I’m Looking Forward To…

I’ve been having a bit of a Rough Time lately. It’s not exactly uncommon, but it’s been lengthier than usual this time (probably not helped by the fact that throughout this Rough Time I’ve both had my period and gotten a cold). I think I’ve done a sensible thing in that instead of staying in my flat by myself I’ve brought myself back to my parents’ home and am currently commuting to University, but I’m still feeling pretty bad… so I decided to write a blog post on things I am looking forward to/things that make me feel better!

  1. Best Friend Visit

It’s been two years since I last saw my best friend. We’re both in university and so are both pretty busy (her somewhat more than me considering she runs three blogs, is a year ahead of me at uni, has a job and is currently planning her year-long trip to Australia), but next weekend I’ll finally be making the trip to Nottingham to hang out with her. It’s just for a day, but I can’t wait. I’ll have to remember to bring extra tissues for our parting, though, because I cry like a baby every time.

  1. RWBY Screening

Rooster Teeth recently partnered up with Tugg once more in order to host screenings of RWBY Volume 1 in cinemas around the globe. Luckily, Liverpool’s screening quickly met its threshold and was confirmed (I think by day 2!). I bought my ticket as soon as the event was announced, and am now eagerly awaiting April 27th. The Liverpool Rooster Teeth community is amazing and I can’t wait to see the friends I’ve made over the last few events! I’ll be in cosplay once more (though I think I’ll forego the contacts and just take my glasses with me instead) so if you’re there, approach every Blake Belladonna you see and try to find me. Speaking of cosplay…

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I will take any excuse to re-wear this cosplay. (Above: Myself, precious Yang we met at the con, and Padders)

  1. Cosplay

I promised myself I’d take a break before starting any more cosplays, but I’ve already decided on the next three I’m going to work on, and I’m pretty excited about all of them. I’m going to try to wait until I get a little bit more cash before I make any big fabric purchases but I’m already starting to gather my resources, tutorials and materials for props. I don’t have any cons planned for the next couple of months (yet) so that gives me a little bit more time to work on them. The secret cosplays I put together for our surprise visit to kitacon at the beginning of this month weren’t too difficult but did have me working right up until about 11pm the night before the con! It paid off, though, for The Ultimate Dad Joke.

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Pictured: The ultimate dad joke (telling your friends you can’t make the con and then showing up dressed as their parents).

I’m trying to focus on the things that I don’t have to wait too long for, but I know that there’s more to come after April (the thought of summer trips, book signings and parties lingers at the back of my mind). As long as I have something close to look forward to, though, I think I’ll manage to drag myself to uni each week. Uni is honestly a welcome break – it’s nice to have something outside of myself to focus on and the routine helps me out, too. I sort of wish my week was more spread out at times like this – everything being crammed into two days just makes me feel like the other 5 days of the week are going to waste!

I’m thinking of starting a little blog segment where I update you all on my craft and cosplay projects as I do them. Maybe once a week; maybe once a fortnight. Documenting my progress is sure to make me feel even more satisfied with the final result, and it’d be nice to share something I love so much with you guys (since I can’t really share my drafting process with you when it comes to writing). Let me know if that’s something you’d like to see!

So, what are you all looking forward to? Or what have you recently done that’s giving you some good memories to feed on? I’d love to hear from you all!

-Kitty

Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood

I’m willing to put money on 99% of the people reading this being huge fans of, well, reading. I’m going to guess that you’ve all got To Be Read piles threatening to engulf you in your sleep and are scraping the pennies from the bottom of your purse to try to scrounge up enough change for this week’s most anticipated release. Me too! I love reading. I really do. I love finding new books and discovering a new series to obsess over, and I love screaming about it with likeminded folk, arguing over what that character’s utterance really meant, and eagerly awaiting the next instalment. But, honestly? 100% truly? All of that pales in comparison to how I feel about a certain web-series.

I feel a little guilty admitting it. I feel like I’m betraying my bookish pals to say that this series has captured my imagination in a way that a book hasn’t for a long time, but hey, it’s true. And I think that’s okay.

The series in question is RWBY, Rooster Teeth’s anime-like creation from Monty Oum, being carried through now by our beloved team of animators, writers, producers and actors. It follows a team of teenage girls (team RWBY) attending Beacon Academy, a school for Hunters and Huntresses, who are training to fight the creatures of Grimm (giant monsters attracted to negativity). They’ve also got to deal with more than just monsters, though. There’s bad people threatening everything they hold dear, too. It’s hilarious, it’s painful, it’s beautiful and it’s inspirational. It’s probably my favourite thing in the world.

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Now, Rooster Teeth itself is a huge part of my life, and I doubt that without the community I would have remained as invested as I was when I originally watched the series as I am now. I remember waiting for each trailer to be released, and then oddly enough I let it slip by me and didn’t watch the series at all until towards the end of volume 2 – and I was hooked. It’s always my go-to recommendation and the episodes are so short that it won’t take you long to catch up on at all!

One of the things that first drew me into RWBY was the unexpected complexity of the characters. I know it was the intention of Monty to present these seemingly one-dimensional characters and then to delve deeper and deeper into their personalities to show that they’re so much more than that, and Miles Luna and Kerry Shawcross (the writers of RWBY) follow through on that brilliantly. It’s beautiful, and it’s painful. How do we react to a snobby heiress with a difficult home life, trying desperately to live up to and surpass her family name? Or a party girl who actually is deeply caring and nurturing for her younger sister while simultaneously mourning the loss of their mother and searching for her own birth-mother? What do we say when the silly, comic relief character who is way out of his depth and isn’t remotely on the same skill level as everyone surrounding him tells us that he knows that’s what he is and he hates it?

RWBY gives us plenty of food for thought. One of my favourite things about the show is that it shows us people faltering. We see characters fighting, blaming each other when they don’t deserve the blame. We see characters struggling to cope, losing sleep and working themselves so hard that the rest of their team is terrified for them. But we also see how, despite everything, they stand together. They find their own families, they stick by each other’s side, and they support and believe each other even when there doesn’t seem to be a reason to.

So, yes, sometimes I feel a bit guilty that I’ll happily put down my book to watch RWBY, because being a reader is such an important part of my identity. But I don’t think I feel guilty about loving it more. I’ve made it my mission to get every one of my friends to watch RWBY – I don’t think you have to be an anime fan to enjoy it, anyway, because it’s only sort of kind of yes it is but no it’s not not really anime. And look at these girls!

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Plus, all characters are based on fairy tale characters/story book characters/etc. For example, our main team, team RWBY, consists of: Ruby Rose (Little Red Riding Hood), Weiss Schnee (Snow White), Blake Belladonna (Belle from Beauty and the Beast), and Yang Xiao Long (Goldilocks). Come on! I know we all love fairy tales.

Also, have I mentioned how cool their weapons are? Almost all of the weapons transform between 2-3 different weapons. For example, Ruby’s weapon, Crescent Rose, built by herself, is not only a scythe, but a customisable, high-impact sniper rifle…

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…which means, it’s also a gun.

I wrote this blog post because I’m sitting here nervously awaiting the volume 3 finale, and I wanted to express my deep affection for this show, the creators and the community surrounding it. Plus, it was the first thing that I felt confident enough to cosplay properly:

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Photo credit: in2thereview (and please excuse my split fringe. I was tired!)

So yes, I love books, but there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a favourite programme now and again, and I’ll urge each and every one of you to go and watch RWBY. Right now. Do it. I’ll wait. Go on. Get going.

Goals!

I don’t usually make New Years Resolutions. Partly it’s because I know nobody really ever keeps them, and partly it’s because I’ve never been a position where my head was clear enough to know what I wanted for tea that evening, never mind what I wanted to have achieved by next year. Truth be told, I’m still in the exact same position! I have a hard time clearing my head and making decisions, and I think dwelling on the things I want to change about myself is just going to make me feel worse, but I’ve decided to go about it another way (a way that is by no means uncommon).

Today (22/12/2015) is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Light is coming. Since it’s the Sun’s rebirth, I’ve been thinking about new beginnings today. I thought today would be a good day to make this post.

Instead of changing things I don’t like about myself over the next year, I’m going to work on what I do like, and what I do like is being creative, so I’m going to set myself a bunch of goals. If I don’t meet them, then I’m not any worse off than I was before. If I do meet them, though, I’ll have a lot of things to be proud of! So without further ado, here are a handful of goals I’m aiming for in 2016:

  1. Redraft my novel –

2015 was the first year that I actually won NaNoWriMo. I ended up with a little over 50,000 words of a half-decent story. I was incredibly proud. I was itching to get to work on editing it right away but knew it would do me better to rest my eyes from the story I’d spent 28 long days hunched over my laptop crafting. I knew that it wasn’t going to be good, because you can’t write a good novel in 28 days, but I felt that if I read it back on December 1st and realised how horrible it was, it would put me off for good. January 1st will mark the start of my redrafting journey. By December 31st, I hope I would have had long enough (between uni and everything else) to at least force myself through two more drafts!

  1. Read at least 30 non-required reading books.

I do read quite a lot, but I know I have time to read more. I read a lot for uni (I’m doing an English degree so that isn’t surprising), but there are a lot of books that I’ve been introduced to in 2015 that I haven’t had time to read yet and there are more coming in 2016, so I think 30 books is achievable. That isn’t even a book a week!

  1. Finish 5 cosplays.

I couldn’t decide what number for this one. I have a lot of cosplays planned for 2016 – or at least cosplays I’m excited to do. I got a sewing machine for my birthday which means I can work from my flat and not just at home, so I’m sure I’ll be able to accomplish a few. In my “cosplay” folder of bookmarks right now there are 8 of information and resources for cosplays I want to do, and that’s not even all of the ones I have planned for upcoming cons! Not to mention there’s another three folders within that folder of cosplays I’ll be helping my partner with.

I’m cheating a little bit, because I’ve decided that I will include any cosplays I create for my partner towards this number, but I think as long as I’m being creative it should count… right?

I have more goals, but a lot of them are personal goals and I don’t really think everyone will be interested, so here are three of my big ones! I’m feeling pretty determined to accomplish them all, so I’ll probably post an update on how I’m doing with them in June and then again as a roundup in December.

I’d love to hear about any goals or resolutions anyone else is setting, so feel free to let me know! And have a magical Yule!

-Kitty

What I’m Excited For This Holiday Season!

Listen, I’ve been excited for Christmas since October. I was forbidden from expressing my joy until after Halloween, so you can believe that on November 1st the first thing I said was, “Guess what, guys? It’s fucking Christmas.” And then everybody has spent the month of November trying to stop me from celebrating until December, but my jolliness has persisted.

I was raised Catholic, so Christmas has always been a big time of year for me. Even though I don’t practice that religion any more, it’s a time I associate with family and since moving out of my parents’ house I’ve appreciated it a lot more. Living alone is wonderful, but knowing that come December I’ll get to go home and cuddle my dog and watch television with my family and play board games that may or may not end with A) arguing over whether you’re allowed that word class in scrabble or B) my dog getting jealous and knocking the board game off the stool, all while surrounded in tinsel and tealights? It’s almost impossible to feel sad.

Not to mention, my birthday actually comes right before Christmas, on the good ol’ 16th of December. December is a good month for me.

It’s November 23rd now, which means everybody is sort of coming around to the idea of getting excited for Christmas, so I thought I’d make a post of the top five things I’m excited for this holiday season. There’s a severe lack of pictures because I’m just going to pull what I can from google, it being 11pm on a Monday night and me having decided to write this post an hour ago.

#5: Christmas Markets

I think Liverpool is an amazingly beautiful city to live in. I’ve been fortunate enough to live here my whole life and have grown up with a strong sense of community and pride in my hometown. Sure, Church Street is booming on a good day, and the appearance of the Christmas markets might make it a bit more difficult to zip down the street with any speed, but with the smell of hot food and chocolates and the stall upon stall of trinkets and treats to peer at, it’s not exactly an unpleasant stroll, is it?

On Friday I nipped into town on the way home from uni to get some things from primark (including a Christmas jumper and a nice bobble hat). I had my first glance of the markets then, and I’m eager to get back and have a proper look at all the stalls. There’s something a thousand times more magical about buying a bag of chocolate from the friendly person smiling at you out of their stall than scanning a bar of chocolate at the self service machine in Tesco.

#4: Christmas films

I put this one at number four because, truth be told, I’ve already watched one Christmas film. I caved last week and watched the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer film after discovering my girlfriend had never seen it. I loved it, and I think it’s what’s held me over in my excitement until now. I’ve already started compiling a list of all the films I intend to watch, including but not limited to: Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and The Polar Express (which was added at my partner’s insistence because I’ve only seen it once and don’t remember anything about it except one specific shot of them standing outside the train which may or may not even be in the film).

It’s my 21st in December, but the problem with having a winter birthday is that everywhere is usually booked up for Christmas, and it’s sort of too cold to go clubbing, isn’t it? Never mind the fact that a lot of my friends will have already gone home from uni for Christmas or live far away anyway and I can’t even rely on the fact that the trains will be running for them to pop down for a visit. It usually means my birthday is a pretty bog standard day, so this year I’m thinking of possibly having a night of “HEY, COME TO MY HOUSE, BRING SOME ALCOHOL, AND WATCH ALL THESE CHRISTMAS FILMS WITH ME, Y/Y?”

#3: Christmas playlists

Christmas songs are amazing. I love them. They’re incredible. I made a Christmas playlist last year (boop), but I’m already planning a fresh one for this year. Christmas songs remind me of my little sister who excitedly constructs a CD of her favourites to play in the car from December 1st until about April.

I listen to music all the time because I walk a lot and it’s the prime time to listen to all of the fanmixes my partner puts together for me, so it will be nice to have Christmas music to match my mood. You can bet your arse that every time I’m in my shared kitchen I’ll be putting the television on the music channels and blasting Top 100 Christmas Tunes every day.

#2: Decorating + Present Buying

I realise that these don’t seem very similar, but I’ve grouped them together because to me they mean Christmas in relation to other people. I’m excited to go home and help decorate my house* because it makes me feel really, properly close to my family, and it really means Christmas is close. I can’t wait for the dog running around our feet covered in bits of tinsel and my dad getting frustrated because why is that light not working? I can’t wait to string up the cards on the walls and start piling the presents under the tree and teasing my family about what I’ve gotten them, which brings us nicely onto present buying (and wrapping).

I’ve already started my Christmas shopping. I’ve actually gotten a good chunk of it done – my parents are proving to be a bit more difficult, but I’m sure I’ll manage. I love buying people gifts. I love finding something and knowing it’s going to make somebody incredibly happy, and I love wrapping it up and letting them stew in their excitement over the hidden item. I love seeing the gifts piling up under the tree. I just love giving people things I know they’d love but wouldn’t be able to justify buying themselves and so go without just because they feel like treating themselves is bad. I love giving them something they might never have known to get themselves! It just makes me happy. I feel like Father Christmas.

#1: Reading

Reading is a big part of my life day in and day out. It has been since before I could read. It’s not really specific to Christmas. HOWEVER! This winter, my wonderful partner has let me in on her Christmas tradition.

See, she used to have an audiobook of The Hogfather that she listened to every Christmas. Then, I think, she lost it (?), and so last February, for her birthday, I got her a beautifully bound edition of the book (it was The Death Collection cover). She’s waited all year to read it, and she finally started properly reading it to me this past weekend.

I count myself incredibly lucky to have a girlfriend with such a wonderful reading voice. She does all the voices (a totally different one for every character! You should hear her Raven! It actually sounds like a bird!), she does little gestures and noises, she’s got a wonderful narrating voice. It’s a treat. It’s probably my favourite Christmas thing that’s happened so far this year. We’ve just not long met the Oh God of Hangovers, so I’m eager to get back to the story. I’ve got a feeling we’ll probably finish it before December is even here, to be honest. We spent the weekend reading it surrounded in blankets, lanterns and tealights in our little cabin in the garden, and I think this might be the most absolute winter wonderland experience I’ve ever had.

 

So that’s what I’m most excited for this Christmas! I think I mostly wrote this so that I could gush about Christmas, but I hope it’s got some of you in the holiday mood, too! I’d love to hear what you’re excited about for whichever holiday you’re celebrating this season, or even just in winter itself! Let me know in the comments or tweet me over at @remylebeautiful!

Happy holidays!

-Kitty

*Last year, I went home on the 12th of December to help decorate my house, because that’s the day we decorate every year. The decorations were already up, and nobody had bothered to let me know. I didn’t let them live that down until about June.

Life in Liverpool: Curve CMS

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Thursday the 15th of October marked the launch of Liverpool’s newest creative media studio, Curve CMS. Based at Vessel Studios, 12 Cotton Street, Curve offers ‘enrichment, training and networking events for aspiring hair and make-up artists for TV and Film and those working in the creative media industry’. I was lucky enough to attend the launch party on Thursday evening, and the entire experience was both exciting and interesting.

The evening consisted of networking – spreading the word about Curve – and demonstration using the Dashbo’s Ultimate Palette Range. Curve’s work with Mike Dargan, the creator of Dashbo, is definitely impressive. Take a look at this picture, snatched from Curve’s facebook, from the BTS of their recent beach shoot (a bit gorey, be warned):

Eager to learn more, I asked Curve’s assistant creative director, Kate Shelley, some questions about the company…

What’s your role at the company?

I’m assistant creative director, so basically I help to make the decisions for the company. If the creative director (Gemma Kirk) needs something finding out, like email contact information of people, I find it. I also check the emails and make sure everything is answered and all of our emails are sent, and I edit the magazine articles! I also run the social media pages: posting updates, sharing our links to videos, replying to peoples messages, scheduling posts to go out at certain times to make sure we reach as many people as possible, trying to get people to follow us and making sure to post about our upcoming events!

What kind of work does the company do?

Curve CMS offers training, networking and enrichment events for people who are interested in working, or already do work, in the creative media industry. We want to help people bridge the gap between higher education and the actual industry. We’re not trying to compete with higher education; we want to offer them something that will help further their students chances by giving them experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to take part in.

Do you have any projects lined up/in mind?

We are running a training event next Saturday (24.10.15) called ‘Gore School‘. This event will be held in Vessel Studios and the people who attend will be taught by Mike Dargan aka Mr Dashbo (worked on James Bond, Harry Potter, Batman) who will teach attendees how to create great industry standard prosthetic pieces with his Ultimate FX Palettes. It’s running 10am-3pm and tickets are £50.

We’re also going to start running Curve Film School within the next few months. This will be a weekend event where makeup artists will learn how to apply makeup in an industry setting, i.e on location. They will be taught the technical terms used in the industry, liaise with directors, break down scripts, create character looks from the scripts they are given and then create any prosthetic pieces they will need. The next day will consist of creating the look on location and shooting their short film.

How’s best to get in touch with Curve?

We’re on all forms of social media and will respond quickly on them all, but our Curve CMS’ Facebook is probably the best way to get in touch us. You can also email us directly at curvecms@gmail.com.

Are you excited about what’s coming next?

I’m super excited! It’s such a completely different idea and business type; there’s a huge gap between getting your qualifications and getting into the industry and I feel like this will help so many makeup artists to get their foot in the door. Not only will they learn new things – things that aren’t necessarily taught on their courses – but they will get to network with industry professionals. With the whole idea of Curve, it’s hard not to get excited! We want to help as many people as possible! I’m just so excited to work with all these amazing people and watch our business grow and grow!

Interested in finding out more? Here’s a look at Curve’s very own trailer for the Curve Film School project Kate mentioned above!:

You can also find Curve on the following social media platforms:

Twitter: @CurveCMS
Instagram: @CurveCMS
Youtube: Curve CMS
Vimeo: Curve CMS

Mr Dashbo

Edit; An earlier version of this post claimed Mike Dargan worked on Breaking Bad. This was incorrect and so has been removed!

This Material Culture

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Necklaces are my go-to accessories for any outfit. Most (if not all) of the necklaces I own are quirky pendants, and I’m always on the look out for more, so when I came across This Material Culture at a café in town, I was ecstatic, but choosing from their range proved to be too difficult for an on-the-spot decision for me, so I snatched a card and went to browse their selection online.

This Material Culture is comprised of husband-and-wife team Rebecca and Sam last year. They’re Liverpool based, and produce hand-made, unique, quality pieces of jewellery (for both men and women) for brilliant prices. Their instagram gives a good insight into the effort, thought and originality going into their pieces. I’m all for supporting local small businesses, so I was eager to get a new necklace from them.

I ended up settling on their adorable T-Rex necklace. I love dinosaurs and had yet to add any dinos to my jewellery collection, so when I spotted him I knew he was the one. I was lucky enough to get a chance to suggest him for a flash friday sale when they asked over on their twitter, and with postage at only £1, there was no way I was going to wait. He didn’t take long to get sent on his way, and I was pleased to even have them tweet me letting me know that he was dispatched, and later asking if he’d arrived yet! It really makes you feel secure in what you’re buying to know that the people behind the products care so much.

The actual necklace is lovely. It’s small and simple, quirky and elegant. The chain is lightweight and the charm is small enough that the whole necklace is slim and doesn’t feel awkward and chunky. I’ve been wearing it for the past few days, and have gotten a handful of compliments on it already. It sits just below the collarbone, so it looks good with lower-cut tops or T-shirts.

I wanted to show where about the charm falls, so please ignore my pyjama top.

I wanted to show where about the charm falls, so please ignore my pyjama top.

The company does a lot more than just necklaces, there’s bangles and earrings as well as sets and collections of jewellery, with designs ranging from adorable and quirky to absolutely nerdy. I would definitely recommend anybody looking for some cute, special jewellery for yourself or somebody else to give them a look. They’re a great couple of people and I’m totally enamoured with their style. And if you’re in Liverpool, keep a look out for them at events around town!

As well as the aforementioned website, Instagram and Twitter, you can also find them on Facebook.

Am I Reading Right?

Recently, my friend Amy wrote this humorous blog post about being an English Student. As an English student, I loved it. It’s not very relevant to what I’m planning to discuss in this blog post, but it’s been on my mind since I read it, and it sparked the train of thought that led to this blog post. Well, that and the fact that I hadn’t made one for a while.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my English degree. I love to write. I’ll probably try to do that until I keel over. That’s also not what this blog post is about, though. This blog post is about reading.

Undoubtedly, a love of reading is what lead to my passion for writing. When I was little, I shared a room with both of my sisters. My baby sister had her own bed (it’s a bed in my head, but I suppose it’s possible it was a cot, or, more likely, a cot then a bed), and my older sister and I had bunk beds. I was on the bottom bunk. My mum used to read to us every night, and I, on the lower bunk, was right beside her as she read. It wasn’t just picture books, though (though we definitely had those, too, as Where The Wild Things Are is a family favourite), I distinctly remember her reading us The Chronicles of Narnia. We had one of those beautiful big collections with the gold ribbon bookmark and the gorgeous pictures. The Magician’s Nephew was (is) my favourite.

When I started school, English immediately became my favourite subject. I wrote a lot of stories, but I also read a lot. My favourite books were The Secret Garden and The Famous Five series, because I got a lot of my books from my Nana and they were things her or my mum had owned as children. I fell in love with reading. It’s a cliché I don’t need to expand upon. I read for pleasure pretty much every day.

Now, reading for pleasure requires time that I no longer find I have. Bookshops are still safe havens I creep to at any spare moment, but my pile of To Read is growing and growing and it shows no signs of getting any smaller. All of my time is eaten up by reading I have to do for my degree, and when I get home from University at the end of a long day and I’m mentally exhausted, it’s hard to focus my brain enough to pick up another book. I feel guilty about it. I should be reading these, I’m an English student.

I spent a week not so long ago smashing through book after book, and then I came to a sudden stop as coursework deadlines loomed and my reading for class piled up. I’ve got a half-finished copy of Heap House on my bedside, and I’m desperate to get through it so I can make a final decision as to whether or not I liked it (I’m on the fence. There’ll undoubtedly be a post about it whenever I manage to get it read). All of the possible reading time has been eaten up with weekly Shakespeare plays, novels/plays/short stories/poems by various Irish writers, and a toss up between a novel, a collection of poems, or a variety of weighty theoretical essays. And that’s only my literature models. When I’m not reading, I’ve got prep work to do, and when I’ve not got prep work I’ve got coursework, and to top it all off my exams start in less than a month. Free time? What’s that?

I felt guilty about my To Read pile. It was a source of shame for me. I felt like I should keep it a secret (perhaps if I had an attic I could lock it up there?), but then I realised… why should I? I have a lot of things I’m excited to read. They’ll get read over Summer, and I’ve been reading every day. Why should my reading for class be any less valid? So what if it’s not fiction? So what if I’m reading a chapter of a language textbook on pragmatics than a chapter of a YA novel? Why is Orlando less of a valid read than Under My Skin, just because I’m reading it for university? It isn’t. I’m still reading every day. Those words count.

That sort of got me thinking about the other ways in which people have this stupid idea of “proper” reading. There are people (and I’ve a couple of these people in my classes) that will tell you that Harry Potter isn’t “proper” reading, like Wuthering Heights. There are people that seem to think that new books, and children’s and YA novels don’t “count” like “classics”. You know what? They’re wrong. You want to know a secret? I didn’t really like Orlando anyway. It’s okay to not like books everybody is telling you are great works of fiction. My partner can’t stand The Catcher in the Rye, and you know what? I don’t even blame her. I can see quite clearly why someone couldn’t enjoy it.

That’s not to say that if you enjoy classic books I’m criticising you. The point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t matter what you enjoy reading as long as you enjoy reading it. And that no matter what you’re reading, it all counts as reading. Don’t feel guilty about not reading as much if you’re busy – whether, like me, you’re busy reading other things or not. What you read, and how much you read, is completely up to you. Just make sure you’re having a good time.

This blog post was written to distract myself from the anxiety brewing in my stomach at the UK 2015 Election Exit Poll. It’s sort of a mess of thoughts. Sorry about that.

Writer’s Block: The Big Fib

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At the beginning of the month, Neil Gaiman came to Liverpool. I was lucky enough to have snagged two tickets to the opening of my university’s Centre for New and International Writing, which was being launched by Neil. I got the tickets over the Christmas break (they were even free), and when lessons started up again at the start of February I also found out that following the launch Neil was going to be hosting a writing masterclass for some lucky students. Places were obviously incredibly limited, and so to decide which students would be accepted, the English department held a small, simple competition: write a 350 word essay detailing why you want to attend the masterclass, how it would benefit you, and why you should be chosen.

I put off writing that essay for ages.

Eventually, it struck me that the worst possible thing I could do would be to not enter the competition. If I didn’t get it, then I wouldn’t have to sit and worry about whether I would have got it, whether I would have been good enough. I opened my essay with this sentence:

After spending days agonising over the most effective way to phrase this essay, I realised that the best way to do it would be to actually write something down.

I wrote the essay two weeks after one of my biggest inspirations, Monty Oum, passed away, and I realised that I needed to take opportunities as they presented themselves, and that the only thing stopping me from moving forward was me myself. I wrote the essay. I was accepted for the masterclass. I met an idol.

I learnt valuable advice from Neil over those two events. One of my favourite pieces was to “give all of your characters a funny hat”, which essentially meant to make each character memorable in some way. “That’s Sarah, you can tell because she always wears that big purple sombrero.” Be kind to your readers. Make your characters identifiable.

There was a lot of decent advice given, which I have neatly noted down at the back of my lecture notes, but the piece that has stuck with me the most is less a piece of advice and more a simple fact:

There is no such thing as writer’s block.

I don’t remember Neil’s particular phrasing, but I remember the gist. Basically, as writers, we’re creative. We’re very good at making simple, bland, boring things full of mystique and magic. It’s why we’re good at what we do. But we’re sneaky, and we use that to get away with being lazy. Writer’s Block is actually just a pretty way of saying “I’m stuck.”

Accountants probably have days where they don’t feel like doing their work. They don’t cry “accountant’s block” and simply refuse to do it, though. They get on with it. On the days when you have writer’s block, chances are you could still write an email, or a text message, or a letter. You could write lots of things. You could even, shock-horror, write more of whatever it is you’re stuck on. You’re not incapable of writing on the bad days. Nothing is blocked. Write on the bad days, force yourself through it, and then when you come to editing it, fix it. Throw out what’s unsalvageable (though odds are much of it won’t be), fix what can be saved, and get on with it. Chances are you might have done some of your best writing on the days were you were struggling. Odds are, when you come to sit and read through everything in one go, you won’t be able to tell what was written on the bad days and what was written on the good days. It all sounds like you, anyway.

So I’ve taken this advice and I’ve ran with it. I sit down every night and I write 2,000+ words of a story. It might not be very good, but I’m improving, and I’m getting my ideas down somewhere. Even on the days when I’ve struggled I’ve got out those 2,000 words, even on the days where I was exhausted both physically and mentally from my long days at university, or when I’d spent the evening writing an essay for one of my classes, I’ve made sure to write something down. And sometimes, when I’ve been stuck or tired or just feeling lazy and I’ve still made myself write those 2,000 words, I’ve ended up writing double, or triple that. Sometimes an idea catches and I have to run with it. The next day I’m even more excited to keep going.

Monty Oum taught me to keep moving forward, and Neil Gaiman has taught me that I can. There’s no reason I can’t.

If you ever hear me whining about writer’s block, call me out on it. I don’t have writer’s block, and neither do you. Go and write something. You can.

Book Review: The Art of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson

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The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
Published by 
David Fickling Books on 1st January, 2015
Genres: YA, LGBT, Contemporary,
ISBN: 9781910200322
Available at: amazon, waterstones, David Fickling Books shop

The Art of Being Normal is Lisa Williamson’s debut YA novel. It was another book I purchased at a Waterstones event and book signing here in Liverpool, and I’m so grateful that I did. TAoBN tells the story of two teenagers: David Piper, a newly-turned fourteen-year-old who, for as long as they can remember, has known they were a girl. When new-kid Leo Denton, who just wants to keep his head down and get through his last year of secondary school, sticks up for David, an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two.

This was another book that I read in a single sitting, unable to put down. I was absolutely ecstatic to find such a profound, realistic book with beautifully written transgender characters. Lisa treats the topic of gender identity with respect and writes realistically, which is not always a pleasant reading experience. There were times in the book when the bullying made me sick to my stomach, but TAoBN does not gloss over the hardships faced by thousands of transgender teens, while still managing to present well-rounded characters whose gender, though important, is not the sole aspect of their personality. I’m well aware that Lisa did her research before writing this book, and has spent time working at The Gender Identity Development Service, a specialist NHS service for young people struggling with their gender identity, and seems to have a good understanding of the topics she’s writing about.

As well as gender identity, the book also deals with class issues, families, and high school. I wouldn’t class this as an issue-book, either, as I felt it focused more on the decisions David and Leo were making in an attempt to make it through high school and deal with other personal troubles.

Character-wise, I definitely had a favourite. Though both David and Leo were interesting characters, and I felt strongly for them both, I was totally enamoured with Leo. I’m drawn to feisty characters, and Leo’s short temper but golden heart absolutely had me entranced. The book was written from the POV of both of the characters, and so you develop a deep understanding and a great attachment to the protagonists. When bad things happened, my heart ached for them. There were times when I felt sick, almost-shaking, but I still couldn’t put the book down. I think I definitely made less cups of tea than I usually do when I read – I had to keep reading because I had to find out what was going to happen to these fictional people I’d grown so attached to so quickly.

There’s one scene that has stuck very strongly with me. Without spoilers, I’ll just say it’s where David first meets Leo at his hideout. I thought it was beautiful, from the setting to the obvious development of the friendship between the two. I think I could read that entire sequence a dozen times without ever tiring of it.

The Art of Being Normal is a beautifully written book, raw and painful but wonderful and gripping. I’m absolutely enamoured with it. I know it’s been making noise around the YA scene for a while now, and I’m so glad that I read it. I urge everyone to go and pick it up right now. It’s a strong, profound book that I’m sure will be being talked about for a long, long time.

Book Review: Unspeakable, by Abbie Rushton

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Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton
Published by 
Atom Books on 5th February, 2015
Genres: YA, LGBT, Mystery, Contemporary
ISBN:  9780349002064
Available at: amazon, waterstones

Unspeakable is the debut novel of author Abbie Rushton. I was lucky enough to meet Abbie at an event in Liverpool, where I purchased Unspeakable. The book focuses on protagonist, Megan, who hasn’t spoken a word in months. She has a secret that she’s terrified  to let anyone discover, but when she meets Jasmine,  things start to seem brighter for Megan.

Let me start by saying this: I am a young, pansexual woman, and an avid reader. With the emergence of YA it has been easier for me to find genre books with female protagonists, but I still struggle to find books with LGBT protagonists that are not issue-books. That’s what I loved about Unspeakable: there is a definite, undeniable LGBT element, and Megan feels the same confusion I remember feeling myself, but it is not the focus of the plot. Like in life, Megan’s entire personality is not defined by her sexuality. I read Unspeakable in one sitting, unable to put it down until I finished it at 1am.

In this book, Abbie manages something I thought wonderful: she gives a strong, clear voice to a character that speaks no words. Just because Megan is mute does not mean her personality has disappeared. I became attached to her immediately, and when she struggled to have people understand her I felt her frustration. The characters in this book are strong, with well-defined voices that make it easy to recognise each individual, and they all possess their own flaws. There were moments when I was angry with every character, but that didn’t make me like them any less, it just made them feel more real to me.

The writing style was definitely to my taste, too. I wasn’t continuously bombarded with thick, heavy descriptions: when a scene possessed rich detail it was well-written and necessary, and never took attention away from the actual scene playing out. Suspense was held throughout the novel, too; without constant reminders that Megan had a secret I never found myself forgetting.

I don’t think I’m doing the novel enough justice to just factually list what I liked and disliked, so instead I’ll say this: Unspeakable is breathtaking. It gripped me quickly and held me until the last page. I’ll be recommending it to all my friends and eagerly awaiting Abbie’s next book, but in the meantime I’ve got a feeling I’ll be reading this more than once more.