Emma is currently...

  • Addicted to: Fruit and nut mix
  • Listening to: Band of Joy - Robert Plant
  • Reading: Naples '44 - Norman Lewis

Friday, 30 October 2009


I have two essays of two thousand words each to write for Tuesday. I have completed zero words. Therefore I have decided, in true student style, that the best course of action is to sit here drinking coffee, eating a raisin and cinnamon bagel, and talking about NaNoWriMo on my blog.

For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, it's National Novel Writing Month - a competition that challenges you to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. The website is www.nanowrimo.org. And I am doing it this year...

Wahey! I didn't exactly intend to sign up for NaNo this year. I was very tempted, because I did it in '06 and found it was a great way to force me to write when I didn't really want to, and I managed to produce something vaguely readable out of it. However, I knew this year was probably the worst year ever to do it because my degree actually counts this year. Anyway, I signed into my '06 account just to see if it still existed - and was told that I was now an offical participant! Well, that was that decided then.

My NaNo this year is called Bethany's Tree. It's a weird sort of spiritual/fantasy/literary mess of a novel which I have barely planned. I'm a bit worried that the idea just isn't going to work and it'll all be a massive disaster. The basic premise is that my protagonist, Bethany, is mentally handicapped and trapped in this drab middle-class life in the country. While everyone assumes she is stupid, dim-witted and trapped inside her own restrictive mind, she actually has an incredible imagination, and the novel is about her journeys into a beautiful fantasy world reached by a tree in her garden (whether this world is real or imagined by her, even I don't know). Each chapter will switch between the real world, where her family are preparing for the Dinner Party, the biggest social event of the year, and her adventures in the tree world. And then at the end everything goes horribly wrong, but I won't reveal too much.

Yeah, it sounds weird. I have no idea whether I will pull it off. I've never been that into planning, as anyone who has read Storm Awakened will know, and I just intend to wing it as I go along. But I guess that's what NaNoWriMo is all about, isn't it?

The competition starts on Sunday. There's still time to sign up. It's hard but very fun, and if you have lots of coffee and chocolate to help you out it's very possible too. I'd recommend it to anyone who has always fancied writing a novel but never got around to it!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Brecht and Einaudi!

Oh gosh, I'm already failing at blogging. It just seems like not a lot worth blogging about happens in my life. However, I had a wonderful day on Saturday and thought I would share its events with you.

I went home for the weekend and my family and I went to London together. My mum and I went shopping, then we had lunch, then my brother and dad joined us and we went to a play, then we had dinner, and then we went to a concert. Music, literature, food and clothes...ah, it was almost a perfect day.

I'll tell you about the play first. It was Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children at the National Theatre. I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it, as almost all the plays I go to see are by Shakespeare, but I thought it was brilliant. Mother Courage is, to describe it very basically, a condemnation of war, which is portrayed as a never-ending cycle that produces nothing but death and misery. Courage, with her three children in tow, follows the army in a wagon in the hope to profit from the war by selling them provisions. She is determined to see the war through the eyes of a businesswoman and never to be caught up emotionally in its atrocities. Throughout the course of the play all of her children are lost to the war. Though of course any mother would be traumatised by this, Courage refuses to give up after each loss and continues to drag her wagon around Poland until all her children are gone. After she sings a lullaby to the corpse of Kattrin, her final child, her final words are, "I've got to get back into business."

Then she hauls her wagon around the stage all by herself, representing the endless and futile cycle of war.

Brecht makes a point of making his plays very self-referential - as in, making it obvious it's a play - which he calls the Verfremdungseffekt ("alienation effect"). In Mother Courage there isn't really a set, just big banners with the setting scrawled across them. There are no lighting effects, just cold, harsh white light; you can see the tech crew as they move around props to change the scene; the actors change costume in front of your eyes. This didn't really stop me from feeling involved in the events of the play, but I felt I was being invited to be an objective spectator, to evaluate whether I thought what Courage was doing was right or not. It's hard to consider war without being emotionally involved, which is why I think Brecht tries to alienate us.

The play is also frequently broken up by musical numbers. I didn't realise Brecht actually intended music to be a part of the play until afterwards - I thought the director had just randomly shoved it in to make it more entertaining. Anyway, the music was excellent. They got a guy named Duke Special to compose it; a funny little Irish guy with dreadlocks and eyeliner. He and his band would suddenly appear on stage and begin to sing. I'd never heard of him before, but he was actually very talented (he played loads of instruments), and I thought his voice was beautiful. At the end, after Courage had dragged the wagon offstage, all that remained was Duke Special banging a drum and singing. I can't remember what the song was called, but in it he sung about war. The final few lines really resonated with me. The exact words escape me but he sung something about how at least when we die we will finally be free from war.

And then he sung the final line: Unless the war goes on in hell. And then the lights went out. Amaaaaaaaazing.


So. In the evening we went to a piano concert at the Barbican: Ludovico Einaudi performing songs from his new album, Nightbook. I'd never been to a classical concert before so I didn't know what to expect, but it was amazing. Einaudi's music is contemporary and minimalist. He blends the piano with strings, percussion and also live electronics, and though he repeats the same motifs a lot, it just sounds amazing. When I sat in there and closed my eyes, it sounded like I was listening to a CD - then I opened my eyes and saw that there were actual people making these beautiful sounds, and more astonishingly, they weren't messing up. I can't even play two bars in front of my mum without hitting the wrong key, crying out in frustration/embarrassment and giving up. Oh, and there was this guy who had some serious skills on the tambourine. He was going mental. It was incredible.

I often use Einaudi as a backing track for my writing. I wish more people could appreciate classical music. It really annoys me how Cheryl Cole can whine 'we gotta fightFIGHTfightFIGHTfight for this love!' over a synthesized beat and everyone will buy it and it will get to number one, and yet incredibly talented people like Einaudi are stuck in this niche. People say they find classical music 'boring', which usually means they can't dance to it in a club. I understand that people connect music to memories, such as a good night in a club. But classical music is so atmospheric. Add a classical soundtrack to a film and it makes it ten times better...I mean, listen to the soundtracks for the Lord of the Rings films, for example. They are amazing. People don't even realise that when they enjoy these films they are appreciating classical music. They call it boring. Grr.

Anyway, check out this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB3wgiaOOvA. It's Nightbook, probably my favourite song from Einaudi's album so far, though I haven't fully listened to all the tracks yet. The song just conjures so many beautiful images in my mind. I don't need to connect it to a concrete event in my life because it inspires my imagination. That's what crap people like Cheryl Cole and Tinchey Strider and whoever else fail to do. They make songs that drunk people can dance to in clubs but that's about it. Sorry, bit of an angry, 'the young people are rotting their minds! Get off the grass!' diatribe there.

Hmm, okay. Time to do work now!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Back at uni.

I've been living in my student house for a week and although term doesn't technically start until tomorrow, I have been so busy that I haven't been able to write or update my blog. Now is the first chance I have had to sit down properly.

I'm not doing brilliantly on the resolutions, but not for want of trying. I applied for a job but they never got back to me about interviews, which took place yesterday with a few more this evening. I am not joining the gym because they have put the price up and it's too expensive for me. However, I will be doing a lot of tap dancing this year, which will be good exercise. I haven't been able to write every day but I plan on starting tomorrow.

On the plus side, I enrolled in German classes and have been put in the advanced class! It's two hours a week. I'm a bit concerned because I haven't spoken the language in so long, but the tutor said I would be surprised at how quickly I will pick it up again. I have been eating much healthier - no pizza, pasta or frozen chicken kievs yet! I made an immense toad in the hole yesterday. As for being nicer to people, that is going very well. We had a house party last night which I will tell you about now.

If you've come here from my FictionPress profile, you might have read my story the Healing Properties of Tea. In one of the chapters I describe the 'typical' student house party, in which people dance with kettles on their heads, punch holes in the walls and fall asleep on piles of shoes covered in ketchup. This, I admit, was a bit of an exaggeration for the purpose of humour. Things like that happen sometimes, but when they do it's a big deal, and everyone laughs at the person involved for about a month afterwards. It's not the norm.

Our house party was very busy: my housemate O invited a lot of people (it was her birthday), and it turned out to be a lot more than our little house could actually hold! We tried to herd people down to our creepy cellar, which we decorated with cheap Ikea rugs (now ruined) and fairy lights, but it was too damp and cold and no one liked to stay down there. Instead everyone tried to cram into the living room and kitchen, to the extent that you basically couldn't see the floor/move, and there was a massive queue for the toilet. Most people just chatted, so drunken antics were to a minimum. There was only one horrendously drunk boy who stumbled in uninvited, already pretty much gone, and proceeded to spend most of the night standing in the kitchen with his torso slumped across the kitchen worktop, throwing up in our sink every ten minutes. I honestly have no idea how so much sick can come out of one person. His shirt was covered in stains - it was so humiliating. Why would you let yourself get like that? Even worse, we couldn't find anyone who knew him. At about 2am one of his housemates appeared and dragged him out of the house, at which point everyone cheered. He's not invited back, that's for sure.

Nothing much else happened, but I talked to so many new people, where usually I would have sat in a corner with people I already knew. You find yourself getting into such strange conversations ("Yeah, my friend's cat has cat AIDs, it's not allowed out the house!" and "I dropped my phone down the toilet...PRE-FLUSH!") but it's very entertaining. We invented a new code which enables you to talk about someone at the party without them realising, basically by referring to them as Frank Sinatra the whole time. I have no idea how this came about, but I must have received some strange looks when people overheard me saying, "Guys, Frank Sinatra fancies me but I don't fancy him back, what do I do?" They must have thought I was delusional. Oh my gosh, the aftermath though. We had three friends from home over to stay, and this morning I was the only person who woke up in the correct bed, in my pajamas; everyone else fell asleep fully clothed. There were bottles, cans and popped balloons everywhere, and our kitchen floor was black with dirt. We put on S Club 7 and danced around cleaning, and now our house looks presentable again.

Overall, I've been at uni for a week and it feels like so much longer. Already I've made several new friends, caught up with old ones and grown closer to people I didn't know that well last year. My housemates and I (O, M and A, the only boy) have become like a family. We'll huddle in my double bed watching TV, sit around the table eating fajitas, pop down to the shops or even go ice-skating together. I hope this continues throughout the year, even when people start to get bogged down by lectures and workloads, because it's really helping me to come out of my shell. At school I was basically the Invisible Girl, but uni is really starting to change that. It's an amazing experience.

Well, I have to go, because I'm going to see Fame with my friend from tap. I'll update this blog with something writing-related soon - and hopefully get around to some writing too!