Emma is currently...

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

Friday, 30 April 2010

John Smith. No, not a pint of bitter.

I have been musically enlightened.

Last night I went to the most incredible gig. His name's John Smith - ordinary name, extraordinary performer - and I'd never heard of him before but my friend invited me because she thought I might like him. He's a folk singer and he makes noises with a guitar I didn't think were possible. I sat throughout the whole gig in a kind of trance, practically drooling at how amazing he was. At some point I think I fell in love.

Go here: http://www.myspace.com/johnacousticsmith. Listen. Enjoy. And watch the video of him playing 'Winter', because he manages to play the guitar on his lap like it's a drum while still playing chords and I DON'T UNDERSTAND HOW.

I met him afterwards and bought a CD from him which he signed for me. "Thanks Emma. All love, John Smith X." At least that's what I think it says. I can't really read his writing. He asked me if that was Emma spelt in the traditional sense, and I said yes, I don't know how else you'd spell it, and he said no, nor did he. I'm in love. My friend told him that after watching him perform she didn't think she could ever touch her guitar again, to which he purred, "No, no, touch it more..." Sigh.

In other news, Slightly Foxed came today! It's a quarterly full of book reviews, but it doesn't try to be high-brow or too intellectual; it's friendly and personalised and such. I only bought one trial copy but I received two, because the Winter issue got lost in the post so they sent me the Winter and Spring issues to make up for it. It's lovely, like a little book printed on thick creamy paper with a pretty illustrated front cover, and it's really readable. I've been reading all morning. I love getting packages at uni - it makes me feel somehow important. I want to take out a subscription to Slightly Foxed but I can't really afford it, especially since I'm now going to go blow my little remaining money on another John Smith CD. Totally worth it though.

All my essays are done! I'm quite glad I spent almost all of Easter having mental breakdowns over them, because at least I got to have mental breakdowns in the comfort of home with my mum making me constant cups of tea to cheer me up. Now, while everyone else has mental breakdowns at uni, I am going to concerts and reading quarterlies and lazing around doing basically nothing. Although I should probably start revising soon.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Book reviews!

I'm back at uni! I was dreading it slightly, because I got settled into such a comfortable routine at home, but now I'm here I'm so glad to be back. When I first came through the door two of my housemates were slouching around in bed watching pointless Youtube videos, and I ran in and jumped on top of them, and it was just as if we'd never been apart for five weeks. Once I'd unpacked everything I realised how lovely my room is; it's far bigger than my room at home, and now the weather is improving it's actually warm in here and I don't have to wear fingerless gloves, two hoodies, a dressing gown and a scarf when trying to work.

It's strange to be back because my timetable is practically empty. There are revision lectures and seminars, but they're optional and only run for two weeks, and once I'm done with them I'll have absolutely jack all to do. I'll have to take my education into my own hands. I plan on spending all day in the library revising, but I don't know how long that resolution will last, because the library sucks your soul out of you. Honestly. Grey carpets, grey walls, grey ceilings, garish strip lighting, heating always on a bit too high - it's designed to make you lose the will to live. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Anyway, onto the point of this post... In my campaign to be more interesting, I am going to write some book reviews! Three book reviews, in fact, because my mum bought some books on the 3 for 2 offer in Waterstones and I got so bored that I read them all in about two weeks.

Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

This is a novel set in the 1950s about an Irish girl, Eilis, who moves to Brooklyn to find work. She finds work in a big department store and lodges in a house with several other Irish girls. At first she hates the big city and suffers from extreme home-sickness, but she slowly adapts to the glamour of the city, becomes more and more sophisticated, and meets a boy called Tony, whom she falls in love with. Then her sister dies (bit of a spoiler there, sorry) and she has to go back to Ireland for a few weeks to comfort her mother. Before she goes, Tony encourages her to secretly marry him to prove that she intends to return, and she does. At home, however, she meets and begins to fall for another man she knew when she was younger. She receives a good offer of a bookkeeping job, and realises that her life in Ireland would be happier than her life in Brooklyn: if she returns to Tony she will become a housewife and will never be an independent woman. Eventually, she accepts that she does not love Tony anymore. Will she return to Brooklyn out of duty to her husband, or remain in Ireland where she will be happy?

At first I thought the book was pretty dull - Toibin has a really simplistic, understated writing style. "She went upstairs to make a cup of tea, then she went to bed and revised for her exams. She took the exams two weeks later and they went well." That kind of thing. That's not a quote, because I left the book at home. There is very little description of what people or places look like, unless it's a simple inventory of a room or the colour of a dress someone is wearing. While he tells us Eilis' thoughts - her narrative voice is very naive and childish - we rarely get any strong displays of emotion from her. I was especially taken aback when she hears that her sister has died, and she barely has any reaction at all. Toibin says that she cried, but it is all skimmed over very quickly. I appreciated that he was trying to avoid melodrama, but it seemed like he had taken the opposite extreme.

However, as I got further into the book I realised that the understated prose is perhaps the best thing about it. This sounds stupid, but I realised this when I was reading the book at about ten in the evening and decided I wanted a cup of tea. "But if I drink tea now won't it stop me from sleeping?" I wondered. Then I thought, "No, it's fine, because Eilis always drinks tea in the evenings." I'd started to think about her like she was a real person. That's when it hit me that Toibin had slowly, craftily tricked me into completely sympathising with his character. She does things which are utterly idiotic, like allowing herself to fall for the boy back in Ireland - if I were her I would have kept a mile away as soon as I started to feel something - but at the end of the book you find yourself really feeling for her. So overall, I'd recommend this book. I'd class it as a light read, but it does remain with you after you've read the last page.

Nocturnes - Kazuo Ishiguro

After my rant about how much I love The Remains of the Day, I was really keen to read the new Kazuo Ishiguro book. Nocturnes is a collection of five short stories, all based around the themes of music and lost love. 'Bittersweet', 'melancholic', 'nostalgic' are all words I have heard used to describe it. All the stories are good, but none of them touched me in the way The Remains of the Day did. Ishiguro uses a very casual, familiar style of narrative, as if the narrator knows you and is chatting to you, telling you a funny story. And most of the stories are quite funny, at the same time as actually being very sad and poignant.

My favourite was "Come Rain or Come Shine", in which a man goes to stay with some old university friends who are having marriage troubles. It transpires that the husband, Charlie, has only invited the narrator, Ray, to stay because he wants his wife, Emily to see how much worse off she could have done. Emily and Charlie both see Ray as a total failure because he is single, has no career prospects and has not settled down yet. They make him feel like a pathetic charity case despite the fact he actually seems happier than they do. Alone in their house, Ray reads Emily's personal appointment book and finds that she has written some pretty nasty things about him. He tears the page in anger, then realises he has to cover up this mistake. He impersonates a dog, pretending it has destroyed the house, knocking over vases and tearing Emily's book in the process. Emily walks in the find him crawling around on all fours, boiling a shoe in a saucepan to try and recreate the smell of dog, and thinks he's on the verge of a mental breakdown. It's absurd, and probably quite unrealistic, but funny all the same. It's the sort of thing that would happen in one of my stories.

Several of the stories overlap, suggesting that the world is full of bittersweet songs and stories such as the ones we encounter in the book. Some of them seemed too similar for my liking, though there are subtle differences which I am probably too unsophisticated to pick up on. Overall, the stories were sweet and not overly sentimental, but I wasn't blown away by them. I've never been a fan of short stories, to be honest; I can't get involved in them the way I can with a novel because they're over too quickly.

One Day - David Nicholls

My friend thought I'd like this book because of its relevance to our situation in life. Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation - she has a first-class degree, he has an average degree, and they both have no idea where they are going in their lives. The book then follows them over the next twenty years of their lives, charting the ups and downs of their friendship, their relationships, and their careers. They're clearly meant for each other, but of course they don't get together until the end of the book.

At first I thought Emma was disturbingly like me, and not just in the name. She graduates with an English degree, she's quirky and arty, she wants to work in publishing. The reason this is disturbing is because she ends up with a dead-end job in a disgusting restaurant and a grotty flat despite her brilliant degree. But I stopped sympathising with her after a while, because I don't think she's a convincing character, and neither is Dexter. They don't speak like real people. The amount of totally unrealistic, far-too-witty banter exchanged between them is up there with Gilmore Girls. And I hate Gilmore Girls.

The whole novel is pretty predictable in general too. Emma initially goes nowhere with her career, while Dexter travels the world and then gets a job in television, becomes a TV presenter and earns heaps of money. But then we realise that actually, Dexter isn't happier than Emma because he has no moral fibre and he's addicted to alcohol and drugs and his flashy lifestyle is nothing more than an empty shell. And then he spirals out of control, while Emma settles down and becomes a teacher and gets a boyfriend and it's all just so obviously trying to shove the question of what does success really mean in my face. And they go through all these failed relationships and the whole thing is so tediously will-they-won't-they-will-they-oh-they-almost-did-no-not-quite-oh look they did after all. And then they get married. And then Emma dies. That's not exactly a spoiler because I saw it coming for miles off. Of course, once they finally get together one of them has to die. That's what has to happen in overly sentimental books... Well, she got squashed by a taxi but at least she finally found love. Nawwww.

So I didn't really like it. Twenty years is a long time, it dragged on and on, and about ten years in I already wanted to punch both of the characters in the face. Dexter's essentially an arrogant pig and though Nicholls tries to give him all these redeeming 'but he's a good guy underneath!' features, I'm not convinced. Emma is facetiously self-critical (she clearly loves herself) and can't conduct a single conversation without hitting someone in the face with an irony sledgehammer. So I felt absolutely nothing when Emma died and Dexter (surprise surprise) got back on the bottle. But then I can be quite aggressive to fictional characters. I already want to kill half the cast of Neighbours.

Apologies for length; maybe I shouldn't have tried to cram three book reviews into one post. But I have nothing to structure my life anymore, and waffling away on this blog is probably the only thing that's keeping me (debatably) sane.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Good Day!

Today is a Good Day!

Aside from the obvious fact it's Friday, here are the reasons why today is a Good Day:

  • It is St George's Day, when all the good folk of England run around slaying dragons in tribute to our glorious patron saint. They just played Jerusalem on Classic FM. Everyone loves Jerusalem. It's where William Blake goes all patriotic and decides that England is a "green and pleasant land", and everyone ignores the existence of "London" and the fact that William Blake is clearly a miserable old sod who hates London and everyone in it.
  • It is also Shakespeare's birthday. Well, we don't really know when Shakespeare's birthday was but today is our best guess. So happy birthday, Will! (We'll ignore the fact it's also Shakespeare's death day, as that would make today a Bad Day, which it is decidedly not.)
  • The weather is GORGEOUS and I am wearing a summer dress! Despite the fact I have not gone outside. But my window is wide open, and next door's kids appear to have disappeared somewhere which is brilliant because I no longer have to listen to them screaming "MUMMY LOOK AT ME ON THE TRAMPOLINE I CAN BOUNCE WHEEEEEEEEEEE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE ARGH WAHHHHHHHHHHH MUMMY I SCRAPED MY KNEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!" I might climb out onto the roof later and bask in the sun. Like a lizard.
  • Essay progress is finally being made. Words are being written. Samuel Pordage and John Dryden and I are getting it on, in a big literary threesome, in which many idea-babies are being conceived. Okay, that was a really weird and perverse metaphor, and I am going to take this opportunity to sign off because Neighbours is about to start anyway.
But to conclude, today is a GOOD DAY, and we should all be happy. The violence of my extreme mood swings does concern me sometimes!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Middle C

One afternoon a week we would walk in single file to Mrs Brady's room. We had to walk down a thin corridor with windows either side and it felt like a tunnel into another world, one of fun and music, of Mrs Brady's piano and her pink flannel tracksuit and the battered glockenspiels she sometimes let us bang away on. Mrs Brady sung everything she spoke in a lovely high voice like an old lady in church: "Are you reaaaddddyyy... And, one two threeeeee..."

We all saw her as a bit of a joke when it came to our primary education but she didn't seem to mind.

Once we all queued in front of her piano and took turns to find middle C. "If you can find middle C you can work out where all the other keys are on the keyboard," she told us.

I found it easily. Other kids would stick out a finger and plonk it at random on a key somewhere near the middle of the keyboard and Mrs Brady would sing, "Not quite, try agaaaiiinnnn..."

She got old and had to retire. There was a rumour going round that she had popped her clogs and was trapped inside the old Triangle of Silence for good, but I saw her coming out of Budgens once - I knew it was her from the pink flannel tracksuit - so I know that's not true. Brady will never die.

Next time I see her I might tell her I can't find middle C anymore. She'll be surprised: "But you were so musical! All those keyboard lessons!"

I'll explain that's not what I meant; I meant I've lost that certain point in life from which everything else makes sense - the key you hit and it allows you to stumble around something that vaguely resembles a tune. "I'm all out of tune, Miss," I'll say.

Do you reckon she'll understand?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Dear everyone, I promise to be more interesting from now on. Love Emma.

I would like to apologise.

Lots of my friends have blogs, and reading through them all, they're all interesting or funny or opinionated or just something engaging. No wonder no one reads this thing. It's just struck me how mind-numbingly boring my own blog is. It sounds like an even more mundane equivalent of the Mein Austausch booklet they gave me to fill in when I went on the German exchange in Year Nine. "Describe what you did on MONDAY! What did you have for DINNER?"

No one cares. No one cares that I had a coffee in Covent Garden. It's dull, dull, dull. And no one cares about my essays at all. I don't even care about them so why do I always go on about them? Perhaps I think it makes me sound clever, but really I'm not that clever at all.

So I'm sorry, and I am going to try and be interesting and funny and give my opinion on things more often in the future. It's weird. I think in my writing I'm quite good at being funny and opinionated. At least that's what people tell me. But in real life I have no personality. It's like my writing sucks it all out of me or something, or that I'm incredibly repressed and I can only express myself through fictional situations.

Anyway, to apologise for the undue boredom I have caused you, here is a picture of the pony I made friends with in the New Forest. Naaaaaaaaaaw.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

My week off.

I decided to take a week off from essays. Well, Monday I did some half-hearted research towards my third essay. It's kind of interesting. I'm writing about this seventeenth century poem that very few people have written on before, and since I've got no one telling me what it's about, I have to play literary detective. The poem is a political allegory and I'm trying to work out which real-life people the characters represent, as well as come up with my own interpretation of it. This is problematic for me as in all honesty, I'm a bit of a charlatan. I'm very good at parroting clever-sounding things I've read in my essays and getting high marks, but I have no ideas of my own at all. That's probably what this essay is trying to catch people out on.

Tuesday I had to go and have some blood tests. It was fine, even though she took quite a lot of blood. Despite being squeamish I've always been good with needles. One of my proudest moments in life was being the only girl in my entire form not to cry when we had the BCG injection in Year 9. After that I saw my good friend Pip. We went out for dinner, stuffed our faces, then went and saw The Blind Side. It was a sweet movie, despite obviously trying really hard to be sweet and inspirational. There was a man sitting on his own next to me, which I always find a bit sad, though I don't know why... Why shouldn't you go see a movie on your own if you're bored and just want to get out the house?

Wednesday Lauren and Tom (yes, I'm using names now - whether they're the right names or not you shall never know) and I drove out to Windsor. We had lunch, and wandered around looking in quaint shops, and then decided to get a guided tour of Eton. That's a very fancy boys' school where people like Princes William and Harry went, in case you didn't know. It was interesting, and made me very glad I wasn't born upper-class and rich and a boy, because attending Eton sounds awful. I saw the place where Shelley carved his name on the wall (at least I think Shelley did it himself - they get professionals to carve the names now but this was in individual writing). It makes me wonder if people will be looking at my graffiti in hundreds of years time. I remember when I first came to secondary school, I wrote, "I am a crumb. I am a speck of dust" on the wall behind the stage in the main hall. I'm really not sure why I wrote this... I think it's because I felt so small and insignificant. I remember this older boy came up to me when I was writing it and said, "Excuse me, you're not allowed to write on the walls," and I just looked at him like he was a total moron and carried on, and he walked off. That was such an un-me thing to do. I don't know why I'm telling you this.

Thursday I just slobbed around the house. Friday I went to visit my friend in London. Another friend and I chilled at hers for a bit and had lunch, then we went out to Covent Garden and had a coffee and wandered around just taking in the atmopshere. Then we randomly found cheap tickets to see Chicago and so went and saw that. It was all totally spontaneous, which doesn't happen very often as I am a planning freak, but I love it. Afterwards we went back to hers and chatted and moaned about boys and giggled a lot. It was just like being fifteen and at a sleepover again.

Next morning (yesterday) I crept out the house before they'd got up, because I had to get back home to go to a picnic. It was a glorious day on Saturday - not a cloud in the sky. I hung out on a field with a random collection of friends from churches I have been to, and we listened to music and just basked in the sun. There were so many thirteen-year-olds out and about, with their backcombed hair and leggings and Hollister tops and Ugg boots, and it made me realise how old I really am. I am so old. There were a group of them smoking and I was like, "How old are they to be smoking?" in this outraged voice, and then realised that I sounded like a pensioner. They did look about thirteen though. In the evening my parents had some friends round for dinner. Usually when this happens my brother and I retreat to our rooms with beans on toast and only emerge for the obligatory five minute "So how's uni?" conversation, but this time we had dinner with them. This is another sign that I am getting old.

Today was another beautiful day, so we drove down to the New Forest. I love it there because you can hang out with the wild horses, though I always think they're coming to maul me every time they get too close. There was a friendly white one I made friends with and managed to stroke. We had lunch by the sea, then went on a walk and had ice-cream. I might even have caught the sun a bit! I'm far too pale to tan so I just burn or get freckles.

I've taken loads of photos of all these things. Maybe I'll share some here, though I doubt anyone cares. Anyway, that was my week off. Tomorrow I'm back on the essay. Woop.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


Since my last post, I have discovered a strategy for getting my essay done. The strategy is to man up, stop whining like a pathetic little emo kid and just do some work.

So I have wound up writing my current essay about the postmodernist elements of the two novels I am studying. However, this has left me very confused. This is why I am confused:
  1. No one really talks about postmodernism anymore unless they're being ironic. Which would make us post-postmodern.
  2. I'm not sure it's even cool to be ironic about postmodernism anymore, because postmodernism is so clearly outdated that anyone who is ironic about it is just stating the obvious. Which makes us... Post-post-postmodern?
  3. I don't have the faintest idea what postmodernism is. And I'm not sure anyone else knows or cares either, because isn't the point of postmodernism that you can't attach a single definition to anything, including postmodernism? In which case you can't define postmodernism as saying that you can't define anything, in which case I am now going to smash my face against the keyboard.
Sometimes I wonder whether my degree isn't just one big joke?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Anger management?

Today is a beautiful spring day. It's crisp and bright; my window is open, and the sunlight is shining through the glass and warming my back. Our neighbours' grandchildren are in their garden, playing and laughing. Sounds of freedom. I am sitting at my desk, working on an essay. As I have been doing almost every day for the past two and a half weeks.

I'm so fed up. All I can think about is essays. I've finished one and started on the second. Yesterday, I decided to skim through the two books I'm writing about and look for useful quotes. I thought it would take a couple of hours, but it took all day and I still didn't finish. At about five o' clock I was still working away, even though my head hurt and my eyes were bleary - I thought I had to be almost finished, but when I looked at the book I was not even halfway through! I got really angry. Then, upstairs, my dad started snoring. I was suddenly infuriated by the fact he got to have a nap while I had been working all day, and it wasn't like I was nearly done because I hadn't even started writing the 5,000 word essay. I was so infuriated that I had this sudden desire to lash out, and so I raked my fingernails down the book I was reading so hard that I left tears in the page... And then I almost snapped my pencil in half and threw it across the room but managed to restrain myself.

I think I've got anger issues!

I'm just so, so fed up and depressed. It's the holidays but I can't enjoy them. I've been arranging to do things with friends, because I need to unwind, but I can't appreciate the things I do because I'm constantly thinking, "I should be doing my essays right now - how am I going to get them all done?" The silly thing is, I know I will get them done. I always do. But I always feel like I need to sacrifice my sanity to do so.

Anyone got any advice? How can I stop being so angry? I don't want to destroy all my books in sudden psychopathic outbursts of rage. In the meantime, it's back to essay number two... I have written about 700 words but as usual they are all absolutely awful! Hm, maybe eating more chocolate will help.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Emma's Essay Nightmare (and writing progress)

I have five weeks off uni for Easter - a ridiculous amount of time, I know - but I need them, because I have been sucked into a Black Hole of Essay Doom. I have three assessed essays to write, adding up to a total of 12, 500 words. That doesn't seem like a lot when you consider that for NaNoWriMo I had to write 50,000 words in four weeks. It's different, though. For NaNoWriMo the words could be a complete pile of twaddle (man, I adore that word!). These words have to be clever words. They have to be words which will get me good marks - my degree is riding on this! And the topics I have chosen to write on are really quite hard.

Hence Emma's Essay Nightmare. I will probably update this blog moaning about my progress, or lack thereof. Here's where I stand at the moment:

  • Essay 1. A 5k comparison of Crime and Punishment and Hunger on the theme of subjectivity. First draft, written in barely comprehensible English, complete. I have spent literally all week sitting at my desk doing this. It drove me crazy. Today my dad drove us out into the forest and we went on a walk, just so that I could remember what fresh air and sunlight were like.
  • Essay 2. A 5k essay on feminist themes in Possession and Alias Grace. Haven't even started researching yet.
  • Essay 3. A 2.5k essay on 17th century text no one has ever heard of, which I have to research and then make up - gasp! - my own opinions about. Have not even decided what I'm going to write about yet.
Sigh. I just have to keep telling myself that it's worth having no life for five weeks in order to get a good mark for my second year. And, hopefully, a good degree at the end of it all. Which will hopefully mean a good job. Which won't necessarily mean a good life, but I think I've got that one sorted whatever happens.

On a slightly different topic - (creative) writing progress has been made! I realised that the reason I've felt absolutely no motivation to write Into the Blizzard (the Storm Awakened spin-off) is that I had no plot, and couldn't see where it was going. When I did manage to write a few paragraphs, I was writing aimlessly. So this evening I sat down and focused all my energy on writing a detailed, comprehensive plot.

Guess what: I actually got somewhere! I mean, I have a plot that I actually think is decent, and it's fairly complex, too! It's all a bit of a muddle at the moment, and I have only plotted about 3/4 of the story, meaning I still need to find a way to wrap it all up and then locate and destroy any plot holes - but I can see the story going somewhere now. I have enough material to write at least 20 chapters. That's right, it's going to be another long one. This is going to keep me distracted from those essays for a while!