i’m back!

IMG_20160521_204528Hello, everyone! I’m finally back, ready to spend some time with my favourite story once again. This last month has been so busy that since around the 18th I’ve had absolutely no time for writing and the time since then has been an absolute mess of revision and exams. The exam I thought I was most prepared for didn’t go very well as I knew so much that I was struggling to narrow down the information enough to deliver a verdict on the question at hand in the time frame available. My thumb was popping in and out that evening, or so it felt, and I was plain exhausted by the time it was over. The second exam was less painful in that regard, with the help of a lovely invigilator who gave me some tips on how to stop my hand from cramping up so painfully. With that exam over I headed home, to have a break from Durham.

It’s been a stressful few days and I’m still very tired and recovering from the last academic year. If I had to put a pinpoint on how long it’s been difficult I’d have to say since the Christmas vacation when I got bitten by those stupid insects and the bites became infected. It wasn’t Lyme Disease — the bites looked nothing like that, and it’s likely it’s just a coincidence since I had really low Vitamin D when I had blood tests, but it’s strange that feeling the most tired I ever have corresponded to that.

Anyway, on a more positive note, I now have time to rest and recover. Which is what I’ll be doing. Seeing friends and family again. Time at home.

I’ll be writing again too, now that the pressure and stress of exams is gone, and I look forward to sharing news on my writing again with you all soon.

~ E

oslo

Oslo

A short piece written for a travel writing contest… before I re-read the brief and realised the finished piece had to be only around a *paragraph* long. Thought I’d post it here instead. – E

My best travel experience started the way that any trip does: with a long journey from my home to the destination of my dreams. Two friends and I marched along the cobbled streets of Durham, celebrating our freedom from essays and exams with an almost spontaneous trip overseas. Taking a short detour via London, with a short stop at the Harry Potter shrine at King’s Cross station, we were soon en-route to the Norwegian city of Oslo.

Being students, our budget for the trip is best described as infinitesimal. We had a handful of brightly coloured notes and some kroner coins, with a small hole like a doughnut in the centre. Before I start, before I explain exactly why this was my best trip, I have to tell you something. This isn’t a tale of culinary exploration or of the wonders of street food. Admittedly, even street food would have stretched our budget by the end of the week, in one of the most expensive cities in the world. We thrived on hot dog buns, on cereal and loaves of freshly cooked bread bought from small family run shops and I shared my lunch with the birds resting on park benches outside a museum.

The adventure of our trip came not from tastes and smells, but from sights and sounds. Travelling further north than I ever had before, expecting a land colder than the North East of England, I found myself in a place hotter than I could have dreamed. Perfection. The sun stayed longer in the sky there, not wanting to dip beneath the horizon for a moment longer than necessary. We spent long days exploring what Oslo had to offer. Modern art that we mistook for seats and postcard holders, leading to a confused conversation with museum staff and an afternoon questioning ourselves philosophically on everything we passed: “Is this art?”

A day visiting the small islands around the city. Talking to a Dutch man at the ferry terminal and then watching as students filed onto the ferry ahead of us with mammoth backpacks ready for a camping trip on an island. We were headed to another island; one famed for its beaches, although by the time we arrived it was cool and close to

Misreading the ferry timetable, we thought there were only minutes to spare before the last ferry to the mainland. Desperate to see a Viking ship – we were in Scandinavia after all – we scouted out the right museum but struggled to find the one we were looking for. Long halls with artefacts we’d never quite remember, resting on the edges of our consciousness like boats on the open sea.

Another day we abandoned the guidebook and took out our map, exploring tucked away streets where stalls lined the streets with jewellery and art peddled by their creators. Just along the road graffiti marred walls called out for anarchy.

Lazy evenings in the gardens of the Royal Palace followed, gazing up from beneath a street lamp that was almost Victorian in its decoration. The bustling city down the hill seemed so far away from our vantage point.

From the almost nightmare inducing statues in the sculpture park, with a column of entwined people rising high into the sky above us to the hours spent with an ice-cream and not a care in the world, for a while Oslo felt like home. Our time there was quickly over and it was back to England, back to university, back to reality.

My best travel experience ever? The time I spent in Oslo. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

interruptions

Yes, I have made a second cover for this one! Couldn’t resist 🙂

I’m still on the first draft, around 43,000 words in at the moment and am at another moment in the story that will be a big turning point, beyond which there is only the void of what might be’s. I’m also Screenshot 2016-05-12 at 18.41.48preparing for exams at the moment at uni, two of them, in Tudor political and cultural history and also the history of the early medieval kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s a bit of an eclectic mix and it’s still all a little strange that the uni year has come to an end so quick. I think part of the problem is that the months between November and March feel oddly like a dream when it comes to summer, the pitter patter of rain and the dark winter nights (shivering in a student house) being transformed suddenly into spring and then summer.

Writing and stories are still in the back of my mind though, both this project and the one before it very close to the end of first draft stage (60,000 words and 40,000 words respectively) and I have another one in the works I’m really looking forward to writing. That one, and the second draft of previous project, will be needing some in-depth historical research which will be fun!

If my posts are less frequent over the next few weeks, you know why… uni crunch time is coming up. Today I did some Henry VII revision, travelled all the way to Durham especially for essay pick-up and watched a slightly odd movie called Shelter. Writing is something I love but amidst all of the stress of the final few weeks of uni it’s hard to find a lot of time to write.

Soon it will be summer, and I’ll be back properly 😀

Emma

A Day in the Writing Life (May 2nd to 8th 2016, Robot Dreams)

13100866_10205780178374995_1854328459392243536_nAhoy!

I’ve decided to do a weekly post rather than a daily post for the time being as Camp NaNo is over and you’ve had an insight into my writing world. Now is the time when exams are coming to the forefront and I have lots of things on my mind. So at the moment writing time and energy is sadly scarce

Monday 2nd May: Returned  to Durham from a wonderful weekend with family. Final seminar of my second year of university. Creative Writing handover meeting – I’m now the Pres. Back here.

It took a long time, or so it felt, to get the first 300 words out. Borderline painful. But then I got into writing and have quite a heartfelt scene between my two main characters at the turning point of the story which will be great to be a continuing point on next time I’m writing.
Daily word count: 1365 words
Sign-off time: 10.46pm 

Tuesday 3rd May
Lunch with History girls, dissertation talk (Eep! Why so much on medieval China anyway?…), CW gaming, CW meeting, SU.

Daily word count: Somewhere in the region of 70 words. We watched an awesome Wall-E related Ted talk though.

Wednesday 4th May

Library. My family are awesome even when they’re not well. Not really coat weather but I wore one anyway, not good idea. Why is the weather sometimes amazing and sometimes awful?

Daily word count: ~720 words. Have just found a new plot twist in the story that links something from right at the beginning to what is happening now, to what will happen next. Wow. That was weird how that came together all at once 😀

 

Thursday 5th May
Library. Early to leave library, can’t revise any more! Static post it notes. Homemade pizza (ugh, not good.) Theatre. Review theatre. Sleeps.

Daily word count: Nothing on this project, but I wrote a 600 word review of the theatre show.

Friday 6th May
Woken up before five by incredibly loud birds. Sleep. Library. Unproductivity. Back home.
Daily word count: Pretty low.

Saturday 7th May
A combination of revision and the excitement of being at home.
Daily word count: ~400 words.

Sunday 8th May.
Ditto yesterday.
Daily word count: ~600 words

It’s getting to that point in the academic year where I’m just ready for it to be done. To be free from the encroachments on your time and energy that a degree entails. The way you can never quite get away from the pressure is really frustrating, especially around exam time. The atmosphere in the university library and in the city generally was so toxic I just up and left.

I’ll be back on Monday to meet up with some friends for a morning and return/swap library books but that’s all for now — it’s not the best place to be around exam season. Looking forward to seeing people again though

Emma x

 

 

Hi, my name’s Emma

– Originally published in Palatinate, May 7th 2016 [including print edition] –

Hi, my name’s Emma. I’m a Durham student and I have a myriad of health problems. Doesn’t this feel a little bit like an AA meeting already? As if I’m going to confess my deepest darkest secrets, with an added sprinkle of despair. Nah, let’s not go for that. Let’s just be honest.

So: I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, scoliosis, kyphosis and some other more minor things. I’ve written blog posts before about the experience of having major spinal surgery when I was a kid and the continuing problems my back causes me. However, only about 1% of people have scoliosis at all, and even more rare is to have it bad enough to compress your lungs and leave you struggling to breathe and under the knife within a year of diagnosis.

Fatigue is perhaps something you might be able to identify with better. My sister has CFS, and there are so many different causes of fatigue, which is a symptom of my EDS too. The potential for fatigue isn’t something you can measure when you sit at home surrounded by university prospectuses, with ten different futures sprawled out on the bed in front of you. All you can see is a list of bursaries in one and pretty campus buildings in another – the documents all pretty pictures and slogans.

So I chose Durham. A city reasonably close to home, meaning short visits to see my family would be viable or having the opportunity to have a rest in my own bed wouldn’t be too hard. A city that boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site and some of the best coffee shops in the North East. It is also a city, and a university, that can be difficult to navigate with health problems.

I can almost hear you shouting your objections through the computer screen. But I should have known, shouldn’t I? The hills, they were clear from the start. Yes, yes they were. So I chose a Bailey college, nestled close to Elvet Riverside and Tesco. It would be hard to go wrong with that, right?

But then came the treacherous minefield that was trying to find somewhere to live for second year, with the vast gulf between the even halfway decent houses close to the city centre and the amount my group had budgeted. I had to be near the city centre; Gilesgate or Neville’s Cross wasn’t an option.

Turns out, surprisingly enough, that the even kind of reasonably priced houses close to the city centre usually have some pretty major problems, or had been snatched up far too quickly for a fresher to stand a chance. So this year, I’m living close enough to my lectures and the library but in a house that leaves quite a bit to be desired. Never mind. I’m sure every second year is paying out thousands for a place that doesn’t quite meet their needs.

Having health problems that limit my energy levels have affected my choices for third year too. Luckily, my college are wonderful and are making sure that I’ll have a place there. Living in is a much easier option, and might just stop me resorting to takeaways when I’m completely exhausted.

Until now I’ve tried to avoid talking about how my degree itself is affecting my health, because I know that it is. Trying to write 10,000 words of readable essays over the Christmas holidays, when I was just trying to recover from the intensity of Michaelmas term wasn’t easy. Whispered phone calls home late at night when I’m so exhausted that I don’t know how I’m going to finish the next assignment, never mind return those library books (heads up to any history students out there, you’ll be waiting a while for that book you recalled…)

You can’t see it. Any of it. Apart from the little panda circles under my eyes and the remaining sliver of a curve to my back you’d only see if I made the dubious decision of wearing a bodycon dress to lectures. But they don’t really count. The symptoms rather than the problem.

Still, things are looking up. It’s the end of term, almost. Twelve thousand words to go and I’ll almost be free, for this summer at least. Fatigue can feel like spiralling circles, with no way back up to the well rested person you were, but it can also dissipate and leave you remembering just how good things can be.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had any serious written work, I’ve taken it a little easy this week and right now I’m feeling a little bit better.

That’s something.

Othello review: ‘mesmerising mix of old and new’

– Originally published in Indigo, a section of Palatinate in May 2016 –

Aidan’s College Theatre’s production of Othello began abruptly: the lights cut as the first member of the cast burst through the fire exit. This entrance provided the ideal opportunity to grab our attention, pulling us into the world of the Venetian army. Or, in this case, the British during the Iraq War. The relationship between Othello (Wesley Milligan) and Desdemona (Erin Lawrence) was believable from her first entrance, and Charlotte Thomas performed incredibly well as Brabantia. She commanded the stage in a way that was fascinating to watch and, when Brabantia fled the shame of his daughter’s match with Othello, it was sad to see her go.

These early scenes also brought one of the few issues with this production. For the first few minutes at least it felt as though the cast were warming into their roles and, sadly, the details of the dialogue between Iago (Adam Simpson) and Roderigo (Harry Twining) were difficult to catch. Delivered with great emotion, the length of their early utterances gave the pair a difficult task. The earliest scene changes also felt a little clunkier, with speed and efficiency increasing as the play progressed.

The use of music in scene transitions was admirable, however. The movement to Iraq was heralded by rap music, while the end of the play and curtain call brought its own theme music too. Despite the relatively lengthy time it took to change to the military set, complete with barbed wire and a Union Jack flag, the music made the transition seem part of the show.

Once the action moved to Iraq, the performances were flawless. It was as if putting on military uniform had brought the cast closer to their characters as they envisaged them, with Adam Simpson’s performance especially spellbinding throughout the remainder of the play. From his monologues standing on the stage edge, flicking a lighter or looking off into the abyss, he was the centre of attention for every minute he spent on stage. The lighting choices used at the end of the play assisted in the construction of this Iago-focused narrative.

In the preview, the director (Becky Wilson) told Palatinate Stage that ‘you’re almost seduced into being on the side of Iago.’ Almost? I, at least, felt as though Iago was the hero of the piece. The skill of the cast and crew in producing this impression is clear, with even the most treacherous man capable of appearing simply mischievous.

A visceral performance by Wesley Milligan revealed Othello’s soul, with his hurt and confusion laid bare for the audience to see. Milligan made the perfect Othello, able to move easily from the victim dealing with racial insults with fortitude at the start of the play to the wretched man he has become by its close. Othello’s agony changed everything around him, just as the performers hit their stride on arrival in Iraq. Performances by Milligan and Angharad Phillips (Emilia) were also especially strong, with the power of their displays of anger throughout the second half of the play.

This rendition of Othello was a mesmerising mix of old and new. Combining a familiar tale with the addition of modern warfare and modern drinking habits gave an extra layer to the performance. With impressive performances from all cast members and impressive achievements of the production team, Aidan’s College Theatre’s Othello is a must-see. You won’t regret it.