The Ringing

I thought it was normal

The ringing

So when the doctor asked me

‘When did it start?’

I had to tell him that I couldn’t remember not hearing it.

It used to be just in the quiet of the night,

When everyone was in bed,

That my ears would fill with the high pitched hum

But the volume has been turned up over the years

Now it persists constantly,

Only ever drowned out by noise that turns my ears

into three hundred pound weights in the morning.

When I strain to hear something, the ringing becomes offended,

And rings ever louder to grab my attention.

The ringing is not only a noise,

It is a constant distraction,

It is an ache through my skull,

And it almost seemed to mock me in the doctor’s office

When I was told there was no way of stopping it.

 

© Alyx Hurst 2017

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Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell: My Favourite Books

Of all of my favourite books, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell is one I often forget when people ask me about my favourite books. Not that it’s a bad book, or forgetable in any way, but just as a reader of largely fantasy books, or at least books with some sort of supernatural element, Eleanor and Park is somewhat more understated; there’s no magic, nothing out of the ordinary, just a beautifully realistic love story.

I discovered Eleanor and Park after reading another of Rowell’s books, Fangirl, which I also love. As soon as I finished Fangirl, I immediately went to my nearest bookshop and sought out anything else by Rowell, and Eleanor and Park was on a display table. (Briefly taking a tangent, I am loving the new run of Runaways that Rowell has a large part in the writing of, and I would recommend it to anyone, as you don’t have to have read any of the previous Runaways to be able to follow what’s going on. Anyway.).

The book is set in the 1980s, and centres around the two characters of Eleanor and Park. Both of them, typically, don’t quite fit in with the world of high school. Park is half Korean, which makes him an outcast in Omaha, Nebraska, where almost everyone is white, and on top of that, he is obsessed with music and comic books. Eleanor is even more of an outcast, wearing men’s clothing a lot of the time, a little chubby, with a head of bright red hair. Park realises how much of a target Eleanor is for the bullies at their school, and so offers her the seat next to him on the bus. As is to be expected, a relationship blossoms between them.

The novel explores issues of race, class, family, and so much more. At the novel’s open, Eleanor has just returned from a year spent living with her uncle after she was kicked out of her home by her stepfather, who abuses her mother and her siblings. The conflict between Eleanor, and to a lesser extent also her siblings and her mother, and Richie, her stepfather, is central to the story, but amazingly it never errs from realistic throughout the novel. The story, whilst heartbreaking, is firmly rooted in the reality of life for many people, which makes it all the more poingnant.

One of the other things I loved as well was the mystery of the novel’s ending. Leaving a story so open ended is something that I rarely enjoy, but Rowell does it so well that it still feels like a satisfying ending. By the end of the book, you know the characters so well that you know what most likely happened, but you can never be sure. The ending also fits with the reality of the novel – you don’t ever know exactly what’s going to happen in life, and that’s okay, as a lot of the time you just have to go where life takes you.

Everyone who I have leant this book to have told me that they cried reading it, and in my opinion moving people to that extent is a clear signifier of a good book. All of this is why Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park will undoubtebly remain one of my favourite books, quite possibly forever.

 

Under the customer service smile

The clock on my car

(which is always seven minutes fast)

tells me that I am three minutes late

and I sigh

the click of my seatbelt unfastening

making my heart flutter and thrum. A new day

in this hellscape begins.

The next time I get in this car, I will be

exhausted, probably

will not have eaten for ten hours,

and have been standing up for

just as long, and unless

my boss has had her 9am pinot grigio,

will probably have been yelled at at least twice.

The gravel slips under my feet

I sneak a glance through the window,

I don’t see them,

I am relieved, for a second.

I greet my colleague, who is clearly high, again,

greet the chef, already busy chopping –

he inhales his way to an early grave regularly

in pursuit of five minutes of peace.

We all brace when the boss walks in,

wanting to be a victim of just a patronising word

and a smile, rather than face her full wrath.

I give a rueful smile to the regulars in for lunch who say ‘it must be wonderful

to work here.’ I clock out

at half past six, stomach growling, head misting,

and drive home along roads stained with tears.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

My favourite books: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was recommended to me by many people before I actually read it. If I’m completely honest, I only got round to it because it was on the reading list for one of my modules this year (it was subsequently removed, much to my dismay, but that’s another story). I don’t know why it took me so much convincing – I love Greek and Roman mythology, I love the Iliad, and I’m always excited to read books with LGBTQ+ representation, and this book ticks all of those boxes. No wonder then that before I had even finished it, it had made it into the list of my favourite books.

This book is just beautiful. I cried throughout the book – I started bookmarking every time the book made me cry, which considering I knew the ending, and how Miller consistently foreshadows the ending through Achilles’ happy arrogance and Patroclus’ reluctant happiness, was a lot. I ran out of post-it-note bookmarks. This, coupled with the gorgeous poetic descriptions of the landscapes and events of the novel, makes it into one of those books I stayed up until 2.30am to finish, at which time I messaged my friend in tears and she immediately knew what I had just finished reading.

I don’t feel that my love of the Iliad was a necessary pre-requisite for reading and loving Miller’s novel either. Most of my friends that have read the book and love it had no idea what was going to happen, giving them a completely different experience of reading the book. Either way, I do not know a single person who has read The Song of Achilles and not enjoyed it.

This book is the book that I always recommend to people without exception when they ask me for book recommendations, so I felt it most remiss not to mention it here on my blog when I have this favourite books series. If you haven’t yet read it, do so. I sincerely promise you that you will love it.

The Turtle

She shuffles, head bowed

through the rain, desperate

to make it back home.

The shell on her back gets heavier 

with every step,

she pauses, 

turtles,

and starts again.

She tries not to complain, 

for this is the baggage she chose to bear

but there are days like this

when the weight becomes difficult to shoulder.
She persists.

The Three Fates

The three girls sit across the aisle from me on the train. They stare in my general direction, and although I am not so vain to think of myself as the object of their eyes, it starts to feel personal after two stops. They have to angle their bodies in a very bizarre fashion in order to continuously stare in my direction; the squish of their limbs doesn’t look at all comfortable. 

They vacate the two seats they were sharing when the train reaches Coventry. Their frigid stares and the spatial vacuum left in their absence haunts me for the remainder of my journey.

As they walk down the platform, they fan out into a V formation, synchronised steps drawing them closer to me, their heads turning to face me as their bodies change their viewing angle. I wonder whether I am in some way taunting them for a moment, searching my person for the focus of their attention.

But I find nothing, they walk away, and am left to wonder what they were so fixated on for the rest of my life.

Forgetting can help you remember

‘Lovely night, isn’t it?’ Julie stretched into the emptiness of the sky, soaking in the ambient city discord.

‘Not for them.’ Greg pulled his coat closer around himself and scuffed his shoe against the tarmac of the balcony floor.

Julia frowned, tuning back in to the cacophony of yelling erupting from the windows just below them. ‘Do you think if I leant over the edge of the balcony, with that broom, I could just…’ She mimed picking up the broom, standing on her tiptoes, and using the end of the broom to shut the window below, popping her lips.

‘Julia, no, we’ve only got a couple of months left here max, let’s not get evicted before we finish the job.’ Greg sighed and folded his arms.

‘But they’re so noisy!’ Julia stamped her feet like a petulant child, ‘And they argue all the time! I don’t even know why he expected her to remember their anniversary, it’s not like she pays much attention to their supposed marital bliss.’ Julia wandered to the edge of the balcony and leant forwards to rest on her elbows. Greg walked to join her, and as she turned and took in his profile she marvelled at how quickly they had become so similar. In their line of work, you had to be flexible, malleable, fitting into whatever hole the brief required, but in the three months they’d been living as husband and wife, whilst simultaneously trying to take down one of the biggest criminal gangs the world had ever seen, she had learnt how to predict almost every move of his. For example, she knew he was going to trying to find the flicker of dying romance in the couple’s constant arguing below them.

‘I don’t know, I was holding out hope for them,’ Greg sighed, ‘It makes me happy I’m just getting paid to pretend to be straight.’

Julia laughed. ‘Us gays are definitely happier. They couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate word for us.’

© Alyx Hurst 2017

My favourite books: His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman 

Something happened this week that I am very excited about: Phillip Pullman released a book in the same universe as one of my favourite book series, the His Dark Materials trilogy. La Belle Sauvage is described as not a prequel, or a sequel, but rather an equal, taking place at the same time as the events of the series. The excitement I feel to read it reminded me of how much I love the original trilogy.

I, like many others I know, was first introduced to the Phillip Pullman trilogy through the film the Golden Compass. I loved it, fantasy is one of my favourite genres, and the universe felt so different, so similar to the world that I knew and yet so magical at the same time. I almost immediately checked the Northern Lights out of my local library, and read it within a week. It was so much better than the film (not in a snobbish way, in the sense that they changed some major plot points and removed some elements to market the film more towards children) the world far richer, the characters more developed, and the plot so natural and yet very unpredictable.

I never normally read books in a series one after the other, as I generally find it somewhat spoils my enjoyment of them – too much of a good thing, in a sense. I made this mistake with the Subtle Knife, choosing to read it almost immediately after finished the Northern Lights. I struggled with it for a bit, had to put it down for a while. Once I came back to it, I enjoyed it far more, although it still remains my least favourite of the three in the series.

The final book in the series, the Amber Spyglass, felt like the perfect finale to the series. The series had gradually built to that point, and taking the start of the Northern Lights and the end of the Amber Spyglass in isolation would leave you completely unsure if they were even from the same series, but the progression throughout the series goes as a perfect pace, and it all fits into place. I can still cry thinking about Will and Lyra’s annual tradition.

This book series remains firmly in my favourites, and I am so excited to read the latest instalment – and, after writing this, I want to reread the whole of the original series!

Surrounding yourself with creativity

Recently, I found myself in a creative slump. I wasn’t motivated to write anything – the ideas for the novel I’m working on were still ticking over in my brain, but I wasn’t actually writing, and I hadn’t even considered writing a poem for months, other than those I had to write for my seminars, and they were turning out flat and lifeless. I lacked motivation, I lacked inspiration, I lacked drive.

And then I went to my local poetry night at the local pub.

It was like a switch was flipped; I got home and immediately wrote two (admittedly godawful) first drafts of poems, and I wrote two more today. Just being in a creative atmosphere made me want to write again. I got my drive back.

It’s worth noting as well that I think it was partially that I was so invested in writing this novel. Not that I don’t want to write it, but I think after being so focused on one thing – especially when it’s taking so long to write given my lack of free time – I needed a little break from it to allow some of the other ideas I’d had in the mean time to work their way out.

So if you’re feeling like you’re in a bit of a writing funk, all I’m saying is that it might be worth stepping back from what you’re working on, and surrounding yourself with people who inspire you with their creativity. Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but it just might be what you need.