Thursday, 12 October 2017

THE READING LIST: Year 1, Semester 1


It's been a while, but I've finally started university! Every day nearly a month in I am still baffled that I managed to make it to the place I wanted to be, and every day I dive deeper into my Semester One reading list. Compared to my other reading list posts, this is considerably longer, so sit tight!

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (Children's Fiction)
At the time of writing this, I've already read Robinson Crusoe as my first text, and as much as I'd hoped to love it that wasn't the case. But hopefully, this will change with further analysis of the novel as "the first children's novel". 

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Children's Fiction)
SO excited to read this and finally get into the original text. I never grew up reading Alice in Wonderland as so many children did; and whilst I've seen plenty of adaptations for the screen and read several retellings, this is my first time giving Carroll's original work a go, and I'm certain it'll be fascinating, especially given the controversy surrounding the author. 

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (Children's Fiction)
I haven't read Peter Pan since I was maybe five or six and even then it was read to me. Since then, like with Alice, I've dipped into multiple retellings, including John Logan's play Peter and Alice, and Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily, but now feels about bloody time that I read the original text, which I've always found so interesting, for myself. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Children's Fiction)
I'm especially interested to see how this text pans out because not only is it a book about the abolition of slavery in America at the time of its peak, but furthermore it's a novel about abolition explicitly and openly written by a woman at the time. As far as I'm aware, Beecher Stowe never used a male pen name, which is interesting for the context of the time and how successful this book was. This is coupled with Junk in my third week of studies, so it'll certainly be perplexing to read and study these together. 

Junk by Melvin Burgess (Children's Fiction)
Honestly, I'm surprised I've never read this before, given how it's set in Manchester - my home city - but I haven't. It's going to be dark, intense and murky, but I'm looking forward to reading a book based in a location I'm so familiar with. 



The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Children's Fiction)
The Chronicles of Narnia have always been very hit and miss for me personally. I loved the films and remember watching them all, most often the first one, as a young child, but the books to me are far from the same. Probably my main struggle is the intense religious subtext, as whilst I can immerse myself in this wonderful fantasy side, I seriously struggle to separate the religious propaganda and cynicism from the rest of the children's novel. 

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling (Children's Fiction)
I won't lie. One of the main reasons I signed up for this module over "Literature of Laughter" which I was so close to taking was because it meant I'd get to study Harry Potter. I GET TO STUDY HARRY POTTER, A SERIES I AM OBSESSED WITH. How could I pass up that opportunity? 

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (Children's Fiction)
Another one of the strongest reasons I chose "Children's Fiction" as a module was because of the fact that Pullman is an honorary professor at my university, and as part of studying Northern Lights he'll be giving one of my lectures in December! I've been dying to read His Dark Materials for years, and have been gradually accumulating the books, so maybe once I've studied this I can give them a marathon over Christmas...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (Children's Fiction)
As a child, I read or had read to me every book of Roald Dahl's... yes, even Boy and Going Solo. I love Dahl's work and always will, and whilst Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't my favourite Dahl novel (it's Matilda) it's certainly a close one entering the top 3. To study this and look at the book from an analytical view is so exciting!

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (Reading, Writing, Thinking)
This, like Heart of Darkness, is for my "Reading, Thinking, Writing" module, which is mandatory for first years. Though we don't read these until later on in the semester I'm definitely anticipating the moment we do. About a year ago I read Carter's The Bloody Chamber, some of which I loved, some of which I hated, but all in all was a wonderful read. In one of our first lectures, we looked at an essay a former student had written during the module on The Magic Toyshop. Seeing someone else, having myself not read the novel yet, tear the book apart and analyse it with a keen eye resting on gender politics and feminism, I can't help but be intrigued for what may come out of what sounds like such a refreshing read. 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (Reading, Writing, Thinking)

I am dreading reading Heart of Darkness. My parents said that every English Literature student studies Heart of Darkness at some point, and the university has also said that they're putting it in this module to help get it out of the way for us, but honestly I'm just dreading reading this. It sounds like far from what I would typically read but at the same time that's one of the things I adore about my degree: I'm reading so many books I would have perhaps never picked up on my own, and thus broadening my horizons, ideas, and travelling into further realms of fiction.


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

REVIEW: I'd Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers

I'd Rather be Reading: A Library of Art for Book LoversFor anyone who'd rather be reading than doing just about anything else, this book is the ultimate must-have. In this visual ode to all things bookish, readers will get lost in page after page of beautiful contemporary art, photography, and illustrations depicting the pleasures of books. Artwork from the likes of Jane Mount, Lisa Congdon, Julia Rothman, and Sophie Blackall is interwoven with text from essayist Maura Kelly, bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, and award-winning author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett. Rounded out with poems, quotations, and aphorisms celebrating the joys of reading, this lovingly curated compendium is a love letter to all things literary, and the perfect gift for bookworms everywhere.


Whilst this book is small in stature and page length, the content inside is a treasure trove of wonders that any bibliophile could happily lose themselves in. I'd Rather Be Reading is an ode to the bookish; a collage of unturned pages, and a tapestry of the binding connections that a love for literature can form. I do't know what I quite expected when this arrived in the post in August, but it was a joyous surprise to receive a little book of curious power that will remind any reader of why they adore books. 

The summary on the cover of I'd Rather Be Reading describes the book as "a library of art for book lovers" and not only does it fufill this premise, but does so in spectacular fashion. Though this book is about the printed word, the homage to literature extends beyond the realms of text and into art, typography, quotations, and simply the most stunning photos of books and libraries one could possibly want bound together and pressed into their palms. This now should probably be broken down into mini-reviews of each essay. Ahem...



Each essay brought a different kind of joy to me that I never thought would come through this book. The editor herself Guinevere de la Mare discusses her life lived throughout books and how she wants to imprint the same burning desire to read into her young son. The most beautiful element of this essay is de la Mare realising how her ancestry of bibliophiles has shaped her future as she reads Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to her afformentioned child. But above all, the profound message that lies among her masterful words is that we can live lives filled with literature, but life is too short to be wasted on poor quality books that we are reading for the sake of reading something. Rather, we should curate our personal libraries and literary tastes, instead of reading whatever  is on the market or what our peers are reading. 

Maura Kelly's essay "A Slow Books Manifesto" continued on de la Mare's gentle preaching of reading good quality books, but also having a decent quality of life through reading. Following the notion that we are spending our lives consumed by "empty-calorie entertainment" Kelly suggests, rightfully so, that we use the time that is so consistently wasted scrolling through our smartphones and instead pull out our books. On the whole, the general idea of the essay concludes with the knowledge that a life is better lived with books, but one needs to make the time to read, even just a small amount, each and every day in order to lead a more fulfilled life. And I must say, I wholeheartedly agree!



"Cheating" by Ann Pratchett was probably by far my favourite essay in I'd Rather Be Reading. As the owner of Parnasus Books, renowned in the book community and highly recommended by one of my favourite authors, V.E. Schwab, Pratchett discusses the struggle to list what our favourite books are, when we can categorise them so easily into different smaller categories. Instead, she provides lists of recommendations that she has inhaled over her years as a bookseller and bookshop owner, gorgeously compiled with such a love it exudes from the page. I, like I am sure any reader would, came away with a whole new section on my Goodreads TBR as inspired by this essay. The thought of all the books I hadn't read but longed to that were on Pratchett's lists just made me want to read everything, and to be able to create that in a reader is just a magical, magical thing.

Finally, Gretchen Rubin's "13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done" does exactly was it says in the title. It isn't anything revolutionary, but it certainly feels fitting to, after pages upon pages of creating bookish wanderlust, to help readers find more ways to get said reading done. There's some advice on this list that I'm opposed to, but I think the best thig Rubin did with this list was add the reading advice of world famous authors in the latter half, as those words, words created by genuiuses when it comes to stringing sentences then chapters then books together, is so awe-inspiring that anyone will be bursting to read by the final page. 


The perfect gift for fellow book lovers, or just to oneself, if you're looking for a way to indulge in your sheer adoration for old dusty pages, mysteries and the feeling of reaching the final chapter and just wanting more, then I'd Rather Be Reading is the book for you.


Monday, 4 September 2017

The Reading List:: A Level Year 2 Wrap Up






After months of intense revision, in which I was doing 10-14 hours a day of work, my A Level exams were completed in June. Since then life has been moving fast, but I've taken so much out of every moment of my break - reading, travelling, and spending much-valued time with family and friends. A few weeks ago, my A Level results were released, and it was a thrill to find out that all the hard work and exhaustion had paid off, and I had gained a place at my first choice university. I absolutely loved doing my A Levels, especially English Literature, and now ahead of starting my degree in the same subject, it felt like a good time to reflect on the texts I studied in the past year, after all, it is because of these texts combined with my work that I proudly came away from A Levels with an A in the subject.


Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The moment I found out that I'd be studying Wuthering Heights back in May 2016, I was disappointed. I'm far from what you'd consider to be a fan of the Bronte's, and I really struggled to see the positives in Wuthering Heights as a novel. The motifs and recurring themes were fantastically intriguing to analyse, but on the whole more frustration came from reading the novel beyond anything else. For as long as I live, I will never be able to understand why countless people consider this to be their favourite novel, nor why Heathcliff is such a romanticised character within the realms of fiction. The reality is that he's abusive, violent, manipulative, and the most toxic character I have ever encountered in literature. He's effectively the Snape of the Yorkshire Moors. However, whilst this is all said, going to the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth, where Emily Bronte and the Bronte's created their novels, poetry, and artwork helped so much when it came to appreciating the production of a novel that I loathed. Now, on the other side, loathe has maybe melted into strong dislike, but I have to admire Emily Bronte for writing and successfully publishing the novel in such circumstances. Regardless though, this definitely taught me that I don't get on well with gothic literature. 

Othello by William Shakespeare

Othello was never the Shakespeare play that I expected to do at A2, nor the one I was hoping for (I wanted Hamlet, King Lear, or a comedy), but as soon as I found out that this was our given play, I desired to know everything. Looking back, I very clearly remember watching the Sparknotes video summary and then rushing to my mum to say "He did what???" Othello is a truly extraordinary play, bursting with themes and messages about gender politics, race, class, and jealousy. I'll never quite recover from Emilia's fierce lines and rebellion against Iago, or the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the events of the play occur, as in following the villain, as audiences we're always aware of the dramatic irony that we always know what bloody end will transpire. Both my A Level Shakespeare plays, this and Anthony and Cleopatra were excellent masterpieces, but I must admit that due to the lack of active war on the stage here Othello has most certainly become one of my favourite Shakespeares.

A Choosing by Liz Lochhead

If you've read my TBR for A2 English Literature then you'll know that I was incredibly apprehensive about this text. This is by far the worst poetry collection I have ever read, and in many ways I'm rather bitter about the fact that I studied it. The problem with A Choosing was the fact that Lochhead has the capacity to write a few stunning poems which are bursting to the brim with analysis on gender politics, feminism, and class struggles, but that's just a few amongst a collection of 80 pages. So many of the poems we were set to study by the exam board had little to no room to analyse, and this was even the case when a few of use tried doing it together, or my mum - an English Literature teacher - tried to analyse them too. Whilst I'll be keeping the book, and reading over those few gems that were truly excellent, I will forever be frustrated about this book when we could've studied other poets on the syllabus such as Rossetti and Keats. Not to mention the fact that there was a MAJOR error on the exam board's part in which they set a poem in the exam that wasn't even on the syllabus which I'm astonished didn't cost me my A grade but in the meantime put me through an exceptional amount of stress.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller


I've wanted to read The Crucible for years, and said play seems to be the more common of Miller's to be studied at A Level, but I am so glad I had the opportunity to study Death of a Salesman, especially with a teacher who was as incredible as mine for my A Levels. Simply put: Death of a Salesman is one of the best plays I've ever read. DoaS  explores the corruption of the American Dream and how detrimental is to become invested in it. Ultimately it leaves a very bittersweet punch, reminding readers and audiences that it is right to have dreams - that's how we get through life - but you can have too many dreams. As Willy Loman's son, Biff, remarks on his father "He had all the wrong dreams. All, all wrong." It was a sad note to end A Level English Literature on, especially when you consider the fact that what Miller wrote here in 1949 is still tragically apparent in modern day society. After a short story that I covered at AS Level - Perkins Gillman's The Yellow Wallpaper - Death of a Salesman is my favourite text studied in A Level English Literature, and I feel so privilleged to have stuied it to the point where I walked into my exam, saw the question for this text, and blitzed it with more confidence than ever before in an exam. 


LITERATURE STUDENTS: What are you looking forward to studying in the coming academic year? 

Monday, 28 August 2017

Oh, the Places - Manchester


 It's August, and in all of a few weeks, I shall be heading off to University. I've opted to study outside of my home city, and so these are my last few weeks at home before moving away for 3 years. I'll be back for holidays and a weekend every few weeks, but it'll never be quite the same again. So I guess this is my swan song; my goodbye to the city I've lived in my whole life. 

Most of the time, I say I hate Manchester; to an extent that's true. When you've lived in a fairly small city for as long as you can remember, there comes a point when you realise you have seen everything that needs to be seen. You've done the tourist attractions and all the lines of the underground-like network, exploring what's at their endings. You can't picture yourself living there forever and you want to see more than just this city, but at the same time, you'll miss it. Whilst I still in many respects dislike Manchester because I've spent so long here, what transpired here in on 22nd May shook me to the core in a way that shifted my opinion on my home city. What happened that day made me realised how much I care for where I live and why Manchester will always be a key part of my identity and geographic heritage. I'll miss being able to walk into the biggest bookshop in the North and inhale the overwhelming smell of books. I'll miss travelling on our transport system over the city, no matter how outrageous the prices are. I'll miss the places where there's good food or a quiet spot to read or a nice place to sit and wait without being attacked by pigeons. Yet, I'm here, and I'm ready for the next step.

I'll be back soon, probably every time I have an opportunity to meet with my book club friends, and or a weekend visiting family every so often, but for now, I'm heading into the unknown. The place isn't unknown, but the lifestyle, the work, the people, the culture is in many ways going to be so different from everything I've known, which is exciting but hugely terrifying. 











Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wanderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her small English city. 

Thursday, 24 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Stephanie Kate Strohm


Day three comes around and with it, the third and final interview in my series from Waterstones Deansgate Manchester's YA Summer Cringefest. Previously we've had Simon James Green and Beth Garrod, and now it's time for Stephanie Kate Strohm, author of It's Not Me It's You. Warning: this interview contains Gilmore Girls, plenty of Googling, and mentions of "smooching". 


Photo credits to @Teensgate at Waterstones 


Did you always intend to write?
Never intended to write. Loved humanities subjects rather than the sciences, but wasn't pursuing writing. Instead, Strohm studied theatre and became an actor. It was only when she read Twilight that Strohm became inspired to write her own novel. Whilst on tour as an actor, Strohm was alone and decided to have fun with writing a first draft of her first novel, not thinking that it would one day be published. 

Did you always intend to write for a young adult audience?
Yes, on the basis that I read the most as a teen. Strohm mentions that she was a summer camp worker, and was heavily inspired by her time doing this. 

How was the journey into publication?
Strohm notes that she finished her first book after graduation from University. Upon finishing the book, she admits that she "Googled how to get published," and in realising she needed to send it her manuscript to agents, Strohm was lucky enough to recieve offers from 10 different agents. After that, the rest of the publishing process continued on smoothly. 

What was your first inspiration for your latest novel?
It's Not Me, It's You is Stephanie Kate Strohm's fourth book, but the first published in the UK. The idea for the novel actually wasn't hers but rather her agent's after a someone had requested someone write a prom-themed book in the form of an oral history, and thus, the task was passed on to Strohm.  Strohm notes that she had always wanted to write an oral history, and loved using first and third person featuring flashbacks. As someone who proudly announces that they're obsessed with proms, having chaperoned many whilst working as a teacher, Strohm says that she had to include a prom as one of the themes of the novel. Ultimately, however, Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries were Strohm's most significant influence. 

Advice for Aspiring Writers?
Always finish what you started. If you need to skip a section due to writer's block, then do that, but always remember to return to what you left unfinished in the writing process. For Strohm, who declares herself "Queen of the Pantsers" when it comes to plotting novels, going for a walk always helps when struggling for ideas. Finally, "share your work."

How would you describe your book, It's Not Me, It's You, in five words?
"Prom, drama, "lols", boyfriends, and 'smooch.'" (Admittedly we both laughed at that last choice.)

What is your Hogwarts House?
Ravenclaw

Which fittingly leads onto the following question's answer to "What do you think is missing from YA?"
"You can never have too many smart girls."

Do you see yourself in any of your lead characters?
Initially, Strohm believed that she and Avery (the protagonist of It's Not Me, It's You) had "nothing in common, especially when it came to Avery's exuding confience. However, as the novel progressed and since publication, Strohm laughs about how she now sees her own bossiness and productivity in Avery as well. Raised in the area of Conneticut where Gilmore Girls was set, and attending a school that was incredibly similar to that of Chiltern in the television series. She observed that to her, watching the series, especially as someone who was "definitely the Paris Geller type at school," which was not only interesting to me, who's favourite tv series is Gilmore Girls but also because of the brief connections to Paris that came across in our conversation about Strohm's latest main character.

What can we expect from you next?
The sequel to It's Not Me It's You is published in September, and after that Strohm is working with Disney Hyperion to pubish Prince in Disguise this coming December. Additionally, Strohm's 2018 release will come next Autumn, and is about cooking.  

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for giving me the opportunity to conduct these interviews, and of course, to Stephanie, for allowing me to interview her - it was a truly wonderful talk. Click here to find out more about It's Not Me, It's You by Stephanie Kate Strohm. If you want to read the previous two interviews in this trilogy, click here for Part 1 and Part 2. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Beth Garrod

To read Part 1 of this trilogy of interviews, beginning with Simon James Green. Now, onto Part 2: Beth Garrod - author of Super Awkward...


Photo Credits to @Teensgate


How would you describe your book in five words?
"Awkward, rollercoaster, boys, friends, disaster."



Did you always intend to write?

Garrod notes that she didn't always plan to write, and she initially did a science degree. As it currently stands, she describes writing as her "night-job" where Garrod works for Comic Relief by day. Coming off that, even when Garrod did start writing, she didn't plan to write for teenagers. However, that being said, she remarks that her favourite books have always been young adult fiction. She's always enjoyed reading about first times, and wanted to recreate those in her own works.



Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

Naturally, the author is attached to her characters, and apparently you can't help but be when they're manifiestations of your own head and thoughts. Sees herself significantly in Bella Fisher: the main character of Super Awkward: "She tries hard but gets things wrong."



What was your journey to publication like?

It took a long time to build the confidence to get published. For Garrod, you can't wait for the right moment to send the manuscript, because that moment may never come. Self-discipline and pressurisation was key to her submitting the book.



Are your novels inspired by any of the books you've read?

Inspired by books that make you not feel alone in something. E.g., Judy Blume's novels.



What are you working on next?

The sequel to Super Awkward, entitled Truly Madly Awkward is published in September.



What is your advice to aspiring authors?

Confidence is key. You need to blitz through the first draft, and confidence is essential to that. What you have to remember when you're writing is that every novel that you have read and loved was once a sparse Word document, or a page of paper with a few notes. Every book started off at that point, as will yours. 

Hogwarts House?
Ravenclaw! 

Thank you so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for the opportunity, and of course, to Beth, for letting me interview her. Click here to find out more about Super Awkward, and the final interview will follow tomorrow with Stephanie Kate Strohm!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Simon James Green


A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity, along with my friend Lottie, and other bloggers, to interview three YA authors on behalf of Waterstones Deansgate Manchester ahead of their YA Summer Cringefest event. This was my first ever experience of conducting interviews and as someone who wants to progress into journalism and publishing in the distant future, it was a wonderful opportunity to rehearse said skills. Admittedly, I was terrified, but nevertheless, this was such a great chance that I couldn't refuse. Over the course of the next three days, each interview from the event will be going live, and then will be linked back to on this post [Beth Garrod, Stephanie Kate Strohm]. Each of these authors are new to the UK, with their first UK releases occuring in the past year. For now, let's begin with Simon James Green, author of Noah Can't Even, as published by Scholastic. 


Photo by Waterstones - @Teensgate on Twitter

How would you describe your book, Noah Can't Even in five words?
"Mad-cap, coming-of-age, comedy."
Whilst Green abides by this, he notes that he hopes that the novel isn't just a laugh but has more to it than that for readers.


Did you always intend to write?
Originally, Green gained a degree in law from Cambridge University, but said that he ultimately had to choose between a money-spinning career in "big-city law" or something that he loved and knew would be rewarding, and that to him was writing. Following on from deciding not to continue down the path of law, Green started out as a director. He's worked in the West End, and at plays such as the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Writing wasn't always the intention for a career, but it has become his destination.


Did you always intend to write for teenagers?
Always enjoyed writing about teenagers and coming-of-age situations. He finds that coming of age novels are particularly interesting due to the fact that young adulthood as a life-stage is about exploring identity and working out who we are. It's a time of "bad stuff, but also hope" and to him is refreshing write.


What was your journey to publishing like?
Overall, it took five years to write Noah Can't Even. But after the long process of writing, things quickened dramatically in the process of publication. Green entered the Undiscovered Voices compteittion, and the first two chapters of Noah Can't Even ended up being published in the Undiscovered Voices anthology of writers. 


What is your advice to aspiring authors?
Write the thing that you love because you need to be 100% behind it. "It's a long slog," so you need to enjoy what you're working on and have the motivation to move it forward. Additionally, get feedback. Green remarked that whilst it was expensive, submitting his novel to a freelance editor before sending to publishing houses was the most rewarding and beneficial thing he could have done during the process of writing Noah Can't Even, because he got to see where he was going wrong and where he could change things to improve the novel.


Hogwarts House?
Admittedly, the largest portion of the interview was dominated by a Harry Potter discussion, which is inevitable when it comes to me, but it was down to the fact that Green confirms that he has never read or watched anything from the Harry Potter series. But, it has been suggested to him that he would be a Slytherin, including by the author Beth Garrod, who was also on this tour. UPDATE: Since the interivew, Simon James Green finally went and created a Pottermore account, to be sorted into Ravenclaw.

Thanks so much to Teensgate at Waterstones Deansgate for the opportunity, and of course, to Simon, for letting me interview him. Click here to find out more about Noah Can't Even, and the interviewing adventures continue tomorrow with Beth Garrod! 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

REVIEW: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

A Quiet Kind of ThunderSteffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she's been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He's deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she's assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she's falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

I always have been, and always will be, a person who judges a book by its cover. A cover is the pivotal element of a book's design that will either make or break whether I pick it up, and most of the books I read I discover on the grounds of an interesting cover or title. Whilst the title is so wonderfully symbolic of the events in the novel, the candyfloss-like pink exterior of A Quiet Kind of Thunder immediately gave me the wrong impression of a sickening level of fluffiness. I like fluff in fiction just as much as the next person, but personally I believe there is a fine line that can be crossed where sweet becomes a sugar overload and thus sickeningly sour. From the cover, that's how I assumed A Quiet Kind of Thunder would be. But, like with Anna and the French Kiss, I was wrong, and this was beautiful.

I was very sceptical going into A Quiet Kind of Thunder that it would be just another YA romance where fluff and cheesy lines superseed any pressing themes and the undercurrent motifs. So you can imagine my surprise when within a few pages, I knew that this would be far different to what I had predicted. Of course, the romance was what pulled the plot forward, but there were so many other elements at stake - such as toxic relationships, prospects of higher education, and feeling like an outsider - that had equal dominance. 

Admittedly, the novel had far too many moments in it that rung eerily true of my own past experiences with Anxiety, and yet was highly educative in areas that I hadn't really considered before, such as selective mutism. A Quiet Kind of Thunder perfectly hits what it's like to be shy and also to be scared to speak among people you're not familiar with, and it was weirdly comforting to see this from a perspective that was outside of my own head.

(Also, I need to just add that I am too much like Steffi, and this goes beyond the shyness and anxiety. Maybe this after all, was why I enjoyed this story as much as I did, amongst countless other factors. We want to go to the same University, which to be honest, is the only reason I decided read this book, because I knew Bangor University was mentioned in it. At the time of reading, I had, like Steffi, just booked to go on holiday to Edinburgh. The coincidences just kept on coming...)

For a while I was worried that this was going to go down the path of "your head is a mess, but don't worry, love will solve everything!" but A Quiet Kind of Thunder actively went against this. It shows and promotes that love won't solve a mental illness; it can be an added bonus on the side, but love isn't the answer - and I appreciate the distancing from traditional YA tropes there. Where so many young adult books fall into this trope, A Quiet Kind of Thunder responds with lightning, showing how love can be chaotic, and no matter how much it can ease mental and physical health for some, ultimately a relationship will never save everything and resolve every issue. 


Despite the lacking of much elegance in prose, the simplicity of the language used to a degree is so vital in a world where mental health is more often than not romanticised for the sake of sales. As an upcoming English Literature student, I personally prefer the use of metaphors, symbolism, and allegories to explain mental illness, as I adore deconstructing what the author has said in order to understand what lies beneath. However, in A Quiet Kind of Thunder, Barnard's leaning towards simplicity is certainly valued in her blunt depicition of mental illness. In this novel, the basic prose was needed in order to get the message across in its most basic terms, but also to highlight pointedly the reality of Steffi's situation. Her selective mutism is what it is. Depicting the struggle that anxiety imposes on its sufferers is so crucial to impressionable audiences, and those who just want to know more about a different side to mental illness.

Mental illness is becoming a common theme in young adult fiction. It runs in the veins of the pages, each word bearing the soul of a beating heart that needs to be heard and felt. Although whilst that rings true, as readers we rarely encounter selective mutism within fiction. How Barnard handled this issue was remarkable, right down to the formatting of the book to show texts and the communications between Steffi and Rhys. Through the formatting and layout, Barnard layers the plausibility of tension between the couple, especially in matters of isolation even when together. The issues that were raised through their communication and as debates within A Quiet Kind of Thunder brought to light so many matters that aren't discussed enough within society, with particular regards to deafness and selective mutisim. As a reader who read endless amounts of young adult fiction in their early teenage years and yet never once came across a novel like this, what Sara Barnard has created in A Quiet Kind of Thunder is much appreciated. 

This is a rare book that from my perspective as an analytical reader, was largely flawless. Every character, major or minor, was detailed to the bone and had an intricate personality. Furthermore, the themes that were raised surrounding the heart of the novel about mental and physical illness, such as oppressive relationships and decisions about further education, were handled with intricate care and precision, making this a book that any young adult, regardless of gender, age, or background, should read.


Monday, 31 July 2017

Cursed Child: One Year On.




One year ago, the whole dynamic of Harry Potter - the place where I find so much literary and emotional comfort - changed drastically for me. For a lot of people, this hasn't been the case; but when I cracked open my copy of the rehearsal edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, I was drowning in a sea of excitment and a tidal wave of fear for what would happen next. While I disagree with this being the "eighth story" as was so poorly marketed, Cursed Child was to me the next step in the story. I was fully satisfied with the original series, and had resigned myself to fanfiction, yet at the same time I always wanted more from this world from J.K. Rowling's head. Cursed Child, being said next step left me in a state of immense uncertainty as I waited for publication. Then, when I finally got my copy at a midnight release party on 31st July, I delved in and haven't looked back since. 

So many people I know, both casually and through work loathe Cursed Child, and I can understand why that would be the case: It bends previous canon in countless ways, there's obliteration of characters that we should have seen e.g., Hugo Granger-Weasley, Teddy Lupin, even Neville, and there's a part of the plot that whether or not you have an alternative theory that's more plausible to back it up, is ridiculously stupid. But to me, someone who in a lot of respects needed to hear what was in Cursed Child, I couldn't have been more elated at the final product. Like anyone, I have my qualms (specifically the Hugo issue), but I will always defend this scriptbook/play with every fibre of my being.

There were two occasions in which I was spoiled on Cursed Child's plot, but predominantly on the major plot twist that turns everything pear-shaped, via a comment on Pottermore's Instagram account. I didn't want to believe what I read was true, because what was said was unreasonable beyond measure, but a part of me did, and I had great concerns that it would ruin my read. Cursed Child was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to have the same experience as every other Harry Potter fan from the 2000s when new books were released, and it was tainted 3 days into the play being in previews. Nevertheless, I am so thankful in hindsight that that wasn't a hindrance to my enjoyment, and although I disagree with the plot point that is established there, everything else that unfolded in the play made up for that rather large hiccup.

It's very strange to think that a year ago (at the time of writing this), I was still shielding myself from everything Potter-related on the Internet, desperate to not be hit by anymore spoilers than I already had by the time of mid-July. Now I have all the answers, most of which were just what I needed, and though I'll always always want more Potter, as it currently stands I'm fairly content. In the years between all the books and films being within easy reach, I was still constantly wanting more - especially about the 19 years in between Flaw in the Plan and Nineteen Years Later. Naturally, the route here was into fan fiction, which I inhaled and then wrote myself too. Fan fiction continues to provide wholly valid possibilties for what happened in those years even if they are fan-written. Whilst I continue to return to fan fiction on a daily basis, I don't feel as much of a need now for it to fill the void that was there for so many years, because for me at least, Cursed Child did that. Of course there are still major, major gaps in the story and I wonder if we'll ever know what happened in those first few years after the Battle of Hogwarts down to the bone, but for now, I'm fairly content with what we have been provided with.

Not everybody likes Cursed Child, and I understand why one wouldn't. The play relies massively on the events of Goblet of Fire rather than carving a wholly new tale. Goblet of Fire is to me the second worst book in the series, but Cursed Child made me appreciate it more. Appreciation seemed to be a running theme that came out of the eighth story for me, and whilst people do loathe Cursed Child, I took so much away from it. There are characters now that I appreciate more than ever. Take Draco Malfoy, for example: I hated him with an intense rage before reading Cursed Child, but now, knowing his bleak future and other sides to his character, I feel so much pain for him, to the point where I've now written several Drastoria fanfics that I could never have done before. 

Furthermore, Cursed Child made me finally understand and respect the relationship between Harry and Ginny. A keen Romione shipper, and having grown up on the films then the books, Harry and Ginny's relationship felt fitting, but never sat right in my eyes. The chemistry that Ron and Hermione have, or Arthur and Molly, or Remus and Tonks or Sirius (Wolfstar all the way) had wasn't apparent... until now. The way Jack Thorne wrote the relationship between Harry and Ginny, presumably under the direction of J.K. Rowling herself made me realise why they are so perfect for each other in a way that I'd never noticed before. It was like the invisibility cloak had been torn away and suddenly all made sense. Now I'd say that I'm a proud shipper; it will never be to the extent of my dear Romione, but I value the bond that they have and am content to read fanficton about it. (If you hadn't gathered already, I read a lot of fanfiction: for the best Hinny, check out My Dear Professor McGonagall.)

But lastly, Cursed Child provided me with a character I could relate to in a way that I'd not even found with Hermione Granger - my fictional doppleganger. Scorpius Malfoy: nerdy, awkward, clumsy, and anxious. When I read Scorpius' character, I see everything that I was as a young student entering high school. It's painful to read at times, but the connection I have with him is comforting. Malfoy felt like the first bold, pure depiction of someone with severe anxiety - which I have dealt with for years, and to have that in words, in the Potter universe, and watch that character not conquere it, but learn to manage it, was so important to me, and continues to be so. I'd like to say that I'm a Hermione Granger: exceptionally high-strung, bushy hair, studious, and rigorous in academic practice. But I also see so much of myself in Scorpius, who in a way is so similar to Hermione. I know others who have felt the same, but Scorpius was everything I never expected and yet needed him to be, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. 

You may not like it. You may loathe it. And that's okay. But for some of us Cursed Child means more than words can purely explain, and I'm so pleased to have had a year of these characters reunited with us once again, for is it ever truly over?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

10 Harry Potter Spells I Wish I Could Perform


We're now almost a year on from the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, and for me at least, it was quite the game-changer. Of course, my love for Harry Potter is still clearly going strong, but if anything, Cursed Child made it even more intense than it was before. Potter-wise, a lot has evolved and changed for me in the past year. One year ago, I was frantically theorising what could possibly happen in the play/scriptbook, and now I work for MuggleNet, and theorising is a large part of my job as a creative editorialist. Recently I've been seeing a lot of these kind of listicles going around the blogosphere, and of course, one fellow member of staff did this one recently, and it got me thinking about what spells I personally would want to be able to cast more than any other. Obviously, I'd want to be able to do everything possible, but for the sake of time, here are my top ten favourites...


1. Accio - I can't remember a time when I've known where my keys are for more than a week. I am forever loosing them. This would be perfect for those occasions. And also just for the simple things - being able to summon my textbooks and laptop when I'm heading to a lesson, or just for gathering belongings when I'm in a hurry.

2. Undetectable Extension Charm - I have a massive storage problem. This would have also come in incredibly handy on countless occasions such as packing for holidays or sleepovers with my friends.

3. Expecto Patronum - I WANT MY RED SQUIRREL PATRONUS TO COME TO LIFE, OKAY! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?


Related image
Source
                     

4. Stupefy - I think we all know a few people who we've wanted to cast a stupefying curse on...

5. Apparition charm - The amount of money I could save if I had the power to apparate... Obviously, the thought of getting splinched is horrifying, but so long as there's always some Dittany in my bag, I'll be fine. 

6. Reparo - Clumsiness comes naturally to me, in particular tripping over things and causing breakages. This is a spell that if I could bring magic into this mundane muggle world, would be right up my arsenal.


Image result for harry potter spells gif
Source
                      

7. Muffliato - for private conversations that one doesn't wish to be overheard, or simply for those moments when I want to listen to music and my favourite podcasts without fear of disturbing my neighbours.

8. Bedazzling Hex - According to the original books, this gives the illusion of a chameleon-like effect on objects and people, which personally I'd find interesting for times when I don't have the freedom to clean up clutter, or when I want to be a fly-on-the-wall without owning an Invisibility Cloak. Also, I imagine this would give an impression similar to that of the Demiguise - my favourite creature from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

9. Bluebell Flames Charm - Hermione uses these occasionally throughout the series, first in Philosopher's Stone and then repeatedly whilst the trio are camping in order to have waterproof flames that they can carry around. I highly doubt that I'd ever really need this unless, say, walking in the rain at night, but the notion of it and being able to create these flames is something that if I was a witch I'd want to conduct. 

10. Crinus Muto - Only ever used in the Harry Potter Lego Video Games, anything that was used in those was approved by J.K. Rowling and ergo is canon. This spell gives one the ability to change the colour and style of their hair with a wave of the wand, something that I, a person whom has wanted to be ginger for years would desperately love to give a try. 

Image result for harry potter magic gif
Source
I think it's safe to say that we all have a spell or two that, if our Hogwarts letters arrived right now, we'd all love to perform. What would yours be?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

"Green e-yd Monster": Othello at Shakespeare's Globe



Thursday 20th April 2017 Matinee Performance.
Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

"Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! 'Tis the green e-yd monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds upon." - Act 3 Scene 3

We'd heard from a fellow classmate that the production took some "modern risks, such as Katy Perry," beforehand. At the time, I wasn't too sure about how to respond to that, as my goal in going to see Othello at Shakespeare's Globe was to gain knowledge of my Shakespeare A Level text ahead of final exams in the manner it would have originally been performed. Nevertheless, this is a production that if it ever returned to the Globe, I'd be in the queue rushing to buy multiple tickets - that's how good it was.

I don't have the greatest track record with live theatre. Having attended a lot as a young child, as I entered high school that drifted into nothing, and before Othello, the last theatre production I'd seen was the tour of the West End production of The Lion King back in 2013. 

Like any theatrical production, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read. And Othello is a play where the clues are in the staging. There is staging interally and externally of the play, and seeing it live was to me essential to understanding Iago's influence. Also, whilst Shakespeare was a master of the written and spoken word, there's a serious lack of stage directions within his plays. How a line is interpreted can differ from one reader to another, which again is why it needs to be seen not read. My opinions may change when I see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child next month, but in my eighteen years, I don't think I've ever witnessed something as hauntingly beautiful as the opening scene of Othello. From the second that candles lowered from the ceiling and were gradually extinguished to a lulling choral rendition of Video Games by Lara Del Ray, I knew that I would love this production. Such an opening - starting at the end of the play to the bodies of Othello and Desdemona lying on a bloody bed - initially threw me off entirely,  and I was stunned by how McDougal chose to cut straight to the chase and start at the end in a cyclical structure. Nevertheless, it was a powerful decision. One of the beauties of Othello is that due to the audience's consistent alliance alongisde Iago, dramatic irony means we always know of the destruction that will inevitable come under Iago's tyranny. Here, claustrophobia stiffled into suffocation, and as an audience we were smothered with the painful awareness of what a brutal conclusion would transpire.



Admittedly the most fitting phrase to describe this production hails to the Guardian's review, calling this saga a "candlelit tragedy," and nothing could be more perfect. Several scenes, particularly following the pivotal turning point of  Act 3 Scene 3, were enacted with the characters moving across the stage with Elizabethan-style candlesticks, allowing the flames to dance and burn along with their own ignited rage. Once again, spending these 2.5 hours in the darkness only lit by chandeliers and small flames added to the claustrophobic atmosphere, but also strikingly symbolised Othello's final motives in killing Desdemona; a woman who is sees as simultaneously villainous and pure in his dubious line of "put out the light, then put out the light."

McDougal's interpretation of the play certainly blurred the lines of acceptability in Elizabethan times and modern losses of stigma in a questionable manner, effectively diluting some of the important motifs and themes of Othello. The two key cases of casting which impacted on these ideas was in how Emilia was portrayed by a black woman as well as Michael Cassio was now Michelle Cassio, and the relationship between Cassio and courtesean Bianca was LGBTQ+. These depictions kept the play current, and appropriately fitted our modern day, increasingly liberal society in a beautiful orchestration. However, they also detracted from the essential point of Othello. For example; how does it seem like a plausible motive for Iago to cause so much destruction on the grounds of Othello's race when he is married to a black woman? And how has a woman made it into such high realms of power in Venetian society, when as Brabantio remarks, women are seen as "maiden[s] never bold"? One can argue that Ellen McDougal's direction of Othello was far more feminist and diverse than the original play that Shakespeare wrote, but that simultaneously raises issues of detracting from some of the key themes of the play. These most notably include gender politics, double standards in men and women (particularly in the grounds of Cassio and Bianca). 

Overall, the company and cast behind this production brought Othello back to life like a reignited match to a candle - slow-burning and exceptionally dark (both literally and figuratively). Each and every performance perfectly aligned with the characters Shakespeare had so carefully crafted, but through modern elements added a harrowing glimpse at how the events which transpire in Elizabethan Venice and Cyprus do have the means of still occuring in a present day world where racism, sexism and homophobia still run deep in some veins of society. As I said before, I couldn't be more glad for academic as well as theatrical purposes, that I got to experience this play, not only through being in the room, but through being in a seat where occasionally characters were so close and even spoke to those in our row. If McDougal's production ever returns to the Globe or the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I'm sure I won't be the only avid Shakespeare lover who rushes to purchase tickets.