to the Patreon for as little as about two quid a month in order to have access to that archive of in-depth, up-to-date writing advice. People who subscribe at the higher tier get to ask questions and have them answered, and those on the top tier (still under eight quid a month) get all that AND will get to see their names in the acknowledgements of all my books, as well as receiving advanced copies and other cool things.

Readers who chose to support me and want that extra content will have an ever-evolving resource where they are always guaranteed to get exactly the stuff they want, every week. And I can spend the time required to maintain and expand on that resource without feeling harried and guilty about taking the time away from 'real' work. Because creating writing essays and answering questions will now BE PART OF MY JOB.

How cool is that?

Head over to my Patreon and check it out, lovelies. There's one free post already available there and two more in the Patron only feed waiting. If you feel it's good value for money, you can become a part of a brand new community of writers there. And even if you can't subscribe yourself - which I totally understand! - you can still really help by sharing the page on social media and sending links to any of your writing friends you think might be interested.

I'm very excited about this. So like it says on the Patreon page itself: JOIN ME! We'll have fun and learn stuff :)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017


Hello, hello, hello Dear Readers! Happy Wednesday! I meant to write this report yesterday but honestly it's taken me this long to recover from the wonderful yet exhausting whirlwind that was my very first proper Young Adult Literature Convention (I did do the winter pop-up in 2014, but that was so teeny-tiny in comparison it literally does not count).

First up, thanks must go to all the people I've stolen photos from for this, because I don't have a smartphone and although I did take my camera I was so busy running around that I remembered to take it out of my bag exactly once. You are good people, Emily, Imogen, Kerry and Shanna!

I got up at about 5:30am on Saturday and walked and did obedience training with my dog for nearly an hour in a quest to quieten him down so that I didn't feel quite so guilty about dropping him off with my mum. Because he's a maniac. Sorry mum. Then I did various elaborate (but ultimately futile because humidity and rain) things to my hair, slapped on some make-up and a dress and hopped on the train to London, filled with fizzing nerves and excitement. This was me on the train, before my hair gave up the fight.

Ah, sweet volume, we hardly knew ye...

Sadly, despite the weather forecast insisting that it would be a fine and sunny day in London, and therefore that a dress would be a practical choice, by the time I arrived at the Olympia venue in Kensington where YALC was taking place, it was POURING. I don't just mean a drizzle here, folks. It was so bad that the pavements were mostly puddle. It was therefore in a rather damp and dishevelled state that I presented myself to the helpful staff members who directed me to the entire floor of the venue which YALC had commandeered this year.

I stopped by the Walker Books booth (looking good, ladies!) to say hello and then, in true book geek stylee, headed to the bookshop, where I snagged an armful of books, including one from the lists of each of my fellow panelists, and took this:

This was just past 13:00 on the Saturday and, as I confirmed with the Waterstones staff running the shop, Barefoot on the Wind and Shadows on the Moon had already sold out. Which was YAY but also BOO because obviously I didn't want people to not be able to get the books I was going to be talking about on my panel! Oh, well. I decided to be positive about it. As I was stuffing my haul into my tiny roll-on bag, two more lovely Walker people (Hi Rosi! Hi Kirsten!) appeared and gently led me away, reminding me that I needed to collect my author pass and sign in before going off on jollies. Oops.

I did see and get to hug the lovely and talented One Italian Summer writer Keris Stainton on the way, though. Hi Keris!

As we were collecting my pass and then heading to the green room, I confided in Rosi and Kirsten that I'd hoped to get a book signed for my sister, but that the signing queue was so long I doubted I'd get to the writer in question before my panel. Then Emily, who's been working with me at Walker while Wonder Editor has been on maternity leave, turned up, along with several other authors I had wanted to meet - Hi Laura Lam! Hi Elizabeth May! - and Imogen Russell Will who was running my panel, and much book related discussion ensured.

Suddenly, a text on my phone! Cunning Kirsten had slipped off and had a chat with someone running the signing queues, and had managed to get them to let me jump the line and get that book signed for my sister! Joy! But also FREAK OUT because the author in question?

Yes, that is LAINI TAYLOR. Actual real-life Laini Taylor. And me next to actual real-life Laini Taylor trying not to be the one weirdest person she met at YALC... but failing oh so miserably. I nearly fainted at her feet.

But no matter, for the signed book was in my grasp! *Uncontrollable fangirl giggles*

And then, since we were there and her signing queue had just about come to an end, we went to talk to lovely fellow Walker author and superstar Lauren James as well. Her book The Loneliest Girl in the Universe was the number one bestseller at YALC this year and one of the first books I snatched up at the shop. She very kindly signed my copy for me:

And our dresses nearly match, how cool is that? Although hers had spaceships on and mine had golden flamingoes, which probably says something profound about our personalities...

Or maybe not.

Anyway, back to the green room, where the other authors from my panel were beginning to collect. I nattered away at the fascinating Deirdre Sullivan, Julia Gray, Joanne Harris and Peadar O Guilin and also managed to grab Laura Dockrill to ask for her opinions on mermaid retellings before the panel started. But eventually they herded us together, took some pictures:

And then the real fun began! 
What is my face doing in this shot? I dunno, but it's hilarious.

This was one of the best panels I've ever been on - it was delightful. Imogen Russell Wills had prepared really well, and her questions were SPOT ON. Even though there were quite a few of us talking we all managed to get time to express ourselves, and have some back-and-forth between us.

The best thing was that the audience was 100% there for this event - really involved and not afraid to ask questions. I was quite sad when it was over, and they firmly took us away and took us to the signing area. Where CELL7 author and lovely person Kerry Drewery was waiting for me with a hug and nice words about the panel to calm me down - hi Kerry!

To my surprise - and delight! - my queue turned out to be... huge? I was sure that with so many other, much more famous authors there everyone would be far too busy to come and wait for my autograph, but apparently not!

I signed for about an hour and a half before my queue ran out, and thanks to the lovely Shanna, there was a seat saved for me at the one panel I was going to have time to attend, and the one panel above all that I was desperate to attend - the Books That Made Me panel with V.E. Schwab, Laini Taylor and Joanne Harris, run by (a beautifully costumed) Katherine Woodfine. It was everything I'd hoped for, and I even got to ask a question during the Q&A. It was glorious and a perfect end to my YALC experience, especially since I got the chance to say hi to Victoria Schwab in the green room before she left.

We won't dwell on the fact that the rain was still pouring outside, that I narrowly missed the Tube to Earl's court and had to wait for nearly 30mins for the next one, that rush hour was on (making Tube travel an utter misery on a normal day, let alone a rainy one) or that it took me nearly two hours from there to get back to my hotel. None of that matters. All that matters is: I'll never forget my first proper YALC and I really hope to be invited back again next year.

Before heading home on the train the next morning, I even had a little time to eat breakfast in the sun with one of the excellent books I'd obtained on Saturday:

And then I nearly fell asleep on the train, so I wrote 1000 words in my notebook in order to stay awake... but that's another story.

Did you get to YALC this year, Dear Readers (I know some of you did, 'cos I met you!)? What have you been up to? Throw your answers in the comments, darlings! xx

Thursday, 20 July 2017


Hello, Dear Readers! Happy Thursday to all - I hope your week so far has been great, but if not, only two days to go before the sweet, unhealthy-coping-method oblivion of hiding under the covers all weekend. Hang in there!

Before I deal with today's main business, I have some sad(ish?) news to share. My publisher have just confirmed my very first novel, The Swan Kingdom, is now officially out of print in the UK. I wrote this book when I was twenty-one and it was published when I was twenty-four. At the time I didn't even realise how lucky I was for that to happen, or how lucky I was to recieve such an amazing critical and award response, but looking back with hindsight I'm astonished my quirky little fairytale retelling did so well. The book earned out its advance nearly immediately and stayed in print for almost ten years, which is no mean achievement for a debut novel from an unknown. So while this development is, of course, bittersweet, I'm still very proud.

You can currently buy the book as a paperback in the US or as an e-book in the UK, but I don't know how long that will be the case, so if you wanted a copy then now is probably the time to get your hands on one. I might buy a couple of secondhand copies for myself, since all my author copies have long been given away and I'd hate to be left with no trace at all of the novel that changed my life so much. 

OK, now that's over with - onto the snippet! Though Goodreads, Twitter and the blog, you guys have let me know that the new WIP you're most interested in seeing more of right now is the Little Mermaid retelling. Which is cool, because that's the one I'm actually working on this week. This is the opening part and a bit different than anything I've written before. Let me know what you think in the comments or wherever, my lovelies! Snippet under the cut.

Thursday, 13 July 2017


Helloooo ducky darlings! Happy Thursday to all. I know it's been a while since I blogged so here are some updates on what's been happening at Chez Zolah.

First up, my Mulan inspired fantasy is now officially on submission to Walker Books, where they're waiting for my usual editor to come back from maternity leave at the end of the month so they can start discussing it and making decisions on whether they want to publish it. Any crossed fingers, held thumbs, prayers to the writing gods or sacrifices of chocolate, crockery or goats would be entirely welcome and appreciated.

Obviously I'll update you as soon as I know something and get the OK to share it. This will probably be a lot sooner if it's a 'no' and we take the book out on general submission. If that happens it'll be the first time I've gone on general sub with an agent (last time, which was in 2004, I was sending my manuscripts directly into publisher's slushpiles) and it will be a fairly nerve-wracking, yet also exciting, process. Eep.

In WIP news, I'm working on two new proposals (that means sample chapters and detailed synopses) both of which I've mentioned in passing here on the blog before. Both are YA. The first is a 1920's timeslip story. The second is a retelling of the Little Mermaid which centres a queer relationship. And I love BOTH of them to bits, so dedicating all my nerves and anxiety to getting these new stories kicked off is is helping with the wait on Mulan quite a bit. Let me know in the comments below which you like the sound of more, and I'll post a snippet next week.

Next! YALC is swiftly approaching and I believe that tickets are still available. The event schedule is now up, so you can not only see when I will be there, but also all the vast swathes of other, far more famous and awesome authors (if I don't get the chance to see Laini Taylor speak at least once I may choke myself on my own fountain pen). IT IS VERY EXCITING. I hope I'll get to see lots of Dear Readers there and sign their books, give them swag, and generally adore them for being the discerning and wonderful people they are. That means you, cutie. Yes, you!

Finally, I recently read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit, which are adult works of speculative fiction by Becky Chambers. Thanks for the recommendation on these, Emma Pass!

I enjoyed the first one a lot, and although I was strongly aware of the parallels between it and a certain cult SF TV series I shall not name (*cough*Firefly*cough*) that didn't lessen my enjoyment because I could see the author turning all the tropes over and messing with them in a really aware, diverse and interesting way. The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, though, really blew me away. It went off in a quirky and unexpected direction that I just loved. I can't wait for the next book in this loosely connected series to come out (each book stands alone, with a few characters in common) and I heartily pass the recommendation to read them onto you, Dear Readers.

That's all for today - just remember to let me know which of my WIPs floats your boat in the comments if you'd like a sneak peek next week. xx

Monday, 12 June 2017


Hello and happy Monday, Dear Readers! Today's post is part of PewterWolf's Disney Villains Takeover. There've already been a bunch of smashing posts from other writers and bloggers on the topic, so click through and check those out.

When Andrew proposed this topic to me, I started thinking a lot about the way that Disney films have evolved in recent years. These changes have generally been for the awesome, giving us more well-rounded, active heroines - like Tangled's Rapunzel, Brave's Merida, Frozen's Anna - heroes with a sense of humour and something other than their royal title going for them - Flynn/Eugene, Kristoff - and some fantastic subversion of tired old tropes, like love-at-first-sight and true love's kiss, or the idea of fighting over the Princess's hand. We've even had some heroines who were so strong and inspiring in their own right that they didn't need no man, and ended their stories liberated and happy about it - Merida and Elsa.

What we haven't really had recently is... any great new villains?

Think about the classic Disney villains you grew up with: The Lion King's Scar, The Little Mermaid's Ursula or Beauty & the Beast's Gaston. Think about how much you loved and hated those guys, how you'd happily sing along with their big theme song and maybe even felt just as strongly about them as you did about the hero. I know all the words to 'Poor Unfortunate Souls' to this day even though that film came out when I was around seven. And my nieces, born decades later? THEY know all the lyrics, too.

Maaan, that's a good villain song.

These guys were not particularly nuanced, let's be real. They weren't meant to be. They were evil. They stood for darkness, and they were often drawn in a way that made it clear the filmmakers intended us to find them unattractive (Ursula's tentacles and rounded figure, Scar's comparative skinniness, darker mane and his facial disfigurement) which would be problematic if we didn't actually find them super amazing and cool instead - seriously, give me Ursula's tentacle dress over Ariel's shell-bra any day.

They were there to offer a direct contrast with the main character's cuteness and innocence - and for the most part they owned their own wickedness and offered no apologies for that.

Even Gaston, heralded as the specimen of physical perfection, and lauded and loved by everyone in his village, is drawn and characterised in such a way that no one for a single instant thinks he's anything like sympathetic. His hairy chest, stinky, holey socks and arrogant brow turn us off, and his song makes it clear his soul is as shrivelled and rotten as a Cox's Pippin that's been hidden under the bananas at the bottom of the fruit bowl for a month.

So no, villains like this were never, ever intended to make us root for them.

But somehow... we liked them anyway.

Each of them embodies something, some character or person who might almost be real.

Scar stands for men who do not fit with the macho stereotypes of our culture, who despite having excellent qualities of their own, are pushed aside, ignored and under-estimated because they are not physically dominating. But despite Scar's intelligence, he's still not able to see through the hypermasculine ideals that tell him he's unworthy. He's not strong enough to reject their paradigm. So instead of walking away and finding something that would make him happy outside of those ideals, he fights, lies and kills in an attempt to gain the 'Prize' which his society has taught him all real men must seek.

Ursula stands for women who are condemned by our patriarchal society for being 'bossy' - powerful and ambitious - and don't conform to ideals of unthreatening, conventionally attractive 'prettiness'. She too, despite immense gifts of her own, struggles throughout the whole film to gain an ultimately empty prize -  a power that will signal she is equal to the King who has rejected and exiled her. Why does she want to be his equal? Why not see him for the blustering bully he is, and use her magical talents to build her own world, her own community? She can't. She craves his recognition, even if she must kill him to get it.

And Gaston is that guy, the one we aaaall love to hate. He presents himself as a Nice Guy who any girl ought to be glad to get - and any girl who isn't grateful for his attentions must be stupid, a b*tch, insane. He embodies toxic masculinity at its height. Despite immense physical strength and skill, he really has no redeeming personal qualities, and honestly believes his most repulsive actions are right and justified because no one has ever, ever questioned him or told him 'no'.

We'd hate to be stuck in an elevator with these guys, but they light up the screen. We enjoy them. Each one gets their own song, their moment to dominate the story. When they sing, whatever the apparent topic, it's actually all about THEM. There's no doubt that each of them is the hero of their own narrative. They aren't nice people. They aren't subtle, or sympathetic. But they are interesting and well realised. Like an extreme version of a real person you might cross the street to avoid in the real world.

In recent Disney movies, though, the increased time spent on characterising the heroes and heroines and developing them into fully rounded, interesting protagonists seems to have had a sad impact on the quality of our villains. In fact, as strong characters in their own right, they seem almost to have disappeared.

Why no love for villains, Disney? I mean, I get that after the success of the live-action Malificent film and the popularity of Evil Queen Regina in the TV series Once Upon a Time you maybe wanted villains to evolve. That you wanted something more nuanced and potentially sympathetic, rather than the operatic cackling of yonder years. Maybe you took that 'A villain is a hero who outlived his story' thing to heart. But... that's not what you've achieved. Instead of giving us more human and real villains, you've mostly cut the heart right out of your antagonists.

Take Mother Gothel. What is her terrifying super power? Passive aggression. Despite interesting character design that suggests she might once have been the heroine of her own story, she never actually gets to tell us anything about herself. She's defined as a stereotype of a toxic mother figure who refuses to let her children grow up or leave - and that's interesting. But instead of letting the talent of the actor voicing her shine out in some massive ballard of selfish justification we get 'Mother Knows Best', a song which is all about Rapunzel. It tells us nothing about Mother Gothel that we don't already know. In an otherwise fantastic film it feels hollow and disappointing.

Brave offers up a mythic story of a prince who craved power so much, he transformed himself into an immortal monster and destroyed his own family and kingdom. I love Brave, and I love the way that myths, ballads and folklore are woven throughout the narrative as a warning to Merida and her mother. But there's no catchy villain song. You might argue that Merida doesn't get to sing either, but actually there are songs in the soundtrack - great songs, like Learn Me Right and Touch the Sky - which are clearly positioned to stand in for the heroine actually breaking into song herself. Because of the way the film is written, there's honestly no way that can happen for the villain. He's barely a villain, really. He's a BEAR. Not even a talking bear. Just a big scary bear.

Frozen's Hans is the one who gets to me most, though. There's a lot of praise for this film for the way that it subverts Disney tropes and pokes fun at them, and don't get me wrong, I do love it for that. But because Hans is a bait-and-switch villain, unmasked only at the very end, we never get to know him  as a villain at all. He reveals his villainy to us and is dead about three minutes later. His justification, while easily understandible (younger son seeks power through lying and deceit, hello baby Scar!) is never fully realised because, again: WE DON'T GET A SONG. He only gets to sing a love song with Anna at the beginning of the film. It's a great, sinister joke in retrospect, but it doesn't count as characterisation when he was just singing exactly what Anna wanted to hear.

Why not give us Hans cackling operatically as he reveals the emotional torture of always being overlooked in favour of his older brothers, despite knowing he's by far the cleverest of them all? Why not give us a great, unforgettable villain moment? The story could have spared three minutes for that, even if it came at an unconventional place in the narrative.

Instead, Elsa and Anna's victory over him seems all too easy because we've barely had time to accept his character reversal. We never have time to truly know and hate him. Instead of making him seem more significant as an antagonist, someone we desperately want to see thrown down, this hasty change wipes away all the previous characterisation and makes him into a practical nonentity. An EVIL nonentity, but a nonentity all the same.

I haven't seen Moana yet, but I'm told (no spoilers!) that it might suffer from similar problems in terms of its resolution and antagonist. So it seems this problem is ongoing.

Disney, how are little boys and girls going to dress up in curtains and tin-foil crowns and sing the songs of villains with bloodthirsty relish the way that my nieces sing Poor Unfortunate Souls... if you don't give us any villain songs or even any decent villains anymore? Up your game. Bring back the classic Disney villain, before we forget how much fun it can be to see our heroes go up against a truly loathesome opponent.

Who is your favourite Disney villain, and why? Let me know in the comments! :) Read you later, guys.
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