University: Yay or Nay?

It’s been a couple of weeks since I graduated University and ever since I’ve been thinking about what I gained from the experience and where it might lead me in the future.

As I’m sure everyone who doesn’t live under a rock is aware it was A Level results day yesterday and I’m sure there are a lot of young people still indecisive about Uni, perhaps wondering whether to apply through clearing or taking a gap year in order to decide. In response to this and a few questions I’ve received in the comments over the last few months, I thought I’d make this post just to tell you a little about my experience.

When I made the decision to go to Uni a lot of people asked me what the point was and what kind of job would I be able to get after 3 years of reading English Literature. Another hot topic was whether it would ever be worth the money.

UEA

UEA: Also known as the ‘concrete jungle’

To the first point I would say that University isn’t all about the studying. Yes, you’re there to work, but you’re also there for the experience. I am a completely different person to who I was 3 years ago and that’s because I have grown more independent living 300 miles away from home. I’ve met hundreds of different people from a whole variety of backgrounds and they have all had their own little influence upon my outlook on life. On top of this I can cook, I know what it means to stick to a budget with my spending and I know what it’s like to live on my own. Plus yeah, you can drink and go out and have fun in a way you’ll never be able to not at Uni. You simply cannot reconstruct a freshers flat party in your home town. It doesn’t work that way.

The second point I’ll make is about the subject. Okay I didn’t study something that would lead me directly into a job but having a degree opens a lot of doors. I’m not saying it’s necessary but it might speed up the process of getting to where you want to be. Really it’s your call whether you’ll need it for your future career. If you want to be a doctor then you’ve got no choice in the matter but if Uni isn’t for you then there are a great number of alternatives for most careers. Plus, more and more companies are opening their doors to non-graduates. My dream is publishing and just this year Penguin announced they were opening up their vacancies to non-graduates as well. When picking your subject just make sure you’re choosing for you and you alone. You’re the one who will be spending hours in the library late at night and shedding blood, sweat and tears over your dissertation so make sure it’s something you really enjoy doing. You’ll probably spend about 50% of your time working if you study a humanities subject, and that’s a lot of time to spend doing something you hate.

Thirdly, the money. A lot of people don’t understand the concept of the student loan so make sure you’ve read the ins and outs of it before you are put off. I might have £40,000+ of debt but am I going to earn enough to pay that off before I’m 51? Probably not. You only pay back a very small percentage and only after you’re earning over a certain amount per year. It’s really not going to break the bank. The only people who pay it off are those who earn a fortune and, well, they can afford to.

I went to a good Uni and thoroughly enjoyed my course. The teaching was good and I had a lot of choice over the modules I studied. I might not have made the best use of them either but there were literally hundreds of societies to join and events to partake in. And that goes for every Uni.

Whatever you do just make sure you’re making the right decision for you. 3 years is a big commitment to make. Over and out –

UEA ziggurats

UEA Ziggurats at sunrise

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National Book Lovers Day

In keeping with the date I have decided to dedicate this post to my favourite book of all time. I can hardly contain my excitement in getting to talk about The Great Gatsby yet again. I’ve got to say that it was a pretty close battle between The Great Gatsby and Gone Girl but I feel that Gatsby has more of a lasting impact. I can still quote it despite it being years since I last read it (though it is one of the only books I’ve ever read multiple times) and it’s hands down better written – Sorry Flynn!

The Great Gatsby

The Plot: The Great Gatsby is set in New York in the roaring 20s. It’s the era of prohibition but no one obeys the rules. There’s excessive drinking, the most extravagant parties you can possibly imagine and an element of dream-like romance to tie it all up.

The Characters: Let me begin with the almost completely aloof narrator. We never know a great deal about Nick Caraway, nor do we care. The story isn’t really about him, it’s about his observations. He’s a bystander, a fly on the wall if you will, taking note of all the drama that seems to just twirl in the air around these glamorous New Yorkers.

Then there’s Gatsby himself. He’s a man on money and a man of passion. Utterly smitten with Daisy he’s equally in love with his dreams. His persona is charming and you can’t help but feel empathy for any man who strives for something so hard.

Daisy herself is a pretty young flower, pure and sweet and innocent. I can’t help but equally fall in love with her spirit. She may seem flakey but I have a feeling she’s acting the part set out for her by society. After all, she makes the insightful comment concerning her daughter, “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Last but not least is Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. Playing the part of dominant husband and pro sportsman Tom at first appears to be the perfect husband. However, there is a darker side to him and as Shakespeare said ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’…

Language: This book is so full of passion. Perhaps it’s the affect of the American Dream but everything in this novel reads as if through rose tinted glasses. “The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain.” Lines like this make me truly believe in the beauty of life. This brings me on to my fourth a final section, the quotes, (which is really just me emphasising how much I adore Fitzgerald’s writing).

Quotes: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past..”

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

“Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

“So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star.”

“It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

I simply cannot get over the beauty of these words. I am in awe of F Scott Fitzgerald’s talent and I hope and I dream that one day just maybe I might be at least semi capable of creating poetic prose like his. 

 

When You’re Struggling…

I’m not telling you anything new when I say it can be a massive effort sometimes to stay motivated. The key is how to solve it.

When I’m struggling I take time out. I know that’s not always possible if you’re working under pressure but usually I’m okay at getting stuff done if there’s a certain amount of pressure. The problem comes when no one is there to press you to do something, when it’s all down to self-motivation.

For those who don’t know, for the last few months I’ve been working on a novel, something I’m choosing to do for my benefit alone. In other words, it’s totally down to me to get the thing written.

insta image

Progress was going well both in terms of character development and plot, then, quite suddenly, I stopped. (You might have noticed because it’s been a while since I last blogged too). There wasn’t one particular reason for this sudden apathy, things were just getting too much and I was struggling to find the time. Now I’ve taken just over a week off writing.  I know this will set me back because I’ve lost the thread of the bits I was working on, but it was so completely and utterly necessary. Sometimes taking a break will do you more good than anything else. I now feel refreshed, revitalised, and have a whole bank of new ideas to bring to the table. I’m excited to get these new leads down on paper and even more excited to tell you all about them, but I won’t spoil the surprise just yet.

I’ll keep you posted. Over and out –

 

Taking on a Challenge

A few days ago I began the longest novel I’ve ever attempted, War and Peace. I’m not going to lie, it weighs a tonne and it’s pretty daunting, but I’m convinced it is going to be worth it. I’m not usually a fan of epically long books, especially those made to be long for the sake of it – Mr Charles Dickens – but War and Peace seems different; it’s long because it has content.

I feel like I already know a lot about the story from watching the BBC adaptation that aired a few months ago. Perhaps this is a hasty conclusion to jump to but I’ve heard that it was pretty faithful to the book. Unlike a lot of ‘epics’ this novel unfolds quite rapidly and, as the title suggests, there is a combination of war and peace going on. It tells the story of the French invasion in Russia but it also deals with the daily lives of various members of the aristocracy. Apparently there are over 500 characters and almost all are given adequate roles. By this I mean that their stories are interesting and each and every character adds to the book as a whole (so far).

I’m not very far into this novel as yet, though if it were a regular book I guess I’d be about half way. I’m circa page 160 of about 1360 so I have a long way to go but I’ll keep you updated. My only regret so far? That this certainly won’t help me achieve my Goodreads challenge and I’m already falling way behind schedule.

Over and out –

war and peace

Stay Alive – Simon Kernick

Stay Alive, as the cover tells me, is written by ‘the number one bestselling author’ Simon Kernick. This gave me doubts from the very first moment, and as it turns out, my gut instinct was right.

The thing about bestsellers is that they’re almost always appallingly written. In order for them to be read by the masses they need to be simple enough for anybody to handle. They need to be accessible for that person who only reads one book a year, which offers no challenge to those who read dozens. The plots are predictable, the use of language is at times laughable and the grammar is invariably off.

This book was recommended to me but the problem with that is that everyone has completely different tastes. Perhaps I’m a book snob after three years studying Literature at University but I was hoping for something better.

Stay Alive Simon Kernick

Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. SPOILER ALERT.

My biggest problem with this book was the utterly ridiculous storyline. ‘The Disciple’ (who thought of that name?) is murdering couples all over Surrey, so when cheating husband George and his lover Ivana are found dead in their home it’s pretty obvious where the investigation leads. Except this plot isn’t obvious; it’s all over the place. There is a pedophile living in the woods, a murderous Grannie, and who thought escape via canoe was a good idea? At times I wondered whether this book was supposed to fall into the category of black comedy since it reminded me greatly of the film ‘Hot Fuzz’, what with the extreme gore and the complete and utter bad luck the protagonists seemed to have. However, judging from the other thrillers Simon Kernick has written and the reviews online this is clearly not the case, which is kind of a shame; I think I would have enjoyed it more had the humour been intended.

The next problem was the choice of language. This was perhaps one of the things that steered me into the direction of thinking it was intentionally comedic. Take this sentence for instance: ‘Jess would never forget the slightly confused expression in Jean’s eyes in the half-second before they closed and she toppled heavily in her seat, falling sideways so that her ruined head hung over the side of the canoe, grey hair hanging down towards the water as if she was leaning in to wash her hair’. Never before has an atmosphere been so completely obliterated by a simile. Well done Simon Kernick, that takes some doing.

Then there’s the repetition. In my three years of Creative Writing classes one of the things they really drill into you is to never say anything twice. Pick the best way of saying something and run with it; never repeat yourself. Simon Kernick could have benefitted from a class or two at UEA because he explains everything to his readers at least twice. Perhaps he assumes we are all a little hard of understanding but the beautiful thing about books is that they are written documents, meaning it is possible to flick back through if you ever want to reread or check anything. Someone please explain the concept of writing to him. (Am I being a bit harsh?)

My final problem with this novel is the sheer amount of characters. It is 420 pages long, I’ll give it that, so you would think there would be space for a fair amount of characters but Stay Alive has millions. Ok, 32 to be precise, but that’s insane, especially as there is very little to differentiate between the millions of cops and corrupt ex cops (other than their morals). It wasn’t until probably a quarter of the way through this novel that I actually got my head around Mike Bolt, Mo Khan, Keogh, Mehdi, MacLean, Sayenko, Grier and Scope. Until this point they were pretty much all the same person. I would say this novel lacks characterisation because they are literally nearly all the same other than names and ethnicity but (and this will sound really contradictory) on the flip side every single character has reams and reams of back story, so much in fact they almost all deserve their own novels. The problem is that it’s all forgettable backstory and none of it is actually relevant to the main plot. What you’re then left with is a long, meandering plot with predictable twists and irrelevant background information. Do not waste your time with this novel. Life is too short. (As proven by this novel where most of the characters are shot to bits before you can even begin to sympathise with them).

– Over and out x

The Good, The Bad and The Average

From where I’m sitting there are three types of books in this world: the books you stay up all night reading and just can’t bring yourself to put down, the books that you’re tempted to toss aside right from the very first chapter, and those in-between books that are fine, just fine, but maybe a tad bland.

Reading

The last book I just couldn’t put down was Gone Girl, and I know I’ve raved about this book to death but I just found the pages disappearing as I got deeper into the story. This was a true show-stopper; I felt like I never wanted it to end. I love Flynn’s writing style and I was completely taken in by her characters. I don’t think I’ve ever connected so much with any book before and I doubt I’m ever likely to again (until I get around to finishing my own).

The most recent book I just wanted to junk was Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson. I hate giving up on a book; I always feel like I owe it to the author to see it through to the end, just in case there’s something spectacular waiting for me there. The thing is, nine times out of ten I remain disappointed and then feel that I’ve wasted my time giving it a chance.

The in-betweens are undoubtedly the largest category. Here I could list The Grown Up, Me Before You and Girl With A Pearl Earring to name just a few books that I’ve read recently. These fill up the majority of book shelves; they are the true definition of the word ‘average’. There’s nothing wrong with them but there’s also nothing special about them, so I’m not exactly going to recommend them all to my friends.

I guess what I’m trying to work out, both as a reader and as a writer, is what makes a novel ‘un-put-downable’ and ‘easily-put-downable’. What do you think fully engages a reader? What books have you fallen in love with recently? And what books have you wanted to chuck out of the window from the very first chapter?

Over and out. M –

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

I’ve put off writing this for a really long time because what is there to say? After all, how do you review what is essentially a historic text? I can’t comment on the book’s plot or pace or how well written it is because it isn’t fiction and it wasn’t exactly intended to be published. Anne had always hoped to one day write a novel entitled ‘The Secret Annexe’ about her experiences in hiding but I very much doubt whether she ever foresaw that the diary she wrote between the ages of 13 and 15 would be read by millions of people all around the world. I’ve taken this extract from the diary:

Just imagine how interesting it would be if I were to publish a novel about the Secret Annexe. The title alone would make people think it was a detective story.
   Seriously, though, ten years after the war people would find it very amusing to read how we lived, what we ate and what we talked about as Jews in hiding.

I think everyone knows what happened to Anne Frank and her family. I remember learning about it at school, I’ve seen documentaries and visited exhibitions, but nothing is quite like reading the words of the girl herself.

Anne Frank

Before writing this I decided to read some reviews on Amazon to see what other people wrote. As if I wasn’t already disgusted enough by humankind after reading the diary, this made matters a whole lot worse. Overall the book scores 4.7 out of 5, which of course is excellent and most people have positive comments to make, but I am astounded by the 1 star reviews that call the book ‘boring’ or say that ‘she whines too much’. I doubt there was a lot to do in hiding and any complaints she expresses are fully warranted given the situation she was in.

The persecution of the Jews has to be one of worst injustices of the last century. The fact that Anne spent the only teenage years she ever lived in hiding is heartbreaking. She lived in what was effectively three rooms at the back of her father’s office, unable to open the windows in case someone saw, unable to move around during the day in case warehouse workers heard and unable to flush the toilet for the same reason. What this girl and so many others like her went through is incredible, in the true sense of the word. I simply cannot comprehend this extreme racial hatred that forced thousands to flea the country or go into hiding. It’s mind-numbingly unjust, and it wasn’t even that long ago. Reading the afterword I realised that Miep Gies, one of the office staff and helpers, only died in 2010. That brought me back to reality. All this happened only 65 years ago.

The Diary of a Young Girl isn’t a story, it isn’t fiction, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – it’s Anne’s thoughts, feelings and fears – after all, ‘paper is more patient than man’. At first it’s sweet and endearing, it reminded me of myself at 13, egotistical as children are, but completely understandable. Then towards the end it turns darker as the fears of being discovered become almost unquenchable.

If you want to understand what happened on an emotional level then I fully recommend you read The Diary of a Young Girl. It’s so touching and heartfelt, but utterly devastating at the same time that a life, many lives, were taken before their time. Anne hoped to be a writer, to start a family and live a long happy life, but she never got the chance. It truly opened up my eyes to the horrors the Jews experienced, and it isn’t just learning the facts like a history lesson, it’s feeling the same feelings and sharing her fears. It does what fiction does best, it places you in her shoes. To quote To Kill a Mockingbird, ‘you never really understand a person until you consider things from [their] point of view…until you climb into [their] skin and walk around in it.’ Placed in Anne’s shoes, be prepared to feel everything with a raw edge. Anne’s diary must be one of the only good things to come out of this injustice, but it is a good thing because her memory will live on and her story will be heard. RIP Anne Frank, Margot Frank, Edith Frank, Hermann van Pels, Auguste van Pels, Peter van Pels, Fritz Pfeffer and all the other 6 million Jews and 5 million Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, disabled people and Roma who didn’t survive the holocaust.

Anne Frank

 

Children’s Fiction: My Pet Hate

Literature is a form of escapism for most of us. We reach for a novel and instantly forget those pending bills, those emails we need to send and what’s on the agenda for tomorrow. Children are no different. They might not have the same worries as us but they have problems none the less. Children use literature to escape from reality just as we do, which perhaps is the reason fantasy is such a popular genre when it comes to little readers. Who wants to be thinking about tomorrow’s maths class when they could be knee deep in snow in Narnia or on adventures with their daemons? The books of C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman have to be some of the greatest kids books around; their creativity is unparalleled.

The lack of creativity is my problem with writers like Jacqueline Wilson. I hated her books as a child and nothing’s changed since. Jacqueline Wilson wrote books about school, bullying and eating disorders. These were aspects of my life that I wanted to escape, I did not want to spend hours face to face with them on the page. I already spent 8 hours a day in school, why would I want to read about school? However, I had very little choice. A Secondary School library is FULL of these types of books because writers of children’s fiction like to include things a child can relate to, which (and I’ll give them this) only really leaves them with school because at the age of 13 you haven’t experienced anything else.

I remember reading one Jacqueline Wilson book (I’ve googled it and found its name to be Girls Under Pressure) where the protagonist mentioned her dislike of her fat nose every few pages. I’d never considered before that the facial features you were born with could be considered ugly, I just thought my face was my face. This book taught me to judge my own appearance – and what worse message can you send a pre-teen? To start body shaming yourself at such a young age (or at any age in fact) is a dangerous thing to mess around with. Then there was the binge eating and purging involved with one of the character’s bulimia. This was something I’d never come into contact with before and to this day I believe it’s something that should be discussed in a science class and not in children’s literature. The problem with fiction is that it doesn’t often address problems neutrally or factually. By convention fiction is a matter of interpretation; these stories can plant ideas in children’s heads that are perhaps not what the author intended.

Girls Under Pressure

I think it’s far safer, and far more entertaining, to stick with the abstract – to explore the incredible world of fantasy and magic, even if it is rooted in a realistic setting like J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. These combine school with magic in such a way that, for me at least, they are still included in the category of escapist literature. I can open a Harry Potter book and be transported to the corridors of Hogwarts that in no way resemble my old school halls and yet I still get it. I can still relate to the characters and their dramas but the portrayal of them is creative. I can only conclude by saying that children are some of the most creative among us and therefore inherently going to enjoy creativity in their books.

Hogwarts

What do you think? Did you prefer fantasy or realist literature as a child? And in hindsight, did you ever read anything that wasn’t totally appropriate to your age? Are there any subjects that just shouldn’t be included in children’s books at all? Post your comments down below!

1 Year, 5 Years, 10 Years

I now find myself only a couple of weeks away from graduating University. This is a scary time but what makes it even worse is that the question on everyone’s lips seems to be what am I going to do with my life.

In case you’re new to my blog I’ll spend a second filling you in. I’m a Literature and Creative writing joint honours student at the University of East Anglia, Norfolk, UK. It’s a three year course, most of which is spent reading and writing essays on books (and I don’t just mean classic texts but all manner of things). However, towards the end of the degree in particular I’ve had the chance to practice my fictional writing skills through taking more creative writing modules. I chose my university not just because the Creative Writing course at UEA is the top in the country but because I love Norwich as a city. And I wanted to study a joint degree so that I could practice not only my analytical skills but also my writing skills – which are probably more important in the real world, right?

So that’s me. Now that my years in education are nearly over I’ve got to start thinking about my next steps. I’ve always been one of those people who plan things meticulously (probably to the great annoyance of others who are not like me) and so I’ve always set myself goals. I wanted to get good GCSEs and achieve solid A Level grades, then get into UEA and receive a 2:1 or better for my efforts. All those targets were pretty easy to set. Education is arranged to push you through to the next stage, it’s effectively done for you, so it’s all pretty simple to plan. Now the world is my oyster and I don’t have a clue how to plan the next bit on my own.

Tumblr Girl

Where do I see myself in 1 year from now?

1 year isn’t actually a very long time. I see myself living at home and working. That doesn’t sound very interesting I know but after moving away (300 miles away) for 3 years I feel like I’ve lost touch with not just friends but where I come fro. I’d love to spend some time reconnecting whilst earning some savings. Maybe I’ll try and spice things up with some summer plans, who knows.

Where do I see myself in 5 years?

In 5 years time hopefully I’ll be well on the way to having a successful career. 5 years sounds like long enough to get my foot in the door. I have quite a long list of places I’d like to visit – Paris, Venice, America, Iceland and India to name and few – and hopefully I’ll have managed to tick a fair few off. In fact I’d really like to spend some time working abroad, most likely America, but I’m not sure how to organise that yet. Hmmm.  The next thing is that I’d like to  have bought my own home by 2021 since paying rent is such a waste of money. Then I’ll decorate it with all manner of cute things and place Yankee candles in every room and have a huge bookcase library where I can store all my precious books. That’s domestic bliss right there.

Where do I see myself in 10 years?

After 10 years it’s really quite hard to say. It’s difficult to imagine myself as a 30/31 year old. I suppose the main thing is travel. By that time I hope to have seen a large proportion of the places on my list now. I’m sure I’ll add more with each passing year but it would be nice to have done the initial stuff by the time I reach my thirties. Hopefully I’ll be living and working somewhere far more spectacular than Taunton so I’m surrounded by interesting people and places to write about. I’d like to have at least one novel written by the time I’m 30 and maybe have it published, who knows. Perhaps I’ll have read 1,000 books on Goodreads too, that would be wonderful. More than anything though I hope to be happy. That’s all anyone can really wish for in life, to be wonderfully, irrevocably happy.

journals, notebooks

One Day: A Cinematic Disappointment

When I read One Day by David Nicholls I was sceptical it could be made into a film worth seeing. I was right to be sceptical; this film in no way captured the beauty of the book.

One Day

I think the problem is two fold. Firstly, it really comes down to time. Nicholls spends 435 pages, perhaps 10 hours depending on your reading speed, telling you all the ins and outs of Em and Dex’s magical friendship and the film has to condense this into 108 minutes. Purely mathematically, that’s pretty impossible. The result is a film that moves far too quickly, misses far too much out and doesn’t have time to really explore their relationship. The whole point of the book is how a relationship changes over time – 20 years to be exact – so without the aid of time I don’t see how this can even hope to be achieved.

The second issue is casting. Anne Hathaway is a wonderful actress but she’s not who I imagined as Em. I wanted someone a little less self-pitying. Emma Morley is supposed to be tough even in times of sadness and Anne Hathaway just can’t pull this off with her little doe-eyed, lost puppy face. Sorry but it’s true. However, the even bigger problem here is Jim Sturgess. He’s not attractive or suave or endearing. He’s none of the things Dexter Mayhew is supposed to be. And I know the film keeps leaping years ahead and he’s supposed to age but he looks like a completely different person in every scene.

On top of all this they seem to have gotten all the minor parts wrong too. Why does Ian look like a crazy person? Why were Sylvie and Callum given absolutely no personalities? I saw the film yesterday and I can’t even remember what either of them looked like. They’re pretty key characters and the film didn’t do them justice. I think the only character I really liked was Alison played by Patricia Clarkson – shame she died so early on really.

I should have listened to my gut and not watched this film. It brought to life about a quarter of a really good story, badly. Over and out –