Monday, 28 September 2015

REVIEW: Write on Kew

Write on Kew was Kew Gardens' first ever literary festival, running from 24th-27th September. There were more than 80 events running over the 4 days, including talks about fiction, children's literature, gardening and cookery. Located in Kew Gardens itself, the literary festival gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and other attractions in between talks. It was really convenient to have everything on site, and so close together - especially with the lovely weather, it made for a fantastic couple of days out. I've been quite disappointed in the line-ups of other literary festivals in recent years, and this was the first I'd found since attending the 2013 Oxford Literary Festival where I've been really keen to see several of the visiting authors. We decided to get tickets for Margaret Atwood, David Nicholls, Bill Bryson and Louis de Bernieres. 

Margaret Atwood (25th Sept)
I've been a big fan of Margaret Atwood since reading The Handmaid's Tale shortly after I'd finished my A Levels. I am not a big lover of science fiction, but there's something about the dystopian societies that Atwood creates that I find so engaging, exciting and a little bit terrifying. Atwood's new novel The Heart Goes Last, released only a couple of days ago, was the main topic of conversation. I'm yet to read it but, after having heard her spoken about it and read a couple of extracts, I'm so eager to! It speculates about a futuristic North East USA, where a financial crisis (much like that of 2008...) leaves half the population unemployed and poverty-stricken. The only viable solution seems to be the proposed project Consilience, an enormous prison where citizens take it in turns to be inmates and guards. Weaved within this apocalyptic world, in true Atwood fashion, are some strong feminist characters and a good old love story. 

Listening to Margaret talk about this book, and the other work she's involved in - including the Future Library Project and The Hogarth Shakespeare series - was amazing. She's an eccentric, interesting and intelligent woman, and her passion for her work and ultimately for being involved and progressing the world of literature and publishing is so evident. Seeing Margaret Atwood definitely made me want to go back and read some of her earlier novels (after I've finished her most recent!), and also follow her on Twitter! If she's anywhere nearly as funny online as she is in person, my Twitter feed is in for a real treat. If you ever have the chance to catch Margaret Atwood, be it at another festival or book signing (or on last Friday's Newsnight!) then absolutely do. Not only is she a fantastic author, but a totally intriguing and unique character. 

David Nicholls (26th Sept)
I expected to really like David Nicholls, and I really did. Bill Bryson talked about the anonymity of lots of authors: most, we love their books, but we don't really know who they are, what they look like, but David Nicholls was exactly the person I anticipated him to be. In some ways I was most looking forward to seeing David Nicholls, since he was the only author of whose books I had read every single one (well, all 4). For me, Nicholls is the master of the ideal holiday read: not trashy but not requiring huge amounts of concentration; a love story; good characters; and fairly fast-paced plots. Though I enjoyed Us and One Day (and was pretty unimpressed with The Understudy), Starter for 10 remains my favourite (and my favourite one dramatised) and this seemed to be a feeling shared by much of the audience. He talked about his character development, which I really admire; the work that authors are now required to do beyond writing, like book signings and festivals and radio shows; and how his books, screenplays and films all come into being. 

As both a screenwriter and an author, David Nicholls was able to offer a really interesting and informed perspective on the dramatisation of novels. I learned how about how, often, writers have fairly little control over the direction of the dramatisation of their novel after selling the rights, which was something I hadn't really realised - I'd always thought they were fairly influential in the process. I wasn't surprised to discover that he'd written the screenplay for One Day - but was really curious as to understand more about why he wouldn't do it again. He spoke about the difficulty of having to cut your novel down, which you've already cut down, into 120 minutes for the film: being required to change certain scenes, and cut out some of your favourites, simply because they don't operate on screen nearly as well as they do on the page. Much of this talk was focused around Nicholls' screen writing, and how that's been influential in shaping his career as an author, which was something I really glad to have heard about. He ended the talk by saying how this was the last time he was going to speak about Us in this sort of environment, and that next week he'd be buying his new notebook and pen, and get planning for novel no. 5! 

Bill Bryson (26th Sept)
I left Kew on Saturday night thinking 'I wish Bill Bryson was my grandad'. Undoubtedly I enjoyed this talk the most, completely captivated by Bill Bryson in all his intellect, humour and experience. This one felt more like 'an hour with Bill Bryson' rather than him having come to publicise his new work, which I think I actually preferred; we got a real insight into the things he enjoys, the experiences he has whilst researching and writing, and about his life told through his books. I laughed, almost constantly, for an hour at Bill's tales of being banned from McDonald's by his wife after an unfortunate scenario resulting in 20 Big Macs; of his tales of odious childhood neighbours; and his feelings about Robert Redford playing him in the recent film A Walk in the Woods

Despite instruction from his publishers not to give too much away, Bryson spoke a little about his newest book: The Road to Little Dribbling, which is basically Notes From a Small Island take 2. On the 20th anniversary of Notes From a Small Island, Bryson decided to explore England again - to see what had changed, and what had stayed the same. He said that England is, ultimately, still the same country he fell in love with 20 years ago, but with more litter. As someone who's visited very little of the UK, I'm looking forward to reading it and hope that it informs some of my anticipated exploration! I don't think anyone left the room not having really enjoyed the hour, and feeling totally in awe of Bryson's hilarity, humility and honesty. 

Louis de Bernieres (26th Sept)
I'd spent the days in the run up to seeing Louis de Bernieres speed reading his most recent novel, The Dust That Falls From Dreams, a tale of love amongst war. Although I appreciated the technicality of the novel, enjoying the multiple narrators and the knowledgeable historical element, I didn't love the story itself. Louis spoke in great depth about his inspiration for the novel, and his interest in wartime Britain stemming from stories told to him by his grandfather, a pilot in the war. He is clearly really well informed about that period of history and, interestingly, tends to draw on the stories of normal, everyday people rather than focusing on those of politicians and royals which we so often hear about. During the Q&A session, one member of the audience asked a really provocative question about pain - that lots of Louis de Bernieres' characters were victims of pain and suffering, and how was it that he knew so much about this? He spoke of a really unpleasant time at boarding school as a child and, having also spoken about his young family and love for his children, this really rung quite true and deep - and, I think, touched many members of the audience.

Overall, I really enjoyed my couple of days at Kew. I was so impressed by the general organisation and structure of the event, and I really hope to see it back with an equally exciting line-up next year. There is such variety, even when you're not looking for it. I expected to attend 4 talks about 4 books, but instead learned a huge amount about the authors' own lives, work and inspirations; the other projects they're involved in; their interests and influences in politics and history; and what interesting individuals they all are. I'd 100% recommend the festival, and seeing all 4 of the authors speak if you ever get a chance. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Travel Wishlist

I am currently referring to the year that will follow my graduation as the 'Gap Year of Dreams' in an attempt to motivate me through the next year, and also ensure that I do make 'a year of dreams'. I have total, unashamed wanderlust right now and the list of places I want to visit is becoming longer and longer. I've gone from simply making a list of places I want to visit in 2016/17 to a list of everywhere I could possibly want to visit in my life! I'm trying to plan in a mixture of trips, big ones and small ones, so I can, for the first time, leave Europe and also make the most of the limited funds I have. It's exciting, really exciting, and I love going on holiday, and I love organising. It's also a bit scary, because there'll be new experiences and I want to make sure I plan the best trips I can possibly have! 

So, as hard as it is to narrow it down, here are the top 5 places I am desperate to visit in 'The Gap Year of Dreams': 

ROUTE 66, Chicago - LA

Ok, so this one's a bit of a cheat. I am dreaming of an American road trip, preferably in Cadillac but I'd take something smaller and more fuel efficient. Route 66 takes you from Chicago through Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and finishes in LA. I've always fancied Chicago, and am desperate to go to the Grand Canyon, and maybe even spend a couple of days in Vegas...if you're in the area, how can you not?! Ideally, I'd like to pop up to San Francisco at the end; ever since watching The Princess Diaries, I have been aching to go! 

I've never been to the States before, so I want to experience that in all its excess. I'm also intrigued about the whole road trip experience: I want to drive (or at least be a passenger) on big open roads, and stay in motels (which I'm sure are much more glamorous in my mind) and stop in diners. Not to mention, see all the sights along the way! So this is my no. 1 - my desired 'big trip'. 

NEW ZEALAND, Auckland - Queenstown
I am all about the road trip. The second 'big trip' I'd love to do, would be to go to New Zealand, and drivr from the Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South. From what I understand, the North island is slightly more cosmopolitan and incredible for scuba diving (which I've always wanted to learn how to do!). The South is more mountainous, and known for it's beautiful walks and wildlife. And look at those lakes! I do love a good lake. It sounds like the perfect 'multi-centre' trip, and would be lovely to escape the English winter in favour of the New Zealand summer. Whilst travelling to New Zealand wouldn't force me quite so far out of my comfort zone than perhaps visiting parts of Africa or Asia, I feel like that could, in some ways, make it more relaxing and more enjoyable - especially for a first trip. 

In my mind New Zealand is a lot bigger than it actually is, and my proposed journey is actually just under 1000 miles - so trying to complete it, and make plenty of stops on the way, in 3 weeks shouldn't be a problem. The only downside is the flight, well, the cost of the flight which is making this trip seem like a progressively more distant dream! 

I have never been to Paris. I've been to Disneyland Paris, but apparently that doesn't count. One of my aims for my Gap Year of Dreams is to spend a period of time in France and improve (remember) my French - and what better place to be than Paris? I want to do all the touristy things first: go the Louvre, up the Eiffel Tower, and see the Arc de Triomphe. Then I'd like to see Paris for what it really is, and maybe travel a little bit around France. I've always quite fancied the look of Provence. I feel like Paris is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once, and I think 2016/17 is going to be my first! Hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in a quick trip to Disneyland too... 

Buzzfeed, that trusty travel source, describes Lake Bled as a place that's 'even awesomer during the winter' - and I think it's probably right. As I said, I love a good lake and I'd love to do a bit of exploring of Eastern Europe since it's somewhere I've never been. Lake Bled is just outside the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana, and has a small island in the middle of it, the island of Bled! Bled itself is home to a Gothic church, whilst the Medieval castle lies just to the Northwest of the Lake. I love Gothic and Medieval architecture, and think that Lake Bled in winter time would provide the most perfect, magical but eerie backdrop to these sights. A definite must see, I think! 


Because you've got to have an old favourite! Simon has agreed that next year, after I've finished my finals, we can go back to Barcelona - and I cannot wait! We went in June 2014 and had the most wonderful, super busy but also really relaxing 5 days; but there was so much that we still didn't see. I'd love to go back, revisit the places we fell in love with, eat ALL the tapas, go to the beach, and see all the places we didn't have a chance to before. Barcelona will probably be my first trip of the Gap Year of Dreams, and I feel like it will be the trusty one: a lovely city, hopefully lovely weather, and lovely company. What more could I want? 

So it looks like it's going to be a pretty sweet year, right? I'm excited, overexcited, so excited that I keep forgetting that there are 90 hours of lectures, a dissertation and 4 exams between me and the Gap Year of Dreams...but I'm sure it'll come round soon enough, and I'm certain it'll be worth the wait. 

I'd love to hear about your experiences if you've been to any of these places, or if you've got any recommendations then please get in touch! 


Friday, 18 September 2015

For the weekend...

My little brother is going to university this weekend, and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it. I'm really excited for him, but I'm also going to miss having someone to watch daytime tv with, hang out with, and look after. We've always been close, and never really argue, so I can't even really focus on all the things that will be great about him going (apart from the fact he might come back a full on grown up who can cook pasta unaided). 

So, for this weekend, appreciate your siblings. If you need some help, listen to Jeffrey Kluger - he sums it up pretty well: 


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Relationship

"What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life - to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?"

I've spent the best part of the last couple of months talking to lots of people about their relationships. It sounds like I've begun a career as an agony aunt, but alas I am just researching for a dissertation about the formation of online relationships, and I have lots of very emotional friends gong through lots of changes and transitions in their romantic lives. It's left me thinking a lot about the notion of a relationship: why do we want it so much? Why is it so hard when it breaks down? Why are all those in relationships so fearful of losing them and, most of, those who aren't so determined to be in one (even when they pretend they're not)? 

You see, I am friends with lots of amazing, beautiful and independent women - ones that don't take any shit and don't have aspirations to be housewives. I am also friends with lots of fantastic, committed and thoughtful men. And lots of them seem to be coming to points in their relationships where it's make or break: it's a few years in, it's starting to get 'serious', they're talking about the future, and a decision has got to be made. Is it right? Do they see themselves with this person in the 'long term'? Do they have compatible ambitions, values, aspirations? If not, is it better to get out now, in an attempt to provoke minimal pain/tears/suffering? Scary, huh? It is, and it's really hard. I find it hard to be on the outside of it, let alone in the middle of it - driving it or the victim of it. 

The fear and the tears almost always seems to come down to change. Whether the change is realising that this person, with whom you'd planned a life with (even if it was just in your head) is no longer going to be there, that you're no longer going to have the life you'd imagined and planned; or discovering that ultimately this person, and your life with them, doesn't match your aspirations for yourself and you can't live a lie, or try and make it work, for any longer. It's an upheaval, it's unsettling, it's insecure - for a time, you don't know what to do with yourself apart from get pissed or cry into your coffee, eat everything or nothing at all, or sleep with everything that moves or stay in your own bed, with Netflix forever. It's one of those things that can creep up on you when you least expect it, when you're 22 and not necessarily thinking about co-habitation, marriage or babies - but you're laying in bed one night and you think 'shit, this isn't what I want now...or maybe ever'. You're overcome with guilt, worry, fear - of what should do, how you should do it, how your s.o. with react, and how you're going to get over it. I feel like there's a really common misconception that it's far easier to be the person doing the breaking up, and that's not always the case. Sure you have the power, but you also have the responsibility. 

But what about when you get it right? When you're infinitely happy, and when you're snuggly in bed with your s.o. and talk about the future, your shared future, and all the adventures you plan to go on together; when neither you or they can imagine being with anyone else; and when you agree...on the important things. Then it's great. I'm not saying that it will always be perfect, and there will inevitably be disagreements and arguments and times where you want them to just shut up and get out of your face, but you'll always come out the other - probably better off. You'll probably have lots of worries, doubts, concerns before you get to this point. You'll almost certainly worry about whether they feel the same - sure, they tell you that they love you, but do they love you like you love them? You'll worry about another person coming along, the home-wrecking bitch who will do her best to destroy everything you love. You'll worry when they've had a bad day, because they're a bit quiet, a bit snappy or not quite themselves. But one day, you'll worry less. You'll feel happy, secure, loved. 

So to all my lovely friends and all the people who have kindly helped me with my dissertation: well done for being brave, and doing what's right for you (or coping with what's right for them). If you're not right for them, then they're not right for you. You will feel better, and you will stop binge eating crisps. You will come out of this happier, stronger, and more full of love. You've got to get it wrong to get it right. And when it's right, it will be amazing. X

Friday, 11 September 2015

For the weekend...

'For the weekend' will be a weekly post containing a weekly Friday treat, ready for the weekend!

This week, it's Don Broco's Automatic (from their album of the same name). The album has been my dissertation aide for the week, and this song is constantly in my head at the moment. An awesome, upbeat tune for a Friday afternoon! 


Friday, 4 September 2015

WAKE ME UP WHEN SEPTEMBER ENDS. Actually don't, I've got stuff to do.

Every year I get to September and I makes attempts to sort my life out. September feels like a new year, a new start, and an opportunity to reflect, make changes and get things done. In some ways, it’s a really exciting time and it feels productive: like I’m actively doing things to make myself happier and my life easier. Simultaneously, it’s a scary time because you start remembering the things you’d planned on doing last September, and you become increasingly aware of all the responsibilities you’ve spent the summer repressing.

R E F L E C T I O N 

It’s my final year of university: the last 2 years have gone so quickly but so slowly. I’ve wished for this day and I’ve dreaded it. But now I’ve got to deal with it. Last September I promised myself I’d find myself a more settled place to live, I’d do more reading and I’d do more volunteering. I did all of those things, though perhaps not in the way I’d anticipated. This year I hope to make it through a year living in Sussex without losing my mind, do even more reading, and finish my finals with minimal, but reasonable, stress. This time last year I was preparing myself to be applying for graduate jobs now. This September, I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want to do that now. I hoped that I’d be in a clearer position about what I wanted to do and, in some ways, I am – but the clearest of those thoughts is that I don’t want a graduate job, at least not yet. Making this decision has urged me to reflect on my years in education: the seemingly senseless transition from GCSEs to A Levels to university, you do what you’re told and you don’t question it. It’s a rigid cycle and one I’m keen to get out of as soon as I can. This September I’m planning a post-graduation year out. A year in which I have many Septembers to make changes, make myself happier and reflect; and a year in which to do something different, something fun and something for me.

M A K I N G . C H A N G E S

Change no. 1: moving home for my final year of uni, which I’m yet to decide whether it’ll be the best decision ever, or the absolute worst. Ultimately it’s not a decision I have much choice in, I’m too poor for you, London.
Change no. 2: do things that make me happy and don’t worry too much about what I’m expected to do. I hate saying no, but I hate doing the crap expected of me by other people even more.
Change no. 3: doing some exercise again: I vow to kick box and do ballet.
Change no. 4: accepting that dairy is the devil and that a Dairy Milk isn’t worth it.
Change no. 5: making the effort to do the things that I know will benefit me and make me happy, even if it’s difficult.

G E T T I N G . T H I N G S . D O N E 

I look at this phrase and I see DISSERTATION in flashing lights in my head. By the time September does end, I need to have made some serious headway with my dissertation – but it’s something I know I need to continue to momentum with until March. This is pretty daunting, and feels like an impossible enthusiasm to sustain. I know I will get there though, it’s not really that hard, I’ve got to find people who will reveal all about their dating lives. What I’m more excited about getting done is planning my post-uni gap year. I currently feel like the world is my oyster, and then I look at the cost of flights relative to my bank balance. It’s amazing though: I feel like it’s a bit of a puzzle that I’ve got to try and make work, and what better motivation to do that than the prospect of travelling with your friends, boyfriend, and making a good start on your bucket list? Getting things done has never been so tempting.

So whilst I’m already mourning summer holidays, breakfast in the garden and flip flops, I feel like this year could be a good one. It feels a bit like the beginning of the end, in a good way. It’s repetition and revision for the last time (for a year at least). 

YAY for change, YAY for getting things done, YAY for September. 
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