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

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Writing a Dissertation on Fairy Tales

I’ll admit now (rather guiltily) that I’ve had over a month away from the blog, and it literally feels like forever. Initially I chose to have a break because the deadline for my dissertation was quickly approaching, then I moved back home and decided to continue the break whilst I job hunted. Then other things took over. I’ve had family visit and really got into my running – beat my personal best today (yay!) Now for the important stuff.

Dissertation

Writing a dissertation was easily the most time consuming and stressful part of my whole degree, in fact, of my whole academic experience thus far. I don’t know about other Universities or subjects outside of Literature but this was my experience:

The first step is choosing a topic. Most University tutors warn you to only opt in for a dissertation if there is a topic you are extremely passionate about. Maybe you want the chance to take something you’ve studied before further or maybe you want to work a subject into your degree that isn’t already available. This is good advice: I didn’t follow it. I chose to write a dissertation just because I felt like it would ‘complete’ my degree, for want of a better word. I did it because lots of other people did it and because that’s what I thought third year was meant to be about.

As it turned out I did find a topic, but it wasn’t the topic I initially planned for. I’m a big Angela Carter fan and studying at UEA opened up a world of resources that other students across the country wouldn’t have access to. Then I realise just how many people had written criticism about Carter’s work. I decided there was probably nothing original I could say about The Bloody Chamber and so moved towards a dissertation about the canonical tales. Yes, there’s loads written about them too, but when you consider the number of tales the Grimm Brothers wrote alone, let alone Perrault, Basile and those in The Arabian Nights, I was sure I could find an original angle to explore a unique grouping of canonical tales. I can’t say fairy tales have always been a passion of mine, in truth they’ve only really been on the periphery of my knowledge, but through this process I have discovered a new interest (and thank God for that – imagine setting out to write a research paper on a topic you soon found you hated!)

The next thing to mention is that no one prepares you for the amount of research involved. Okay, I knew there was going to be a lot of reading, being a Literature student I’m pretty used to a hefty reading pile, but wow. I spent pretty much all of my Christmas break and then another 6 weeks at Uni reading critical books cover to cover before putting pen on paper.

When I did start writing I started with Chapter 1. If essay writing has taught me anything over the years it’s to write the Introduction last, else you don’t know what you’re introducing. After I’d completed both my chapters (only a couple of weeks before the deadline) I received feedback that the argument got lost along the way. This took DAYS of rewriting to sort out. Then I had to write a conclusion – and I still to this day don’t really understand what a conclusion is meant to say. It’s a waste of words to repeat yourself but you shouldn’t include any new information. Hmmm.

The next problem was the word count. Who knew that 8,800 words could be so, so short? I believe most undergrad dissertations are 10,000 words and I’m sure that would have been far easier to cope with. Overall I probably had to cut about 1,500-2,000 words and that’s tough. It feels as though you’re deleting good content that could be scoring you marks.

In the last couple of days before the thing was due I must have reread all 8,766 words about 7 times. I’m definitely not a fan of proofreading my own work and this was exhausting.

Then there was the printing fiasco (not a particularly interesting story so I’ll leave that out but it’s safe to say that technology is not my friend.)

On reflection, I’m glad I wrote a dissertation. It’s nice to have a bound piece of work to be proud of. It’s nice to think 3 months’ work can be compiled into a real something, not an essay or snippet of analysis, but what is essentially a chapter of an academic text. Just be warned if you’re thinking of writing one in your third year – there will be break downs, there will crying and sleepless nights – that just goes with the territory.

Newspaper Feature

Now I know this isn’t anything to brag about but since I’ve just worked out how the link works, and it’s proof of my writing being out there in the big, wide world, I thought I’d share it on my blog. Just a couple of weeks ago a short story I wrote was featured in the student newspaper at my University. If you’d like to read my piece simply turn to page 12. Enjoy.

 

3 Tips For Writer’s Block

We all suffer from it at one stage or another. Whether it’s because life’s getting a little bit hectic and you don’t know where your head’s at, or maybe you’re not in the best of moods, maybe you feel like you’ve simply run out of ideas, whatever it is, we all know that feeling. You find yourself with a pen in your hand, or planted in front of your laptop poised for the creative juices to start flowing, but the words just don’t seem to come.

Blank notepad and pencil

Well here are my top tips:

  1. Get out of the house. Sometimes just going for a walk can give you the inspiration you’ve been waiting for. You might see something – a bird fluttering around inside a bush making all the leaves rustle – you might hear something – an overheard conversation between two neighbours about the likelihood of rain – or you might simply need some fresh air and exercise to awaken your creative senses.
  2. Listen to some music. I find this one particularly helpful because it’s not just necessarily about the lyrics. Yes, they might be just the words you were looking for if you need to ‘wake me up before you go – go’ (I’m sure you can find far more inspiring music but Wham! was what came to mind for some reason) but music also creates feelings and emotions – and perhaps its this you can draw from in your own writing. Be wary of drawing upon lyrics as really lyrics are just bad poetry and if you want to give your writing the best possible edge then I suggest coming up with something more original, rather than taking words that were really only put together because they rhyme. ‘Would you risk it for a chocolate biscuit’ springs to mind…
  3. Search Google images for something relevant. I’ve started to compile a scrapbook for when I’m suffering from writer’s block because I find images can really help with my description. Say I’m writing an Angela Carter-style fairy tale – I simply Google image ‘haunted castle’ or ‘spooky forest’ and my mind is inundated with descriptions of ‘crooked branches like broken fingers…’ and I’m off!

So that’s it for now. If you’re stuck then simply go for a walk, listen to music and search Google for an inspiring image. Hope that helps, ciao for now!

Sometimes Less is More

When writing it’s easy to go overkill on the description. I was once told by a tutor of mine that sometimes less is more, and I think that’s one of the most valuable pieces of information I’ve ever learnt. Sometimes when you edit your work you’ve just got to cross through all the adverbs and half the adjectives – it will make it immediately stronger. My tutor also had an issue with prepositions (e.g. on, in, beside) so you might want to consider whether yours are strictly necessary or not.

Over-describing particularly becomes an issue when you’re trying to portray something happening quickly. Immediacy is automatically slowed down by inserting the extra word ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly’, making it not so quickly or suddenly after all. You’re better off choosing a more interesting verb, for example, ‘raced’ instead of ‘ran’, rather than slowing down your sentences by adding adverbs.

Editing an English language document

The trick of really great writing is being concise. If you strip back everything that is unnecessary – all the adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, plus anywhere you have the verb ‘to be’ – then you’ll see what you’re left with. ‘To be’ is a crucial one since it’s sometimes hard to spot but repetitive ‘the room was cold’, ‘the room was dark’, ‘the room was white’, gets very boring very quickly. And if what you’re left with when you’ve brutally red-penned your piece of writing is very basic stuff then that’s where you need to improve.

Some people say you can’t teach creative writing and in a sense I agree, because I believe you can’t teach creativity, but what you can teach is writing. You can teach good grammar, good punctuation and how to be concise. These are learned things, and once you establish them I believe you’re on the road to success.

That’s all from me, I’m off to go and cut out all over-description from my stories, so ciao!

My Fashion Magazine

So I took a module called ‘Publishing’ at Uni and the main assignment was to create a magazine or short book of no more than 20 pages ready for publication. The copy had to be your own work but you could use images from the Internet as long as they were correctly referenced in the essay. However, I did choose to edit most of my photographs. I had to come up with a layout and design the whole thing on Adobe InDesign.

The magazine I decided to create is a fashion magazine entitled Dernier Cri, which is French for ‘the very latest fashion’. I wanted my fashion magazine to have proper content and meaningful stories in them, unlike Vogue, Marie Claire and other popular fashion mags that are simply full of advertisements. My two main articles are on Alexander McQueen’s journey through fashion and the supersize vs super-skinny debate.

So here’s my magazine page by page:

Title

DERNIER CRI2DERNIER CRI3

DERNIER CRI4DERNIER CRI5

DERNIER CRI6DERNIER CRI7

DERNIER CRI8DERNIER CRI9

DERNIER CRI10DERNIER CRI11

DERNIER CRI12DERNIER CRI13

DERNIER CRI14DERNIER CRI15

DERNIER CRI16DERNIER CRI17

DERNIER CRI18DERNIER CRI19

DERNIER CRI20

I like negative space and so decided to incorporate an element of this into nearly every page. I like things to be neat and squared off. Overall I’m happy with my design, I only wish I’d had time to make it full length.

For a bigger, better quality version, or if you’d like to explore my other work, follow this link to my Bechance profile:

https://www.behance.net/maryeblatchford

Until next time, ciao!

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I knew this would happen, I just knew it. I forgot to include Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist in my ‘The Year in Books’ post and it certainly deserves a mention. It’s another great title I simply forgot I ever read until I glanced up at my bookcase. This year I’m going to actually keep a list and get organised. That’s my New Year’s Resolution, except I’m hoping to keep it until 31st December 2016 when I can post my next ‘The Year in Books’.

This novel I simply read because it was recommended to me in an email from Waterstones. Usually I take no notice of such things and just read what I know I’m interested in. However, this means I tend not to read any really contemporary fiction, and this is vital if I ever want to make it in the publishing industry, so I said ‘carpe diem’ and clicked on the book with the prettiest cover. That’s horrendous to admit I know but I think a little part of us all chooses books off the shelf depending on the attractiveness of the cover. I read the description and was convinced. ‘How different,’ I thought.

The Miniaturist

The story is set in Amsterdam from 1686-1687 (a time period and setting I know absolutely nothing about, which always helps to spike my interest) and revolves around a woman who marries a wealthy merchant trader named Johannes Brandt. Nella is only eighteen years old and knows little of the world but she soon realises something is amiss when her husband never consummates the marriage and seems to avoid her at all costs, locked in his study or hiding away in his the office at the warehouse. It seems there is more to him than meets the eye, it just takes her a little while to work out what.

The real focus point of this novel is Johannes’s wedding gift to her, a cabinet-sized dolls house, a complete replica of her new home. At first she is insulted at being made mistress of a dolls house rather than her new home, which is strictly policed by Johannes’s sharp-tongued sister Marin.

It’s not long before Nella becomes interested in the cabinet and discovers a miniaturist working in the nearby township (in what I can only assume to be Amsterdam 1686’s version of the Yellow Pages). She writes to the miniaturist asking for a few items to make her feel more at home, including a miniature of her pet parakeet and a block of marzipan like her mother used to make. However, it is not long before the miniaturist is posting her gifts she never asked for – miniatures uncannily close to things in her real life – things the miniaturist couldn’t possibly know. Nor is it long before Nella notices the gifts have the rather eerie ability of predicting the future.

Running alongside this slightly unnerving narrative is the story of Nella’s relationship with her husband and the financial doom that seems to appear out of nowhere. The novel also targets certain racial issues at the time and explores a wonderful, albeit unexpected, friendship between Nella and Marin.

The Miniaturist takes several unpredictable turns and there are some truly heartbreaking moments – but what I think I enjoyed most about it was it’s originality. Never before have I read a book that mixes together an interesting historic setting with something so fantastic and uncanny, and yet realistic all at the same time. It’s a true mix of genre this one, and for a first novel I think it’s remarkable. Huge congratulations to Jessie Burton for getting her debut novel published in approximately 30 countries!

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I’ve also read that although the novel makes no attempts to be biographical, Petronella Oortman was real woman with a real dollhouse that you can view at Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. So there you go, an extra little tidbit of information for you.

Until next time!

Pig

Pig, written by Andrew Cowan was a book I read as part of my degree and it certainly isn’t something I would have picked off the shelf without being told to read it.

Set in the never-changing town of Corby, where Andrew Cowan was indeed born, the novel revolves around the story of protagonist Danny. The town is stuck in the past, a time where issues such as racism are at its core and the families are stifling. When Danny’s grandmother dies, his grandfather, whom he seems particularly fond of, is moved into a care home. Danny visits the empty house frequently to check on it and look after the pig in the back garden. His Indian girlfriend Surinder receives racial abuse and Danny becomes a kind of catalyst of change. His views are very ahead of those of the other residents in the town but he has no ambition. They spend a summer together but as the summer draws to a close it seems they might be going in different directions. They have more differences than they originally thought.

Pig

If I’m brutally honest I didn’t enjoy this novel at all. Very uninteresting events happen to pretty unlikeable characters and it certainly wasn’t gripping. The ending was abrupt and the whole story didn’t seem to have much of a structure. I can’t believe this novel won awards. I’m sure there’s far better reading out there. Overall, quite a let down.

I’ve also heard Andrew Cowan speak about this particular novel. During his hour on stage he listed all the reasons he believes the bad reviews to be wrong. This did him no credit in my eyes.