Leiden, the Netherlands

We went to Leiden in the Netherlands in April of this year. I loved the flowers, which were our main reason for visiting – the fields of tulips, in a rainbow of stripes. Tulips of all shapes and colours. Magical woodlands planted with tulips, that looked like something out of a fantasy story. We were there only for a short time, but sometimes short breaks are enough to help you relax and see your life in perspective.

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Why I Love Stories So Much

Yes, stories and fantasy are escapism, and diving into another world has always drawn me. Something new, a chance to be someone else, to do and see things a part of someone else’s life. To explore darkness and success, to live it vicariously. But above all, the reason I read, is for the adventure. Some of the books I remember loving as a child, when I first discovered how much I loved reading, were classic sort of adventures – three boys shipwrecked on a paradise island, four children left to fend for themselves in a a beautiful old house in war-time and disappear into a fantastical world of dangers and magic, even the Animals of Farthing Wood is an adventure, the animals setting off on an epic journey of unknown challenges.

Why do I crave this adventure?

Maybe because I can live out a whole life-times worth in an afternoon? Maybe because I forget my own worries while I’m on the adventure. Do I want to be the characters I read about? Sometimes I suppose. Sometimes, it’s just the thrill of being privy to another person’s world I think. To get caught up in their world and want to see it through to the end, just for the excitement of knowing what happens. I read for the feel of the story, the connection to someone’s strength, or someone’s wildness, the feel of their love, the darkness of their battle, the feeling of wrongness being righted, the feeling of finding a place or strength, the uncovering of a truth. The way a story helps me understand my own darkness, my own grief, my own sadness, my own strength and bravery, my own ambition. All adventures teach me something.

Are these the same reasons I write? To have lived through an epic adventure. To have lived and died in a world of my own imagining. To have fought evil, to have braved dangerous foe and gone on epic journeys. To have imagined all this and lived it in my head. I think this is why I write.

I’ve been pondering these things as I start to send my first novel out to agents. I have had two ‘no’s’ so far and I’ve been wondering, as all writers before me probably have, how I will feel if nobody says yes. Will my story still have value to me?

And I think, the answer is yes.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to give it everything I have. You don’t follow dreams, you chase them down. It’s time I started fighting harder.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent is the first in Roth’s Divergent Trilogy, and I have read all three and loved them. I would describe them as dystopian science fiction. I read this years ago and re-read it more recently.

I love Tris, she bursts from the page, so real. I think writing in the first person helps, but it’s the way Roth writes that made me really feel like I was experiencing everything with Tris. She is a brilliant writer – the kind that makes you forget you’re actually reading. The other things about Tris I like is that she is a strong female lead, and she is brave – truly brave, as in terrified but going ahead and acting brave anyway. I read this book in one day, couldn’t put it down.

The concept of the story and the world in which Tris lives is different to other dystopian stories I’ve read and I like the idea that they live in factions. The society has tried really hard to create a system that works, rather than allow things to grow organically. Perhaps that, as well, is why it is probably doomed to fail. Roth portrays Tris’s life in these factions really well – I find it utterly believable. I think it is an interesting idea too, and made me think about what is wrong with human beings – is bravery the answer, or truth, selflessness, happiness or intelligence? The problem with factions based around these ideas I suppose, is that inevitably the idea becomes warped or more extreme, until the characteristics that made it hopeful and healing and workable disappear. I like the hope that Tris could be the bridge between these ideas.

Film Review: Arrival

This film is exactly the sort of science fiction I love. It’s a clever story that feels as if it makes sense forwards as well as backwards. I love stories that meddle with time like this and make it work – another example I love is The Time Traveller’s Wife. We meet Louise after seeing a series of flashes of what we assume are flashbacks – showing she has lost her daughter. So I viewed her through that sense of loss. When she broke down and we saw other flashes, I assumed it was recent, she was struggling with it. But by the end of the film we understand she has seen flash forwards instead. And despite the pain she knows is ahead, she decides not to change a thing, to have the life she knows is there ahead of her. It was an interesting thought. Would I do that? I imagine I would try everything to try and change the future, to make it better, to make it right, and without pain. But can any of us really do that? The future is not painfree or perfect. And there is real joy and light mixed in there – she does not want to miss out on that time with her daughter, it is precious. To quote Game of Thrones, all men must die. So the dying part is not what we should focus on, it is the living part.

I found it refreshing that this film featuring aliens was not an invasion film. It was threatening, in the way that aliens surely must feel when they arrive and we don’t understand them or their technology. The most threatening thing about the film was the other nations across the world and what they might do – and if they started aggression would it spread across the globe? It is a common feature of science fiction films – humankind throwing the first punch out of fear, triggering much worse aggression. It was also refreshing that these aliens were in fact offering language. They weren’t here to conquer or to take natural resources. In this way, the film was quiet, it’s drama was in the tension of the unknown. And I really liked that.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I’ve had this sat on my shelf for a little while. With series that I have loved I have mixed feelings about an update story, as this is. I’ve both loved and hated these additions in the past. Loved, because it is a return to a world and characters I fell in love with, yearned to know more about and what became of them. And hated, because some additions I have read/watched took some of the shine off the original series for me, made me look at the characters differently and find, upsettingly, that I didn’t find them appealing anymore. Or that the addition just wasn’t quite as good and I wished that the story had been left alone, finished and perfect as it was. Some additions try and tweak with the original story too, through flashbacks, or in this case, literally going back in time.

I really enjoyed reading this though. I think J K Rowling could write a single sentence story and it would be rich, imaginative and perfect. She has a way of writing that makes the lines warm and fun – it’s the language she uses, the way she writes. I liked coming back to Harry, Ron and Hermione. It was refreshing actually to see the children from the famous series as adults. They were still recognisable and familiar, but they are changed—obviously—by the new responsibilities and new roles in life. I love love that Hermione is Minster for Magic. I love that they are still in each other’s lives, and I love that some truths were spoken – Ginny and others feeling jealous of their friendship as children. I’m glad too that there’s some sort of resolution between Harry and Draco.

Who is the cursed child? I think Albus Potter thinks he is and I as the reader thought he was, he doesn’t enjoy being the Harry Potter’s son. Something felt strange about him being in slytherin too. It cast a shadow over him and made him bitter. There is a second child though, who could be the cursed child of the title, Scorpius Malfoy. But no, it is Voldemort’s ‘daughter.’ I have doubts over whether this is really Voldemort’s daughter. Bellatrix had a strange brand of idolisation for Voldemort, but the other way around? Voldemort is a character who seems incapable of that sort of thing. Bellatrix and her loyal husband could be unhinged enough and so worshipful of Voldemort that that is how Delphi comes to believe she is Voldemort’s daughter. I don’t know – it’s interesting to me, the way that part of the story sat so uncomfortably with me. Is it because we like our bad guys to be bad through and through, no gradations of grey? It’s easier that way perhaps, for our bad guys to be so purely bad. Or is it more the feeling that if this is true it is a bolt out of the blue. Also, reading this, Darthvader kept popping into my head, telling Luke ‘I am your father.’ Only here, it is ‘I am your daughter.’ Long-lost family dynasties.

The ending was bittersweet. Wouldn’t we all like to go back in time and see people we’ve lost again? Talk to them? Stop their deaths? However, the idea of sacrifice is a big one in Harry Potter. And love and sacrifice win over darkness once again.

What I’ve learnt from sadness

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Mostly, what I’ve learnt is that I don’t want to be sad. It seems like a stupid, empty thing to say – that darkness teaches you to appreciate the light. But in the saddest times, when it had only just happened and every thought and emotion was intense and awful, the sunlight seemed most magical. It was spring. The buds beginning to grow and open – I don’t remember ever noticing them quite like that before or since. I remember seeing things and thinking how wonderful life is, how good it was to see this, and at the same time feeling this tidal wave of grief because he wasn’t seeing this, he was missing this. If only he had seen this.

Sadness has taught me that I want to live. By that I mean, really be alive. Because I think I’ve learnt that you can be alive – living and breathing – but dead inside. All the things that make you dead inside – sadness, anger, fear, worry – they all carve something from you, taking away that sense of joy and freedom that simple things like riding your bike down a hill, or hugging a loved one, or picking up a tiny kitten, used to bring you. They take away hope, that you will feel happy ever again. Without hope, all of us are dead inside I think.

Sadness has taught me that happiness is a choice. It’s a harder choice now sometimes than it used to be. I fight my own thoughts and feelings sometimes, strive towards the way I want to think and feel. Eat right, sleep well, exercise, tell myself I am worth the love I’m given by my family and friends. Choose to see the good in other people. Choose to see the joy in little everyday things. Choose to appreciate all that I have.

Windwitch by Susan Dennard

Windwitch

This is book two in the Truthwitch series. Love the covers for these books, this one in particular – I love an atmospheric landscape and a figure looking ahead of them. I love the lettering and colours too. I have to say I raced through these books. I am still in love with the characters. I think Isuelt is beginning to become my favourite. I like the darkness that threatens her. I like Euduan too, for whom the opposite is true, some compassion and humanity are beginning to show through his terrifying Bloodwitch status.

This is a world in turmoil, and I enjoyed all the character threads of the novel. Sometimes its dangerous I think to focus on two characters and make us fall in love with them in book one, only to widen the focus for book two. I have been disappointed by series before when I fell in love with a character, only for their part in the story to disappear. But it works perfectly here, it makes the second book more interesting, more enticing. I enjoy all the bluffs, the fact that you as the reader can see the full picture and therefore understand and know things that the characters do not. It makes for extra tension, when you rush through the pages to see if that character will find out this, or if that character will do something based on the facts they think are true (but we know better).

I like strong complex female characters and I like characters with darkness tugging at them, so this book really is made for me.

50 Hours On A Plane

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Last year was unusual in that I travelled to more places and spent more time on planes than any previous year. I had been thinking, contemplating the first leg of the most recent trip, that maybe this year I’d stick to the UK. The rugged mountains and lochs of Scotland, Skye maybe. Maybe the coast down south. Wales. But alongside those dreams, I’m imaging the spring cherry blossoms in Japan, the coasts and hot springs of Hokkaido, northern Japan. Mediterranean turquoise seas and Italian warmth.

I love all the places I have travelled, for different reasons. I love the wilderness of Canada, trekking up forested mountains, wary for bears and dipping sore feet into ice cold glacial lakes. I love the mountain temples in Japan, the alien culture and manners, and warmth and kindness of the Japanese. I love the Swedish architecture and interior design, the beautiful islands and cold seas. I love standing on a Skye mountainside and feeling like I was hearing silence—perfect, calming silence—for the first time in my life. I love the scent of a seabreeze, the scent of an icy mountain one, and the scent of early morning dewy grass. I think that sense of adventure will always be there inside me; the jetlag, the travel anxiety and the expense are all worth it to me. Travel and books, the two things I feel the least guilt about spending money on. Adventure, it is in my soul.

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For me, I think I love fantasy fiction for the same reasons I love travel – the adventure of it, exploring a new place, going along for the ride. I get to see, feel and experience amazing things (amazing in the sense that they are out of my ordinary life experience). And right now, I’m loving the Truthwitch (Susan Dennard) ride.

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Film Review: Lucy

A sci-fi film focusing on the main character Lucy, who is forced to carry drugs (sewn forcibly into her abdomen) for a Korean drug lord. The drugs leak and allow her to access more and more of her brain. I thought exploring her losing what made her human was interesting, at first she felt heightened, was really moved by the love her mother had shown her in memories she could now recall. But soon she was something other than human. I think it’s interesting we often view the accessing of more of our brains alongside psychokinetic and other abilities—the more brain we have the more ‘supernatural’ control on things around us we can have.

I found it unsettling the way death was talked about, it didn’t scare Lucy at the end, she said ‘we never really die.’ She is still there. So by having more brain power we can equal what is there for us after death? Become a conscious entity without a physical body? This film managed to be science fiction but touch on the spiritual at the same time.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch

Loved this. Detailed, imaginative, and with a strong cast of characters. I especially love Safi and Iseult, and their wonderful friendship. They come across as a little selfish, but in an endearing, naughty way in a troubled fantasy world, which makes it ok somehow. I like Safi’s recklessness. It goes hand-in-hand with her ‘witchery,’ which is all about feeling – she can sense truth from lies. No wonder her and Iseult are ‘Threadsisters,’ Iseult’s witchery is also about feeling, or rather seeing the emotions of everyone around her – a slightly more useful gift, I thought. I liked that they feel what’s right and what’s not right, they feel their way through life, they act, they don’t overthink. I’d like to be a little more like that!

I also liked the elemental magic in the story, the wind witches and fire witches, and others with darker gifts, the blood witch. I like this sort of magic, where each person’s is slightly different. I like that there is a darkness to Iseult, something about her heritage and people, her link to someone feared. Those are always the story arcs I crave – good characters pulled towards dark.