Sunday, 12 October 2014

Notes To My Teenage Self.

Notes To My Teenage Self

#1 - That album you record when you're 15 is diabolically awful. Keep a copy for banter though.

#2 - Just because long hair suited Kurt Cobain it definitely doesn't mean it suits you.

#3 - The goth phase is just a phase. 

#4 - Jack still puts up with you sometimes for some reason.

#5 - You're not very good at handling a litre of Tesco value vodka.

#6 - The aforementioned Tesco value vodka my cause some minor indiscretions.

#7 - You eventually learn to value your health and fitness.

#8 - Stop buying baggy jeans and unfunny slogan t-shirts. It's not a good look.

#9 - The amount of hassle you give your teachers will become wonderfully ironic in a few years.

#10 - You're right about Welshpool but you're wrong about the rest of the world.

#11 - I'm afraid you become the type of Guardian reading liberal that you like to mock. 

#12 - You actually learn to get on with your siblings, even Theo! 

#13 - Copious amounts of Lynx doesn't count as a wash.

#14 - Every experience, good and bad, is a story to tell.

#15 - All things get better eventually. 

Sunday, 28 September 2014

4 Stages of Writing a Novel.

The 4 Stages of Writing a Novel

I am currently in the stages of writing my second novel. My first novel was called 'Little Room on the Landing' and I self published it through a company called Lulu. The book I'm writing at the moment doesn't have a name yet but I am a little over quarter of the way through writing it. I have noticed that the processes (for want of a less pretentious word) that I have been going through are very similar to those experienced when writing my first novel. For me, they seem to go as follows: 

Stage 1 - 0-20,000 words - The happy phase. 

When you first start writing any story you almost always think that you have some sort of great idea or focus. This is why so many people (including me) start writing novels that they will never finish. The one that I am writing at the moment is actually my sixth attempt. The first few thousand words come easily to you and, if you enjoying writing, it is almost a simple pleasure. You can't foresee your project to have any real difficulties and you convince yourself the book will probably be finished in a few months at most. 

  "Well, I haven't ACTUALLY started writing it yet.'

Stage 2 - 20,000-40,000 words - The self deprecating phase.

This is the hardest stage to get through. All of a sudden, your creative juices slow down a little and you question the whole project. This niggling self doubt makes every word more difficult to write and you start wondering if you should just scrap it and wait for a different idea. This is where all those millions of unfinished novels come from. However, as my writing tutor used to tell me, "Just keep writing. Simple."

 "I'll just stick to watching television."

Stage 3 - 40,000-60,000 words - The slog phase.

This is when the whole writing process just seems to slow down. You now believe that the novel will probably get finished but it just seems to be taking so long. Every time you click on 'word count' you can't quite believe that it has only gone up by twelve words. It's not that you're not enjoying it, because you are, it just feels a little painful. A bit like writing uni assignments except you're not hungover in the library at 7AM on the day it's due in. So, actually, nothing like that.

"Only 998 words 'til I hit my 1000 word daily target.'

Stage 4 - 60,000 - 80,000+ words - The great finale phase.

You know when you're running a long distance race and you feel like you're going to die but on the last hundred meters you suddenly feel like you could do it all over again? Well, that's what it feels like when you get to the end of writing a novel. I guess it's like that with many things in life though. You forget what all the fuss was about as soon as it's over. This final sprint to the finish is even better than the start and the happy culmination of many hours of hard work and effort. Then something happens and you think, 'I'll have to write about that.' 

 "I'VE FINISHED IT! I'TS OVER!...anyone?

Saturday, 6 September 2014

4 Ways Children Are Put Off Reading.

4 Ways Children Are Put Off Reading

As a primary school teacher, it can be a real struggle to keep children interested in reading. Malorie Blackman, the current children's laureate, promotes 10-minute daily storytelling time in schools. I can say from experience that this time is effective and important in promoting a love of reading in children. Most recently, a group of inquisitive children asking for more details about information on severed heads and barbaric punishments from 'Rotten Romans' by the always brilliant Terry Deary. 

There are many other positive suggestions like this being encouraged to schools and parents. However, here are four problems that I feel are being faced when trying to give children a genuine love for reading. 

#1 - Those awful posters encouraging children to read. 

You remember the ones? The ones that you and your mates would make fun of once before completely ignoring them? The ones that never made you want to pick up a book...ever? The ones that looked like this, 

They're just so cheesy. No child over the age of six is ever going to think something like this is 'cool'. Not only that, it sort of feels like a book promoting a celebrity rather than a celebrity promoting a book. 

The ones that aren't celebrity endorsed will often look something like this,

From the generic, 'I didn't have much time to do this so I found a picture of a book on ClipArt and put some WordArt writing over it' school of poster design. Just completely non-effective. 

#2 - Children's books can still be a bit too 'nice'. 

When I was a boy, given the choice between a nice story about a friendly, talking dog or beating up thugs in 'Streets of Rage' on my games console, it was always going to be the thugs. I think we still have this problem today when video games can often have material that is so much more appealing to children than what they find in books.

Luckily, I do feel that there is starting to be more of a shift towards authors writing material for children that is a bit grittier, funnier or gross for children who aren't interested in friendly, talking dogs. Authors such as Morris Gleitzman who have written brilliantly effective children's stories about serious issues.   

"Yeah, who needs Xbox?" Said no child ever.

#3 - A lack of variety in what is considered 'proper reading'. 

Some of my happiest memories of reading as a child are from The Beano comic, superhero comics, Guinness Book of Records and WWF magazine (now WWE). The Beano had genuinely funny humour, superhero comics had complex storylines with a wide vocabulary of language and The Guinness Book of Records was packed full of knowledge. WWF magazine had The Rock but that's probably not as relevant. 

The problem is, I feel many of these would not be considered by adults as quality texts for children. I completely disagree though. If it has good language and is encouraging children to read then it's all good in my books (awful pun). 

The Rock, not an obvious choice for one of my early literary influences.

#4 - Children not being read to enough.

Back to my original point really. If children aren't read to enough then I think they're very unlikely to gain a love of reading. I have great memories of my Dad reading me Goosebumps and my sister reading me bedtime stories. Even if she was just making up a story to go with the pictures because she couldn't be bothered to read the whole thing. 

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Traditional and Social Media Reaction to Gaza.

Traditional and Social Media Reaction to Gaza

In general, my Facebook news feed and most of what I have read on Twitter has been pretty condemning of Israeli actions in Gaza since fighting broke out again. Without even giving my own opinion, it is easy to see why this is the case. All you have to do is look at the facts and the numbers being given through traditional media outlets such as the newspapers. The fighting has now left 1,800 Palestinians dead and 64 Israelis killed. This shows us what seems to be an incredibly one-sided war. When you couple this with news of which Palestinians have been killed you can see why the reaction on social media has also been so one-sided. Rather than just military targets being hit there are now more than half a million homeless Palestinians. This shows us that it is ordinary people who are suffering the brunt of the numerous airstrikes. 

In the past, traditional Western media has often been accused of being pro-Isreal and not giving a fair account of what is really happening. However, as shown previously, the numbers tell the true story of the situation in Gaza and it would take an incredible amount of media spin to say otherwise. People have taken the information they have got from traditional media and realised it doesn't tally with the response of most Western governments. They have then used social media to vent their anger and this voice is one that can't be easily ignored. There has even been fairly high profile celebrities voicing their support for Palestine which does give the conflict a wider audience regardless of what you think of mainstream celebrities voicing their political opinions. 

The main problem with the reaction to the conflict on social media? Well, it appears to have had very little, if any, impact on improving the situation for people in Gaza. 1,800 Palestinians are dead and yet Barack Obama has just signed a bill that will give 133 million pounds to Israel for a missile defence system. I'll just let that sink in for a moment. 

We now enter the second day of a ceasefire that has almost no chance of leading to a peaceful outcome. Israel almost definitely won't stop blockading Gaza and Hamas almost definitely won't disarm. This will mean the numbers in traditional media will continue to grow and the voices on social media will continue to get louder. 

As Voltaire said,



Thursday, 31 July 2014

Orlando punches Bieber.

Orlando Bloom punches Justin Bieber

If you're one of the few people that hasn't watched the video of this then you can watch it here.

In possibly one of the greatest moves of his career, Orlando Bloom decided to punch Justin Bieber, therefore becoming one of the most beloved celebrities in Hollywood. This is due to the fact that Bieber is probably one of the most mocked and largely disliked celebrities in the Western world today. Admittedly, Orlando may have upset a few million 'Beliebers' but who wants them anyway?

The fight supposedly occurred after some sort of dispute over Miranda Kerr.
Well, she seems a pretty good reason for a fight so I wont begrudge either man for their decisions.

Orlando can now enjoy millions of men now considering him a bit of a lad as well as the huge number of memes that will probably now be made to commemorate the occasion.  

As for Bieber? Well, his fans will probably feel sorry for him whilst the rest of the world just uses it as yet another excuse to unscrupulously take the piss out of him. However, he is a twenty year old multi-millionaire with a string of beautiful women so I'm sure he will get over whatever a few keyboard warriors have to say about him. 

All in all, don't piss off an Elf. 

Sunday, 29 June 2014

My Top Five Underrated Films.

My Top Five Underrated Films (Part One)

This is by no means my favourite 5 films of all time, just films I like that I think are underrated and other people never seem to like much. 

#1 - Brother Bear (2003).

One of my favourite Disney films of all time but for some reason, you hardly hear it mentioned. The characters are easy to care about and there are moments when it is genuinely funny. As Disney have entered an era of pumping out generic films that are generally awful, Brother Bear stands up very well in comparison. 

#2 - Waterworld (1995).

I can't think of many reasons to defend this film. It probably has more of a nostalgic feel because I remember me and my brother enjoying watching it when I was little. It isn't as brilliant as it should have been but definitely not as awful as people say it is if you take it with your tongue firmly in your cheek.

#3 - Oblivion (2013).

Another film that I never really hear anyone talking about and critics didn't seem to enjoy very much. However, it is one of the best films I have watched in the past year. It is shot beautifully and Tom Cruise gives a subtle and strong performance. He is, in my opinion, very underrated as an action movie actor. 

#4 - Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999).

Yes, it is definitely shit compared to the originals and it was a disappointment. Believe it or not though, this is my favourite of the prequels. If you took Jar Jar Binks out of the equation then it has a lot of redeeming factors. Plus, Darth Maul is just awesome. Now THAT'S an unpopular opinion!

#5 - The Godfather: Part III (1990).

Another film that suffers due to its predecessors being so good. Sofia Coppola does put in a pretty bad performance but asides from that the acting is generally good. My favourite Godfather film will always be the first one (just about) but I have a soft spot for the final piece in the franchise. 


Saturday, 10 May 2014

Are UKIP As Awful As Everyone Says They Are?

Are UKIP As Awful As Everyone Says They Are?

One of the latest trends on Facebook is to bash UKIP and, in particular, their leader Nigel Farage. Do they deserve it? Well, in a word, yes. I noticed recently that some UKIP posters have turned up in Northampton, where I live. One of them looks like this.

Now, I find that fairly offensive. It is the kind of propaganda you expect see from the likes of the BNP going for the prejudiced idiot vote. The current difficulty of finding work in this country is a huge issue. However, things like this, that place the blame on immigrants, do nothing but create intolerance and help prevent the rich and powerful who run the country from being accountable for Britain's economic problems.    

There is also the fact that a UKIP council candidate tweeted a comment describing Islam as 'evil'. Another council candidate stated that Lenny Henry should emigrate to a 'black country'. Clearly, these people are also prejudiced idiots and shouldn't have anything to do with the running of our country. 

There is one problem with people jumping on the bandwagon of criticising UKIP. It gives other crooked parties the opportunity to make themselves look more reputable by making a show of opposing the unfavourable views themselves. David Cameron has previously accused UKIP members of being 'closet racists'. Aren't you fighting the good cause Mr Cameron? This is the same man who heads a conservative party that allowed vans to patrol the streets telling immigrants to go home. Also, it's not that long ago that posters like this were seen on the streets (graffiti optional).

So, in conclusion, please feel free to jump on the bandwagon of bashing UKIP and Nigel Farage but remember to remind yourself what other parties and politicians are doing as well. Don't let them use your anger for their benefit. 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Things I've Learnt About Other Drivers.

Things I've Learnt Since Passing My Driving Test

I'm relatively new to driving having only passed my test fairly recently. However, there are a few things I have noticed about other drivers on the roads of Great Britain...

#1 - Everything they say about white van drivers is true.

Before passing my test I thought that white van drivers had an unfair reputation. They can't really all be that bad...can they? Yes, they can. The most common thing I've noticed about them is pulling out in front of you at the last minute before proceeding to drive 10mph under the speed limit. They look of hate they give you when you finally get passed them tells me the feeling is very mutual though. 

#2 - Ice cream van drivers are even worse. 

Don't let the cheery music and frozen treats fool you; these guys (usually blokes) are terrifying. Their driving just tends to be so bloody erratic. This is probably largely due to last minute decisions about where they can go to get the most business. They drive similarly to white van drivers except with added stopping and starting at random intervals. 

#3 - Most drivers are fairly polite. 

I have noticed a lot of camaraderie on the roads. People will often let you through if they know you are going to be stuck there for a while and 90% of people will thank you if you do the same for them. If only you got the same treatment from fellow pedestrians! From what I've observed, it does help if you happen to be a beautiful woman though. 

#4 -  Other drivers are good entertainment. 

I've always been a keen people watcher and I've seen it all from other drivers when waiting at traffic lights. From kids pulling funny faces at you to a morbidly obese, middle-aged bloke doing an impassioned solo performance of 'Let it go'. It's all fun and games until you make awkward eye contact with then and find yourself having to stare dead ahead instead. 

#5 - Women are better drivers than men. 

Without a doubt, most terrible drivers I've encountered are men. Discuss. 

Scourge of the roads and deliverer of tasty treats.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Book Review - 'Stoner'.

Book Review - 'Stoner' by John Williams

As far as I know this book was considered something of a hidden classic until recently. Indeed, the review quote on the front of my copy says 'the greatest novel you've never read' which is probably quite an accurate description. For some reason it has had some sort of revival recently. I first heard about it on some literature forums (yes, I'm that sad) where readers were celebrating the fact that such a classic had been rediscovered. When I went into Waterstones it was on the best selling shelf along with mostly new material. 

I liked the novel straight away. It was an immediately profound exploration of a seemingly ordinary life which tends to be a favourite subject matter for me. It was also written in the type of prose I like which is simple, readable and littered with hidden context without being pretentious. It charts the life of a man called William Stoner from adolescence to old age. Stoner spends most his life tutoring at a University. He makes such decisions and things happen to him in such a way that you feel a deep sadness and pity for what appeared to me a fairly unfulfilled life. 

It's not quite as simple as that though. Stoner doesn't make completely awful decisions he just makes relatable mistakes. These small mistakes gently push him down a life that we know could have been better but that he accepts with a gentle grace. It is this type of dramatic irony that affected me the most as a reader and made me find the novel very moving. To some extent, it is also the study of a more repressed time where people were not fully able to lead the lifestyle they wanted to. However, I am slightly reluctant to say this because I feel there are probably just as many William Stoner's today as there were then. 

This novel is definitely worth a read and is fully deserving of it's recent revival. It comments on the human condition beautifully and like all great novels (in my opinion) it says so much by saying so little. That's why I would give it 8 dancing bananas out of 10.