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Fifty Shades of… Oh my…

 

Facebook has been alight recently with women claiming to be curled up in bed with Mr Grey. Word on the street is that he is the new Edward Cullen, with ladies, young and old, swooning over the impossibly beautiful lead character in Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. The book has been described to me as an erotic novel. It’s not really the type of novel I’d normally read (blushing already), but with all the hype about it, I had to get involved. Once again, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and spent the last 48 hours, between working, sleeping and eating, curled up with, the indeed mesmerising, Christian Grey.

Where do I start? This love story is a complicated lesson in the world of BDSM (if you don’t know what that is, I don’t recommend you Google it!). I found it degrading and humiliating for the lead female character, Miss Anastasia Steele. An inexperienced graduate with dreams of being swept off her feet by a knight in shining armour or a hero in her favourite English classic novels. Mr Christian Grey holds none of the qualities that may be found in such a knight or hero. Instead he is bossy, mercurial and dark, with even darker tendencies and tastes. As he warns that he is no good for her, I am certainly reminded of the Twilight conversation between Edward Cullen and Isabella Swan, and the comparison is suddenly very clear. However, it is certainly not your traditional romance…

I started reading and was immediately bored by the dull, unchallenging language. Nothing in the text or story gripped me. It read like a ‘chick-lit’ novel. There us nothing wrong with a chick-lit novel, I just don’t tend to read them. Soon, however, I found myself mouth gaping, eyes wide as I read that Mr Christian Grey has a taste for BDSM; he wants poor, naïve Anastasia to be his submissive, and he her dominant. Thrown into a world she doesn’t know or understand, she soon finds herself falling for the man who describes himself as ‘Fifty shades of f**ked up.’ Wonder where they got the idea for the title?

What happens next is a poor plot, lacking any real drama or crisis. With only the hint of a secret and every second page a raunchy sex scene, somehow it became a real page turner. Now, don’t get me wrong, I blushed at every mention of sex. I read through my fingers as I cringed at the words but I couldn’t stop. I finally came to the conclusion that, where E.L. James has failed to write a literary marvel, she has succeeded in accomplishing what Sex and the City did to our TV screens, for our books; she has made sex acceptable for the modern women to read about. The publishers tastefully designed the covers so that they can be read discreetly, so that fellow bus/train passengers, café customers or even work colleagues would never guess it’s a naughty novel. However, the widespread success and notoriety that has surrounded this novel means women can no longer hide behind the tastefully subtle cover design.

It’s been slated by feminists as degrading to women. How can we fall for a fictional character that enjoys demoralizing women, glorifying abuse? What do I say to them? It’s only a book, calm down. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. I’m sure Sex and the City had the same reaction when it first arrived on our screens.

As I was reading, I was telling myself that I wasn’t going to read the next two (yes, it’s part of a trilogy). If I had a pound for every time Anastasia thought ‘oh my’ or uttered ‘please…’  I’d be rich. James has a habit of repeating parts of the story, the contract (yes, that’s right) Christian asks Anastasia to sign is written out in full almost three times. The description of Mr Grey being ‘fifty shades of…’ is also, in my opinion, over-used. It gets tedious after a while. But despite this, Mr Grey is somewhat alluring. He harbours a dark past and a darker secret and I needed to know what they were. I don’t want to like this book, I find it hard to read, tedious and embarrassing, but when I got to the end I found myself immediately downloading the second Fifty Shades Darker to my Kindle. Like any good first instalment, there are loose ends and questions unanswered. Hopefully, by the end of part two, I will be able to walk away from Christian Grey; suddenly I feel I can empathise with poor Anastasia. It’s not a book I think I could share with my mum, or God help me, my Dad! But it is one that I’ve giggled about with my friends. We have all been equally shocked, embarrassed and entranced by Fifty Shades of Grey. So what can be wrong with that?

 Now, if you will excuse me, I have a date with a bossy, mercurial, dark and impossibly handsome young man; Mr Grey.

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The Hunger Games – part 1

I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon. When the Hunger Games made a big impact at the box office, all of my friends and family were raving about Katniss Everdeen and the book the film is based on. I fought it for a while. Then in conversation with my Dad he admitted that he to had read the trilogy, despite the fact that my Dad’s favourite books are The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, nothing wrong with these books, just not my thing, I trust his opinion. From what I had heard about the Hunger Games I didn’t think it would his thing, strangely though he loved it. So I jumped on the bandwagon and bought the whole trilogy.

The story takes place in the fictional city of Panem. At the heart of Panem is the Capitol, which is surrounded by 12 outlying districts. Every year, as a reminder to the inhabitants of the Capitols strength and in an attempt to prevent an uprising, the Capitol holds the Hunger Games. A boy and a girl from each district are chosen, or reaped, to be tributes and enter an arena to fight to the death. The last survivor is hailed the victor and the games come to an end for another year. The whole thing is filmed and broadcast to the whole of Panem and is often considered by the president compulsory viewing. Think Big Brother but instead of contestants voting for each others eviction, they are murdering each other…

The story follows the life of Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl from district twelve. When her younger sister, twelve year old Prim, is chosen in the reaping, Katniss steps forward and volunteers to take her place. Leaving behind her mother, Prim and best friend Gale, Katniss embarks on a journey of survival, friendship and love.

The premise of the story is that of a tyrannical government and a brutal reality TV show. The characters themselves are well-rounded and believable. In fact so much so that I could see what was going to happen next, this meant the story became a little predictable. I knew how the characters were going to react to specific situations. One of the major plotlines that had initially brought hope to Katniss and her friend/ally/fellow tribute/lover Peeta had the potential to merely be an elaborate plan to stir things up in the arena. I’m sure I was not the only reader to have seen through this plot.

 I was also told that I would fall in love with the love story, but in the first book I didn’t really see it. Katniss and Peeta are thrown in to this situation where they can’t trust anyone or anything. Katniss believes that Peeta’s every move is all part of the games, a cunning trick to curry favour with the sponsors (wealthy spectators who could pay money to deliver much needed, life saving parcels to a specific tribute in the games) and from this, a love story apparently grows. The one thing I did like about this aspect of the book is the way Katniss dealt with her blossoming feelings. Suzanne Collins writes of first love and confused feelings very accurately, I could relate to the unknown, the questions, the feeling of not knowing what you are feeling… This, I thought fit very well into the story.

I guess when I picked up this book I had very high expectations. Of all the people who raved about the book, the story, the love. I was hoping for more. The story in itself is good, the characters are believable, it’s action packed, exciting, tense. It’s well written the ideas are fully formed. I think if I hadn’t been expecting so much from it, I would have loved it. So, what was I expecting? Well, I guess perfection. Sadly, this is not what I found. The flaws where minor, predictability, a flawed love story, (was it flawed or was it just that I was expecting more, again? Who knows?) Either way, I must have been expecting the earth to move or something. This is why I am usually reluctant to jump on the bandwagon. My standards are set too high that it is impossible for anything to live up! I’ve only written about the first book in the trilogy, the second and third provoked an entirely different reaction. I might write about those at a later date but in the meantime I’m jumping on another bandwagon, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, from what I hear of that one, the earth might actually move…


My Life in Bristol, and Cider.

So three weeks ago, I made a promise to myself that I would write regularly to this blog. Once a week was my target. Three weeks in and I have already failed. I didn’t write last week. The reason for this? Well, I was busy.

Last weekend passed in a blur of alcohol and socialising. As a newcomer to Bristol, a city which is vibrant and alive, and also a city where I knew no one, the opportunity to go out is one I can’t really turn down. Friday night was a huge night out, I embraced what it is to be Bristolian and sampled some of the local cider. As a side note, cider gives me horrendous hangovers, which will explain the reason I could barely lift my head from my pillow the majority of Saturday afternoon. Saturday evening I pulled myself together visited Bristol Old Vic to see the Pinter and Beckett plays, A Kind of Alaska and Krapps Last Tape. Both were very good. I am a Pinter fan and found A Kind of Alaska both intriguing and perplexing, as I think most people do with most Pinter plays. The Beckett was a good, very brave piece of theatre. It is difficult to keep an audience captivated with only one actor, lots of silence, and at times, an empty stage, but this performance was very successful. I’m sure anyone who has seen it will agree, the banana scene at the start was pure brilliance!

 

Laura and I at the Bristol Old Vic

 

After the theatre I met some of my new friends for yet more cider. In the centre of Bristol last week there was a pop-up bar and restaurant in the shape of Tipi’s. Sadly, my age is catching up with me and two nights out in a row is simply too difficult these days, therefore I was home by eleven-thirty.

Last weekend I also found myself playing tour-guide to the Canadian intern at my work, Laura. Unfortunately, the weather was bleak and wet, but it did mean that when we sought shelter during a tirade of rain and wind, we ended up back in the tipi for another cider. We also sampled the British tapas menu this time with cheese on toast (Montgomery Jack cheese with truffle oil) and chips and curry sauce. My unrefined palate found the truffle oil on the cheese on toast too much, I know, philistine. However the chips and curry sauce were delicious. In a brief respite from the weather I took Laura on a little Banksy tour. I did find it quite bizarre that I was suddenly the Bristol expert. I knew which buses to get on, where the theatre was, where the bar we were meeting friends was, where the city centre Banksy’s are. I have only been living in this city for 6 weeks and already I feel like I know it. I appear to have friends here, ones who want me to come out for drinks with them and show me places I have never been. I am settled, for the most part. I do miss my nephew, he is only 16 months and learning to say new words all the time and I am missing it all. I miss my dog, you’re never alone when you have a dog and they always accept cuddles. I get quite excited when I see dogs or any other animal as they remind me of my pup. Hence the reason I took pictures of the sheep when I passed a farm the other day (see below). As much as I miss home, I know I don’t want to move back. Not to Fife anyway. I would quite like to stay here please. So I would really appreciate if you could all cross your fingers for me for the next 4 and a half months, in the hope that my temporary job here is made permanent. Thank you very much.

The sheep, by the way.

 

So I have found the time to write this week and will try again next. However, I may end up telling you about this weekends antics. I bet you are all looking forward to that aren’t you? It involved a farm, rowing and yet more cider. Of course.


Banksy Treasure Hunt

So, for anyone who doesn’t already know, I moved to Bristol 4 weeks ago. I have been working with an academic publisher down here on a 6 month temporary contract. Since moving here, my weekends have largely consisted of exploring and getting lost.

Through all of this I have become fixated on the works of well-known, but anonymous graffiti artist, Banksy. He is thought to be from Bristol, although his work can also be found in other British cities such as London and Brighton. His art is a political statement, and he is known for his hatred of the government.

Before moving here I was mildly aware of Banksy but hadn’t put much thought into seeing his work. I then found a website that depicted a ‘Banksy Walking Tour’. Then I was hooked. I now have a determination to find them all.

The first one I found is entitled ‘The Well Hung Lover’ and is painted on the side of a sexual health clinic (or so I am told!). But someone has defaced it with blue paint. Believe it or not it has been restored but remnants of the attack are still clearly visible.

 

The second one appears to be the grim reaper and is painted on the side of the Thekla boat in Bristol harbour. Thankfully, this one is intact. It would be quite impressive if someone managed to deface it, but that does make me wonder how Banksy managed to paint it in the first place! I was taking a picture of my friend in front of it last weekend when a lady came over and offered to take a picture of us both. She didn’t understand why we wanted the boat in the background. When we explained it was a Banksy she took her camera out and took a picture for herself. I guess that is how word spreads…

Today, I went exploring. There is a street in Bristol called Stokes Croft that has a lot of street art so I decided when heading back to my bus, to walk through this area (I have found I quite like street art, no matter who it is by!). As I headed towards it I went passed a bar that Sarah and I had been drinking in last weekend. I looked up and to my amazement found this. I can’t believe I missed it when we were there last week, it’s huge! People were looking at me quizzically as I stopped to take the picture. They either are ignorant of Banksy’s reputation or have lived with it so long they don’t care. Or they just don’t care. I guess not everyone is like me.

On my travels today I also found a piece which is depicting David Cameron and Boris Johnson as rioters, with the tag ‘Eton Posse’, the school they both went too. Under it, ‘hoax’ has been daubed in the same black spray. Behind it you can just see an outline of something else. Because of the research I had done into Banksy I was sure that this should be the spot of another Banksy showing a crouched policeman with a boy standing behind him about to burst a paper bag. I took the photo, came home and looked it up online. I was right enough; this is the spot of the paper bag. It was badly vandalised last year, someone decided to paint black paint all over it. In February this year, David Cameron and Boris Johnson appeared. This new stencil is not thought to be a Banksy.

 

I surprised myself at how much I cared about the fact that I can’t see the original work. I know that his work has been defaced before; the ‘Well Hung Lover’ is an example of this, also through my research a gorilla with a pink eye-mask painted on Fishponds Road, Bristol, had been mistakenly painted over but thankfully restored. It is sad that the paper bag hasn’t been so lucky and now with this new work on top, it probably is not possible. I really don’t understand why it means so much to me to find his work around the city. It feels like a kind of treasure hunt…

Regardless of my motivation behind it, I enjoy it. I guess that is the point of art, to be shown and appreciated. Whether it is hung in a gallery or on public walls. But when does mindless vandalism become street art? Topic for another blog perhaps…


Falling in love with blogging again…

Image 

So last night I went out on the town with my good friend Sarah. She was visiting for the evening and, having not yet sampled the Bristol night life, felt it was rude not too get glammed up and have a few drinks. After dinner (tapas, yum!) we were in the queue for a bar and conversation turned to Sarah’s new blog. She is a graphic designer in Birmingham and felt the continual need to work to a brief was stifling her creativity. Therefore she found an outlet for this rogue streak in random illustrations. They don’t always make sense, not everybody gets them, but they make her smile. She decided that joining the world of blogging gave her a great way to showcase her work. My thoughts turned to my much neglected blog. The last post was an off-the-cuff, must-write-something kind of thing. Before that was the piece on the London Book Fair. That was over a year ago. Sarah began to tell me that to make a go of the blog I needed to write at least once a week. I know this, I told her, I did my masters dissertation on social media marketing. I know how blogging works, the two way conversation that is social media. I follow blogs, I regularly read @Glempy’s and @livpurvis.Yet, I rarely find the time or motivation to sit down and write. I am often inspired in daily life to think ‘oh that would make a good blog,’ yet it never gets written.

So that’s it. From now on I am going to make a concerted effort to blog. I would say I have strong opinions on a number of things, I could easily tell you all about those. I have just moved to a new city, I could regale you with stories of getting lost and my growing dependence on mobile Google maps. I have numerous stories of living in a ‘halls of residence’ style flat with potentially 11 other people at the age of 27 (I say potentially as I don’t actually know how many people live here!) and of course my new job in publishing. So I have waved Sarah off at the bus stop and crawled back into bed, nursing a slight hangover, and switched on my laptop. I really have no excuse not to do this more often.


Merry Christmas!!

The Christmas tree is up, the presents are bought (although still unwrapped…) two work Christmas parties and secret Santa’s swapped. Yet, it still doesn’t feel like Christmas. I wonder if it is the lack of snow which blanketed the country the past two years, or maybe just that this year has flown in so fast that it can’t possibly be Christmas yet, can it?

December, for me, is a usually a month of reflection. I look back on the year and consider my achievements, my mistakes, the milestones and celebrations. Facebook has an app at the moment where a user can collate their top 22 (or so!) status updates of 2011. Looking through my list for the year there is; my car breaking down on the dual carriageway in January, my best friends hen weekend beginning on April Fools day, followed by flying to Turkey for the wedding in May (first time as a bridesmaid as well I should add!), my first by-line in the Scotsman newspaper whilst on a fortnight work experience, handing in my dissertation in August and passing my masters, starting my internship in September and my nephews first birthday in December. It’s fair to say it has been an eventful year!

This December though I am looking forward to 2012, and not back. 2012 heralds the beginning of so many new things. Moving to… well, anywhere, somewhere. Who knows? Starting a new job at… well, anywhere, somewhere. Who knows? (Providing it’s publishing related!) Next year, there are so many possibilities and opportunities. As much as I hate the saying, the world is my oyster! I don’t want to make any plans for next year because I have no idea where I will be and what I will be doing. The future is a huge unknown but I am not scared. I thought I would be. This is the first December that hasn’t felt like a disappointment because, despite being unhappy with my life, I hadn’t changed anything in the past 12 months. This year is different because I have made so many positive steps towards a career of my choosing. Maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel like Christmas yet, because I am… what’s the word? Oh yes… happy. Merry Christmas 🙂

 


London Book Fair 2011

I have probably neglected my blog since it’s creation a few months back. University course work has taken priority but now I am on the brink of my Easter holidays (yes, I am 26) and having just returned from The London Book Fair I have the perfect excuse to get writing.

    So, what have I learned from my first trip to the fair? Well it’s not all candyfloss and no need to scream if you want to go faster. This industry is progressing fast enough as it is! Seriously though, the three main things I’ve picked up on; the future of publishing is digital, I must learn XML and metadata and finally, networking is much more difficult in person than it is online.

    We all know that the digital age is upon us and this came as no real surprise. What did, however, is the fact that digital is moving so fast that publishers are in danger of being left behind. They (I still struggle with saying ‘we’ although technically I am now a publisher) are now expected to learn new skills in an industry they have already got a place in. If they don’t adapt there will be other people from other industries ready to take their place. John Makinson, Chairman and Chief Executive of Penguin, put it into perspective by saying (during the CEO Keynote Book Publishing: Digital Revolution or Digital Evolution seminar) that whilst recruiting for a summer intern, Penguin received applications from Harvard graduates. As he put it ‘Publishing is sexy’ other industries are keen to get in on the act. It is becoming increasingly clear that new recruits need to come with a whole new skill set, as well as the ones originally required! Danuta King, Publishing Analyst and Cultural Commentator spoke at the How to Get into Publishing seminar and suggested that new recruits should now be able to demonstrate entrepreneurial ability, the capability to spot a gap in the market and exploit it to it’s full potential and of coarse, have an interest in digital media.

    Easy? Maybe not, we graduates also need to decide what sort of company we want to work for. The smaller, independent publisher may offer the opportunity to learn every aspect of the publishing process. With fewer bodies it is all hands on deck to see a book through from concept to consumer. Whereas in a larger conglomerate, chances are and intern or graduate will get pigeon holed, with little or no room to manoeuvre. On the flip side, with the industry on the cusp of digital revolution the smaller publishing houses may not have the money to invest in accessing the technologies necessary to survive these new advances. Something the larger companies have no problem with.

    To be able to get a job in the industry, I know what I need to do. Learn the technologies required, understand XML and HTML coding and I should probably find out what metadata actually is. None of these things are taught on my course but thankfully I have the time to learn them. What if you are already in the job? Who is going to fund the retraining of staff within the industry?

    I feel I can demonstrate an entrepreneurial flare, a passion for the industry and I understand the importance of multi platform delivery and the impact this has on territoriality. However, to secure employment I feel that it is necessary to pull out the old adage; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. One of the other themes running through the fair was the prevalence of social media and networking. The seminar ‘Tweet Smell of Success? How to Use Social Media to Best Effect’ was so popular many attendees had to be turned away. Sadly, I was one of them. Although people on the inside were tweeting the highlights to those of us stuck on the outside. Rather appropriate if you ask me! Both Zoë Collins, head of Fresh One Productions, and David Wright, Manager of the Book Publishing Sector at PFJ Recruitment, emphasized the need to be involved in social media such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Being a part of discussions and groups will get a name noticed. On this front, I feel one step ahead and quietly smug that I already tweet. I cottoned on to the potential of Twitter some months ago, although now I am somewhat disgruntled that this information has been passed on to the 200+ student attendees of the ‘How to Get Into Publishing seminar that Mr Wright spoke at. Those students are my competition and I need to stay one step ahead!

    Then of coarse there is the opportunity whilst at the fair to speak to the professionals of our industry in person. Now, this was somewhat harder than simply following them on Twitter. To do so in real life would get a person arrested! Coming from a theatre and drama background this should have been easy. The speaking to people not following them I hasten to clarify! I have lost count of the number of times I have appeared on stage. I’ve stood under the bright lights and performed Shakespeare, Chekhov and many more greats to theatres full of expectant audiences. There is no reason I should find approaching the Little Brown desk difficult! I liken it to standing in a bar trying to get the courage to go and speak to the attractive guy on the other side of the room. You want to make a good impression, you want them to like you, you want to sound intelligent and you want to swap numbers. Well this is exactly the same except its business cards you want to swap.

    If I have learned anything from networking at the London Book Fair it’s; be prepared. Just like the good Girl Scout I never was. Take some of your work with you, use it as an opener which will not only show off your skills but also help you in a little market research. Do your homework! You want to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Talking to Penguin about how they published a book which was actually done by Harper Collins won’t endear you to them! Finally, be brave. These people may never see you again and may never remember you crossed their path. But they just might. When you are applying for jobs they might recognise your name as the intelligent student they spoke to at the London Book Fair earlier this year. Surely that’s worth the risk isn’t it? Rikhi Ubhi, Publicity and Marketing Assistant from Tindal Street Press even suggested crashing an after party at the event! He may have just been joking but if you can blag an invite, why not? As students of the industry, we are the future of publishing. We will bring with us the new ideas and new skills necessary to survive the digital revolution. Why shouldn’t industry professionals want to speak to us?

     Now I am home from my adventure inLondon, how do I feel? Exhausted. My legs ache, I have blisters on my toes and I want to sleep for the next week. But I will be at the Edinburgh Book Festival and maybe evenFrankfurt! As for London Book Fair 2012, too right I will be there!


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