Friday, 15 May 2015

Money vs Experiences

A year ago today was an emotional day. In the morning, I was so nervous I almost felt sick. For a few hours I was stressed beyond belief. Then I was relieved beyond belief. And then I was ecstatically happy.

It was my final exam of my final year at university. And at around 12 on 15th May 2014, four years of hard work came to a close. I had done all I could and my uni days were officially over.

I didn't have a chance to relax though - immediately I started trying to decide what to do with my life. And a year on, I am still trying to make that decision. I feel like I am in the exact same position as I was last year. I am still living in a shared house in Reading with three (wonderful) housemates. I am still in a job that pays an hourly rate. And I still have only just got enough money to scrape by. But more worryingly than all of that, I am still no closer in deciding what it is that I want to do with my life.

Actually I lie - I have decided what I want to do with my life. I want to be a novelist. And it's not one of those unrealistic dreams where I am wishing for it but not actually doing anything about it (like how I always say that I need to win the lottery yet I never buy a lottery ticket). It is a dream which I know I can fulfil and I have a somewhat brilliant idea which I have written 60,000 words of. But unfortunately society tells me that I can't just sit around writing despite this being how I would love to spend my life. No no, I have to go out and search for a career that I don't really want just so I can earn enough money to begin paying off my student debt and 'become a proper adult.'

And it made me think how much of our lives revolve around money. And how much of our perceived success is viewed through our income. Since when has life become no more than a series of numbers?

Yes I might not be earning any more than this time last year but since then I have had a wealth of other experiences and little achievements. I have progressed as a writer hugely, and in trying to complete my novel, which is very almost done (the first draft anyway) I have begun to take it a lot more seriously. My blogging has progressed too - I have started writing a few sponsored posts, I have been invited to a load of blogging events and, through them, met a wonderful group of bloggers. I have been contributing to several websites and, while none of them have paid me, I have absolutely loved the experience (particularly at The Daily Touch) and it has meant that more and more of my writing is being read. And last, but by no means least, I have become so much happier over the year, something I have had to really work at. And thrown off another descent into anorexia that was beginning to overwhelm me last summer due to the stress of my final year.

Just because none of these things have resulted in money (yet), does this mean the achievements should be diminished??

Using the same Blogpost title, I could have just as easily written about how having experiences such as travelling/theatre/concerts are more important than saving every single penny you earn. Which is also something I strongly believe.

I can almost hear my mum sighing as she reads that sentence. By that I am not saying you shouldn't save. You definitely should. But do make sure you have fun as well. Get out into the world, whether that part of the world is just down to the end of the road for a drink on a Friday night or jetting over to America for a few weeks of culture. And basically - live.

Regret is a horrible feeling. And you don't want to look back on your twenties wishing you'd stopped worrying about money and just enjoyed the fact you have no real responsibilities or commitments. So don't worry too much about your life's journey and where you are going to end up. Just try to make decisions that are best for you right now. And don't forget to applaud yourself when something goes well, however small or big this achievement is. When you starting doing that you might realise, your life is a lot better than you think.

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Sunday, 10 May 2015

Sunday Snap - Vote For Me: The Musical Debate

If you're anything like me, you might be a little bit sick of politics and voting and election news right now. (Doesn't this election seem to have been going on for the entirety of the past 5 years???) But I am afraid that I am now going to continue on this topic a little longer.

I clearly wanted some extra politics in my life on Thursday evening though, when, instead of watching the results come in, I attended a political debate with a lovely group of #LDNTheatreBloggers. A very different political debate. With music and singing and dancing. And with an interactive element where I had to vote for the second time that day. It was satisfying that this time, the person who won was actually who I voted for.

London Theatre Workshops's Vote for me: The Musical Debate really is what it says on the tin. Based on US politics rather than British, the debate is in the last stages of the fictional American election between the Republican, (Janet Tilghman played by Emily Lynne) and Democrat (Buddy Rounsaville played by Hans Rye) candidates. They answer a series of questions, mostly through song, and then you are given a chance to vote for your favourite at the end.

Lucy Grainger (Photo Courtesy of LTW)
The cosy setting within the Eel Brook Pub in Fulham and the small cast, consisting of only 6 people, both work to make the production feel extremely intimate. There was basically no room for error as any mistakes from anyone involved (whether this be within the performance itself, the behind-the-scenes lighting or music or the staging by the director) would have been glaringly obvious. Joining Lynne and Rye, were Arvid Larsen and Jennie Jacobs, who played the partners of the candidates, and were at times both supportive and despairing over each candidate's progress. Plus Joe Leather played The Advisor who was attempting to help each candidate to victory (or at least not make a fool of themselves) in a truly hilarious way. And finally this was all controlled by compere of the debate Robyn Fielder, played by Lucy Grainger. What a trooper she is...all 6 of the cast were wonderful but Grainger's ability was obvious when, at the same time as performing a dance routine with flags, she reeled off a whole list of countries who's vote turnout was higher than the USA. I can't even remember how many countries that totalled, let alone what they were called. But it was 130-something and incredibly impressive.

Company (Photo courtesy of LTW)
Written by americans the humour is very in your face compared to most British theatre so it may not be everyone's cup of tea but it really made me giggle. And anything that makes light of politics, which I think takes itself far too seriously, is a winner in my book. Plus there is so much more to it as well - everything you could ever want is included. Tap dancing with umbrellas, a tango, a boxing ring, and some very surprising answers on how to solve all the world's problems

The voting at the end is a wonderful element too, adding an interesting interactive nature to it. In our show the final score was 16-17 to the Republicans which made me suspicious that it was a fix but they did in fact have two alternative endings. It illustrated for me just how important your vote is and how much it counts for. If I hadn't voted in our own General Election, I would have been left feeling horrendously guilty particularly after their rousing song 'Vote.' But I did in both elections and it made a difference. And that is an important overriding message that you should definitely remember.

Company (Photo Courtesy of LTW)

Thank you so much to Official Theatre and London Theatre Workshop for inviting me to Vote For Me. It runs until the 23rd May at Eel Brook Pub, Fulham.  

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Monday, 4 May 2015

Book challenge

I am a total book nerd - something I say a lot and am very proud of, but from looking at my blog, you probably couldn't tell. I definitely don't have enough literary things on here so I have decided to fix that by taking part in the #26BooksWithBringingUpBurns challenge.

I did in fact start this challenge at the beginning of the year but stuff happened, and things got in the way - as is so often the case with life. The idea is, you are meant to read a book every couple of weeks and I am on track with that. So all is good. And I have been reading some wonderful books because of it:

1. A book you own but haven't read - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I counted my books the other day and they came to over 250. And, out of those, there are at least a hundred that I haven't read. So it has become my aim to not buy any more books until I have read all the ones that I already own.

Guess what? I've failed. I am just too tempted by bookshops.

Anyway, in a bid to make my own books seem more exciting, I have come up with a 'lucky dip box' where I have written the titles of all the books that I haven't read on post it notes. I stuck them in this box and I choose one at random from there. So this is the one I picked out.

What a fantastic book. Why have I waited so long to read this?? It really is one of a kind and not a kind that I have ever come across before, being fantasy fiction that is set in a historical context. It doesn't sound like it would work, or even that is very exciting but it really was.

Everything was great about it. The characters were well fleshed out and extremely likeable so you really cared about what was happening as it progressed. There were beautiful descriptions of the circus itself and an enticing plot which was addictive to read. Finally, short chapters helped to build suspense, keeping the pages turning and to encourage you to carry on for much much longer than you would have.

There was an air of mystery that surrounded this book, which was extremely fitting considering the subject matter and the plot. So you found out information as the characters did and many of those answers didn't come until right at the end of the book. Hugely frustrating but I loved it at the same time. It literally kept you guessing until the very last page and it held my attention unwaveringly throughout. I can not praise this book enough. Such class.
2. A book that was made into a movie - Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
I haven't actually seen this movie as I have always wanted to read the book first. And I have owned the book since about 2010 when someone recommended it to me, but the length and the supposed confusing nature of the book has put me off for years. Finally though, I have read it. And what a book it is.

The basic plot is...well, it's not basic at all actually. The book is split into 6 parts, each depicting a different life, with a different set of characters, set in different times and falling into different genres. Essentially this is 6 books in one.

The novel starts with Adam who is in the 1800s, moves on to Robert, who is in 1931 Belgium, to Luisa Rey who is in the 1970s, to Timothy Cavendish in the early 21st century, to Sonmi-251 in some post apocalyptic future, to Zachary in the far more distant future. And then, having only written half their stories in each part Mitchell writes his way backwards from Sonmi, all the way back through to Adam's conclusion. Therefore in effect, the book is a kind of mirror, a definitive symbol in how human nature refuses to change throughout this whole expanse of time. People still fight each other, destroy each other, are cruel to each other but also love each other and find happiness and friendship. They don't adapt or develop and our basic instincts are still the same whether we are in the 1800s or in a future century. This can be seen in the title as well. A cloud essentially stays the shape, for hours, days, sometimes weeks but is blown around all over the place.

In addition, each story is connected to the others in some way. There is an ongoing implication that all the characters are reincarnations of the others through the inclusion of a comet-shaped birthmark. I found this plot point, slightly gimmicky in what is otherwise a very sophisticated novel. It's inclusion at all is so far fetched, that I would have preferred if it hadn't been there, but for it to be in the shape of a comet is just one step too far. Especially as it's mentioned over and over again.

This book should appeal to almost anyone. With 6 different genres being included, it would be hard not to. But the first story - The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing - won't be to everyone's taste. I found myself inwardly sigh as I battled against the highly stylised language. I got there in the end though, and the rest of the novel was far more addictive. Particularly the first half. It is completely made up of cliffhangers, as each story is interrupted with the next one (a feature which is also in Robert Frobisher's composition, the Cloud Atlas Sextet during the second part) so you want to keep reading in order to finally find out what happens to each character. It is surprising that Mitchell actually succeeds in making you care for each individual character, enough for this structure to work. You find yourself becoming disappointed that your journey with a character comes to an end, wonder if the next story could be as good and then fall in love with the next character too so the whole process starts all over again. And this happens 6 times.

This novel really is a masterpiece. A truly beautiful masterpiece. I could have talked about so much more within the book. The imagery (it's full of it), the readability (high) and many other things besides. But frankly we could be here all day. What I will say is this...David Mitchell is most definitely a gifted storyteller, like no other that I have come across. It is hard to do anything new within storytelling. So hats off to Mr Mitchell...because he has managed it.

3. A book you pick solely because of the cover - Perfect Timing by Jill Mansell
You know that phrase - you should never judge a book by it's cover? Well, I think I must be the only person in the world who actually obeys this mantra.

I genuinely don't ever pick a book because of it's cover. It's title - big yes. Recommendations - definitely yes. If they have been made into a film - yes. Blurb - yes. But cover, nope. So actually this prompt was so hard for me. I just found it impossible to pick a book, which I knew nothing about and which actually had an aesthetically pleasing enough cover, to say that I chose this one. So much so, having walked into my favourite bookshop, I left empty handed. I just couldn't do it.

I was given another opportunity though when the shop where I worked closed down. There were a bunch of books in the kitchen which had been there forever and were going to be thrown out. Cue horror filled lunge for them. So I chose three of them based solely on what they looked like, not reading the titles or blurbs at all. While my colleague took the other three. And this was one of those three.

Perfect Timing was exactly what I expected it to be, from looking at the cover: a slightly unsophisticated romantic novel. When I was a teenager, I used to be addicted to chick lit but I have become snobby in my old age and don't tend to read it at all. There's just nothing to them. Admittedly this one was quite well written. Yes it may have been unrealistic and somewhat annoyingly so but it was still entertaining to read and I wasn't unduly distracted by plot holes or grammar problems. The characters were likeable and well portrayed, although there were slightly too many of them. And it was a relaxing readable read. A good break if you needed one.

The cover, although aesthetically pleasing, actually had nothing to do with the story whatsoever. There wasn't any mention of a garden or flowers or anything like that in this novel. Which just goes to show how misleading covers can be. And this is why, I don't normally pay attention to the cover when choosing a book. Better to research what the book is actually about, rather than try to guess.
4. A book your friend loves - Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I am so so glad that this was the book which my friend ordered me to read when I told him about this prompt. I now love it too. It is only very short, coming in at about 120 pages. But is so emotive and action-filled throughout that time. It tells the story of Lennie (who is very big and strong but rather simple) and his protector George. They travel around together, working on various farms and they normally have to leave due to a mistake that Lennie makes. In this particular instance, within a few days, he accidentally kills the boss' daughter-in-law. The husband of said woman, is therefore going to kill Lennie in the most gruesome way possible. Causing George to shoot him, himself in order to save him from something far worse.

I can understand why Of Mice and Men is a GCSE text. There is just tonnes that you can read into and discuss about everything contained within the book. Particularly friendship and divided loyalties. But I don't want to turn this into an English essay so if you have read Of Mice and Men, let me know and we can have a (virtual) cuppa and a chat. And if you haven't read Of Mice and Men, make sure you do give it a read. It is such an amazing book which will make you think, and then carry on thinking, for ages after you finish.
5. A book published this year - All I Know Now by Carrie Hope Fletcher
I have been doing this challenge since January but have only been able to put up this first post now because I hadn't found a brand new book which I had liked the look of enough to buy. But eventually I decided that I wanted to read this brand new book from Carrie Fletcher which came out last week.

Carrie Fletcher is the younger sister of Tom Fletcher from McFly. But this 22 year old can not simply be called Tom's little sister - she has made a name for herself in her own right. A talented West End performer, she has been in Les Mis for the past two years and uploads frequent videos to a popular YouTube channel, one which I personally only started watching after I heard about the book. Most people do it the other way around and hear about the book through the channel, but there we go, there's my proof that I am a total book nerd.

This book wasn't really aimed at me. The majority of Fletcher's audience, who call themselves the Hopefuls, are teenagers and this book is designed to help them through those difficult years. As I am a few years past that, (in fact I am the same age as Fletcher herself), I found it at times ever so slightly patronising and bossy. But the majority of the time it was extremely readable and very entertaining. I loved the little stories she threw in and the illustrations (there should have been more of both of those). She is so kooky and likeable, I am not surprised that this came across in her writing. And it has led her to be Number 1 on the Times Harback Non-Fiction List at the time this blogpost was published.

I also loved that you could clearly hear her voice when reading the book. She writes in the exact same way that she speaks in her videos. Which shows that she is one of the few YouTubers who actually did write her own book. I have already discussed Zoe Sugg's book at length (you can read that post here) and how frustrating it was for me, as a wannabe author, to watch her getting handed a publishing deal on a plate just because. But with Fletcher it is different. The majority of her videos are self-helpy type of vlogs where she discusses things like friendship, love, school, bullying...the exact subjects she talks about in her book. The two have a direct and obvious correlation and work together really well. And what she has produced will be a comfort for thousands of teenage girls, I am sure. (Alsooooo as an extra and unrelated note, I have decided that if Carrie and I had ever known each other, we would most likely be very good friends. I keep on spotting similarities between us both. For instance, she must be the only other person on the planet who wanted to be an archaeologist when she was a kid. While all my friends wanted to be vets and nurses, my obsession with history and the TV Programme Time Team, led me to want to do this job. And apparently Indiana Jones had a similar effect on her - who knew?)

This is the first instalment of my book challenge posts. Four more instalments (and 21 more books) will be coming your way soon. So look out for those. And to see what other people are reading check out the Instagram tag #26BooksWithBringingUpBurns  

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