Always telling stories

I have always loved telling stories. From telling anecdotes of terrible customers at work to writing out fantastical ideas that I always dream of doing something with one day to share them with the world. There’s just something so incredible of creating a world in your head, of thinking up characters and descriptions that exist only in your imagination. There’s something special about that infinite space, and then looking at either a blank notebook or a blank word document with the cursor blinking, full of possibilities. Seeing the physical evidence of someone’s creativity is always astounding, but with books it’s even more so as the only materials the writer used were a combination of 26 letters. It’s probably why I love reading fantasy, just to see how other writer’s minds work and the things that they can imagine and create, see where they’ve been inspired and how they, in turn, can inspire me.

I’ve known that I want to one day write books for a very, very long time. In past posts I’ve gone into detail about some of my ‘early’ work, which included a very short play which was essentially Scooby Doo with a retriever (there was a graveyard, a vampire, and a witch), along with two pieces of fiction, a duology if you will, that was inspired by my seven-year-old-self’s crush who ended up moving to another country, which is what the second book deals with. Such heartbreak at such a young age, but if I remember correctly the only reason I liked him was because he was a fast runner, which probably isn’t the best thing to start a relationship for.

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So clearly I had a love for stories and imaginations as a child, but when thinking back I remember all the ways I loved stories. It seems child-me didn’t quite understand the very important difference between telling something as a story and telling a story as if it were a truth. AKA child-me lied about a lot of things, but didn’t think of them as lies, more as ‘stories’.

When I think back, a few of these little ‘stories’ come to mind, all that occurred in primary school up to the age of about nine or ten. There are minor ones, such as telling a girl that I had seen a unicorn or a friend that I had been taken from a tribe of magical warriors (though that one I blame on my brother, who I distinctly remember telling me that I was adopted in probably the most imaginative tale ever, which included our parents travelling to a tribe in the wilderness and doing some ritual in order to get me). But the one that spiralled entirely out of control, and which still makes me smile to this day, was the story that my cat had had kittens.

My cat, of course, hadn’t had kittens. Bundle was, in fact, neutered, and so would never have kittens ever, but little me (I’m pretty sure I was in Reception or Year One, so maybe five or six years old) really liked the idea of my cat having kittens. So much so, that I imagined how great it would be if Bundle had actually had kittens. All I can remember is telling a few of my friends and perhaps even my teacher, the ever-wonderful Mrs Hill – she was involved in another one of my story-related obsessions, in which I took home a lot of books from the school library, but didn’t want to give them back, and so soon collected a box-full of books, which my Mum discovered, but luckily Mrs Hill didn’t tell me off. Apparently stealing is not ok, but when it could demonstrate a child’s love of reading there isn’t much of a punishment.

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Back to the cat. So all I remember is telling a few people that my cat had had kittens, the dream of any five-maybe-six year old girl. After that I don’t remember much at all, apart from what I’ve since been told by my Mum and brother. Apparently the news of kittens spread through the primary school like wildfire, a primary school that my older brother still attended at this time, possibly in his final year there before secondary school. He found out about our cat supposedly having kittens when one of his friends asked if the kittens were for sale. Next thing I know, my Mum is telling me that it’s wrong to lie after people kept enquiring after our kittens. I’m pretty sure little-me was as confused as everyone else – I mean, after all, it had been a story, and was it really my fault that other people couldn’t recognise such excellent creativity and imagination?

It’s safe to say that the story-telling, or ‘lying’ as others called it, died down after that, and by the time I reached secondary school I understood the importance of clarifying to the mere mortals when I was telling a story.

My only regret? That I threw away the original manuscripts for those two books I wrote about my heartbreak over this boy. Man, would I love to be able to read them now. That would be some serious entertainment right there – though I seem to remember in the second one that he moved to Australia and was bitten by a black widow spider, because apparently little-me was a spiteful so-and-so.

 

Revisiting the Classics – Narcissus

I’m in my final year of university now, and the thought that in just a few months that my experience of education will end is as much exciting as it is terrifying. One of the things I love, but often forget that I do is learning. Sure, I hate exams and essays as much as the next person, but sitting in a lecture or a seminar and listening to someone teach me something entirely new is a thrill. Sharing knowledge is a lot like telling stories, in the way that you’re opening up someone’s mind and imagination, helping someone grow with every word. And that’s something that I don’t want to lose. Of course, no matter what job I do, I will be learning something – whether that’s continued on in the bookshop for a while and learning about new books, or if it’s in a new job and learning how to sort out accounts, or even if it’s learning a new trade. But, at least for now, my formal learning of Classics and English is coming to an end. Which is why I want to start a new series on this blog, an infrequent one much like ‘On Being Happy’ and ‘Guide to University’.

So, here is the first post of ‘Revisiting the Classics’. 

I want this series to be about ‘Classics’, predominantly ancient classical myths and stories but also occasionally looking at the more recent use of the classic canon, from Milton to Bronte and beyond. The revisiting of ancient stories is a common trope, and there’s a reason for that – hell, it’s what I’m doing my whole dissertation on. Everything from phrases like ‘Achilles’ heel’ to references of Herculean strength and flying too close to the Sun all stem from these ancient myths. Throughout all my years of study, I haven’t even come close to covering all the various myths that we know about, so through this series I want to look at a few favourites, ones that I know and ones that I don’t.

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So here’s a short one for today: Narcissus. Most people have a vague knowledge of the myth, and it stems around a beautiful man who falls in love with his own reflection. There are other aspects that go with this myth, like that of the cursed Echo who can only repeat the words others say, who falls in love with Narcissus but is scorned and turned away. Because of this, Nemesis lured Narcissus to the pool in which he saw himself, and he died from longing and frustration of loving himself.

Today, Narcissus remains in our language – the word ‘narcissism’ means to be fascinated with yourself and associated with extreme vanity. The myth is used as a cautionary tale on pride and self-love, and it is evoked throughout literature. It’s within Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Eve sees her reflection and falls in love, and within countless sonnets. For the vast majority, Narcissus is used as a negative portrayal of self-love, but the more I think about it the more I wonder if maybe there can be something positive to be gained here.

Often people want to be the opposite of Narcissus, to not be vain or arrogant or proud – but surely there should be some sort of middle ground where we aspire to have certain aspects of Narcissus, but not fall in too deeply. It shouldn’t be that we don’t love ourselves to the point where we hate our reflection, but rather that we love ourselves, as we all should, just not to the point that we can’t see past our own reflection. To have the ability to love yourself, but still be able to see past that, to be able to act selflessly with others and have empathy for the sufferings of those around us. After all, Narcissus is originally punished for cruelly dismissing Echo, and his punishment is an extreme version of his inability to look beyond himself. It is not the fact that he’s beautiful that causes his downfall, but his own cruel disposition to those around him.

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Narcissus is a cautionary tale, but there is more to learn from it that some let on. But one thing myths like this demonstrate is how they are still relevant today, and that is why Classics is so important that it deserves to be revisited over and over again.

Or, at least, that’s what I think.

Here’s some advice

I’m at the stage where the end of my university career is within sight, and so the job hunt is beginning. Suddenly it’s like I’m eighteen again, trying to decide what I’m going to do for the rest of my life – except then I ended up continuing on in the bubble of education, and now it’s like someone is going to take a sledgehammer to said bubble, hitting me with taxes, even more bills, and no student loan.

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The past few months I’ve been attending various talks, panels, and discussions about the field of work I want to go into along with general job advice, so I thought now would be a good time to tell you (and remind myself) three of the best pieces of advice I’ve had so far. Let’s hope it works.

  1. If you come to me with a problem, have a solution

Ok, so at face value this doesn’t really look like advice for getting a job, but I still adore it. I was at a talk with some publishers and one of them said that this is what one of her past employers told her. I like it even more when I think of how to apply it to everyday scenarios, that when there is a problem you need to vent about or run around panicking, tot think of a solution first. It’ll certainly be helpful in the work place, and look good to any employers if you go to them with an issue but also suggest a possible solution.

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2. People love being asked for advice

Ok, again, I know I promised advice and saying one of my pieces of advice is to ask for advice doesn’t sound so helpful, but just hear me out. I really worry about bothering people, especially when I’m stuck, and so emailing all the contacts I have to ask for help isn’t something that gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. But then at a panel last week, one of the speakers told us that people love being asked for advice. You forget that although you’re looking for help and a favour, it’s a huge compliment to have someone ask you for advice. It shows that they value your judgement and opinion and, let’s face it, if someone can help you bridge the gap between you and your dream job, an ego boost always goes down well.

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3. Act Like You’re One

And by ‘one’, I mean act like you’re already an *insert job title here*. At a talk I went to, one woman said that she wanted to move up the ladder from something like a senior editor to associate, and so at her next job she just started acting like an associate editor would, calling shots and making those decisions. Soon enough, she claimed, everyone – including herself – believed her to be an associate editor, and she hasn’t looked back since. Having that deeper sense of confidence is definitely beneficial, whether you’re in an interview or on your first day, and the only word of warning is to ensure that that confidence doesn’t come across as arrogance. There is always a step to far, and one example I have is of someone who started off at my part-time job but was so ‘confident’, that she started telling other people what to do and how things should be done – this was on her third day, addressing those who had been working there for months. Always good to have a dash of humbleness mixed in there.

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And those are my three favourite pieces of advice. I hope in the coming months I can put them to action and see what happens, fingers crossed that it works out. And good luck to anyone out there job hunting as well – let me know if you have any other great tips, I’m going to need them.

 

Guide to University: Coming Home

Home has always been my ultimate happy place. Spending time with family always lifts my mood, whether it’s slamming my head against the table because my Dad has made another terrible (but admittedly funny) joke or playing hide and seek with the dog. It’s where my Mum cooks the best food and I seem to have far fewer worries and concerns, probably because I don’t have to worry about mundane ‘adult’ things like what I’m going to eat or whether I need to go to the shops or if I can stretch out my toothpaste for another day.

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For now when I think of home, I think of the ocean and the pebbled beaches that the dog rolls on. I think of seagulls waking me up during the night and the Chinese supermarket that makes the best pad thai. Before me moved, home was the place of more cows than people and a large wood where I would always walk the dog, filled with memories of picnics with friends and climbing fallen trees after primary school. I find it strange that I don’t miss that place as much as I thought it would, and then I remember that it isn’t the physical place, but the people. It’s not the specific walls or floorboards that I miss, but the place where someone is always making cups of tea and where there is always a stash of biscuits. It’s not the rooms where I spent my childhood or the stains of memories on the carpet, but the hugs and warmth and laughter.

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And these reasons are why I find leaving home so difficult, even though I’ve done it countless times now. Having to leave my family at the train station, watching as the scenery changes from fields and houses to built up London blocks and cranes constantly building new things. I get back to my flat and flop onto the sofa, suddenly having to think again about buying some food and sorting out my things for the coming days. London is my home as well though, and it’s hard to always remember that when I’m coming back to it. But there is a familiarity with London, from the odd little shortcuts through the city to the riverside with an endless stream of tourists and selfie sticks. I start to see my friends and discover new haunts, or be reminded of old ones. University is in London, and as much stress as it causes me at times, it’s also where I get to learn about everything from Milton to weird mythology involving gods having liaisons with swans.

So, although I’m leaving one home, I’m coming back to another. And as much as I love them both, sometimes you need the act of leaving to remember why you love coming back.

Issues of Self-worth

Every time someone expresses an interest or intends to do something similar to what I wish – be it writing a book as millions of us (wish to) do, go into publishing, or even something as simple as taking the same class as me in university or going to the same kick-start your career talk – I deal with what I original shrugged off as unnecessary envy. It’s that strange, irritating mix of envy and possessiveness I suppose, but promoted by fear rather than selfishness. It’s the kind of feeling that washes over you and you immediately fight against it, plagued with guilt for those unnecessary emotions. It takes me a while each time to actually go through why I feel this possessiveness over certain things, to understand what the real root of the issue is – and that is my own fears and anxieties on inadequacy.

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Take writing a book, for example. If a friend of mine says to me that they plan/hope/have an idea for writing some great fantasy novel or modern take on an ancient classic, I’ll of course smile and say something along the lines of “that’s great, so awesome, good luck, I also have that dream” with a self-deprecating laugh and shrug on the side. Yet inside, I’ll have this voice screaming “but that’s MINE”, as if only I can have that dream. Completely ridiculous, when you consider the vast amount of people who write and want to write books.

In actuality, it’s not because other people want to write books that makes me want to act like a petulant child. It’s really due to a fear that if they do the same thing that I want to do, it will mean that mine won’t be as good – as if another person wanting to write a book will immediately make mine so much worse, and really why bother if every extra author-hopeful makes my own work worse and worse?

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It’s not just fear of competition, although that does play a huge part, but mainly the complete anxiety that I, along with what I do or create, just isn’t good enough. But I assume that’s a problem that we all have, in some way or another, that we are just not good enough. That our self-worth and self-esteem aren’t soaring high in the clouds, but instead are under several layers of concrete and emotions and some other powerful metaphor.

And, in an almost-but-not-quite ironic end, I have no idea how to wrap up this post or add in a hopeful note in a way that seems adequate enough for me. Instead, I’m feeling a bit like a certain Game of Thrones character only hoping to one day know better, or at least feel better about my own achievements.

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Moving on to 2017 [Part 2]

The phrase ‘New Year, New Me’ makes me feel hopeful as much as it does annoyed. First off, it implies that the 1st of January is the only time that you can make a change for the better. It also disregards everything you’ve done in the previous year, marking it as unworthy of the upcoming new you – as if you’re a computer updated with a new version of an old system. I’ve so become a bit disenchanted with the idea of set resolutions that just aren’t achievable. I’d far rather say ‘I want to try to eat less sugar’ rather than ‘I won’t eat chocolate all month’, because that’s just taunting you and setting you up for failure. Having a resolution, or even a goal, that isn’t just a box to tick but is a graph to map your continued progress.

With that in mind, let’s look at what my goals  were last year and whether I’ve made a move towards them.

  1. Be happy, be positive, keep going. — This is a bit of a tricky one, as it has become very apparent to me over the last year that chanting ‘be happy’ will not simply make it so. And, as we all learned from the film Inside Out, sometimes you need to let your emotions play out as they will for an overall balanced mind. For the most part I was able to remain positive when faced with certain situations with friends, but whilst this translated to them on the outside it by no means was concrete for me on the inside. I mistook being happy for forcing happiness, and that’s something I can definitely try to work on.
  2. Write more, contact agents. — This didn’t go to plan, though I did pitch a book idea to an agent who liked it at YALC. I want to keep writing, but university work alongside trying to break into publishing is definitely taking precedent at the moment. Writing has always been my outlet and I love it still, but although in the long run I’d love to have a book published, for now I’m happy with just writing for me.
  3. Read 50 books. — Finally, a goal I can happily say was completed. I was overjoyed that I was successful in this, yet again at times it was stressful and that’s something I want to make sure I reduce in the next coming year. As I’ve mentioned on my other book-related blog, I’ve set myself 17 book challenges for 2017 and on Goodreads have said I want to read 40 books. So whilst there is still an element of challenging myself, it leaves it slightly open for me to deviate and still enjoy it without it causing anxiety.

 

So when thinking about my goals for 2017, I wanted to focus on my own well-being as a goal to work on rather than measuring something by an achievement. My goals for 2017 are as follows:

  1. Prioritise self-care. — This year is going to be tough, what with my final year of university, turning 21, and entering the world of jobs, taxes, and leaving the bubble of education. I want to do all I can to help my body keep going, which means everything from doing yoga a few times a week to making sure I don’t gorge on too much sugar when fighting anxiety or sadness. This also means doing things that make me happy, so although I’ll try to keep healthy some days, other days I want to do something like baking to lift my mood. I want to try and make sure I don’t stare at a screen before trying to sleep, and read instead. Small changes to help in the long run.
  2. Speak up, don’t sit quiet. — There have been instances this year when I’ve been so nice people just assume I don’t get upset. I want to be able to voice my feelings more, whether that’s to friends or colleagues in rough work situations.
  3. Get out there. — A bit vague, I know, but I want this as my 2017 mantra. I want to make more time for writing and, if I decide it’s still what I want, pursue it. I want to do well in my career and keep trying, even when I get rejected or find it difficult to find anything. I want to go to new places, try even more new things, see my friends, and live a life full of sunshine as well as rain.

I should probably stop now before the metaphors completely take over. All I can say is this:

2017, you’re on.

Moving on to 2017 [Part 1]

2017 marks as a fresh start for a lot of people, and not just because it’s a new year. 2016 for most of us was an awful year, filled with bad memories, bad politics, and bad people. Deaths, terrorist attacks, and fear have made 2016 an awful year in almost every way, so it’s no surprise that people are jumping into 2017 with hope for some grand miracle. At first I was in full agreement, thinking that my 2016 has been particularly difficult not just because of Brexit and Trump, but also losing my Grandma last July. Mourning never really ends; it acts more like a wound, that slowly heals and can be reopened, but eventually scars over and fades over time, but still does not disappear.

But there was one thing that I’m sure she’d want me to remember – the reason why she called me ‘sunshine girl’ every time I saw her – and that’s to find the positivity and light that exists. And so instead of posting a blog post about my hopes for 2017 along with deciding if I succeeded all those goals and wishes I had for the past year, I’m going to talk about my favourite moments of 2016. (And I’m not just doing this because I’ve left my diary in London which is where I write down all my goals…)

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First off, 2016 was the year in which I got my best results so far in university. It was the first time that I’d received results and had a response that wasn’t equivalent to a shrug. I think I was used to doing well in school, so doing really well of course made me extremely happy, but only for a very short period of time. University of course is a completely different experience, and everyone you study with is just as good as you, if not better. I had pretty average grades through first year and for the start of second year, so it wasn’t until I had my final exam results that I really saw an improvement. It finally felt like my hard work was rewarded, and it has continued to spur me on today – even as I sit here with unfinished essays and an unread Paradise Lost.

2016 was the year when I re-evaluated what I wanted to do in my life, and decided that the realm of journalism isn’t quite ready for me yet. It’s where I thought about what I loved (dogs, books, chocolate), what I could probably make into a job (dogs, books), and what I could actually live off (books). After a year and a half of being a bookseller, the world of publishing seemed like the perfect fit – and getting that summer internship only heightened my excitement.

On that note, 2016 was the year in which I was promoted at my part-time job as a bookseller. It’s become my favourite job of all time, surrounded by books and brilliant people every weekend who have become friends. It’s where I’ve made some of my closest friends, where I’ve discovered new books and authors I would normally not choose, and where I’ve seriously made use of my discount.

And 2016 was the year I went to New York with one of my best friends and saw a musical that I also first heard in 2016, which changed my life (in small, not insignificant ways). Travelling is something that I love and wish I could do more of, but constraints like money (and time off university that isn’t filled with work) hold me back. Being able to go to a place like New York was a marvel in itself, filled with awe and wonder at every turn. And to see the musical Hamilton? Just incredible. The music, the messages, and the sheer majesty of the performance made it the best musical I’ve ever seen, and I salute Lin Manuel Miranda for such an incredible piece of art.

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It’s important to find the light in the darkness, and not look back (in anger) with regret. 2016 may have been a year of bad things and terrible experiences, but there were also good things and brilliant moments that shouldn’t be swept aside with the rest of the rubbish. No, 2016 was not the best year, but it also wasn’t an insignificant, unsalvageable one.