Friday, 29 June 2012

2:1 :)

So today I found out I have officially graduated with a 2:1...or will be graduating...or something. I'm not actually going to the graduation ceremony so I'm not 100% sure when I can officially tell people I've graduated! I'd much rather spend an extortionate amount of money on a nice meal out or something, with people I actually want to hang out with, and being able to wear my own clothes rather than a scary cloak and hat combo.
Anyway, so there's that! I'm really proud of my grade, especially since I put in a ton of effort and I'm glad it paid off.
I've been working at the charity shop all day, and it was enjoyable and productive as usual. There are some really great people there and I get along well with pretty much everybody. There's also the employee discount which means I got a bag and two books for about £3 in total. The books will be read and reviewed on this blog in due course!
Today I learnt how to code and price CDs, DVDs, video games and books. And I've been helping to train new volunteers on the till, which is funny since I only started about two weeks ago. I must be pretty good at my job!
So now I feel like the University chapter of my life is officially closed. It was fun while it lasted but now I'm ready to move onto better and brighter things...hopefully!

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

More Writing Resources

  • Written? Kitten! The concept is simple. For every hundred words you write in the text box, you are rewarded with a new picture of a kitten, or a silly LOLcat meme. You can change the word quota to more or less, depending on how much you intend to write. It also saves your writing, so if you accidentally cross off the page you won't lose all your work. There is also a version with pictures of Tom Hiddleston if that's what gets the cogs whirring. 
  • The Best 100 Opening Lines - Okay, I don't agree with all of these selections, but this is a great reminder of what makes a good story opening and how to intrigue your readers and make them eager to read on!
  • The Phrase Finder - An archive of phrases, idioms and sayings, and their original meanings.
  • 72 of the Best Quotes About Writing - Exactly what it sounds like! I wish I had found this list back in my first year of University, because I remember a part of my first 'notebook' assignment was to find 5 quotations about writing, and explain them... and I struggled a lot more than I probably should have. 

News (ish) on the job search

Today I received two job-related phone calls. Neither were particularly exciting. The first sounded very much like a scam - somebody talking about a teaching assistant position, which I'm 99.999% sure I haven't ever applied to. The reason it felt like a scam to me is because recently I had an email that said something very similar, only it started talking about how much they charged for training fees and that I had to pay in advance ... so I postponed that conversation to tomorrow afternoon (well I was in Superdrug at the time, and I didn't fancy a telephone interview down the makeup aisle whether it was a real job opportunity or not). So anyway, when he rings back I will ask him when he received my application and who he got the details from. And then probably tell him I'm not interested, because the whole thing sounded very sketchy.

The second was a bit more of a confidence boost. A man from a copywriting internship in London that I applied for last Friday, ringing to confirm that I lived in Havant and to say that they would only be able to pay £400 a month to cover my travel expenses, which have only covered about a third of the total cost. As it is an unpaid internship, it simply wouldn't be feasible. But he said he was really impressed by my CV and that he would have really wanted to meet me for an interview otherwise. So that makes me feel really good, as I know I'm definitely qualified and experienced enough for the jobs I want - I just have to wait for the ideal opportunity to come along.

The rest of today was pretty good as well. I met up with my friend Claire, who I haven't seen in ages because our free days never seem to coincide. We went shopping for things for her holiday in Morocco which she is leaving for this Thursday. Her holiday shopping consisted mainly of Werthers Originals and magazines to read on the plane. Then we sat in her car sorting through her three Asda bags full of makeup and trying to narrow it down to fit one small makeup bag so that she could bring them on holiday.

I managed to resist buying any more nail polish - my nail polish box is seriously bulging at the seams and there are a few bottles in there that I haven't even used yet - but I did end up buying a new mascara, a cream eyeshadow in gold, a lipstick and a lip gloss which was on special offer.

Tomorrow I'm working at the charity shop all day. John is currently looking into booking us a couple of days in London to stay at a nice hotel and go shopping and maybe even watch a musical or visit the dungeons. I haven't been to London in a long time and it will be lovely to spend a few days just doing fun things and not worrying about being unemployed (me) or having a really soul-destroying job (him).

I have had a lingering headache for the past four days. John says I should see a doctor if it continues for much longer, but I think it's probably just because I'm getting so worked up about being unemployed!

Monday, 25 June 2012

A few useful links for creative writers

I seem to have reached a point where I've been away from University for just long enough to start thinking about writing stories for enjoyment again - not just jumping through hoops for a creative writing degree, but really letting my imagination lead the way. So, I'm placing these links here mainly so that I don't lose them, but also to help out any other writers who happen to stumble across my blog!

The Speech Accent Archive  - recordings and phonetic translations of people speaking in different accents. So if you want to write about how a character speaks when English is not their first language, but you're not sure of what their accent would sound like, this is a useful tool. Remember, it's best to write about what you know, and do your research when writing about a country or a culture that is unfamiliar to you, otherwise your writing can come across as uninformed and could even offend people.

34 Tips to Make You a Better Writer - some we've all heard before ("Write every day for 30 minutes!" Yeah, yeah) and some are more unusual and will really get you thinking. I'll definitely be putting some of these tips to use.

One Word - I love this. When you press 'go' you'll be presented with a random word (I got 'seeds'), a text box, and a timer counting down 60 seconds in which to write as much as you can on that topic. Great for making you think about topics that wouldn't otherwise cross your mind, and it can help you to come up with new ideas and directions to take a story or a poem you're stuck on.

(Click the 'writing' tag to see some links to similar tools that I've posted before)

Review: My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult

I am a huge fan of Jodi Picoult's books, but weirdly, I hadn't ever read this one until recently, despite it being her most well-known novel. Jodi Picoult loves to write about controversial and divisive topics, in a way that shows all the different viewpoints, allowing readers to come to their own conclusion and often opening our eyes to the complexity of situations that on the surface might seem very straightforward. My Sister's Keeper is no exception, as it covers the topic of 'designer' babies and the ethics of having a child specifically for the purpose of saving the life of another.

The story follows thirteen-year-old Anna, who has always known that she was born in order to provide platelets and bone marrow for her older sister, Kate, who is dying from leukaemia. The story begins as Kate is suffering from kidney failure, and the family look to Anna as the donor. Sick of always being used for spare parts, Anna decides to file a lawsuit against her parents, suing them for the rights to her own body.

This 'medical emancipation' is the first case of its kind, and is obviously very controversial. Anna's mother is furious - how could she be so selfish as to effectively sign a death sentence for Kate? Each chapter follows a different point of view, from Anna, her lawyer, her mother, her father, and her brother Jesse, the black sheep of the family, who has tried to cope with his lifetime of neglect due to Kate's illness by turning to drink, drugs and arson. Interestingly, Kate's viewpoint has the least coverage in the story.

Having different chapters narrated by different characters is a common feature in Picoult's novels, because it allows us to sympathise with characters who would otherwise seem very cruel. At first Anna's mother seems like a bad parent who unfairly favours Kate and does not care about the wellbeing of Anna or Jesse, but her chapters move chronologically through the first diagnosis of Kate's leukaemia to the present day, and through her viewpoint we realise how difficult it has been for her to decide what to do, and how much love she has for all of her children.

The book is a full-on tearjerker throughout, and the ending hit me like a punch in the stomach. I haven't seen the film adaptation, but I do know that aside from the basic premise, the details and stories between the characters are very different, as are the endings, so lovers of the film might be surprised by a lot of the things that happen in this story. 

I liked My Sister's Keeper a lot. It made me think about what decision I would make if I was put in the position of either Anna or her parents, and it asked some very difficult questions about the ethics of conceiving 'donor babies'. This is definitely a book that will make you think, and hopefully leave you with an open mind and a deeper understanding of the different sides to the argument. It will also make you want to go around and give everyone you love a great big hug!

I give this book 4/5 - overall it was a really interesting story but some parts seemed to drag a bit, and felt unnecessary, such as the additional storyline of the lawyer trying to get back together with his ex. I found my eyes sliding off the page during some of these chapters. I guess the idea was to humanise him so that we'd relate to him as well as the other characters, but I just felt like if I'd wanted to read an angsty romance, then I would have picked up a different book! However, overall there was plenty to keep me turning the pages to find out what would happen, and I would recommend it to anybody who likes 'real life' stories that make you think.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Folksy Friday - Rain

To 'celebrate' the ridiculously unpredictable weather we have been having lately, this week's Folksy Friday has a rainy theme. These brilliant handmade products are sure to brighten up even the most miserable of rainy days! Clicking the caption beneath each picture will take you to the item on Folksy.

Cheerful Yellow Umbrella Ring by Illydilly Delights

Come Rain or Shine Felt Brooch by Material Daydreams
Women's Rain Hat by Moaning Minnie Designs
Cloud and Raindrops Mobile by Claireoncloud9
English Summer Necklace by The Magpie's Daughter
Wellies Greeting Card by Little Paper Gallery

Welsh Raincloud Necklace by Maggie Jones Enamels
Out of the Rain Print by Blackoutwell
Autumn Rain Notebook by Lucy's Happy Place
Crystal Rain Drop and Umbrella Earrings by Oddeye's Gems

I just love all of these designs, and I really like the idea of photographing jewellery onto printed text, it looks so much better than having a plain white background I have been using, so I think I might have to steal this idea in future! 

And a glance out of the window tells me that the rain seems to have stopped, for now...

Review: Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout

The story takes place during an unbearably hot summer in the mill town of Shirley Falls, where the stifling heat reflects the uncomfortable relationship between highly-strung single mother Isabelle and her shy teenage daughter Amy.

The semester before, Amy was caught having a sexual relationship with her much older maths teacher, Mr Robertson, who was drawn to her striking blonde hair and quiet intelligence. This part of the story is told through flashbacks, from their first meeting, to Amy falling in love with him, to the day when it came to an abrupt and embarrassing end. Mr. Robertson left town to avoid the threat of Isabelle calling the police, and Amy has not seen or heard from him since. In a fit of fury, Isabelle does something truly regrettable.What was already a fragile mother-and-daughter relationship now hangs by a thread.

When this story begins, Amy has just started a summer job at the mill with her mother, and she describes their tense relationship as being joined by an invisible cord. Through the viewpoints of both Isabelle and Amy, as well as some minor characters, the histories, secrets and longings of each character are revealed to us.

Elizabeth Strout has a wonderful writing style, and she pays close attention to the tiny details that other writers might miss. These seemingly-insignificant actions and thoughts give us a vivid picture of each character and allow the reader to deeply relate to them. In one particular scene, we follow Isabelle as she plans for her boss (who she is secretly in love with) and his wife to come round to her house for dessert. Her anxieties of how this event will turn out, and all the little details about how she prepares for her guests, are at once funny and heartbreaking. There is a lot of humour in this story in the way that the characters interact and think about each other, but it often reveals a poignant truth about how each character really feels.

This book is fairly slow-paced in parts, perhaps owing to the author's insistence on lingering on small details rather than quickly getting to the point. I personally felt that this was a good way of adding to the tension of a long and uncomfortable summer in a small town where not a lot happens, but readers who prefer fast-paced, action-packed novels will find this difficult to finish.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story and I liked the way it ended. It was a bit slow but the tension between different characters kept me eagerly reading to find out what would happen. 4/5

Thursday, 21 June 2012

On Nice Guys and their Stupidly High Standards

In a recent article in Observer Magazine, Eva Wiseman really got me thinking about how much I hate this 'hey girls, you're all beautiful' sentiment that seems to have suddenly sprung up out of nowhere. Well, probably not out of nowhere. I'm fairly sure it's a response to a lot of issues surrounding how women are presented in the media, the 'size zero models' debate, the rise of eating disorders in young girls, etc etc etc. It sounds like a nice thing to say, a little confidence boost to all those insecure women and girls out there, but it has always left me feeling a bit cynical.

The thing is, when we tell an insecure teenage girl "Don't worry, you're beautiful!", we are still enforcing the message that being attractive - having somebody, a boy, find you attractive - is more important than anything else. Why is 'beautiful' the default compliment? Why can't it be something that doesn't (whether we mean it to or not) imply that we have a responsibility to look attractive for other people? When I'm feeling unhappy about the way I look, the last thing I want to hear is "You're beautiful" because I don't believe it myself. It just sounds empty and false.

Wow, I didn't realise it was that simple! Thanks, skinny teenage girl!
How about we start telling people that they are 'wonderful', or 'strong' or 'loved' or 'inspiring' or anything that compliments the person inside, and lets them know that we are really listening to them? 'Beautiful' is a brush-off. It's a low-effort way of getting somebody to shut up about their insecurities. It's also a low-effort way for boys to make themselves seem like sensitive little feminist allies. Just hold up a sign, make a simpering face, photoshop yourself onto a space background, and you're suddenly A Totally Progressive And Nice Guy.

The funny thing is, you just know that the kind of guys who say this are the same ones who would make gross comments about fat girls, and hairy girls, and girls who choose not to wear make-up and 'nice clothes'. 

The thing that gets me about that particular message is the word 'need', as if make-up and nice clothes are exclusively used to cover up our flaws, rather than to highlight our best features. I wear 'nice' tops and dresses that show off my shoulders and the shape of my collar bones. I wear eyeliner and mascara to draw attention to my big brown eyes. I'm sure everyone has similar features that they dress to highlight rather than to cover up. Hell, sometimes I just wear an item of clothing because I like the design. 

And yes, of course some types of make-up and clothing do cover up the bits we're not so happy about. I have dark shadows under my eyes and I feel and look a lot more alert and put-together when I use a dot of concealer to cover them up. I'm not going to stop doing that just because some angsty teenage boy is 'concerned' about my perceived insecurities. I think if it was more socially acceptable for men to use make-up, then a lot of them would use concealer and powder because it is nice to be able to cover up blemishes and stop your face looking so shiny. My boyfriend has even borrowed my concealer in the past when he's had a bad skin day, and he is the most confident person I have ever met. 

When men tell women that they shouldn't wear make-up or dress in a certain way, they seem to think they are being progressive and freeing us from the shackles of oppression. But what they are really doing is giving us yet another beauty standard to live up to, one that is even more difficult than the one they are trying to save us from. Now, instead of women being expected to make themselves look beautiful by using make-up, fashionable clothes, spray tan, hair dye, high heels, etc; we are expected to look flawless without these things! This brilliant article explains it far better than I can, but the gist of it is that when men claim that they prefer women who don't wear make-up, they don't mean that they think women look better with shiny skin and tired-looking eyes, they mean that they want a woman who is already flawless. 

In conclusion, stop trying to 'help' solve body image problems by enforcing even stricter standards! Stop teaching young girls that the most important thing about them is their beauty, as opposed to their brains, their strength and their kindness! And for the love of God, stop looking forlorn and posing with handwritten signs, you look ridiculous.

Except this guy, he has the right idea.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

I love volunteering :)

It's been quite a busy few days so I haven't had a chance to write a blog post in a while. On Friday, Saturday and Tuesday I have been working at the British Heart Foundation charity shop, and I really love it there. My favourite part is -  surprisingly - serving customers, which I expected to be really scary and terrible. I think I should stop believing the accounts of retail work by antisocial teenagers! I'm sure it is terrible if you hate people and consider smiling to be a chore, but personally I enjoy meeting everybody, helping them and giving them suggestions. And I have been told I'm very sweet and polite, so hooray!

On Sunday and Monday John was here, and we went to Portsmouth so he could buy some new clothes and things. He actually ended up buying more for me than for himself. I would never dream of asking for him to buy me things, but he really loves spoiling me rotten and I have trouble saying no to an offer of Jack Wills shorts, t-shirt and underwear! I think part of the reason he spent so much on me was that loads of the female employees of Jack Wills were eyeing him up (or so he says!) and he wanted to impress them by buying me stuff. I'm not quite sure how that line of thought works, but it got me some new clothes so I won't complain!

John is working night shifts all week, so he is home during the day, but obviously very tired. He said he really wants me to come and see him today, but that was before he started his shift so I'm predicting that he will say 'Actually...I really want some sleep!' I want to find out what is going on, but I don't want to ring him and wake him up.

I think tomorrow is when I am supposed to be finding out whether or not I got the job at LittleMedia. I probably haven't got it. Looking back on the interview, I did look kind of scruffy after walking all the way from the station, and I probably didn't seem very professional. I guess the fact that I look really young for my age doesn't help either, but that is something I cannot change and I just have to hope I come across an employer who doesn't care what I look like!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Folksy Friday - Turquoise

Inspired by having one of my own items featured in Studio Parlay's Folksy Friday (mine is the weather charm bracelet!), I have decided this will be a new feature of this blog. Each Friday I will choose a key word or theme, and post 10 of my favourite Folksy finds that relate to it. This week I have chosen 'turquoise' because it is my favourite colour, and because I have been humming along to Jim White's 'Turquoise House' all day! Click each caption to see the listing and maybe help out these talented crafters.

Large Turquoise and Starfish Pendant by Oorla Jewellery
Turquoise Silver Bracelet by Wire Moon
Scooter Greetings Card by Stampa Cantina
Lavender Rabbit in Turquoise and Aqua Blue by pouch
Fun Turquoise Retro Toys Print Cushion by Court & Spark
Turquoise Tutu by Strawberry Annie's

Turquoise, Blue & Floral Mouse Doorstop by velvetpaws

Stained Glass Fish Suncatcher by Carole's Glass

Turquoise Ring Handle Bag by TheCottonBee

Turquoise, Teal, White Beaded Bracelet by SP Jewellery 

Phew, that's a lot of turquoise! By now, the word 'turquoise' looks really strange and I keep having to double check that I haven't misspelt it... So this has been my first Folksy Friday! Tune in next week for my next showcase of fantastic handmade items!

First Day of Volunteering

This morning I went into British Heart for my first day of till training. I was expecting it to be really scary and difficult, but actually I loved it so much that I ended up staying for way longer than I was supposed to! At first it was difficult to remember all the steps I had to take to ring up a customer's purchases, but after a short time I got the hang of it, and now I feel like I could do it with my eyes closed. None of the customers were rude, and most of them were actually really friendly and stopped to chat or ask advice about what to buy. I'm sure I'll get a scary customer eventually, but so far it's all been fine! It's good to be out of the house, doing something productive with my free time and gaining work experience.

It's been a really busy few days, and I really love the feeling of rushing around having important stuff to do - I feel like a proper person!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Interview, bracelets, and ... pizza.

I had my interview today, and it was actually a lot less terrifying than I had imagined. Considering it was my first proper interview, I think I did pretty well. But of course, what I think doesn't actually matter! There are a lot of other candidates for the role and I won't get to find out until Thursday whether or not I got the job. So, for now I'm going to try not to over-think it, carry on as normal and act like I didn't even have an interview. Because it's kind of embarrassing telling everyone you had an interview only to sheepishly crawl back and say 'yeah I didn't get it...'

The tiny spike studs I ordered finally arrived today, all the way from China, so I made a woven bracelet with pale pink satin cord and spikes. I am loving the combination of pastel colours and spikes. It's a really popular style at the moment, and very straightforward to make, so I'm going to make a few more and see how they do on Folksy.

Later tonight I think John and I are going out for dinner on a sort of double date with our friend Andy and his on-off-on-on-off-on-off-nobody-even-knows-any-more girlfriend. We're going to Fire and Stone in Gunwharf for £4 pizzas. Hooray!

Tomorrow it's another early morning, as I'm going in to British Heart for my first day. I was really nervous about this last week, but now that I've conquered an interview I feel like I could wrestle a dragon into a volcano. Charity shop work will be fine, and even if I do have abuse shouted at me by an old man, at least it gives me something exciting to write about! :)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Ten Things I Wish I Could Tell My Teenage Self

I think everybody looks back on their teenage years and wishes they could do it over, with all the things they know now. I expect in another ten years I will look back on my life right now and cringe at how stupidly I'm handling it all. Maybe I'll do a follow up in ten years' time! But for now, here are a few things I'd love to tell my younger self, and any awkward teenagers reading this.

1. There are sometimes more important things than 'just being yourself'! 
...Whoever decided to start telling kids that the best possible thing they could ever do was to be themselves at all times, was wrong in my opinion*. Sure, it's good to be proud of who you are and unashamed to do things differently, but at the same time, when you're an awkward fifteen year old girl who still has a shelf of Beanie Babies and plays Neopets religiously, there is a fine line between 'being true to yourself' and 'being a weirdo'. School is much, much easier and more enjoyable when you get along with everyone, and often this involves faking confidence and shutting up about your embarrassing hobbies.
          And anyway, a huge number of situations in life require us to wear a mask of confidence, professionalism, tact, etc. Putting on these masks does not make you 'fake', it is generally a sign of maturity and the ability to adapt your behaviour to different situations. So there.

2. Experiment with makeup while you can still get away with looking ridiculous.
I am 21 years old and I still haven't the foggiest idea where blusher is meant to go. I am not completely convinced of which colours of eyeshadow suit me, and I have never worn lipstick in my life. What's more, I may never know, because I have passed the age where it is acceptable to leave the house with foundation that looks like you plunged your face into a coffee cake, or huge swirls of blue eyeshadow like you're auditioning for clown school. I have to make do with a small amount of eyeliner and mascara, and concealer to cover up the crazy dark shadows under my eyes. It does the job, but I wish I could be a little more adventurous sometimes. So, go forth, young awkward self, and paint your face every colour of the rainbow. Roll around in glitter until you resemble a disco ball. Wax off your eyebrows and draw them back on. Enjoy yourself and learn from your mistakes!

3. Appreciate PE lessons, you'll miss them when they're over (honestly!)
I know you despise PE, and view it as a kind of torture designed to humiliate you and force you to shave your legs when you really can't be bothered. But, when you get to my age, you'll wish you had a loud and angry teacher forcing you at whistlepoint to run six laps of the school field and then do a long-jump and throw a discus. It's embarrassing, I know. You don't even wear a bra yet and you have to change in front of everyone. The swimming pool is freezing cold and there was a dead rat in it once. But you're getting fit and healthy. You can eat all the junk food you want, safe in the knowledge that you're burning it off three times a week and there's no avoiding it. Now, I'm lucky if I can persuade myself to walk up a flight of stairs.

4. You don't need a relationship - go out and have fun!
Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, you will be perpetually in long term relationships. You will always be 'in true love' with one dopey guy or another, and in doing this you will miss out on the learning experience that dating and sleeping around and fancying someone who doesn't fancy you back can provide. You don't need a relationship, you are a child! Here's a hint: None of those guys are 'the one' so stop stressing out about them and focus on your GCSEs or something, damn.

5. Don't judge people by the way they dress or what music they like.
You are a poser with your stupid T-shirts that you got from New Look and the music that you only listen to because everyone says it's cool. You are not better than the chavs, or goths, or popular girls, or whoever else you look down your nose at. By the time you get to year 11 you will have realised this yourself and you will become a social butterfly who gets along well with more-or-less everybody and has a wonderful time. I am telling you this in the hope that you realise it a lot earlier on, and can enjoy several years at school without thinking your classmates are a different species.

6. Stop claiming that you are 'not like other girls'.
You have guy friends and you like wearing converse and riding shopping trolleys down hills. Great! But that doesn't make you less female, and it certainly doesn't give you an excuse to go on about how other girls are 'sooo bitchy' and 'they never have any fun because they only care about makeup and boys'. It's really sexist and you're promoting the idea that most girls and women are superficial and stupid, and that only the really special ones (like you!) are worth getting to know. If the boys you hang around with actually believe that crap, then they'll never respect you anyway, so there's no point in even trying to be 'one of the guys'.

7. Cut your hair.
Your hair is brown and frizzy and it sticks out around your head like a traffic cone. When you tie it back in a pony tail, you look like a baby from the front with a ridiculously high forehead and frizzy bits of hair flying out around your head like a halo of pubes. Cut your hair short, then you can just roll out of bed and spike it with some wax. You won't have to deal with long hairs moulting all over the back of your blazer and being called 'hairy horse back' and 'Ozzy' by the boys who sit behind you in Geography. Maybe somebody will call you a lesbian, but so what? Lesbians are cool.

8. Don't eat the cafeteria food.
To this day, the thought of those chocolate doughnuts soaked in grease, in their little paper bags that have turned transparent with all the oil, makes me want to vomit. The burgers are little burnt hockey pucks. The chips are flaccid and soggy and the cheese tastes like plimsolls. You spend so much money on awful food. Just imagine if instead of buying all that, you put your lunch money in a jar and saved up for something really cool, like an embarrassingly emo pair of skin-tight trousers or a HelloGoodbye t-shirt or whatever else you really like at the age of 15. Your arteries will thank you.

9. Your music taste is shit. 
Seriously, I know you think you're the bee's knees right now with your Taking Back Sunday and your Fall Out Boy, but really. Just stop. Ask your dad for some recommendations. You'll thank me later.

10. In just a few years, you'll look back on all of this and laugh. 
I know it seems like the end of the world right now because you kissed somebody else and you were meant to be in a relationship but now you're a horrible person and you'll die alone and unloved and your cats will eat your dead body ... but really, it's fine. You're not a bad person, you're young, human, and still learning about the world. It's okay to make mistakes, honestly! Oh and don't go on to date the guy you cheated with. You'll waste an entire year that could have been spent doing really exciting things instead of sitting in his room watching YouTube videos all night long.

*They are also responsible for Bronies, Furries, and all other terrible internet personalities.

Review: Gods in Alabama, Joshilyn Jackson

"There are gods in Alabama. I know. I killed one."

When Arlene was younger, she murdered a boy from her school. She made a deal with God: she would stop fornicating, stop telling lies, and she would never go back to her hometown in Alabama where it all happened. All God had to do was make sure nobody found the body.

For ten years, Arlene keeps her promises, but when a girl from her old high school turns up at her door demanding answers, it becomes clear that she cannot hide from the past forever. The deal is off.  So together with her boyfriend, Burr, Arlene finally makes the long journey to Alabama to visit her family, including her mentally ill mother, her tough-as-nails Aunt Florence, and her cousin Clarice, the only one who knows what happened.

The chapters alternate between the present situation and Arlene's memories of the past, and towards the end of the book there are two twists that took me completely by surprise. At the start of the book there is a lot of emphasis on the fact that Arlene's boyfriend is black and her family are very racist, but this conflict actually took a back seat to the main storyline. I was actually quite glad about this, because the topic of an 'unworthy' couple having to win the family over and eventually succeeding in proving their love is very overdone, but throw in a backstory of murder, lies and secrets and you get a much more exciting read, with the smaller conflicts in the background adding to the richness and believability of the characters.

Arlene is a strong and likeable character, who struggles to deal with the guilt she feels from not only the murder, but from the events leading up to it. The chapters in which she remembers the past are not chronological, but jump back and forth. At first the motives for some of the things she did are unclear, but by the very end of the book everything falls into place, and you find yourself wanting to re-read it now that you have all of the answers.

I really enjoyed this book, and I cannot stop thinking about it. I wasn't expecting to be as hooked as I was, but now I am eager to read some more of Joshilyn Jackson's novels, as she has a fantastic writing style.

5/5 - I really cannot fault this book, it was absolutely brilliant!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Good news

I found - okay, John found - a great job opportunity for me to apply to. The job is a 12 month paid internship for an editorial assistant. The company produces a magazine all about babies. I love babies! And I also love writing and editing. So this job is a great opportunity. It's also fairly easy to get to - still a bit of a trek, but nowhere near as nightmare-inducing as the job in Church Crookham which would have just about killed me. This one is pretty manageable, a short train journey and then a 40 minute walk, rather than two long train journeys and an even longer walk. At least nobody can say I'm not dedicated! I'd at least have very toned legs after the first few weeks.

Anyway, the point in all this is I sent in my application at 3:30, and by 4:30 a man from the company was on the phone to me offering me an interview this Thursday! So now I'm shaking with equal parts excitement and nerves, because I really want this job and I will kick myself so hard if I mess anything up. I feel optimistic that I have what it takes to impress them, because after all, my CV and cover letter must have been good for them to get back to me so quickly.

If I do get this job, I will feel a little bit mean having to stop the volunteer work almost before I've even started it, but depending on the hours of this internship, I might be able to still offer one day a week to the charity shop. And I'm sure they would be understanding about it.

I'm all starry-eyed and crossing my fingers that I make a good impression on Thursday. John says he'll try and book the day off work so he can catch the train with me and keep me from melting into a puddle of jelly.

Review: The Accidental by Ali Smith

The Accidental is a book that leaves you racking your brains to think of some connection between the events, some clue you might have missed in an earlier chapter. The book starts out sounding as if it will be one of those clich├ęd 'feel good' stories about a mysterious stranger bringing a troubled family closer together and teaching them how much they mean to each other, or something trite like that. But the reality is much more interesting and bizarre.

The book is divided into three sections, with each chapter focusing on a different character's point of view. The first voice is that of Astrid, a curious and imaginative twelve-year-old girl, who is being bullied at school and never goes anywhere without her camcorder. Then there is her brother Magnus, a troubled teenager who is struggling to come to terms with the guilt of driving a girl at his school to suicide. Their mother, Eve, is an author who writes fictional historical biographies of people who died young, imagining how their lives would have turned out if they had survived. Her partner Michael is a university lecturer who sleeps with his students and is going through a mid-life crisis. Into this dysfunctional family arrives Amber, a drifter with an unconventional view of the world and a way of drawing in each member of the family and getting them to trust and confide in her. But Amber's intentions are far from kind, as each character soon begins to realise.

This book is written in an unusual, stream-of-consciousness style, particularly in the chapters following Astrid and Magnus. Occasionally the chapters take on the form of an interview or fragmented poetry to reflect the character's state of mind. By far the most enjoyable and well-written chapters are those following Astrid. Smith perfectly captures the internal monologue of an adolescent girl, who seems to go through phases of overusing certain words, or obsessing over one particular idea. I liked Astrid immediately, and a part of me wished that the whole novel was written from her point of view - not because the other characters' chapters were bad, but because Astrid's were so very enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this book and it stayed in my mind for a long time afterwards, but I did sometimes find my mind wandering while reading Michael's or Eve's chapters. I just didn't find their stories or narrative styles quite as interesting as Astrid and Magnus'. But overall, the book was cleverly written and exciting enough for me to read in one sitting in order to find out how it would all end.

The Accidental gets 3/5  

Friday, 8 June 2012

Sam's of Brighton & Jim White at the Brighton Ballroom

On Wednesday my parents and I went to Brighton to see Jim White. Because we arrived quite early and the doors didn't open until 8, we had booked a table at a restaurant called Sam's, which my parents had been to before and really enjoyed. We parked at the seafront and tried to find the restaurant. After walking in completely the wrong direction, we found out the right way from a stranger, and walked back the way we'd come and another ten minutes in the right direction, and there we were. Sam's is a very tiny restaurant with simple decor and framed black and white photos all over the walls. We were the only customers other than a couple who got there before us, and we sat in a booth with sofas and cushions. The waiter was really friendly and talkative, and when he asked what we were up to this evening we took ages trying to explain who Jim White was, and we got as far as 'he's kind of like Nick Cave or Tom Waits, sort of American Gothic but not that kind of gothic...' It's actually really difficult to describe Jim White.

As soon as we sat down we were given water and a basket of fresh bread with oil and vinegar to dip it in. We ordered from a set menu which had a choice of two starters and two mains. The starters were rabbit liver parfait with toasted brioche and red onion marmalade, or crab beignet with kumquat preserve. I had the rabbit and my parents had the crab. The rabbit was lovely and gamey and went really well with the sweetness of the marmalade and the brioche. The only problem was the thing that happens every time with pate; there was a huge slice of pate and only two pieces of brioche, so I had to eat the last bit with my fork, which felt like bad table manners! But it was still really delicious.

The main courses were a choice of pork sausages with mashed potato, broccoli, and onion gravy, or risotto verdi with goats' cheese fritters. My dad and I had the sausages and my mum had the risotto. The sausages were lovely, dense and not too 'chunky', the potato was really smooth and creamy and buttery, and the gravy was rich and sweet. It was really delicious. I couldn't manage all my sausages so I gave the last one to my parents to share. My mum's risotto looked really good as well, and it was amazingly presented. When the waitress brought our meals out she asked if we wanted mustard, and then what type of mustard - it turns out they have a whole selection. We asked for English mustard and she seemed to have some trouble getting it for us - we said 'don't worry, we'll have whatever mustard you can find!' but she managed to track down some English mustard for us, hooray!

Finally we had dessert. We probably would have been full enough without it, but they sounded amazing on the menu. We all chose elderflower panna cotta with gooseberry jam and a raspberry shortbread biscuit. The panna cotta was really thick and had a lovely creamy cheesy texture, rather than the wobbly jelly texture they usually have. The shortbread and jam were also very good. We saw on a notice that they sold a lot of their preserves in jars, but we didn't buy any because we'd be carrying it around at a gig!

But it turns out that wouldn't have been a problem, because when we went inside the venue, the Brighton Ballroom (which was right next door to the restaurant), we were surprised by how small and cosy it was inside, and there were sofas and tables to sit at all around the outside of the room. So we quickly grabbed a table and got to sit down comfortably for the rest of the evening, which was just as well considering how much food we'd just eaten! The ballroom resembled a burlesque venue, everything was dark red and purple plush with chandeliers and a high domed ceiling, and the walls were covered in art and photos. There was Turkish music playing when we went in, and it all seemed really strange and dreamlike.

The support band was called Stanton, and Jim White performed with them as well. They were a two-piece band with a singer/guitarist and a double bass player. They also provided the music for Jim White's performance and the double bass player was particularly good. It was a much shorter time between the support and the main act than it usually is, perhaps owing to how small and simple this venue was. Between performances, Jim White and the band just wandered around with the audience. It was quite strange being so close to the stage and seeing the performers right there, rather than disappearing backstage somewhere.

Jim White performed in his usual laid-back style, stopping to tell stories in between songs. Often his introductions last longer than the songs themselves! Highlights of the performance included Still Waters and If Jesus Drove a Motorhome, both distinctively different to the album versions. There was a technical hitch halfway through the performance, when one of the amps stopped working properly and made a loud humming noise, but it was quickly sorted out, Jim made some funny comments about it and the audience was very patient. There was an 11pm curfew so it was one of the shorter gigs I have been to, but it ranks among my favourites because of how relaxed and laid-back the atmosphere was. It was a very enjoyable night all round.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

First proper sale

Someone finally bought one of my pieces of jewellery from Folksy! As in, someone other than a friend or family member. This is the first time I actually have to package and post an item, and the first time I can say beyond a doubt that this is not just a pity-sale! It is a really good feeling knowing that somebody genuinely just plain liked one of my creations enough to pay for it.

I've branched out into necklaces and earrings now, though I have yet to list them in my shop, because the weather hasn't been sunny enough for me to take brilliant photos of them. I suppose I should invest in a good lamp at some point.

Tonight I'm going out with my parents to see Jim White in Brighton. Jim White is an American alternative-country musician who used to be a preacher. We're also going to eat in a restaurant called Sam's of Brighton which is meant to be really good, so I'll probably write reviews of both of those things when I get the chance.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

An update on my exciting life *cough cough*

A lot of things have happened in the past few days.

I got a volunteer job at a British Heart charity shop. I'll be working two days a week starting on Saturday. I spoke to two people there and they seemed really nice; the whole place has a lovely friendly atmosphere. But apparently, working in the charity shop isn't as simple and gentle as you might imagine. There are tons of shop lifters (yes, from a charity shop of all places!), there is a risk of people sending letter bombs because the charity funds animal testing, they sometimes get donation bags filled with excrement and dirty nappies and all sorts of horrible things, and customers are often very rude and abusive to the staff. Yay fun! I think I can handle it though. I'm a tough cookie.

Anyway, so that at least gets me out of the house and gives me some more work experience. There is also an opportunity to get an NVQ if I stay there for 6 months, as well as meeting new people and being social, which is always fun.

I made £55 selling my jewellery over the weekend. My aunt came round and my mum tipped all my bracelets out on the coffee table in front of her. She bought my rainbow unicorn bracelet, one of the woven ones with blue glass beads, a green glass beaded one, and a red and white one with dice for my cousin Alfie. She also said she'll make me a website, and she has a writing task for me, to write an article for a magazine she is producing. Then the next day me, my parents and my brother went up to Kent for my uncle's 40th birthday party. My aunt (a different auntie this time) had commissioned a necklace, earring and bracelet set for her friend's birthday the next weekend. I made them with moonstones and pearls as these are the birthstones for this month. I really liked how they turned out, and my aunt liked them too. When we were there, my mum used her aggressive sales tactic again, and I sold a few more of my bracelets to other family members.

So now I've almost run out of things to sell, so this week I'll be busy replenishing my stock! I'm thinking I might move my shop over to Etsy so I have more chance of selling things. Etsy is more of a well-known site and has a much wider audience. And shipping something as small and lightweight as jewellery to America would be very cheap, so I'm not too bothered about international orders.