Monday, 3 February 2014

Creative Writing Degree

Creative Writing: Is it really worth it? Short answer, yes. Creative answer, this:

When choosing a degree to study at university there are a lot of factors to consider, sometimes so many it makes you want to live in a hole under a rock. I had never really thought about what I wanted to study, or what career I wanted in the future, until I visited a University Fair in my final year at college. I didn't know Creative Writing was even a thing and was looking into universities that taught Journalism; although I was a little apprehensive about that. I didn't think I'd have the confidence to be a journalist, not really; especially after I found out you'd potentially have to a screen test in front of cameras and possibly an exam before you'd even be accepted into a university. No thank you. In that respect finding Creative Writing was a life saver. All the creativity and writing without an emphasis on scary public speaking and exams.

Having studied Art, English Literature and Language, and Media Studies at A-Levels I was used to the comments about 'doss subjects', and my work not being very hard. It's true, I never found it hard, not because it was 'doss' though, but because I was good at it. I didn't mind the comments as I would rather do these creative 'easy' subjects that Science or Maths, which just thinking about makes my toes curl and my body shudder.

Choosing Creative Writing for a degree didn't mean the comments stopped. Out of my home friends I was practically the only one doing a creative subject, while most of my friends did some sort of science or humanity. That was fine by me. My first semester, while hard because I was away from home, was thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring, yet when I came home for the Christmas holidays I was bombarded with the 'doss' comments again but in a slightly more condescending and passive aggressive way. My friends said things like, 'I have lectures from 9 to 5,' and then upon hearing that I had a maximum of 12 hours a week they would reply, 'What could they really teach you anyway?'. Or, 'My tuition pays for the chemistry rooms and all the lab equipment, yours only needs to pay for pencils and paper.' (the sore point being that Arts were getting cuts and my university didn't even supply that).

But while they acted like their courses were far superior to mine, I was never jealous, because I enjoyed my course; I was excited to do the work and it was easy for me. I didn't have gruelling exams which required late night revision sessions; my essays were subjective so there were no wrong or right answers as long as I had the evidence, meaning I could express myself happily without (too much) fear. Not only that, my essay subjects were interesting, too, I got to write an essay about Batman, for goodness sakes! To top it off, my set texts were (mainly) enjoyable fiction, something you would voluntarily read, not hefty books of equations and numbers, which make your head spin. While others sat in the pub and complained about the work load, or going home early to revise, or the stress of their dissertation, I would smile a secret smile to myself and think of all the brilliant short stories, poems, screenplays, comic books, first chapters I had written, and how it had been so perfect for me.

I was sad to leave university, although happy to get away from overly harsh and picky markers my lectures had become. But I definitely believe my degree helped to shape me into the person I am now. I was a bit lost before university, being painfully shy and self-doubting, with no idea where my future was heading. Creative Writing opened a world of possibilities while not restricting me at all. It's amazing where a degree like this can lead you.

Considering the current job - money - housing - life crisis our country is currently facing, I was lucky to get a job only a couple of months after leaving university, and in something relevant to my degree. My employer admitted that it was my degree in Creative Writing that caught his eye, and not a day goes by without him saying something like, 'I'll leave this to you, you're the creative one,' or, 'You probably already know this having studied Creative Writing.' He comes to me for advice on many things regarding the company, Litphonix: a brand new audiobook company, and lets my creative energies flow.

A friend who studied Chemistry is still sending out job applications daily, while
sitting at home bored, watching multiple television shows. Another friend with a degree in Engineering is stuck in an administrative job while he searches for something better in his field. A lot of the others will be going on to do Masters, for lack of job opportunities, or for the security that university offers, allowing them to put off the adult world for a little bit longer.

If you ever doubt whether Creative Writing is a suitable subject, stop doubting it right there! It's more than 'making up stories', and I know I won't be the next J.K. like everyone jokes, but it was incredible in helping me find who I was, what I am, and who I can be.

Look at all my favourite pieces of work: here.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Reading 2013

Reading, while one of my favourite pastimes, was rather lacking in 2013.

I love reading a good book into the early hours of the morning, when the birds start to sing and the sky is brightening. I also hate it at the same time because I know I will have to be up in a couple of hours and boy, will be grumpy.

It was hard to read while at University, if I read a book for enjoyment I felt guilty for not reading my set texts, which were usually dire. University was also filled with essays, parties, Ultimate, and late night films with friends, so reading was more of an after thought. However, once my course had finished, but while my housemates and friends were revising, I blasted through the Song of Ice and Fire series in a month. My reading lagged again until my holiday in Tenerife, I just couldn't find any interesting books. I tried reading some more fantasy to get me in the mood for writing my novel, but I would get distracted with my own ideas. Then, I got a job and late night reading was not an option any more. However, after Christmas and the pile of books I received, I have got back into the flow of reading, and the Christmas Holidays meant I could read until the birds sang, though with this ghastly weather I'd be surprised if the birds have anything to sing about.

This year I managed to read 48 books, way off my goal of 100 but I'll take my losses. My favourite book of 2013 had to be Cloud Atlas, and if you haven't read it already, I would highly recommend it.

I only checked seven books off my reading list this year, sadly.
  1. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke 
  2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, Mark Twain 
  3. The Adventures of Thomas Sawyer, Mark Twain 
  4. Aesop’s Fables, Aesopus 
  5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll 
  6. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
  7. Angels & Demons, Dan Brown 
  8. Animal Farm, George Orwell 
  9. Atonement, Ian McEwan 
  10. The Beach, Alex Garland 
  11. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter 
  12. The BFG, Roald Dahl 
  13. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley 
  14. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding 
  15. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres 
  16. Carrie, Stephen King 
  17. Casino Royale, Ian Fleming 
  18. Catch 22, Joseph Heller 
  19. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger 
  20. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl 
  21. Choke, Chuck Palahniuk 
  22. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess 
  23. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell 
  24. The Color Purple, Alice Walker 
  25. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky 
  26. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, Mark Haddon
  27. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
  28. Day of the Triffids, John Wyndham 
  29. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick 
  30. Dracula, Bram Stoker 
  31. Emma, Jane Austen 
  32. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje 
  33. Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy 
  34. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter. S. Thompson 
  35. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk 
  36. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier 
  37. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson 
  38. Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell 
  39. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck 
  40. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens 
  41. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald 
  42. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift 
  43. Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk 
  44. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams 
  45. The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien 
  46. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
  47. Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo 
  48. The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins
  49. I, Robot, Isaac Asimov 
  50. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice 
  51. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte 
  52. Journey to The Centre Of The Earth, Jules Verne 
  53. Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling 
  54. Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami 
  55. A Kestrel for a Knave, Barry Hines 
  56. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence 
  57. Life of Pi, Yann Martel 
  58. A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett 
  59. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott 
  60. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 
  61. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov 
  62. Lord of the Flies, William Golding 
  63. Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J. R. R. Tolkien 
  64. The lovely Bones, Alice Sebold 
  65. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden 
  66. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck 
  67. Middlesex, Jeffery Eugenides 
  68. Misery, Stephen King 
  69. Moby Dick, Herman Melville 
  70. My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult 
  71. The Never Ending Story, Michael Ende 
  72. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro 
  73. Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter 
  74. Nineteen Eighty Four, George Orwell 
  75. The Notebook, Nick Sparks 
  76. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens 
  77. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey 
  78. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood 
  79. Perfume, Patrick Suskind 
  80. Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie 
  81. The Picture of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde 
  82. The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunya 
  83. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain 
  84. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen 
  85. Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro 
  86. The Reader, Bernard Schlink 
  87. A Room with A View, E. M. Forester 
  88. Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally 
  89. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett 
  90. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen 
  91. The Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
  92. The Shining, Stephen King 
  93. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson 
  94. A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens 
  95. The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith 
  96. Temeraire Series, Naomi Novik
  97. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy 
  98. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells 
  99. The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger 
  100. Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll 
  101. To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee 
  102. To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf 
  103. A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute 
  104. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh 
  105. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson 
  106. Ulysses, James Joyce 
  107. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray 
  108. Vertigo, W. G. Sebald 
  109. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy 
  110. The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells 
  111. Whistling for the Elephants, Sandi Toksvig 
  112. The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga 
  113. Wise Children, Angela Carter 
  114. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte 
  115. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman 
I didn't read as many books on my Reading List as I would have liked, but I finally read Perfume, which I have been dying to read since I saw the film yonks ago, and it is as every bit as good.

I've still got lots of books to go, and mainly classics. I am hoping as my new job involves recording audiobooks of the classics I will make a substantial dent this year.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Fantasy Map - Kingdom of Helmriche

I haven't updated my blog but I have been busy. Yesterday, I reached the 20,000 word target on my novel, The Stone Men of Raksaka. This is a First Class piece of work I did for my university course that I am now continuing into a trilogy.

While I won't post the story here, I'll leave you with another one of my maps.

For more maps of the Six Kingdoms, and specifically Adruhal, just click here.

Here are some Game of Thrones style House Sigils I also did involving the Province of Kardinia and the Six Kingdoms. 

If you do fancy reading more of The Stone Men of Raksaka write me a message and I'll send you a copy to read, and maybe you can give me some constructive criticisms. 

Until then, I better get back to writing! 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Fantasy Reading List

All the books on this list have been recommended to me by my sister and are currently all on her bookshelves. I haven't read any of these yet and I'm incredibly excited to delve into these new worlds. 

The Blade Itself 

First on the list is Joe Abercrombie's trilogy First Law. Googling it I found Forbes writer Erik Kain says 'it is truly wonderful fantasy, easily some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.' I have seen the first book around many times, the front cover always catches my eye. 

The blurb reads: 

Springtime in Styria. And that means war.

There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers and priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king.

War may be hell, but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso’s employ, it’s a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular – a shade too popular for her employers' taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto’s reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die.

Her allies include Styria’s least reliable drunkard, Styria’s most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Barbarian who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that’s all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started...

Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.

This sounds like an interesting book, the war and revenge really intrigue me and fits in with The Stone Men of Raksaka. 

Kushiel's Dart

The next book on the list is another trilogy, well, two trilogies combined into one legacy: Kushiel's Legacy, by Jacqueline Carey. Both my sister and mum have read these books, I remember seeing them lying around the living room and thinking the covers were really racy, I was only tenish.

The description says:

The land of Terre d'Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good...and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission...and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel's Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair...and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel's Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

This sounds like it will have a very strong female lead, and while that doesn't directly apply to my novel it is a character type I like to read.

Assassin's Apprentice 

Third is Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy. My mum loves all Robin Hobb books and says they're so easy to read, and that I'd really like them. Wikipedia says:

The Farseer Trilogy follows the life of FitzChivalry Farseer (Fitz), a trained assassin, in a kingdom called The Six Duchies while his uncle, Prince Verity, attempts to wage war on the Red-Ship Raiders from The OutIslands who are attacking the shores of the kingdom by turning the people of the Six Duchies into Forged ones; still alive, but without any emotion or soul. Meanwhile Prince Regal's jealousy and the indulgence of his own selfish whims threatens to destroy The Six Duchies.

Well, this one has assassins and the Six Duchies, which is similar to my character, Emin being chosen to assassinate the prince and to start a war between the Six Kingdoms. It's funny how you don't even need to read a book to see the links between it and your own work. 

Lion of Senet

Jennifer Fallon has written six trilogies, but my sister has recommended specifically The Second Sons trilogy. Here is a description:

On the world Ranadon there is no night as both suns shine brightly. The intervention of Belagren, High Priestess of the Shadowdancers, and the sacrifice of a child of royal blood, has banished the Age of Shadows from the skies. Belagren's position is unquestioned . . . until circumstances begin to tip political rivalries into a deadlier game altogether. 

A volcanic eruption rocks the seas separating the Kingdom of Dhevyn and the mainland Kingdom of Senet, and a mysterious sailor is shipwrecked on the island of Elcast. Badly wounded, his arrival stirs up old hatreds and unravels old secrets. His presence is enough to even bring Antonov, the powerful Lion of Senet, to the island and fear to the Keep of the Duke of Elcast.

A strong friendship develops between Dirk, second son of the Duke, and Kirshov Latanya, second son of the Lion of Senet. But will they, and their friendship, survive the chain of events set in motion by the ambitions of the ruthless High Priestess of the Shadowdancers and the domineering Lion of Senet?

This sounds a little confusing to me, I don't really know what I just read. Maybe the actually book will make a little more sense. 

The Curse of Chalion 

For once this isn't a trilogy, though it is still part of series of stand alone books, if that makes sense? My sister recommended this book because it was very character driven, with an usual hero. The internet says: 

A man broken in body and spirit, Cazaril has returned to the noble household he once served as page, and is named, to his great surprise, secretary-tutor to the beautiful, strong-willed sister of the impetuous boy who is next in line to rule. It is as assignment Cazaril dreads, for it must ultimately lead him to the place he most fears: the royal court of Cardegoss, where the powerful enemies who once placed him in chains now occupy lofty positions. But it is more than the traitorous intrigues of villains that threaten Cazaril and the Royesse Iselle here, for a sinister curse hangs like a sword over the entire blighted House of Chalion and all who stand in their circle. And only by employing the darkest, most forbidden of magics can Cazaril hope to protect his royal charge -- an act that will mark the loyal, damaged servant as a tool of the miraculous ... and trap him, flesh and soul, in a maze of demonic paradox, damnation, and death.

I think one of the problems with fantasies is that there are so many new made up names for characters and places that it does get a little confusing. 

Gardens of the Moon

My sister has this to say about Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series,'Very long, very complicated, and very epic. For people that have finished Game of Thrones this is the best series to read, but if you stop reading them you will forget what happened and have to start over again.' And I've just seen there are ten books in this series, so I'm going to be very busy! I do recognise these covers and I admit, they do look epic. They also remind me the covers of The Percy Jackson series, I think it's the little helmet motif.

Anyway, Good Read's blurb says this about the first book, Gardens of the Moon:

Bled dry by warfare, the vast Malazan empire simmers with discontent. Sergeant Whiskeyjack's Bridgeburners and surviving sorceress Tattersail wanted to mourn the dead of Pale. But Darujhistan, last of the Free Cities, holds out, Empress Lasseen’s ambition knows no bounds, and the gods intend to intervene.

I think I'll start this series last as it will obviously take me the longest. 

Overall, I am looking forward to reading all these books. Giving myself a reading list also makes me feel more productive than I really am. The one I am most excited for from these blurbs is the Assassin's Apprentice. I feel that all these books will help me with writing my novel and be a great source of inspiration