What I learnt from trying NaNoWriMo this year

Let’s start with a disclaimer. By trying, I mean I failed. I have consistently been doing so since 2015.

Why am I still trying?  Why am I not accepting that, if #inktober is any indication, monthly challenges are just not for me? I guess I still hope. Seriously, though, November was still a good writing month for me. I finished the second draft of my novel and wrote about 20.000 words for another project. I made an old flash fiction piece more presentable. With midterm and final essays in the mix, no less. I haven’t done so well since 2015, when I had written 20.000 words for a now abandoned work. It doesn’t sound like much, but back then it was the most I had ever written in so little time. I had gotten drunk with it to the point that I would have been writing all day if I could (it would take me much, much longer to write 1000 words back then). By now, I am used to writing a lot, so the happy-drunk feeling doesn’t come that often. But my NaNoWriMo experience this year taught me a few things, and I would like to share them with you.

Self-care is important (And does not look like 3 mugs of coffee)

It is so easy to forget that and burn out. To me, this autumn was a lot like the very first time I left home for uni. Back when I was living on my own for the first time, and loving it. I could finally do anything I wanted. My ‘rebellion’ had lasted no more than two weeks and had mostly consisted of  watching horror films until 3AM  and then still going to my 9AM lectures. I can’t believe it’s only been five years. I don’t even remember why I was doing this, other than the fact that, for the first time, there was no one there to tell me not to.

Leaving my country for a Masters gave me a feeling of freedom that looked a little like freshman days. After a year full of work, commitments, classes, teamwork, and in general, too much on my shoulders, a Masters did not seem like such a heavy load in comparison. I made friends immediatelly, but did not have a full network, nor many obligations apart from my course work. I could finally manage my own schedule the way I wanted.  This was a much needed freedom that helped me in many ways. But being in a new city, knowing only a few people and having little to keep me on track, made exhausting myself for the sake of writing a little too easy.

Supposing you are not writing full-time and have to balance NaNoWriMo with studying/work/whatever obligation you might have, putting self-care aside might seem tempting. At the beginning of November I would sometimes delay making dinner, since I did not always have someone to eat with, or I would  stay up as late as 4AM to write, since none of my classes were too early this semester. Please don’t do that. Please make yourself something nice to eat and get all the sleep you need (or at lease most of it). Otherwise you will crush, and other responsibilities might suffer too. If you feel healthy, you will be more focused on writing.

Numbers should not matter

I am not saying this to console myself. Well, maybe a little bit.  I would have liked my novel 50.000 works longer instead of just 20.000. But don’t be afraid to do what you need to do for your writing practice, even if it does not add up to a number. This might be checking a story you wrote ages ago for grammar mistakes. Or working on a second or third draft, even if this feels like editing, rather than writing. Even reading a book about your craft, or literature in the genre you are writing, or doing research for your book.

NaNoWriMo might be for those who intend to write 50.000 words of a novel (probably a first draft, which is meant to be written as fast as possible) but if you want to just write as much as you can, and devote the rest of your energy on projects that don’t requite fast writing right now, this is valid. I consider finishing a second draft and editing a story as writing, just as much as creating a first draft, so in that sense I feel my effort was worth more than the actual 20.000 words I put down with NaNoWriMo in mind. And so should you, if you did what you needed to for your writing.

It is all about developing good writing habits

I mean, if you can manage setting projects aside for a months and then giving them your all for short periods of time, I won’t argue. But I think most of us, no matter how random and spontaneous we are, need to have at least some semblance of writing habits, if this is to work long-term. So, NaNoWriMo should not be about writing as much as you can, as fast as you can, only to burn out and need a two-months-long break from writing. My advice would be to see what worked for you in NaNoWriMo and what did not, and use that to make a schedule that is actually good for you. Perhaps you cannot write 1600-1700 every day, but you might be able to write 1000. If you can’t write every single day, a few times a week is still better than nothing. Maybe you do need to spend time looking at your last chapter to feel connected to your story before you start writing, even if this means you will have less time to write. What I found out was that sometimes, writing with the goal of finishing a chapter, knowing where I was going, rather than just aiming for 1700 words, actually helped me write more. I also realized that writing every single day might not be possible with a full-time Masters, and that’s ok. In the end, it’s all about finding a balance that allows you to do whatever you have to do, and still make time to write.

A challenge is good, but if you missed an official one, you can always set your own

If November did not work for you, but you still really, really want to try this particular challenge, you can always try again, be it today or ten months from now. I get why you might want to do it during its proper time, when most people do it, but if you missed that, don’t be afraid to find your own proper timing. In the end, all these challenges are meant to motive us and make us accountable Suffering from anxiety over doing challenges the ‘right’ way, is not the point. Finding the right way for your own writing practice is much more important.

We need to start thinking of writing (or any art) in terms of success, rather than failure

To those of us who aim to be published, full-time writers some day (or even just finish that one work) writing is obviously… well, very important. For this reason, it is easy to take ‘failures’ personally. It is easy to feel bad and blame ourselves if everything did not go according to plan. But in the end, NaNoWriMo is about improving and getting things done. Not writing 50.000 words this November doesn’t mean we are not improving or getting things done. If you wrote even a few thousands words, you are still closer than you were. Every little thing you do for your craft, putting all your effort in it, is a small success towards what you want to achieve. Those 50.000, 100.000, or 200.000 words will add up, even if they did not just now, and as long as you keep working on them you did not fail.

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So, yeah, sometimes I’m trying to be inspirational. I really hope this helps someone. Writing it definitely helped me.

Am I trying NaNoWriMo again in the future? Very possibly. Am I ever going to reach 50.000 words in one month? I am not sure if it is happening anytime soon, but at least I know it is not all that matters. So, if you reached your intended word count this November, I really admire you. But if you did not, you didn’t fail. If you managed to learn something in the process, even if it was only that this challenge could not work for you just now, I am still proud of you.

Top Ten Thursday : Holiday Reads

I’ve only been posting infrequently, but those odd posts have made me realise I love creating this kind of content. The only problem is that, being a full-time Masters student, I have so little time to actually create it. However, I recently came across several new bookish blogs and became aware of Top Ten Tuesdays by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I love Top Ten Anything, as these kind of posts are fun to create and do not require research which I am currently unable to do. Even better, this Tuesday’s prompt is  Holiday Reads (Books you love reading during the holiday season.)

This is super fun and relevant, as holidays can be both magical and stressful. Personally, I love Christmas but had a number of emotionally tough holidays the past few years. I’m halfway through the journey of balancing self-care and other’s needs and taking care of my mental health during the festive season. I am not there yet, but I am trying. I’ve found that reading and focusing on my work and writing help, even though Christmas is most often seen as a break from work. So, I might not be the best person to give advice for surviving the festive season, but if you are also trying to make the best decisions for you and have the best time possible, some book suggestions might help.

  • Fruits Basket

I very controversially decided to begin with a manga. The main reason for this is the  feeling of warmth I get out of it. The characters’ relationships are very wholesome  and the story is mostly about finding a place to belong and people to call family. There are even chapters whereby several characters’ try to decide if they should spend New Year’s with relatives as they’ve always done, although said relatives have been horrible to them. I am just too fond of those little everyday scenes that have nothing big or interesting about them, other than being relatable and true to everyday experience. Although there is nothing Christmas-y as such in Fruits Basket, I think the story is therapeutic and inspirational, especially if you are considering resolutions and new beginnings.

  • The Hobbit

Or any book leaning towards the side of children’s literature. Most people love Lord of the Rings much more (it will definitely be my Christmas reading this year, being the first thing on my syllabus for after the holidays) but to me The Hobbit is an easier, fun read that I always love returning to. This year my reread happened early as I am writing an essay on it, but I got the cosy feelings all the same.

  • The Harry Potter series

I am much more critical of the series than I used to be, but it’s still the ultimate festive read for me. The fact that there are so many Christmas scenes definitely helps get the warm and magical feels. I’m even studying at a uni that looks like Hogwarts now, so I get to have these feels much more often. Maybe the Prisoner of Askaban will be nice in case I miss Hogwarts while at home on holidays.

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone

My edition has a red door and some snow in the cover which just translates as Christmas in my head. The book’s magic is really inventive and it takes the reader to the beautiful, cold Prague. I have never been there, but it looks like a dream winter destination. Great for a dreamy escape- and some heartbreak.

  • The Sword in the Stone

I’ve only found out about this book in 2019 (shame on me) but I’ve already read it twice because I’m also writing about this for my finals (in the same essay as The Hobbit no less). I will definitely not be rereading it so soon, but, like in many children’s books, the transformations and adventures in it help the reader reconnect with their inner child and get these feelings of both innocence and mischief that I associate with Christmas.

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  • Anything by Robin Hobb

Winter is ideal for huge fantasy books. As a fantasy student and I’m definitely biased on that, but if you want heart-warming animal companions, a complex protagonist, political intrigue, assassinations and castles, pick up the Farseer Trilogy. Or, if you have already done that, join me in reading one of Hobb’s subsequent trilogies taking place in the same realm.

  • The Six of Crows Duology

Once you start, you cannot stop reading and a book hangover afterwards is very, very likely. The free time you may have during Christmas, along with the hot beverages (and perhaps a little booze?) will help you get through it.

  • The Northern Lights (or the whole His Dark Materials trilogy

Snow. Bears. Golden things. Still not a Christmas-y  book, but having grown up with it, I love returning every now and then and winter vacation is a great time for that. (Also in my syllabus for next semester. Gotta love it when the Mlitt makes me reread my favourites).  It will also fall around the BBC series season 1 finale (I think? I’ve only had time to watch part of episode 1 so far whoops).

  • The Night Circus

Doesn’t Christmas make you want to follow a magical circus with a black, white and red color scheme that smells of caramel and baked apples? No? It is just me?

  • A Christmas Carol

I am being such a cliché here, because who doesn’t think of this book as The Default Christmas book? But my love for ghosts and Victorian books isn’t a secret, so this could not possibly be missing from my list. Even more interestingly, my professor mentioned Dickens’ other Christmas stories, which I have not yet read, but I’m sure will be an interesting read to try!

So yeah,  most of these aren’t even about Christmas, but to me Christmas is always associated with warmth and coziness, so I want to go back to comfy reads with characters and adventures I love.

What do you think about this list? What are your own favorite festive reads? Let me know in the comments!

 

Favorite Anime of 2018-19

One of the best things about my Fantasy Mlitt is that things I thought I could only ever do for fun are now valid research topics. This of course has generated many jokes among my friend group about watching  Tv series  and playing video games all day “for research”. I might not be researching everything I read or watch, but the idea of writing an essay on anime is becoming a very real possibility.  Until then, I gathered a list of  recent anime that I loved and rated with 10/10 on MyAnimeList. For consistency purposes I decided to stick to 2018-19 releases. I might talk about older favorites in different posts.

Disclaimer : I do believe these are good anime in terms of art, plot and characters, but they are by no means the only ones. Nor am I saying the anime I chose don’t have any flaws. I just tend to not mind the flaws when I love something too much, and in that case I will market it to my friends and classmates by screaming “please read/watch this IT IS SO GOOD.” But since this is a blog, I will try to do better here. Empasis on the try part.

1) Violet Evergarden (2018) Kyoto Animation 

When I started watching Violet Evergarden, the anime was still ongoing so every Wednesday (or whatever day it was airing, I can’t say I remember) became crying day. Seriously. I could only watch the episodes in the evening, when I was at home and could remove my eyeliner and mascara. Once I forgot and cried black tears. But  this is not a good way to persuade you to watch it, so I will attempt to explain.e00bf61772b1c2d14643b5a1d2dd2dd9

Based on a light-novel series by Kana Akatsuki, Violet Evergarden tells the story of a girl in a fictional country where a violent war has just ended. Violet is an orphan, brought up as a child soldier and has been treated as a weapon her entire life. The only one who has ever cared for her as a person is her major, Gilbert. In their last battle Violet lost both her arms and Gilbert went missing. The anime follows Violet as she tries to integrate into society and finally live as a human rather than a tool. Having acquired prosthetics, she gets a job as an Auto Memory Doll, the world’s term for a ghostwriter. As she travels around the country, composing texts for people who need them, she comes across many different situations that familiarize her with all ranges of human emotion, so she gradually begins to understand Gilbert’s last words to her: “I love you.”

I really liked Violet’s character, as she goes from an emotionless, ruthless soldier into a kind and compassionate person. The main plot is hardbreaking, as are the side stories of the people she encouners and works for. There is one particular story that reminded me of a personal experience and I don’t think I can even talk about it. I make it all sound very sad, but I promise there is hope and beauty there too, plus the art is amazing and the female characters actually help and look out for each other which is a great detail.

2) Banana Fish (2018) Studio MAPPA

Known as the anime that gave me a nosebleed, hypothermia and heart palpitations. Ok, the first two might have been due my very inadequately heated flat, but they still did occur while watching Banana Fish. 

Adapted from an 80s manga of the same name,  written and illustrated by Akimi Yoshiba,  the anime was transferred into the 21st century. I have not read the manga yet, as I am still very emotional about this story. From what I’ve researched, some of the manga fans liked the change, while others hated it and thought it should still be taking place in the 80s. Personally, I liked how urban and contemporary the anime felt, though I still want to read the manga and form a more well-rounded opinion.

I cannot say much about the story without giving away key elements, so I will keep it short. Teenage genius Ash Lynx (my precious son) was taken in and brought up by a New York mafia godfather who trained him as his heir while emotionally and sexually abusing him. Ash grows to be an emotionally stunted gang leader who wins every fight and lets no one comes close. The plot picks up when Ash discovers a drug called “Banana Fish”  which happen to be the only two words uttered by Ash’s older brother. Around the same time, Ash meets Eiji Okumura (my other precious son), a student who assists a Japanese photographer in his project about gangs. Eiji gets caught up in Ash’s investigation of the drug and Ash goes out of his way to protect him. The drug and the story behind it turn out to be much more sinister than originally suspected, and exposing the truth requires shocking sacrifices.

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 I enjoy a good mafia story every now and then, but Banana Fish gave me much more. The anime was a masterpiece all the way, but the most beautiful thing was the relationship between Ash and Eiji. I will not attempt to define it, because the story itself refuses to do so. To me, it epitomizes the idea of something beautiful and pure blooming even though the external circumstances are as violent and ugly as can be. Both are characters I came to care about, and every episode left me worried about them and their friends. Even the little things, which often go unnoticed, were amazingly done. Each episode title was the title of a Modernist short story or novel. Titles like Tender is the Night, Babylon Revisited and Snows of Kilimanjaro  made by English Major soul happy and the anime itself felt like a Modernist story: decadent, absurd, cynical, hopeless, filled with death, yet incredibly beautiful.

3) Dororo (2019), Tezuka Productions and Studio MAPPA.

Having already watched Yuri on Ice, Zankyou No Terror and Banana Fish, I had no doubt MAPPA is a great studio. But by releasing Dororo just one season after Banana Fish they really outdid themselves and became my favorite studio.

This is an adaptation of a 1967-8 manga by Osamu Tezuka  and the manga’s 1969 anime adaptation. It should be noted that the manga was discontinued and the first anime gave its own conclusion, while the 2019 adaptation uses elements from them, but follows a slightly different path. I did not manage to read the manga nor watch the old anime in its entirety (some nice creepy things there, but certain elements simply frustrated me). However, having at least some knowledge about the originals, helped me appreciate the 2019 anime more.

In general, the anime follows the original quite closely: Daigo Kagemitsu, a samurai lord makes a pact with 12 demons (48 in the original) to ensure prosperity for his dying land.  As a price, Daigo’s first son is born with no limbs, eyes, ears or even a skin, as each demon takes one of his body parts. The child is still alive (you know, mysterious fantasy stuff to keep the plot going), but is left out to die and is found by a Jukai, a doctor. He equips the boy, Hyakkimaru, with an artificial body and teaches him to fight (somehow? please remember it’s fantasy). When he is older, Hyakkimaru sets off to slay the demons and gradually gain his body parts back. In his travels he meets Dororo, a child thief, and the two stick together, creating one of the cutest bonds I’ve seen in an anime.

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Once again, what I love about Dororo, is that everything in it is art. The music, and the art style were great (apart from two weird episodes we don’t talk about), with the design being a beautified contemporary adaptation that still keeps elements from the older black and white version. Flashbacks are colorless, apart from red things such as blood and flowers, both of which are  important motifs. When I started looking at the older Dororo media, what striked me was how much more concerned the new adaptation was with morality. Most characters were morally grey and just tried to do what they thought best for themselves and those they cared about, which often created heartbreaking dilemmas. Another interesting thing was the 2019 anime’s representation of disability. As an able-bodied person I will not try to evaluate this, especially since the magical elements make it hard to pin down, but, personally, I considered it an improvement when compared to the original, whereby Hyakkimaru can communicate with telepathy,  making his motivation to get his body back weaker. The 2019 anime features a boy who has literary never been able to see, hear, speak or even feel the sesne of touch and, even though this makes his fighting skill unbelievable it also creates real complications: at first, his relationship with Dororo is just a vague understanding that he is beign followed by a creature who is not malevolent. Still, they do find ways of understanding each other. Moreover, the acquisition of body parts, although being Hyakkimaru’s main motivation, was hardly ever a solution: having been used to his artificial body, which could be fixed,  the acquisition of human body parts that can be easily destroyed makes Hyakkimaru more vulnerable rather than less so. Although the story does have its plot holes and the ending did not completely satisfy me, I adored the characters and their journey and came to care and root for them, which, in the end, is what I want out of a good story. 

4) Fruits Basket (2019- ) TMS Entertainment

No introductions needed here. I have loved the manga by Takaya Natsuki since I was in High School and it has been such a solcace during my teen years. I had never watched the first anime as I knew it diverges from the manga quite a lot but, when I learnt about this new adaptation that claimed it was going to follow the manga in its entirety, I began rereading the manga and eventually, watching the anime. It is just as therapeutic as I remembered.

The main character, Tooru Honda, is a high-school girl who was left homeless after a family tragedy and relies on cleaning jobs to survive. When terrible weather conditions destroy her tent she is found by her classmate, Yuki Sohma and ends up moving in with him. Not long after that, she witnesses a fight between Yuki and his cousin Kyo and soon realizes that Kyo, Yuki and other members of the Sohma family suffer from a curse: when hugged by a member of  the opposite sex, they transform into animals of the Chinese Zodiac.

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To those not familiar with Fruits Basket, this premise might sound silly. However, from the first few chapters/episodes, it is obvious that despite the comic elements, the story’s real focus is people, who feel like outcasts and try to navigate in hostile situations. It is a story about pain, rejection, abuse, but also friendship, acceptance and recovery.  Living with a curse they must hide, and a very abusive head of the family, has caused each Sohma several problems that are very human and relatable. Those problems are never solved magically, and each character deals with their traumas differently, changing slowly and believably. Rather than suggesting “being positive will solve your problems”, the vibe I got from the story is that sometimes life is very hard and cruel, but it will not be like this forever, and, in the meantime, you can still make memories with friends. In one of the first chapters/episodes, Tooru mentions a childhood experience: when she was young, her classmates played a game called Fruits Basket, in which every child took the name of a fruit. Her classmates named her “onigiri” (rice-ball) which she did not mind until she found out that they did it to exclude her from the game, since onigiri is not a fruit. Her life with the Sohma family shows her that, although she is not a Sohma, she can still be part of the family’s fruits basket. Or perhaps that the members of the Zodiac Cycle are “onigiri” too, misfits in their own way, but they might still create their own fruits basket that does not leave anyone behind. And I can’t help loving this idea.

Honorable Mention : Mo Dao Zu Shi (2018- )

This is not officially an anime, as it is Chinese rather than Japanese, though the aesthetic is very much like an anime. This post is getting too long, so I decided to talk about this little gem another time (and I have a LOT to say), but if you like my taste in anime, you might want to check it out.

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What did you think of my list? Any other recent anime that you love? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I ended up doing a Fantasy Masters

I decided to revive this blog and perhaps share more thoughts on my Masters, the things I read and watch and my adventures in Scotland. But first, some backstory on how I got here.

It must have been August 2018. I had recently returned from a student exchange program at Lancaster, UK. The experience had left me with very mixed feelings.  It had been a great opportunity to grow, meet people and fulfill travel dreams, as well as finish the first draft of a novella. But this did not mean it had been easy. At times it had been overwhelming, lonely, filled with nostalgia for my friends and drama club back home,  along with some fear of missing out. The town is witchy, calm and safe and saying goodbye had been sad, but I could not see myself staying.

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I was tumbling between post-erasmus blues and happiness to be back home, when my dad brought up Masters. Since the beginning of my third year at university I knew I wanted to pursue Postgraduate studies, but nothing had really intrigued me. I could not see myself doing anything but Literature (which had resulted in a lot of family fights and “what are you going to do with that?” kind of questions by most people I knew), but most programmes I checked felt either too theoritical, or not engaging enough for me to undertake the year-long commitment and move abroad once again. 

The day I found out about the Fantasy programme I was sitting at a cafe with my dad, arguing as usual, about my insistence on continuing my studies in Literature. At some point he asked me to check the tuition fees for University of Edinburgh since he had heard good things about it. For a reason I never understood, and never will, I checked for Literature Masters in Glasgow instead. I have no idea why. I had never been to Glasgow, I knew next to nothing about the city and its university and my friends who had visited it had not told me exciting things.

And then I saw it. The University had the Literature Masters you would expect, like Victorian Literature (which I also love) and a more general pathaway that allows students to explore different eras and genres. But the word Fantasy was what caught my eye. I clicked immediately, not believing a Fantasy Masters could possibly exist.

Soon I was down a rabbit hole that told me otherwise. When I saw the overview I nearly cried from happiness. I did not tell my dad. I knew he would not understand. Instead I took a screenshot and sent it to my mom and some of my best friends. My mom asked me if I wanted to do this. I told her that of course I did not. At that point I could not see how doing this would be possible. I knew, deep down, that is was what I wanted the most, that no other Masters anywhere in the world had caught my attention, and that this might not get me a job but would bring me a step closer to being the person I want to be.  I could not stop thinking about it.

On September 2018 I went back to Athens to finish my undergraduate studies. It was a semi-gap year, during which I was supposed to finish my few remaining modules and teaching internship, study Japanese and find a Masters I could live with. During the first month I made an effort. I even attended a Masters exhibition, in which representatives of the University of Glasgow were present, which I deemed to be a sign. Of course, none of the talks were about Arts and Humanities, so I decided Masters exhibitions are not for me.

I tried many times to look for postgraduate programmes, in many different countries and different subjects (always with Literature in the mix). Nothing would resonate. I tried to persuade myself not to think about it, but I did follow the Fantasy Programme’s Facebook page. I could not help it. Slowly, I was realizing what Fantasy had done for me over the years. It had helped my learn English more than most classes had. It had given me friends, stories and all in all something to keep me going during the hard years of middle and high school. It had inspired me to start writing my own stories. But there are other reasons I love Fantast which I cannot properly express, and this is the magic of it. I came to understand that I wanted to offer something back to the world and Fantasy was not a useless thing to offer, as many people would try to persuade me. It had helped me keep going and still does every day. Now I wanted to give this to others. I talked about it to my favorite professor in Athens and, thankfully, she was incredibly supportive.

Christmas came too quickly. I knew I had to begin applying to postgraduate programs soon. But it was not until the moment of New Year that it suddenly all solidified. I usally do not write New Year Resolutions. But I had a fancy art journal and I thought why not? My first resolution was a brief one: Fantasy Mlitt in Glasgow. I knew that there were other good programmes in the world and many other good things to do. But I had decided this was the best for me at that moment, and for the first time I did not really feel selfish for attempting something I wanted so much. I could not see myself anywhere else.

The next couple of months were tough. I started my internship in a high school (and it’s not easy trying to teach 18-year-olds when you are only 23 and look 16), I had an operation to remove my very nasty wisdom teeth and my migrains got worse. I felt tired all the time, but somehow I managed to complete my application and by the Easter break I had secured a conditional offer.

I had not been that happy for a long time. Of course, this did not mean that everything fell into place easily. Not everyone in my family took it well. I had to deal with many puzzled expressions, asking what “Fantasy” was, to the point that I stopped explaining and just said I was going to be studying “English Literature.” I did feel guilty and selfish sometimes. There were people, places and things I loved that I knew I had to leave behind. But still, everything was slowly getting into a new perspective. I had something to wait for, and something that made my hard work in the mean-time worth the effort.

June was the saddest month. My last days as an undergraduate student were beautiful and heartbreaking. The drama club’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream was a literal dream and there were many hard goodbyes. At least I was glad that many of the people I was saying goodbye to were going to stay in my life, in some way. Going back to my hometown to work hit hard, and summer was a mess. I was working full-time as a receptionist to save money for my Masters while also trying to tie up some lose ends (aka final essays). I caught every virus on the island and was exhausted from the semester. And, as my offer was still conditional, I would often panic, thinking something would definitely go wrong. My undergrad years had been the best of my life thus far, but I was trully relieved to graduate with a first class honors equivalent and be able to secure an unconditional offer.

And still, I got more stress, over finding accommodation, chosing courses, dealing with paperwork and moving to another country. Yeah, I tend to be stressed a lot. Don’t be like me, if you can help it.  The last few weeks in Greece were once again very emotional, and at times I would be discouraged and think I had done a crazy thing. All my psychosomatic problems came in and I barely slept the night before the flight.

But somehow once I was alone in the plane things worked out. I started feeling a little better. Having done an exchange programme before, the airport and flight were not indimidating at all. I was able to enjoy myself and by the time I landed to Glasgow I was ready for everything. I had trouble understanding the taxi driver’s accent on the way to the accommodation, but I had not felt happier in a long time. I was even able to go out on my own soon after arriving to my room, as I had to shop for a pillow and bed covers. If you had told me, a year ago, that I would be navigating on my own in a foreign city, doing shopping like an adult, I would not have believed it.

The morning after that I met some of my classmates for the first time and went to check out the university. I don’t know if my photos do it justice, but it is literally Hogwarts. It was about a week and a half before my courses began, but I already knew I was in the right place and things would figure themselves out.

Fast forward 1.5 month later, I can’t believe how happy I am. This is not to say I am not often stressed or discouraged or tired. I do get imposter syndrome a lot (it seems to be a common postgraduate thing). I am currently stressing over my midterm essays, thinking they are not good enough. But in the good days, I am grateful that at least some of my loved ones supported me through this journey, so that I could fight and be where I am today. Here in Glasgow I have met so many amazing people, whom I already call friends and they inspire me to explore and love what I am doing here even more. The courses are very stimulating and I know the best is yet to come. Sometimes I even think I might be able to somehow fulfill my dream to work as a Fantasy writer and researcher.  After a long time I feel I am at the right place. A year ago, when I shared my anxieties and hopes about the Fantasy programme, my favorite professor in Athens told me not to listen to the sirens’ call, when they tried to discourage me from my dream. And this is the advice I want to give back to anyone who is contemplating doing an equally crazy, exciting thing.

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How I beat reading slumps

Ever since I mysteriously acquired the ability to read without having gone to primary school first, the question “Are you reading anything these days?” has been pointless. “What are you reading?” is much more accurate because I hardly ever go without reading for long.
This is not to say I haven’t had my fair share of the dreaded reading slump, although I have not always known the term. I first found out about it on Bookstagram, and I’ve often seen people asking for tips to get over it. Since I have managed to read 30-50 books per year for most of my adult life, I decided to gather all my tips for beating reading slumps.

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1)If your TBR feels restrictive, abandon the idea that you must stick to it.

Many people work better if they stick to a plan. Having a list of books to be read each month or year can be helpful. But some of us are mood readers, and if you find yourself reading less than you would like or not at all because you dread the next title on your TBR, maybe it’s time to mix things up and pick something that resonates with you now. Reading is not a chore.

Of course, I am talking about reading for pleasure. If you are a Literature student and you have assigned readings, I recommend persevering and reading them unless you are really good at bullshitting. I find out that reading demanding books becomes easier the more you read. But studying tips are stuff for another post.

2) Don’t be afraid to change books until you find one that clicks.

Again, I’m not encouraging you to drop your assigned readings. But I think we often put unneeded pressure on ourselves to do everything the ‘right’ way, even things that are supposed to be fun. Some people hate the idea of leaving an book unfinished and that’s okay. I also prefer to finish books, because everything has something to offer (if only tips on how not to write). But reading slumps are not simply ‘not liking your current read very much’. They can often be the result of exhaustion during busy and stressful times, and they might make you think you can’t read and will never be able to read again. (Ok, maybe I’m a bit dramatic here).

When the reading slump feels especially bad don’t push yourself. Leaving your current read (which, at that point, you were not reading anyway) for a book you can actually currently read might be just the thing you need to get rid of the slump. You aren’t abandoning the previous book forever. You are free to return when you are ready to take the most out of it.

Or you can be like me, and have four current reads at the same period of time and just read what feels right each time. I know many people hate reading multiple books at once and this is perfectly fine, but I still wanted to mention this because following my book moods has worked for me and I get fewer and shorter slumps this way.

3) Don’t be afraid to try genres and forms you normally wouldn’t.

When you feel unable to read so far as the next page, picking up that 1000-page-long classic that is on the list of 1001 books to read before you die might not be the most realistic goal. You might need something shorter, easier, or just different from what you are used to, to get you back on track.

Pick a short story collection. You don’t have to read all the stories. Starting and actually finishing a couple of them might make it easier to stick with a larger book afterwards. Try reading a play. The prevalence of dialogue, rather than lengthy descriptions can feel liberating. Same goes for graphic novels and manga (the art is an extra perk).  Or maybe it is time to read that YA or children’s book that caught your eye the other day, but you thought might not be ‘sophisticated enough’. We have enough to worry about, we don’t need to feel guilty for the books we enjoy.

4) Do some research

Sometimes reading slumps happen because our last read was just so good and we feel nothing will ever live up to it. This has happened to me after finishing His Dark Materials trilogy and the Harry Potter series (the fact that I was 13 didn’t help). Two years ago, I fell so much in love with the Raven Cycle that I felt it completely ruined YA for me because I thought I would never find a better YA series.

But here is something else I’ve found. Some books are promoted more than others. Marketing? Hype because of tv/film adaptations? Nice covers? Obscure reasons related to cultural phenomena? Not sure on that one. But I can tell you for sure that there are books just as good as our hyped favorites, only we have never heard of them. The good news is that internet makes it easy to find out more about them. If your favorite author lists other authors as favorites, listen to them. Or check out less famous works by authors your love. And please, look out for little-known books of your preferred genre. Half my favorite Fantasy books were discovered accidentally.

5) Go offline

This is one I still struggle with. When you have your smartphone or laptop next to you at all times, it’s very tempting to go online the moment your mind starts to wander. Which only leads to worse and worse focus. Besides, there are many websites dedicated to books and popular culture (tv tropes is my all-time favorite). They are fun, but they should not replace actual reading.

When I was still at school and barely used social media, I would read more huge books than I could count (not sure how many, as I was not using Goodreads back then). I think I read less nowadays, but I mostly blame my  adult responsibilities and other hobbies, not the internet. All I want, is to stress the importance of minimizing distractions whenever possible. It makes reading so much more rewarding.

6)Don’t let reading become a chore

I think that the less we read the hardest it becomes to get back to it, at least in my case. So I try to read every day, even a little, because I love it so much and I want it to be easy (more than that, I need it to be easy, because of my English Literature studies ). But everyone has different needs. You can read as often and as much as feels right for you, be it 5 books a year or 100. If your schedule was just too tight today and you need to sleep or watch Netflix, don’t feel guilty for doing that instead of reading. In the end, these are guidelines for those who actually feel frustrated due to not being able to read.

 

Did you find any of these tips helpful? Are you doing anything else to get over reading slumps? Let me know in the comments!

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Reading a Biography of Tolkien

Having finished my undergraduate degree, you can assume I have come across many Nonfiction books, even if that degree is literature. How many? More than I can count. How many have I read from cover to cover? Ten? Most likely fewer than that. I’ve always had a gift for extracting exactly the information that I deemed necessary, which meant I could save time to read more fiction. This changed about two years ago, when I started considering an academic career. From then on, I have enjoyed many articles and essays, but still, very rarely would I read Nonfiction on any topic.

This includes biographies. Though I love a lot of biopic films, and I can tell you random facts about most writers I like, my knowledge usually comes from Norton introductions, the internet, or resources I came across while writing essays for university. But a few months ago I started being serious about continuing my studies. I realized that no matter what I do, literature is going to be a huge part of my life. Especially Fantasy.  It was time to read a biography of the person who shaped the genre as we know it.

When I picked up J.R.R Tolkien: The Making of a Legend by Colin Duriez, I had expected a slow read. It was the first biography I was ever reading, after all. When I finished the book today, less than a week later, I was surprised. This post is to share my awe as well as some general things I got out of this very interesting read.

  • Your favorite writer probably had a an interesting and difficult life, worth writing a book about. But at the end of the day, no matter how much we idolize them, writers are normal people who experienced everyday life just like everyone else. Tolkien’s friends from school were bright and creative. His friendship with them might have inspired his Fellowship. They helped each other, and shaped each other and planned to change the world. But they were also young schoolkids who would sneak cake and tea in the library. As a girl who recently played a male role in my Drama Club’s play, I was amazed to read that Tolkien played an old lady in a school play. Such a small, mundane detail, made me feel so much closer to him.
  • That is not to say Tolkien was an ordinary person. Creating a world from scratch is an art that I truly admire, and he did it so thoughtfully and wholeheartedly. Talking about his work, he once said “It it written in my life-blood, such that it is, thick or thin; and I can no other.” Giving oneself to such a creation is so beautiful it feels heartbreaking. I absolutely loved the idea that Tolkien did not “invent” the hobbits and Middle Earth, but, rather “discovered” them. Not to mention the creation of languages. My encounter with Linguistics was brief, as I forsook it in favor of  Literature courses as soon as I was able, but I cannot help being in awe. I cannot begin to understand what kind of creativity, and fundamental understanding of human expression is required to make this work. It is really mind-blowing.
  • Seeing the ways Tolkien tumbled between his careers as an academic and as a writer of Fantasy was interesting, encouraging and also slightly unsettling to read about. I also aspire to both these careers, so it was  wonderful to see that one of the writers I admire the most was able to do both. Of course, this requires huge commitment, and I could see, throughout the biography, that he probably struggled with this sometimes, publishing fewer academic articles than expected or writing Lord of the Rings and Silmarillion frantically during holiday time. But he made it. Reading about the difficulties he faced on the way reminded me that today is  a good time to be alive for those interested in Fantasy. Back then, many people would frown at the thought of a respectable university professor writing Fantasy novels, as these were thought to be suitable only for children. Fantasy might still be quite misunderstood in some academic contexts, but the two vocations do not feel mutually exclusive or contradictory anymore. Fantasy is enjoyed by more adults than ever before, and it is even a subject to be examined academically. For this, I am grateful and I don’t think it would have been possible without Tolkien.

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There is so much more to say. I loved almost everything about his life, including his relationship with his wife which was so romantic. His experiences during WWI were really heart-wrenching to read about. I wanted to analyse everything but then I would end up with a huge post, so I am going to stop here.

Have you read this or any other biography of Tolkien? What are some of your favorite biographies? Let me know in the comments!

Things I learnt from my Game of Thrones reread

I considered making an introduction post first, then changed my mind, thinking it would be better to introduce myself little by little through my posts. And nothing is more characteristic of me than talking about GoT. My friends can testify about my ability to still rant (with details!) about book-only characters I read about five years ago.

I read the books between the ages of 15 and 17, before the disappointment called Season 5 had even come out. I count the series among the books that shaped me as a person. This was my one of my first real encounters with morally grey Fantasy. My English was not as good as it is now, and A Song of Ice and Fire was a motivation to improve. I am laughing now, when I see the words I had underlined as “unfamiliar” (if you mind pencil notes on books you can leave now, because I do a LOT of them). I had to sit English exams to get into uni and the teacher that was helping me prepare kept correcting my essays because they were technically fine but too medieaval-ish. (Then she asked why I was writing like this and  I found out she was a GoT fan too and we would fangirl together after the lesson.) Most important of all, the characters were so complex and they kept me company during the tough times of my high school years.

Then came Season 5, which, in my opinion, is not as hated as it should have been. Then came delay after delay and the last two books have yet to come out. Then came Season 8. Many fans were so disappointed that they want nothing to do with the fandom anymore. Many readers have lost faith and the series does not feel relevant to them anymore. I get that. Yet, the books still matter to me. They taught me so much about how (not) to use English, and about writing. So, along with a good friend I met on Bookstagram, I began a mighty quest: a reread of the books that we have so far. My insta-story rants about Season 8 got a huge response, so I wanted to share what I have gained out of rereading the first instalment of the series in a more focused way. In the improbable case you haven’t watched the entire series or haven’t read the books, it’s time to hit the exit button because, you know, spoilers. Unless you are like me and like spoilers but that’s deep stuff for a future post.

1. The Night is dark and full of foreshadowing.

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If you’ve read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as an adult and thought it was full of foreshadowing you had not noticed before, this is even more prominent in a Game of Thrones. Seriously, such a huge amount of foreshadowing, it’s ridiculous. At some point Jorah tells Dany “there have been worse kings [than Viserys] but not many”. Is it already teased that Dany is going to  become worse?  Bran is already thinking of himself as Bran the Broken.  Jon even has a dream about the dead rising from the crypts of Winterfell. Cersei’s eyes shine like “green fire” when she talks with Ned in the Godswood. Wildfire anyone? Varys says that Jon Arryn was killed by “tears of Lys”. By the end of book 3 we learn he was murdered by his wife, Lysa (or is it just me?) I even interpreted the blood orange that Arya throws at Sansa, ruining her dress, as a foreshadowing for Sansa’s dreaded first period in the next book.

Or maybe I’m going too far. Studying English Literature  does that to you.

2. My sweet summer child.

As I mention above, I make pencil notes on books. I know many people hate this, but I really appreciate the idea of readers writing their own story on the book, so to speak. I sometimes cry when I see dedications on used books. But I’m diverging. What I meant to say is that, besides the unfamiliar words that I had underlined when I first read the books, I also found other notes from my 15-year-old self. I probably knew what I meant back then, but I cannot remember now. I even found a maths sum. I haven’t done a sum without a calculator since junior high school.  All this notes (some of them really cringe-y)  made the experience a little unsettling, but more interesting too.

3. Promise me a good backstory, Ned.

I will admit I have issues with backstories. I love to read about my favorite characters’ tragic pasts even if this means I have to wait before diving into their present arc. I sometimes get more obsessed with backstories. In my own writing, backstories are like cute little monsters that get bigger and bigger as they devour my non-existent ‘present’ plots, taking full chapters, making me write prequels for stories I will never finish… you get the point.

Martin does not devote full chapters on backstories, which is a wise thing to do, of course. Also, Martin does tend to write too much. But somehow, for many fans, the backstories such as Robert’s Rebellion, Lyanna x Rhaegar, the love triangle (is it even called that when all love is unrequited?) between Littlefinger and the Tully sisters, do not take away from the main story. The main story would be poorer without those. The paragraphs giving away backstory do not feel boring, they leave us wanting more, if the number of fanfictions is any indication. Making readers care about a couple of characters that have been dead for 15 years and only appear through one-paragraph long flashbacks every once in a while is definitely an art, and Game of Thrones can teach us a thing or two about this.   

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Which takes me to my next point.

4. People can hate GRRM about not finishing his books, but this guy can actually write.

Ok this is not something I learnt from my re-read. I knew it all along. Reading Game of Thrones for a second time, I was able to look at it critically, and understand that it is not perfect as my 15-year-old self thought. Some names are just funny and some descriptions a bit over the top. But others are beautiful, and, reading slowly, without agonizing over the plot, helped me appreciate the writing so much more. Besides the prose, writing believably from so many different points is so hard. Other books with multiple point of view characters can have you turn to previous pages all the time, as you forget who the pov character is in the middle of the chapter. It has never happened to me with Martin’s books.

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Also, did you think Bran’s chapters were boring? I know I did. They did not seem to advance the plot much, and even if you re-read having in mind the condition that he might become king (which might make sense, but still makes me bitter), his chapters can still feel pretty uneventful. But then again, isn’t this what Bran thinks at that point? Due to his disability, he feels static and thinks that he cannot contribute to anything (well, the fact that he is seven wouldn’t let him contribute much anyway, but this is his pov). So, since he feels static, maybe it is only natural for his point of view chapter to feel static too. This is what I call good writing.

Or perhaps my Literature major has ruined me beyond repair.

There’s probably much more to say but this post is already too long. I might post my impressions when I reread the other four books as well, though I don’t think this is happening soon.