Saturday, 31 August 2013

In Memory of Seamus Heaney

I have just found out that poet Seamus Heaney passed away yesterday and am finding myself feeling genuinely sad so I thought I would just post a few words about the effect his poetry has had on me. 

I first encountered Heaney's work four years ago whilst studying for my English Literature A Level. The first poem I read by him was Mid-Term Break and I can honestly say I was blown away. I cannot read that poem without feeling very emotional. The descriptions given by the narrator seem very self contained yet the glimpses of other people's reactions reveal the rawness of emotion that lingers beneath the surface. We also focused on Punishment, another incredibly powerful poem. Just from these two poems, I thought Heaney was a brilliant poet and I was determined to read more of his work.

As often happens, I didn't get around to it until last year when I studied his translation of Beowulf. Which is incredible. Beowulf is a poem best enjoyed read aloud and I would highly recommend you take the time to listen to it. Over exam period I would listen to it whenever I was walking places and it really made me appreciate what a good translation it is. Other translations, such as Michael Alexander's, retain more of the alliterative style that is a trade mark of Old English poetry. Heaney's lacks this but does not suffer for doing so. There is something about the translation that really reminds me of what little poetry of his I have read. The poem still retains the core Old English values but almost seems a bit more modern than other translations, like Heaney has brought it up to the modern age. I enjoyed studying it so much that it is actually one of my texts I will be doing my dissertation on. After this I read a little of his collection North but had to return the book to the library as I was travelling home. Now I feel sad that I did not take the time to read more of his work while he was alive, but his poetry does still live on so generations to come can appreciate what an amazing poet he was.

I know this isn't the most in depth appreciation of his work as I have read very little, but I just wanted to get a few thoughts down as I have found myself genuinely saddened. Let me know in the comments if any of you have been particularly effected by Heaney's work. For now, I leave you with Beowulf:

Part one.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Inspiration Strikes

I'm one of those people that likes to explore lots of creative things, so I tend to go through phases of doing things. For a while it was my guitar, then with A levels I moved onto textiles, then experimented with painting for a while, sometimes having creative writing moments, and so on. I just really enjoy experimenting with creative things. With all of these things, I never completely drop them, it just ends up that for some reason or another I drift away from it onto another thing. My textiles A Level was just an amazing two years where I absolutely immersed myself into it. I would spend hours after school working on my pieces and mounting everything up in my book. Whenever I look at the things I created I can't help but feel very proud of myself for the effort I put in. (Who knows, maybe soon I will upload pictures for you guys? We shall see!) My boyfriend even bought me a sewing machine for my eighteenth birthday so I could continue it on. However, the problem with textiles is that it is a) time consuming and b) involves channelling your inner rodent and hoarding everything possible. So whilst I took my sewing machine to uni with me, it wasn't the most practical thing to do in my spare time. So I started exploring painting and got quite into that for a while and sort of left textiles for the moment. But recently, inspiration struck!

I've just returned from a long weekend staying with my friend in Cornwall, which has been absolutely lovely! We were lucky enough to have amazing weather which prompted a visit to Newquay. Cue, inspiration striking!

A brief bit of background:
One of my textile projects was based off of the idea of the seaside. So naturally I decided to make a series of decorative bras. OF COURSE. I must explain, this was completely normal in our class. Decorative corsets, vessels, fans, all of these are general things that would be made. It's just outside of my class that I always seemed to get funny looks explaining my concept (can't imagine why?) As preparation for this project I was forced to visit the seaside to take lots of photographs. I know, terribly hard work. One of the places I visited had fabulous old rusting boats, tangled seaweed, pebbles etc. It was just bursting with texture and colour and was so great that I dedicated an entire bra to it! While we were at Newquay we ended up wandering through the harbour and going along the coastal path and I found myself feeling a very strong sense of deja vu. There were so many wonderful textures and colour contrasts again, that I found myself imagining how I would recreate them with fabric. It was like I suddenly snapped into gear and was viewing the world through my textile eyes, looking out for interesting shapes and compositions that I could photograph and then experiment at recreating. So I decided, why don't I?

So I will.

Now, I don't have the greatest amount of money, and all my time at the moment seems to be going towards university work but I've decided to have the project ticking along in the background. I have some material stored in my room, so in my free time I am going to try and have a play around. Hopefully this means that soon I will be able to post up and share experiments that I've been doing. Until then, here are a couple of photos from my trip!

Gorgeous colour contrast!

In case it's not obvious I'm really interested in texture

Look at how gorgeous it is! LOOK AT IT.

To be honest with you I'm not entirely sure what this is, but it still inspires me so I guess I can forgive it for being so unclear.

For some reason the sea just makes me inexplicably happy.

And I will leave you with the most adorable part of the holiday, three chocolate labs with MATCHING NECKERCHIEFS. Try not to explode from the cuteness.

Note To Self

So I've pretty much been starting all of these posts by apologising about how long it's been (etc etc) and to be honest with you I have decided to stop doing that! At the end of the day, I started doing this for me. To get me writing regularly, to get me reading and watching interesting things, and generally to be a bit of fun. Every time I start a post apologising it just gives it the feel like this is a chore, which it definitely is not! The fact is, sometimes I am a busy bee and find it hard to update this, and other times I have all the time in the world so can fill this with stuff. Sounds very simple, but it's good to remind myself. So this is more of a post for myself than you readers, to remind me not to apologise for everything and just get on with it a bit.
That being said, I'm back from the second round of travels so will catch up with my backlog of book reviews soon. I've read some really wonderful things, so I'm very excited to get typing.
That's all for now!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Summer Reading Challenge: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

So you know how in my The Night Circus review I was all "ooooh this is my favourite book on the challenge" etc etc. Well now it has fierce competition with The Fault In Our Stars. Honestly, this book was so good. SO. VERY. GOOD.

I've been subscribed to the Vlogbrothers for quite a few years now and I've always enjoyed their videos. I've been meaning to read some of John's (can I call him John? Seems a bit personal but hey, we're going casual on this review!) work for ages but I've just never really got around to it. The Fault In Our Stars was always the one I intended to start with, although I only really knew that it had people called Augustus and Hazel in it and that it would make me cry. I think the fact that they are making a film of it was sort of a kick up the bum for me; it gave me a deadline to read it by. Seeing as my reading of Pride and Prejudice was heavily influenced by The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (A project involving Hank Green) it seemed oddly fitting that I move onto John's book next. So I did!

Totally legit adult John Green

Given that one of the only things I knew about it was that it would make me cry, naturally I decided to start it on a train surrounded by people! Of course! I started it during the epic saga that was my journey to Swindon as I finished Pride and Prejudice while on the train, so was able to start it on the coach. From the moment I started it, I just really loved it. Every time I've tried to describe the book to people they respond with "that sounds really depressing" and give me a funny look that says "why on earth would you choose to read that?" And then I have to explain to them how they don't understand, it's wonderful and funny and light-hearted and it just happens to have moments in it that will make you cry your heart out but YOU SHOULD SO TOTALLY READ IT. I don't know if it's just the way I describe it so I have borrowed this description from

"Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten."

So yeah, they have cancer. But it's not one of those books about cancer where the character is a flawless angel and they suffer through bravely and are an example to us all etc etc. It engages with it in a way that is truer to life. Yes they have cancer. And yes, they experience all the awfulness that comes along with that. But Hazel and Augustus are not perfect, patiently suffering angels. They are fully formed characters that are flawed but still interesting, likeable people. I'm not sure if I'm fully explaining myself properly and anyway, the book itself explains this much better than I can. I think I just like the fact that for once these people are just people who have cancer, rather than being used as an example about why we should feel grateful for what we have. This is their story. It's not using them as a vehicle to preach to other people and it doesn't reduce their lives to being a lesson to others.

I think the main thing about this book is that I just love the characters. I love the different sides of Augustus Waters. Augustus, the charming, epic gesture-y guy who buys cigarettes he never lights just for the metaphor they represent and Gus, the kid who is more vulnerable than he initially lets on, who misuses big words and gets so excited about flying for the first time. Hazel endeared herself to me pretty much straight away; she's just an extremely likeable character. It was small things about her that I really enjoyed though, such as how she always defends Monica and the way she isn't afraid to stand up for herself when Peter Van Houten is being an ass. As a narrator she is very entertaining and engaging.

About a week before I read this I saw the definition for the word "book hangover". I believe it was sourced from, but it goes as follows:

"When you've finished a book and you suddenly return to the real world, but the world seems incomplete or surreal because you're still living in the world of the book"

I think that's probably the most accurate way to sum up how I felt when I finished it. I read the book in less than 24 hours but I had felt so immersed in the story. I wanted to be able to talk to the characters, to ask them how they feel about certain events, just to talk to them because I felt like they were my friends. I think it is a great testament to John Green's writing that I had to remind myself that these people did not actually exist. It's been a long time since I have felt that immersed in a story that the characters just become real people. I laughed out loud reading this and I also cried, albeit in a very self-contained manner as I literally read the whole thing in the presence of people. I finished it whilst waiting for my train home and that was actually the moment where I had to contain myself the most. I just felt slightly lost knowing it was over. I didn't feel ready for the journey to end. To some of you this might sound really dramatic (if any of you are using the phrase "it's just a book" then I have no idea what you are doing on this blog) but I personally feel that these feelings are the greatest compliment I can award to the book. I eagerly encourage you to read it, and when you finish come back here and we can gush at each other in the comments. Just a tip though, try and read it in a private space!

So for those of you who are fans of John Green, any recommendations of which of his books I should read next? After I finish this reading challenge I fully intend on starting another of his books. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Summer Reading Challenge: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Plus a fair amount of LBD!)

*squeels over the loveliness of this edition*

Many years ago, I tried to read Pride and Prejudice. And I really did try. I think I got about half way through before I decided that I just wasn't interested. It was a borrowed copy anyway, and I had had it for ages, so I just decided to return it to the owner and give up on Austen altogether. With hindsight, I was too young and just did not get the appeal. So I took the view that Austen was boring and not for me.

Then I discovered the Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

For those who don't know what this is, it is an adaptation set in modern day America where Lizzie Bennett just started making video diaries for a class project. And it is brilliant. As soon as I started it I became absolutely hooked. I waited eagerly every week for the new episode, and found myself thinking it over in my head. I went from someone who thought they hated Jane Austen, to someone who was completely, 100% emotionally invested in the outcome of these character's lives. So I made a resolution; I will read Pride and Prejudice. So I did!

I ended up reading most of this in a less than ideal setting. To set the scene properly, after being back home for three days after France, I was heading to Swindon to see my friend Emma for her birthday. Now normally, this journey would be a maximum of 45 minutes. Stellar planning on Emma's side meant that I was arriving just at the time she was dropping her dad off at the station, which would have resulted in a beautifully choreographed exchange moment. What could go wrong? Apparently a fair bit. Half an hour into my journey and the train is about ten minutes from Swindon station when it stops. Cue spending a lovely amount of time just chilling out on the train while the poor train manager keeps apologising on the speakers for the delay but he has no idea what has happened.Turns out a fire on the side of the track had taken out all the signalling abilities around Swindon. Oh joys! After a while of me standing around (Not only did I not have a chair, I was right by the toilets. Woohoo! *Fake excitement*) the train then set off back to the station we had originally got on it. Then I hopped on a coach that went via another station before arriving at Swindon three hours after I was supposed to arrive. Now, this sounds like a bit of a rant and I probably seem like I'm really annoyed about it. As it turns out, I actually was not particularly bothered! Because while all of this drama was happening, I was quite happily immersed in this book. It was great! With all my travelling totalled up I actually had a good 5 or 6 hours of reading and I was loving it!

Now that I have properly set the scene I will actually get on with talking about the book. I really enjoyed it! Due to enjoying the Lizzie Bennet Diaries so much I have ended up watching quite a few adaptations of this book, so reading it was like settling down with old friends. Nothing that happened was a surprise because I knew the format like the back of my hand. What was so enjoyable was reading it in its full and complete glory. Because all of the adaptations I had experienced were primarily visual. The bonus of this is that you get to enjoy seeing the events, examine body language, notice particular expressions etc. But reading the book gives that depth that lacks from visual representation. You get glimpses into the thoughts of the characters and things that films just don't show. This probably seems like a really basic observation (yes Sophie, books show you thoughts, films show you actions. VERY WELL OBSERVED) but I just found it delightful. One particular moment that comes to mind is from quite early on when Darcy first notices Elizabeth's eyes. I like how he makes a mental caution to himself to not let himself get carried away or something like that. It was like when a friend tells you something about themselves that you never knew, and it adds a layer to how you perceive them and reveals an aspect that you hadn't fully glimpsed before. It still fits with what you know of their character, but it's a normally hidden glimpse into how their mind works. 

Now I can't lie, my reading of this was very influenced by my love of LBD. There are many positive and negative aspects to the way LBD was adapted (and there are many people on the internet who can sum these up much better than I!) but one thing I loved was how they fleshed out the characters. In the book, Lydia is very annoying. She is just intensely irritating in her lack of awareness of others. But in LBD, she is one of my favourite characters. She retains many of the traits from the books, she is a bit 'boy-crazy', excitable, and unapologetic about her behaviour. But she is also a sweet sister with many more likeable traits than the book. She shows flashes of insecurity as her side channel develops and when everything with Wickham happens, I found my heart breaking for her. (It also helps that Mary-Kate is an amazing actress and really brings the character to life) Additionally, characters such as Caroline become more than simple, petty villains. In the book, Caroline is essentially just a snobby, rude woman who isn't that complex. The Caroline of LBD is more actively manipulative (which I personally loved), but also has more justification for being so. She genuinely cares for her brother and, as shown through twitter, is actually a friend to Gigi. There were lots of small changes I liked, such as Kitty being an actual Kitten. To close my small LBD sidetrack I will just say that my favourite thing is that it is fundamentally focused on the sisters and friendships. Yes, the Lizzie/Darcy romance is a strong factor, and yes I did squeal aloud on more than one occasion  But it is episodes such as "Snickerdoodles" that are my absolute favourite. 

The whole time I was reading this I was just mentally comparing adaptations in my head. Sometimes I would find I had Keira Knightly was speaking, and at others I was comparing what was happening with how Lost In Austen decided to interpret it. Essentially, I had a great time reading this, made even better by all the fabulous adaptations that have followed it.