On Endings and Beginnings

So much of my energy over the past three years has been dedicated to gaining a single sheet of paper. It’s not an especially unique piece of paper. After all, millions of other people across England and the world will have very similar slips of paper of their own.
It’s odd that something so small can grow to mean so much.

I’ve been studying History in a small market city in northern England for the last three years, developing from a teenager who furiously wrote through the night to hand in half-developed scribbles to lecturers who despaired of our laziness into someone who actually cares.

Learning to care about the work I do is perhaps one of the greatest lessons I’ve been taught during my university experience, but only because it came from within. I taught myself that I wanted to be proud of what I do and I’ve made that happen.

The more you care, the more difficult it is to learn to accept that you can’t control every aspect of what happens. Change happens whether you’re ready or not.

Next month, I’ll hand in my final essay and sit the last exams of my degree. There’ll be a brief four week interlude during which I’m neither a student nor a graduate and then, with an hour long ceremony inside a centuries old cathedral, it’ll be done.

I’ll have graduated. The city I’ve both loved and hated over the past three years will no longer be my second home and all of the accumulated debris of my university experience will either be in the dumpster located just outside my studio flat or boxed up in the shed back home.

May is going to be a time of both endings and beginnings, of moving forward into adulthood and in saying goodbye to people and experiences I’ll never see again.
But first, I have to complete this final full month of student life in a city that’s not my own. I’ll be a student again one day but with a new focus and not in the same place, with these people at this time in my life.

This is a promise: to seize the day, to make the most of every moment and to have no regrets.

We are young and this is our time.

[Originally posted on Medium.com]

Happy 21st to Me (featuring two adorable cats)

This is a completely random post but I just wanted to share these adorable pictures from a messenger call with my Mum earlier today, when I was in the midst of getting ready and ordering food, and getting happy birthday sung to me 😀

 

These are my two kitties and while at uni I miss them very much, there’s something wonderful to be said about spending time with pets. It just makes everything seem a little better. The more photogenic looking cat has — I believe — never featured on this blog but she’s the littermate of my writing buddy Star, pictured below completely ignoring the camera…

Looking forward to a visit home once I’ve finished my essay next week, and starting to come up with ideas for my next short-term project 😀

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It’s With My Beta Reader!

It’s official. Robot Dreams is currently with my beta reader, who is going to go through it both line by line and through the whole story to get it ready for me to shape up in draft three!

To make it easier for her, I printed out a copy of the manuscript, under a potential new title (to see whether we prefer this one) and gave it to her tonight.

Fingers crossed she has some useful feedback!

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Finishing Robot Dreams [Draft Two]

As my New Year post proves, I’m really close to finishing Robot Dreams and I’m super excited. There’s been some pretty massive changes from draft one and I’m much happier with the quality of writing in this draft, although there’s a long way still to go.

I’m going to write this evening and hopefully I’ll be able to reach the end of the draft before much longer. On Jan 1 my word count was 746 and yesterday was just 168 as I had other commitments. It’s a strange feeling moving towards the end of a major project you’ve been working on for a long time but it’s also refreshing too. It’ll be fun to have a change!

Draft completed just before midnight on January 3rd at around 88,000 words with some gaps to fill in! Have ordered two wirebound copies — one for me to use and the other for my first beta reader on the project 😀 

Going to try an experiment project briefly to see if it’s something that’ll work!

Home for the Holidays!

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I’m finally home from uni for the holidays and it is a super weird feeling. I was in the university library until Monday afternoon furiously writing an essay that was due that evening and now I’m just… free. Sort of. There’s still uni stress and other third year stress and all of those things that it’s hard to feel free from.

But. I’m home and that’s something different and special, so I’m trying to focus on that. Yesterday I just lazed around the house all day but today my sister and I went Christmas shopping and went out for a meal at Frankie’s and Benny’s. There’s plans with family for later in the week too.

Today, seeing as I haven’t actually wrote since the end of November due to being completely snowed under with uni work, I’ve decided to spend at least part of the holiday getting back into the writing of Robot Dreams. After a conversation about Ghosts of the Tower with my sister today I’m super excited to get back into writing that but I want to finish the second draft of this project first!

 

Beginnings and Endings

Excuse the maudlin title, I’m still upset about the EU Referendum result. Good thing my Twitter is currently locked behind some pretty strong privacy settings or you might just find yourself bogged down in my feelings about that.

There’s moving out of my student house this week too, on Friday, which feels much longer ago than I can believe. That was more sweet than bitter, in direct contrast to the victory obtained by the close fought referendum battle.

Exam results were only four days ago. That seems insane from where I’m sitting, in my armchair at home having already read two books (The Long Way to A Small, Angry Planet and Me Before You), begun writing a second draft of The Last Days, begun planning for Ghosts of the Tower aided by Megan and planned trips out with family.

It’s been a busy few days, all combined to make this quite the odd week. Busy, tiring, in a more bone deep way than the usual fatigue of filling the Durham summer days with something to do.

I’ve changed dissertation topics too, flitting away from an idea that reflected my love of writing far more than any actual historical sense.

From last Thursday onwards was a string of goodbyes, meeting up with friends for the last time this (academic) year, some I may not see again and some I almost certainly won’t.

Went to the theatre to see the first half of Angels in America, with my favourite scene chopped out to make it seem oddly sanitised. The last line though – Prior’s despair – bled through clear enough.

The pictures at the top of this post are from one of the DUCWS events that didn’t actually involve putting pen to paper but was great fun anyway – the picnic. First time I’ve actually got a sunburn in England in quite a long time, possibly ever, so did well on that front.

Weather in this part of England is absolutely abysmal currently, contrasting the incredible heat of this Tuesday, and things are just a little bit different.

The summer is stretching in front of me, alive with possibility, despite the currently a bit dullness of it all – the politics, the weather, the apathy brought about by doing far too much for too long.

To round off this overly thoughtful post (can you tell how devastated I am at the EU news and how confused I am at the idea of a summer to fill with my own things?): here’s a picture of my family’s cat.

Note the word ‘family’, not mine. She’s very particular about who she gets close to and I don’t usually meet her exacting standards but look, isn’t she cute. In this photo she’s stealing my bed:

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Being back at home is different, but I know one thing:

I’m going to make this summer count.

I Did It!

Without going into masses of details…

Exam results and the shakiness of my hands as I sat in my student bedroom with the curtains open staring at a computer screen waiting for the system clock to tick to 11am. Listening to Nickelback as I’ve got a weird addiction to Rockstar the last few weeks, distractions.

Logging on. Knowing that one of the exams hadn’t gone as well as I had hoped, my hand like a claw or a pincer as I struggled to write as time run out.

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Exhausted, energy running low all year, like a Duracell battery running on empty. But hey, I got a First overall in my second year at uni.

Compared to last year, that’s even more of an achievement.

This is a writing blog, not a blog about my university experience, naturally — but I thought you might like to know.

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.

Working Class at An Elite University: My Thoughts

 

The truth:

While I’ve phrased this as the truth, it is my experience and perhaps only that. Or maybe thousands of other people feel the same and aren’t able to share it. Writing here feels a little like screeching into the void right now, but hopefully this message will speak to someone.

It isn’t intended to be counter-elitist, or reverse classist, it’s just how I found my second year at university. Sometimes I feel like I’m floundering, standing in the midst of people with all of the experiences and confidence that Daddy’s (or Mummy’s, or Aunty’s, or Grandpa’s, ad nauseum) can grant.

Instead, I’m only at this university because of a bursary. It’s the only reason I can afford to be here, especially since my disability means I can’t work and study at the same time. I’m sure you’ll have heard of spoons theory, and that means I have limited energy for the things that matter to me. My room can be a little messy, but the choice between exhausting myself trying to succeed at university, or being happy with the effect of my lowest efforts is a difficult one.

I’m writing this in January, so perhaps things have changed, but if not, then this is still the case. A limited amount of energy will grant me a 60 average. Right now I’m at 68.5 and that figure is meaningless. Because it’s either a 2:1 or a First, right? A dichotomy between good and excellent, between doing ok and the pinnacle of undergrad achievement.

So I have a choice to make, at this moment, as to how much effort I put into my degree. I’m sitting in a house that I’ve had to call out Pest Control to see if it is causing the insect bites on my legs that because of my connective tissue disorder are currently developing a purple tinge and are on their way to being some pretty sexy bite scars. Not in a vampire way. More of a fleas or bedbugs way but y’know,  I can at least try and dress it up a little.

I’m sitting in a house that costs only a little less per room than my home back home for the entire house; with the knowledge that money breeds money and if only I had the ability to hold in my hands enough money to be able to say that a degree is not what I need.

But I don’t have that. Nor do I have perfect health. Or an ‘Evening Guv’nor’ Received Pronunciation accent. Or the ability to say any more than ‘un peu’ (and that’s always gonna be a lie. I don’t speak a little French, I don’t want only a little chocolate – I want it all, etc) in French or to be able to read Latin.

I’ll tell you a secret, all three readers of this blog. Sometimes I look at the Middle English of the poems for one of my modules and it gives me a yearning deep inside for home. The words in Middle English are so close to Geordie that it hurts, right down to the dialect spellings.

But that’s a story for another time, right. Because the important thing here is this:

I don’t belong here. It’s not my home, it’s an oasis of Sussex brought into the North. Sometimes I wonder what life will be like after uni and I fear the choices I’ll have to make when I leave Durham.

Will I decide to travel to London to exhaust myself trying to find a job in a field I want that won’t totally exhaust me? Or will I stay in the North East wondering what I could have had or what I could have been if I’d been brave enough to leave.

I look at Wilfred Owen poem that my sister is studying for her GCSE and cast my mind back to Dulce Et Decorum Est. Because the Old Lie isn’t that it is good and right to die for your country, no, it’s that social mobility exists.

Social mobility is a lie, because inside your heart you are always trapped between the people that you left behind and those you are surrounded by. It is possible to feel wholly and utterly alone in a room of people.

The only thing I have is my words and my family and the friends I’ve made here – I don’t have the certainty that my time here in Durham will have been well spent.

I’ve learnt a few things though. The grammar lessons that state schools never taught me, the ability to moderate my accent just enough to squeak by and the fact that sometimes the most wonderful people are those most different from yourself.

It hurts though. When something goes wrong and you just want to let lose and sometimes I speak with such a strong Geordie accent or so fast that it sounds like another language and I luxuriate in the sound and feel of the words on my tongue; the ability to lose myself in home as I hear it in my voice.

The rest of the time Durham leeches it away, as is needed to feel I fit in, but then I wonder. How many of the people here grew up in council houses spending car rides listening to music that told of running away, of escaping, and the desperation to run from a school that was known as Cardboard City and the teacher who hid in cupboards as teaching was too painful.

Or the other school where a friend’s brother carried a knife and drug deals happened by the train tracks and lessons were disrupted so that a teacher could stop someone who had climbed the fence to escape the horrible horrible trappings of the pretence that we all have the same chances in life.

People argue for the quality of state education, say that it is a gift or that it is good or righteous or whatever else. No, the fact of the matter is: it is not. I know people who can barely read or write, who live in another world to the majority here. Who cannot express themselves, because they were let down by the state system.

What is a gift, despite being wholly flawed and damaged, is the NHS. The NHS has saved my life and I will always be grateful to them for that.

I’m getting away from myself here, allowing this to fall into the dubious length rants that some people post without thinking. I’m typing without thinking, my touch typing skills coming into play.

Thirty years ago I would have made a wonderful secretary. But now I see my mother, her joints crippled with arthritis, her spine and fingers crooked, and see that is not my path. My health is not the best and I need to be careful with my joints. I don’t think I’m brave enough to live the way she has had to these last years.

So I will study, and I will write, and I’ll hope that at least one of them pays off in the end.

Thinking of writing a working class fairytale, because how often do those things come true.

Yours.

E.