Thursday, 30 October 2014

5 Literary things to do in london this Autumn

Sometimes sitting at home reading a book just isn't enough, sometimes you want to do bookish things with bookish people. Here are 5 ways to be sociable and literary in london this Autumn:

1. Go on a literary Pub Crawl

What could be better than combining booze and books? I can't think of many activities.  The London Literary Pub Crawl not only takes you on a journey of discovery around some of london's most famous literary pubs, it also introduces you to the authors associated with the pubs themselves.  Fancy meeting Virginia Woolf, Dylan Thomas or Charles Dickens? By going on the London Literary Pub Crawl, you can. Or at the very least, you can meet very convincing actors purporting to be them, which is practically the same thing. And you can get drunk at the same time, which is always a bonus.

2. Go Book Crossing

Have an expensive book habit that you are struggling to fund? Well, why not grab one of your old ones and swap it for another for free? Book crossing basically involves doing just that. You turn up to a bookcrossing event, which take place all over London [and other cities], place your book or books on the table and then you are allowed to delve into a wonderful pile of used tomes that have been left there by other bookcrossers. Once everyone has satisfied their lust for new reading material, there usually is the opportunity for people to sit around and discuss the books they've brought along, or anything else that may be of interest to the group. Unlike bookclubs, bookcrossing events will usually have different people each time so if you didn't like one event, don't be put off going to another.

3. Go to a Book Slam Event

Ever been to a literary nightclub? No? Well, such a thing does exist. Book Slam is London's first Literary nightclub, which manages to combine live readings from new writers as well as more established ones, live music and even a DJ! Music and books make great bedfellows and it's a lot more grown up than your average local disco, and you actually get to sit down for once! You need to get on the mailing list to take part, but its well worth doing if you want to have a different night out to your usual friday night at 'spoons.

4. Meet an author

 I personally think that meeting authors is a great way to enhance your reading experience.  I think it's really interesting to hear writers give insights into their own work, and since writers are in the business of understanding humanity there will usually be at least one author you can relate to at a literary festival or event. Authors often make good public speakers [although this isn't always the case] and should hopefully be pretty entertaining. I think its fantastic to hear a writer reading aloud their own work, as they will know exactly how it was meant to be read. One of the best places in London to see authors in the flesh is London's Waterstones Piccadily, as they host 'thousands' of literary events every year. Best of all the events are often free.      

I love this women's writing.

5. Take Part in a Literary Salon

Bored with the shallow conversation of your friends? Get your brain engaged with in depth literary discussions at London's Literary Salon, but be warned its not for literary lightweights, so if your taste in books is more Proust than Clarkson you'll be right at home. Get ready to dissect some literary masterpieces among other great thinkers, and to answer some heavy duty literary questions.    

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Problems that Writer's Face

I'm writing this post primarily to give myself a kick up the behind, because I've been finding it hard to get my creative juices flowing this week.  As a way of unlocking my writing mojo, I'd thought I'd explore the difficulties of being a writer, because it's always a good idea to face your problems head that way you can begin to tackle them [here's hoping anyway]. Writing is my one true love, but it can be an incredibly difficult and tedious thing to do at times. Here's why:

1. There's no instant reward

Many would advocate that doing something creative is its own reward [and that is something that I do believe as well] however, sometimes no matter how much you've enjoyed the creative process, you still want instant recognition. If you're a concert pianist, people clap you each time you perform. If you're a writer, you can't hear someone commending you for your work [unless they're in the same room as you and they happen to like you] each time they read what you've written. There's usually a physical distance between the writer and the reader, whereas other art forms can be more inclusive.

It's fair to say that unless you've written a play, writing is not really a performance art, and that means recognition is usually delayed, by which point you'll probably be involved in another project, and less concerned about garnering praise for something you've previously written [although of course the praise will still be appreciated!] The lack of instant recognition can be demotivating at times. To be a writer can mean constantly having to tell yourself that your work is good enough, even if no one else is saying that's the case or applauding you.

2. It can take a long time to establish yourself

I think that most creative people struggle with this. Creating your own brand, finding your voice, actually making a living or earning from your work can take a huge amount of time and energy, and until you succeed it can feel like you're always facing an uphill battle. Until you are a bonafide professional author, blogger or freelancer [and even after you've accomplished that] there's always another agent you need to chase, another article to write, another novel to pen just to prove that you are an actual writer, and not just another wannabe. In order for people to think of you as a genuine writer, you have to show them that you are...again and again.

Get ready to prove yourself!

3. It can be difficult to know where to begin

Sometimes you may have an urge to write, but you have no idea what it is you want to say. As a writer you are quite literally picking words out of thin air. You have to create something out of nothing and everything, you have to sift through all the ideas and influences surrounding you and find something that resonates with you, and that can be quite challenging. I have an idea for a new novel, but as of yet, I only have half of the plot and I can't work out what the other half is supposed to be!

Now, I don't believe in rigorous planning, I believe that it's good to let the story unravel before you...but despite this belief, the novel's lack of direction is making me reluctant to start writing it. I know that once I actually force myself to begin it, inspiration will come to me and that I will begin to find out what shape the novel should take, but before starting any piece of writing work, there's a usually a fear of the blankness of the screen. In my case, that fear is not caused by a fear of rejection or failure, rather it is a fear that I won't be able to express myself properly, that I won't be able to get my readers to understand what it is I'm trying to communicate, as I hate misrepresenting myself.

I've got nothing.

Now that I've identified the problems I have with writing, let me end on a positive note. Yes, being a writer can be incredibly trying at times, but it is also incredibly rewarding and invigorating, and whilst these problems may be difficult to contend with, they are not insurmountable. They are certainly not enough to deter me from pursuing my passion - and if you read this blog because you also love to write, then don't let them deter you either!




Friday, 17 October 2014

Not so Scary Halloween Books

Horror  is a genre that I've pretty much avoided for my entire life [with the exception of Goosebumps and the odd Stephen King novel] and that is because horror genuinely scares me. I've only seen five horror films [and no that is not an invitation to anyone who knows me] and if I close my eyes I can sometimes still see Pennywise the clown from IT smirking at me. And that is a terrifying image.  Yet, despite my aversion to Horror as a genre, I do actually enjoy Halloween. I don't like the gory aspect of it, or the extreme books and films typically associated with it, but I do like the decorations, and the and the license to dress up, and the sense of bonhomie that Halloween usually creates. So if like me you like Halloween, but you're still a bit scared of it, then these are the books for you:

1.  Halloween Merrymaking by Diane C. Arkins

This book takes a lovely look at Halloween traditions, decorations and costumes from the past, and includes recipes and instructions for games as well as discussing the history of Halloween. If you're planning to throw an old school Halloween Party [and I wish someone would!] this book should be your guide.

2.  The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

Before Harry Potter, there was The Worst Witch. This series about a haphazard witch isn't scary in the slightest, but it is entertaining and very cute, and follows in the great tradition of boarding school fables and is reminiscient of Enid Blyton in style. These books are so addictive; I can't think of a better way to spend Halloween than holed up in bed reading about Mildred Hubble and her friends.

3.  The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tom Diterlizzi and Holly Black

Again this isn't a particulary scary book, but its appropriate for Halloween as the series tells the tale of three children who move house only to discover the grounds are full of magical creatures, most of whom are unpleasant. The children come across a guide telling them how to identify and deal with the creatures, but the more involved they become, the more trouble they get into.    

4.  The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

Don't let the awful film version of this fool you, this is one of the darkest children's novels I have ever read, and this is by far the most chilling title on this list. This novel is all about delusion, lies, truth, sanity and madness. Through a series of fantastical events, the protagonist Bastian starts to lose his sense of identity, to the point where he can't even remember his name or his origins. One of the great traits of this book is that it makes the reader question what is real and what isn't, what is sanity and what isn't, and those are big questions for a child to have to ask, which is what makes it so disturbing. In addition, the reader is hunted by an unknown monster throughout the book, and you really have the sense of being watched as you plunge through it.  

5. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe may well be one of the founding fathers of Horror, but by today's standards, his poems aren't really that frightening - I find the formal language prevents me from feeling too scared. Nevertheless, The Raven is a great study of a man's descent into madness and it contains many of the tropes that we now associate with Halloween and Horror, and so if you're a traditionalist then you'll enjoy this poem, especially if you listen to one of its renditions on youtube.

Have a Happy [but not too scary!] Halloween.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Life after travel

It's a been a while since I posted anything on here, and there's two reasons for this. Firstly, for the last three weeks of my trip, I had virtually no access to the internet [news just in - there are no internet cafes to be found in North America anymore because everyone has a smart phone....apart from me!] and also I was so busy, I didn't really have time to sit down and contemplate life, the way I usually do.

Secondly, even though I have been home for two weeks it's taken me a while to get back into my usual routine of writing every week, because my normal routine has undergone a lot of changes recently, and it's taking me a while to adjust. Besides, part of me is still in travelling mode; whilst I am glad to be back in London, [it's so lovely having my bed back for one thing] there are certain things I miss about being on the road:

1. Meeting new people on a regular basis

I do meet new people when I'm out and about in London, but not that frequently. When I was travelling, every day felt like an adventure because I never knew I was going to meet. Even when I was travelling with my friends, I still stumbled across a whole range of characters that I wouldn't normally meet such as an overly aggressive exhibition attendant or an exceptionally kind hostel receptionist. The longer I travelled, the more it seemed I came into contact with interesting people.

Just one of the intriguing people I met whilst on holiday...

2. Living in the moment

When you're travelling, you have to make a lot of tiny decisions throughout the day, and making these decisions can really help you live in the present, because when one is at home, there is a tendency to just do things on autopilot. It's invigorating deciding where to eat, what to visit, who to hang out with - each decision, whether good or bad gives you a sense of control over your life. You are doing what you want to do, you're not following orders. You don't have to be anywhere at a particular time, you don't have to do anything, the way each day unfolds is up to you.

This breakfast was a good decision!

3. Going Outside of My Comfort Zone

I tried a lot of new things this summer, some of which I absolutely loved and would do again without hesitation, such as jet boating, and some things that I loathed such as eating haggis, but either way each time I tried something new I was expanding my comfort zone a little further and it felt good to be pushing myself in this way. I felt like I was growing in confidence a little each time I tried something I hadn't before, and I look forward to that feeling of empowerment on my next trip, wherever that may be.

I love jet boating, even if it makes me look like a Teletubby

4. Seeing new scenery

I love to explore. I make a point to visit different places even when i'm at home or at work. In fact one of my most annoying traits is that I'd much rather go somewhere new than revisit the same places again and again, though I do have a few old standbys that I return to when I'm feeling lazy. When I was travelling, everywhere was new to me. I loved not knowing what was around each corner, loved that I hadn't walked the streets before, loved that I didn't know what was coming - I could only imagine what I was going to see and experience. it's the same feeling I get when I'm reading a new book; I don't know what's going to happen to the characters....I can only guess, and I like that element of surprise, though at times I did get homesick because nothing was familiar.

You don't get views like this in London...

Emotions are accentuated when you travel. When I travelled I felt frustrated, bewildered, curious, joyful, lonely, bored and uplifted, but above all I felt alive. I wasn't just living my life on repeat [although to be fair, there is a lot of variety to be found in my job and home life] and I was experiencing everything more fully than I often do at home. This trip showed me just a glimpse of what the World has to offer, and I'm hungry to go back out there and do it all again!