Summer Goals Update

So I said I’d update at the end of June, and it’s now the 8th of July. Which pretty much sums up June really- it went so fast I’ve not had time to sit down and really get stuck into my goals, and now we’re a decent chunk into July and I have very little to show for it.

A big part of my lack of productivity can be blamed on my rather suddenly acquiring a job. I’m a temporary administrator for a loss adjuster in Cardiff city centre. I’ve never worked full time before, and the travel alone is a killer, but I’m enjoying it. I’m good at it, and the people are nice, and I feel useful, so it’s great! The only downside is the intense travel anxiety every morning and afternoon- I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but for now… not so much. I’ve been taking a book on the train but most days I’m too wound up to settle down to reading it.

Speaking of books. I haven’t made a single page of progress on my stack of books that I was supposed to read, but the pile did get bigger in the last month. I went into Waterstones to kill time after a job related trip to Newport, and came out with these three:

I’ve finished The Sin Eater’s Daughter. It was pretty good. I loved the way religion was presented and developed through the book, and I did like the characters. I need to get my hands on the next one asap. I’m currently about 150 pages into The Magicians’ Guild, which has been growing on me every time I open it. It definitely didn’t pull me straight in, but I do find with fantasy that it takes me a few chapters to get into a world, even though ultimately I much prefer fantasy to non-fantasy. This book definitely isn’t what I expected, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes me. As for Red Queen, I’ll let you know when I come to it.

I also borrowed The Name of the Wind from Josh, but I won’t be cracking that monstrosity open at least until I’m done with The Magicians’ Guild. As much as I’d love to read two or three books at once, I’m just too busy right now.

As for my other summer goals, I really haven’t made any progress. I got the DM’s guide and the monster manual from Josh for our anniversary, and I’ve been dipping in and out of both when the mood strikes me, but I haven’t planned anything for a campaign yet. I’ve done only a few rows of my Hufflepuff scarf, and I haven’t written a single word of my novel. I have played a good few hours of The Witcher 3, but I’m still on the same part of the main quest.

So looking ahead for the rest of July, I have a few things coming up. Next Tuesday is Graduation, which is terrifying and exciting and all sorts of stuff mixed up in one. I found out a few weeks ago that I will be graduating with a 1st class degree though, so that’s pretty cool. The day after graduation, I have a big job interview that could be an amazing opportunity. Then the week after that, my “supervisor” is going on holiday for two weeks, which is going to be interesting since I’m still not 100% confident on a few aspects of my job. During that time is my 24th birthday, which I don’t really care about too much but apparently I’m getting some sort of mystery surprise thing from Josh so thats both worrying and exciting… I’m also going to start learning to drive probably after summer ends.

So yeah. Life is suddenly absolutely hectic, but overall I’m pretty happy. I probably won’t get a chance to post again now until late July or August, but I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated, even if it’s just for future me to cringe at in a years time.

Have a good weekend!

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Summer Goals

After a quiet, beautiful drive through the sunny Welsh countryside, I arrived back at my parents’ house, where I’ve been for just over a week now. I’ve had a big clear out of old stuff, eaten two delicious Sunday roasts, registered at the doctors, and hugged my dogs about a million times. Tomorrow I have an appointment at the job centre to sign on for Universal Credit- because although I’ve applied for 50+ jobs in the last few weeks, I am still one of many many many unemployed University leavers.

So until I get a job, I have hours and hours of time to sink into whatever I like. Of course, a lot of it is job hunting, but apart from that, there will never be a more perfect time to chip away at my multitude of hobbies. So, here it is- The list of things I want to accomplish in the unknowable period of time between now and finding a job:

1.  Read, read, read!

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My actually kind of meagre book collection.

Over the last three years, I’ve barely read anything that wasn’t a linguistics journal or text book. That didn’t stop me buying books though, so my biggest goal for the foreseeable future is to get my ‘to-read’ pile down at least a little bit. Most of the books on the very left side of my bookshelf are unread, and I have Nabokov’s Lolita in my bag, as well as a virtual stack of epubs on my mac to get through. I’m most looking forward to going back to Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy though, and finally getting into Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, about which I’ve heard a huge amount of praise.

2. Write, write write!

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The aftermath of my dissertation. I got a B+ by the way!

A couple weeks back, I wrote a long post about my experience of doing a creative writing dissertation. I mentioned that I’d become really quite attached to the story, and so another of my biggest goals (not just for this period of unemployment!) is to finish the book. I’d like to get to it as soon as possible, before I start to forget details, but at the latest I’ll be carrying on with it this November for NaNoWriMo.

3. The Witcher 3

Snapchat-4143520818217280051 I don’t think I’ve ever been as invested in a video game as I am in this amazing creation by CD Projekt RED. My goal is to finish it as thoroughly as possible. I started playing it when it came out about a year ago, spent my whole summer on it, then didn’t get a chance to go back to it until last week. I’m fairly close to the end of the ‘main quest’ but I’m currently checking out all of the little question marks and finishing off treasure hunts across the map. Then of course I’ll be playing the expansions. I can’t work on this goal as often as I’d like because I’m playing it on my boyfriend’s xbox, and as much as he says he likes watching me play, I can’t reduce all our time together to me galavanting around Skellige. Even if my Geralt (on the right!) is rocking a pretty amazing look right now.

4. Dungeons & Dragons

20160607_152911My fourth goal is to design (and hopefully run) a new D&D Campaign. I’ve got a couple ideas swimming about in my brain, and I’m having a ton of fun creating custom magical items. I’ll (hopefully, finally) be getting the DM’s guide later this month (my wonderful boyfriend decided to purchase it as my anniversary present right in front of me) so I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into that, and then creating an interesting campaign and some fun NPCs. I always hear is that you shouldn’t create too much to start with, and I absolutely plan to stick to that advice, but world-building is a passion of mine, so I can’t promise I won’t get carried away!

5. My Hufflepuff scarf

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I started this thing in the summer of 2013 and it’s nowhere near finished. It’s also a mess- half of it was knit English style and half Continental, which it turns out changed my gauge quite considerably. I’m hoping blocking it (somehow) will help, and that it won’t actually be noticeable when I wear it anyway. My goal for the summer is to finally finish it, so that I can wear it this Autumn, when I finally taste my first ever pumpkin spice latte. (The downside of going to University in Bangor is that we didn’t have a decent starbucks, just an offshoot in Bar Uno that always seemed to use far too much syrup).

So that’s it for major goals. I’d also like to lose some of the weight I put on in 3rd year, and I really want to crochet another blanket, but I only have odds and ends of yarn at the moment and I can’t justify buying more until I have a job. I also want to get back into Animal Crossing, as I abandoned my town almost a year ago to focus on my degree, but at the moment I feel like I might just start again.

I’ll post an update on my progress at the end of the month, but until then- Do you have any goals for the summer? Let me know!

A Review of Ruined by Amy Tintera

26074185Anyone that knows me knows that I’m mad about this sort of book, so when i saw the plot introduction on goodreads I couldn’t help myself. I wasn’t disappointed. Ruined was exactly what I was looking for- drama, a blossoming love between enemies, and a new fantasy world to sink my teeth into. Overall, I really enjoyed it. I’d definitely recommend it, if this is your sort of thing. This review is a bit more critical than I originally intended (probably because I’m less than a week out of finishing my degree!), but I really did love the book and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next for Em and Cas.

☆☆☆Spoilers Ahead☆☆☆

Ruined is about a girl who has lost everything in a war with an enemy country. Her parents are dead, and her sister has been taken captive. To rescue her sister, she infiltrates said enemy country’s royal family, and marries their prince. She’s desperate to hate him, but it turns out he’s not so bad after all.

Yes, this is a story we’ve heard before. It has the feisty young girl who cares a lot about her family, and the handsome prince who turns out to be reasonable despite his morally vacant family, and the hint of a love triangle with a childhood friend that we all know is never really an option. These are all things that have become a sort of staple in the trend of fantasy-dystopia YA novels in the last few years. Personally, I’m a huge sucker for all this stuff, but from a brief skim of Ruined‘s reviews on Goodreads, I can see that at least a few people disapprove.

I can understand that. There were definitely times whilst I was reading Ruined that I felt for certain that I could have been reading The Selection, or something similar. Both novels have the love interests live together in a palace immediately after meeting, and in both cases the parents aren’t exactly thrilled with the bride-to-be. Something that The Selection did marginally better, I feel, was that the relationship moved at a much slower pace. The love between America and Maxon took its time, at least compared to Em and Cas.

I don’t think the familiarity of Ruined‘s characters is necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, and I mean this with no offence to writers of YA (as I am one myself!), if you’re looking for the latest and greatest most original fiction, you probably shouldn’t be shopping in this section. Personally, I enjoy this kind of book. I love the intense drama, and Ruined certainly has no shortage of that.

There’s quite a lot of fighting. It seems to be something that’s very important in the culture of all of the countries involved (except Vallos?), and everyone is also very good at it. All of the characters, both male and female, young and older, seem to have a knack for swinging a sword about, and many of them are really quite aggressive. Cas seems to be the only largely peaceful character, which to me makes a lot of sense. He’s never seen war. He even says that it’s easy for him to pretend the Ruined don’t exist.

I was a bit worried about the amount of fighting, especially at the beginning. It struck me immediately that this was going to be the sort of novel where the author gives the female characters a sword and decides that’s plenty enough to make them the ‘strong female character’ current readers demand. I don’t think I was wrong, not exactly. Whilst it’s clear that the female cast of Ruined are tough, I don’t think they’re well rounded enough to be considered strong characters. Yes, they’ve killed. They’re sullen and not really in touch with their emotions, and they much prefer trousers to skirts. So really, rather than strong female characters, they’re just women with the stereotypical traits of a male character, and that doesn’t make them strong characters. I hope that character development in the sequels resolves this at least a little.

There are things that Ruined did well. The setting, to me, was something I haven’t seen a lot of. Rather than the English or Celtic influence that a lot of similar novels seem to have, this one had something of a Spanish or even South American influence (correct me if I’m wrong!). The names of the characters fit with their respective backgrounds, and the jungle made for an interesting change from your average forest. I will say though, I didn’t feel that the change of scenery really made a difference for the story. The characters could just as easily have been traipsing through the Forest of Dean. Perhaps the introduction of more jungle-related things would have helped. Bugs, jungle-related animals, and more description of the trees perhaps?

More description in general is something I definitely would have liked. I’m a big lover of world building, so when a new world is presented to me, I like to get to know it. I would have loved to know more about Ruined magic, for example, but I got the impression from Olivia that we’ll find out more in book #2 (which I’m excited to read!). I also felt like I didn’t or couldn’t really visualise the Ruined marks. In my head they were like tiger stripes, or Blaschko’s lines.

There were a few things I wasn’t sure about. The whole impersonation plan, for example, I didn’t find really believable. Surely there would have been more checks, more guards, more investigation. I also noted that at one point it’s said that Em is resistant to Ruined magic, but at the end, Olivia heals her. How does that work? Is the resistance passive (à la Bella’s shield in Twilight) or does she have to think about it?

Something I particularly liked was the boat scene. I got the impression that until that point, Em had never considered that her mother might be a bad person. As a reader, I had that impression right from the first quote Em gives about her, but it seems that Em was so focused on the wrongs done to her people, she hadn’t really considered the wrongs her people had done. I was also, in a sad way, glad that Damian died. It was true to what the King would have done, and I respect that. I would have loved more information about him though, particularly regarding how Em felt about him.

With Olivia, I was very surprised. I didn’t expect her to be so much like her mother, if you get what I mean. She certainly shook things up! I was afraid for the characters before this, but now… I can sort of understand why the humans are so afraid of the Ruined. That kind of power shouldn’t be underestimated.

So where do we go from here? I’m deathly afraid that Olivia or the Warriors will kill Cas. The issue with wanting to make peace is that if you’re the only one who wants it, then you’re probably going to die. It’s not like Em can really back him up politically since blood-thirsty Olivia is (I assume?) in charge of the Ruined. I hope we get to learn more about the four countries, and about some of the characters that were mentioned but not involved, like the King of Olso.

Overall, I’d say Ruined was pretty good. If you’re a big fan of the fantasy-adventure-dystopia YA trend then I’d recommend it for sure. The world has a lot of potential, and the magic system is something I’m looking forward to learning more about. I’m hopeful for some real character development in the sequels, and I’m excited to find out how it all ends.

Creative Writing Dissertation: My Experience

It’s been nine long months since I first began working out a concept for my dissertation. The beginnings of the idea began during a walk through Cwmfelinfach and Ynysddu last August, where I spoke at length to Josh about an idea largely involving a pregnancy scandal and a very tense love triangle. It’s hard to believe how much the story changed over time.

The actual process of doing my dissertation was relatively simple. I chose the module around Easter of my second year. In the first week of third year I was assigned my supervisor, and for the next two semesters I saw her every couple weeks for what was supposed to be half an hour each time. (In reality, my sessions lasted about twice that, purely because I lack the ability to shut up.)

Before each supervisor session, I handed in whatever I’d managed to write since the last time. These submissions were handed in with the knowledge that they would be early drafts, in need of much improvement. Then, a week later, I’d arrive at the office and we’d go through the good, the bad and the terrible aspects of my work. There wasn’t much back-patting, which I actually expected after the last two years. I’ve always had the impression that the staff and students here are too lenient with their criticism (that, or I’m too harsh on myself, but judging by the ‘ok’ grades I tent to get for my creative work, I don’t think that’s true). Instead, my supervisor pointed out all problems with my work, and we talked about how I could resolve them.

After Easter, I wrapped the piece of work up with a title page, contents, declaration, acknowledgements and bibliography, and sent the whole thing off to be bound. Two days (and £11.73) later, I was happily carrying my shiny black dissertation back from Normal Site.

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Here’s a terribly blurry picture of it.

The emotional side of writing my dissertation was a bit more difficult.

For a bit of context, I’ll mention that I set the creative part of my dissertation in a world I created about two years ago. I won’t mention any actual details in case I somehow flag myself for plagiarism, but it’s a world I created for a game of dungeons and dragons. I then spent 2014’s Camp NaNoWriMo getting out the first half of a novel set in the world, and rounded it off to 100k words in the 2014 November NaNo. I also set my 2nd year screenplay project in the same world (but several years on), so it’s a place I know and love.

So my story was set in a sort of butchered, pre-steampunk, post-medieval version of my world, to accommodate for the fact that the English department at Bangor get a bit weird if you start talking about a typical fantasy setting. I ended up really liking the changes I made, but I can’t deny that I missed the magic of the old world. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to going back to when I start writing the third novel set in the world.

The characters I chose were probably the most developed I’ve ever made, which meant that I obviously fell in love with them. In my mind, they have real, believable flaws that could actually make you think badly of them (unlike some of my previous characters, who were just a bit stubborn or ‘liked to be alone’). At the same time though, they all have things to strive for, positive traits and quirks that make me think yeah, I could go for a coffee with you.

So the fact that I was so attached to the setting and the characters made writing a tedious and slow process. The more I care about my work, the more careful and reluctant I am to go off on tangents. My usual writing process is to free-write and edit back, but that was impossible here. I think this was also partly caused by being forced to write a plan. I don’t do well with plans. This all led to me getting quite frustrated with the work in general, because it wasn’t going where I wanted to as fast as I’d hoped. Originally, I’d planned to get up to the point of introducing my third main character, but that never happened, which was disappointing.

On a more positive note, one of the best things for me about my dissertation was being able to talk to other people who were in the same boat. It’s quite a lonely process, especially if you’re the kind of student that’s used to working on assignments with friends. You can’t lean across a table and ask for the solution to your problem when you’re the only one working on your specific piece. You can, however, swap drafts, talk through your plot holes, share your worries and console each other when things get hard.

Overall, it was a fun experience that I would definitely do again. A lot of people told me I’d be very stressed about my dissertation, which was true, but it was a good opportunity to really get stuck in to a piece of creative work. At the moment, I can say I’m quite proud of it.

At the time of publishing this post, it’s been three weeks since I handed my dissertation in. If it goes by the usual marking time for assignments at Bangor, I should be getting my grade in about a week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

(If you have any questions about doing a dissertation in creative writing (in the English department) at Bangor, please feel free to ask!)

 

Independence (and dependence)

This year, I chose to stay in my student house over the Easter holidays. This is because when I’m at Home, I can’t focus on my work. There are so many distractions. I live closer to town there, and of course there’s my friends and boyfriend to catch up with. I also have (or rather, my Mam has) two small dogs. I love them with all my heart but I can’t get a single thing done around them. Here they are on the back of the sofa. Tye (on the right) likes to be high up so she can see everything that’s going on around her. Chilly (left) doesn’t care where she is as long as she’s with Tye. It’s very cute.

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Chilly and Tye

Anyway. Back to the point of this post.

I’m a classic introvert with more than a dash of social anxiety. I need a good chunk of alone time occasionally, to recharge and reorganise myself and my thoughts. So these Easter holidays are the perfect chance to relax, and more importantly, get my dissertation finished. Everyone has gone home, leaving me blissfully alone. Just how I like it.

The issue, of course, is what happens when something goes wrong? I’m the kind of person who would suffer an illness far too long before seeing a doctor. I let an internet issue go on for two months because I was too afraid to call our ISP (I’d rather deal with it over twitter). So today, when I turned my bedroom light on and the whole house’s electric went out, I thought, great.

I tried to fix it myself, but nothing worked. I googled it, and nothing helped. I even rang my parents, but they couldn’t fix it from 200 miles away. I’m a pretty handy person usually. I know a passable amount about a lot of things, but electricity isn’t one of them. I don’t like to bother people to fix things for me, and I definitely don’t like asking for help, but as I stood in front of the fuse box, I just knew I was going to have to call the landlord.

At this point, my social anxiety kicked it into overdrive. First of all, I was worried I’d have to explain who I was. What if his SO answered, or his kids? What if he answered, but he didn’t know who I was. What if he answered in Welsh? My Welsh is conversational at best, so I definitely don’t know how to explain that I somehow broke the entire electric system. And then what if he couldn’t come and sort it? What if he was on holiday? What if he was busy? What if I was interrupting his dinner? What if it was such an easy fix that he thinks I’m stupid?

And as usual, it was way less difficult than I thought it would be. He was here within fifteen minutes, and we had it fixed within twenty. He said ‘Hello Kirsty’, when he answered the phone, and he didn’t say anything in Welsh.

(The solution, by the way, was the age old ‘turn it off and turn it back on again’ trick, only with the entire fusebox. The Landlord called an electrician who fixed it over the phone.)

Anyway. The whole ordeal made me think a lot about my extreme desire for independence.  If this situation had happened three or four years ago, when I was 19 or 20, I would have suffered in silence. I would have sat in the dark until either google suggested something that worked, or I figured it out on my own. Does that mean I’m less independent now than I used to be?

I don’t think it does. In fact, I think I’m more independent now, because I was able to take the necessary steps to solve the problem. Sitting alone in the darkness, stubbornly refusing to involve other people would just have shown how dependent on them I really was. Being able to accept that electrical issues are not something I can fix alone, and having the sense to call the landlord shows that I’ve grown up a lot in the last few years.

Of course, I still think that everyone should know how to do the basic ‘living alone’ things. Running your washing machine, cooking a basic meal, clearing your shower drain and changing a lightbulb are things that come to mind. But I think one thing moving away for University has definitely taught me is that ultimately, there’s no sense in struggling alone when you can easily reach out for help.

A Period of Change

When I arrived at Bangor University in September 2013, the concept of graduating was something that didn’t seem real. Three whole years is such a hefty chunk of time, it was impossible that the whole experience of university would fly by. But, it did. It’s now March 2016, and in just a few short months, I’ll (hopefully!) be donning the hat and gown and saying goodbye to student life forever.

While most of my friends are opting for some form of postgraduate education, I am moving back to the South Wales Valleys, to hopefully find some kind of job. As graduation looms, the fear of unemployment is definitely present. It’s something I have experience with, to put it gently, and it’s not something I want to relive.

I’ll write a different post about life in the Valleys soon, but for now I’ll just say that it’s not the best place to be for young people. The particular area I live in was home to three collieries, the last of which closed in 1989. Since then, the area has been pretty much abandoned on the job front. Only very recently are the employment figures starting to rise, and even then most of the jobs are factory related. More on that at a later date though.

For now, I have three months left at University. My dissertation (which also deserves its own post) is due in late April, then after that I have a few essays and an exam to turn in before it’s all over. This blog will chronicle the period of change as I move back home and settle in to the world of work.

As of right now, I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a positive experience.