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!

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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.

In the clouds

Fog falls over us with misty silence,

twisting and curling its fingers around us

until we’re it and it’s us

and we can’t see our hands in front of our faces for trying, but

I can hear you, and

by hearing you I can see you,

see your laugh

lighting up your face, from

its infant stages as an impish grin

to it’s spread, as it contorts

your whole body in joy and I,

too, laugh,

and smile about how strange we must look,

joy making us glow

as our heads sit

in the clouds.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

My favourite books: 1984 by George Orwell

Like many people, I had heard of 1984 long before I read it. It was due to it’s reputation as a classic dystopian novel that I decided to read it, largely because I wanted to do my Extended Essay for my IB on dystopian literature, comparing the graphic novel V for Vendetta with a novel to look at the differences in presentations of themes in graphic novels and novels. I chose to read 1984 because not only is it the classic, but also because V for Vendetta has been compared to it a lot by critics, and Alan Moore himself has said that he took a large amount of inspiration from 1984 when writing V for Vendetta.

I have to say, I found the book initially slow to get into. Without a clear direction of narrative like I was used to, it didn’t immediately grab my attention. However, I soon found myself halfway through, having read for several hours, with no intention of putting the book down with any haste. I also found it really enjoyable to re-read, which is something I don’t find with many books. In fact, re-reading it was almost more enjoyable for me than reading it the first time, as knowing what was going to happen made the story all the more poignant in a way.

What makes me love this book so much is the reality of it. Unlike many dystopias we see nowadays, (for example The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) it is a terrifyingly possible future. There’s a logic to how the world developed to get to the point it’s at in the novel, which is what Orwell intended, obviously, so it feels like so much more than just a story.

The way Orwell builds this world as well is so chilling. There’s a reason that the opening line, ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’ is known by so many people. From that line alone, the eerie atmosphere of the novel is set. It only builds from there, and by the end of the first page I could imagine this world in all sorts of detail that Orwell hasn’t even touched on from the few things that he has.

It’s also interesting the way I started off with sympathy for Winston, the protagonist, and root for him more and more as the novel goes on, but then ended up more disappointed in him than saddened for him. There’s so much hope, and it’s all crushed for the reader and for Winston, which I did not expect at all with the way the novel was written leading up to that point.

I find the very fact that writing this blog post makes me want to go and re-read 1984 clear evidence to the fact that this novel is more than deserving of its iconic status, both to me and in the world at large.

My favourite books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

As I haven’t been able to read many new releases recently owing to my rather extensive university reading lists, I thought I could start a series this week, talking about my favourite books, in both my experience with them and why I love them so much. So this week: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

The Night Circus is the book I say in response to the ‘What is your favourite book?’ question from anyone, and though there are many books I enjoyed and appreciate just as much as The Night Circus, so few people I know have read it that I can’t resist the possibility of telling someone about it so they may read and enjoy it too. 

I first read it as a loan from my uncle, who gave it to me as a book he’d read, mildly enjoyed, and thought I might like. I will admit, it took me a while to get into. When I boarded the plane for a family holiday to Barcelona in 2014, I was around 40 pages in. A day and a half into the holiday and I had finished it. I got swept up into the story, invested in every character, unsure of what was going to happen, that I could barely put it down. I have since forced many of my friends to read it, and I still live in hope that the production company that bought the rights will make the film someday.

The premise sounds strange when described, and it is so difficult to describe. There’s a circus that ‘appears without warning’, is only open at night, and disappears again. The Circus is in fact a stage for a duel between Marcus and Celia, both bound at birth to be engaged in a duel of magic until one of them wins. And every character within the Circus has a role to play.

One of the key reasons I love this book so much is its characters. You care about every single one, no matter how many are introduced as the story progresses. I think one of the reasons this is is Morgenstern’s masterful use of a non-chronological narrative – the story leaps forwards and backwards in time, with headings on each chapter to tell you where and when you are each time. Through this, you see the world of the circus introduced to the different characters, and see how they fit it in with the wider narrative.

The premise of the novel seemed so unique to me as well. The idea of young and old arguing as to whose way is better is obviously ages old, but the framing of the Night Circus, open only for a few days, arriving unannounced, was just so enticing. As a reader, you are like one of the many normal visitors to the circus who are described in a few vague chapters dotted throughout the novel. You walk around with the other people, admiring these things that you could never dream of appearing so vividly in front of your eyes as Morgenstern’s words come to life.

The ending of the book also worked really well – it did not feel forced, it was very satisfying, and it still left me in tears.

The Night Circus is almost as magical as its namesake circus is itself, and that’s why it remains firmly in my list of my favourite books.

Returning to Square One

As I sat struggling to write chapter four of the novel I’m working on, I had a horrific realisation. I needed to go back and plan again.

There were several issues with the set up of the world (as it is a fantasy novel; I talked about the trials and tribulations of world building in my post here) that needed sorting, and could critically alter the plot depending on what I did; I needed to add to the beginning to fully explain this world, the ending that I had planned felt like it didn’t quite work, and I needed more time for a relationship to build between the characters. So, it was effectively back to square one.

It felt like a defeat, I felt despondent and demotivated. But I got a clean piece of paper and I wrote out everything that needed changing, brainstormed how I was going to change it, and ordered the changes. I’m currently only halfway through them, as they require a lot of working out, and something I always find difficult: important decisions. But I am making my way through them. And I’m very glad for realising the issues at this point, as it has made me rethink the story in many ways, and I have made a lot of changes – some minor, some major – for the better.

What I have now realised is that I never went back to square one. As long as you have something, however much it feels like you’re at square one, you never truly are. Maybe square two, or even square one point five, but you always have more than you started with, and going back can easily launch you a lot further than you were before. Think of it not as regression, but as going up to the line, walking back, and taking a run up.

I won Camp NaNoWriMo 2017! (sort of)

Before this July, I had never done Camp NaNoWriMo. I’d done NaNoWriMo, in November, twice, and won once. I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo this year because I thought the motivation of a concrete goal would be very helpful in my attempt to write the first draft of a novel over this summer – I’d found the same motivation helpful before, so why not now?

The thing I didn’t realise about Camp NaNoWriMo before starting that I absolutely loved is that you set your own goal. In my case, I set it to 30,000 words, and began. Then, once I got my work schedule through, and it got towards the end of the month, I decreased this to 15,000 words to keep me motivated. What happened when I did NaNoWriMo the year before last is that the month got away from me, and halfway through November, I only had 6,000 words, and no feeling that I would be able to achieve the 50,000 word goal, so I gave up. With an editable goal, this is not the case. The only issue with this is that as the month draws to a close, you might be tempted to edit your goal down to what you already have and call it a day. You’ve just got to have the self-discipline not to do that.

The key thing that I took away from this is clear: having a goal kept me motivated. Through writer’s block, through tiredness, through procrastination, through lows, and through sheer laziness, I had a goal to work towards, and so I did. And though I may not have a full novel, I have certainly worked out a lot about the world of it that I hadn’t already thought of through simply having to essentially live in it for a month. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone – at the price of free, it provides the motivation that anyone like me so desparately needs to get your butt into gear and write that novel that’s been sitting in your head all this time. And, if you’re like me, work out quite a few teething issues with your story along the way!

Twelfth Night at Shakespeare’s Globe – A disco in the highlands

A few weeks ago, a couple of my friends decided on a whim that they were going to go to see a show at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Being so close to London myself, and having never seen a show at the Globe, I felt I could hardly turn it down. The atmosphere of the Globe is amazing, and if you are able to I would highly recommend getting a ticket at £5 for standing in the yard, which is what we did, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show.

The show opens on a cruise ship of some sort, and from the music and the dress, it is clearly Shakespeare with a seventies twist. This may sound strange, but somehow, it worked. Sebastian danced onto the stage in white platform boots and flared trousers, and Viola joined him in a sparkling purple jumpsuit. What’s not to love?

But then, as the twins were shipwrecked, it became clear that Illyria is only Illyria by name, and is in fact, Scotland. Duke Orsino, his court, and Sir Hugo all wear kilts, and Orsino dances to a song (supposedly of his own composition) with a Scottish folk music feel. The combination sounds bizarre, but it works so well, especially with the comedic ability of the actors.

The script was fantastic. Shakespeare’s original dialogue was peppered throughout with added lines, with exceptional delivery by all of the cast, providing extra comedy, bringing the story to the more modern audience.

All of the cast was fantastic, but there were three stand out performances.

Malvolio was played with such great characteristation, as Katy Owen made her own clear stamp on the character. I watched (and loved) her in the livestream of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the Globe last year, playing Puck, but seeing her act in person was even more phenomenal. The energy she brought to Malvolio was unlike any I have ever seen, but at the same time it fit so well. Even the way Owen ran around the stage sent the whole theatre into fits of giggles.

Another stand out performance of the cast was that of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, played by Marc Antolin. The combination of the fantastic costume design of Lez Brotherston, the direction of Emma Rice, and the performace of Antolin, resulted in a character that no-one in the audience could fail to find amusing. Despite his interest in marrying Olivia, mentioned only a couple of times, he was clearly portrayed as a gay stereotype in his dress, his strength (or lack thereof), and his whole manner. And here begins my problem with the performance.

Despite being a performance for Pride Month at the Globe, featuring a rainbow design to demonstrate this both within the design on the front of the programme for this play, and the poster for the whole season, there seemed to be a distinct lack of LGBTQ+ representation. The play of Twelfth Night has a huge potential for LGBTQ+ representation in various ways. For example, Orsino can clearly be read as bisexual, in that he loves Viola whilst she is Cesario. This is played on a bit in the performance, but it could be done more explicitly in my opinion. One aspect with huge potential that was just ignored was the potential for relationship between Antonio and Sebastian. Antonio tells Sebastian that he loves him, but this is completely ignored. There is the great potential in those few lines to present a gay character that is not a male gay stereotype, but is instead just a character who happens to be gay, and yet the lines pass without note. Having said all this though, I must mention the performance of Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste. He was simply phenomenal in the role, and his vocal range was awe-inspiring.

The only other issue I had with this production was the use of the same actors as a sort of chorus, dressed in white overalls and t-shirts, when they were not themselves in the action, for example to pull the bed Malvolio was on around the stage. This almost drew me out of the performance, reminding the audience that this was a performance on the stage, and the actors were merely actors. When the performance from each actor was so amazing, it felt bizarre to see them in what was effectively a different role within the same production.

Overall, the performance was a joy to watch, save for a few minor issues, and I wish I could go and watch it again for the first time!

The War that Started it All

Innumerable days and nights of fighting, piles of dead bodies, and it had all come down to this. Margaret stood facing Horatio, a battalion of fairies, trolls, dragons, unicorns, and who knew what else behind her, a battalion of human soldiers behind him. A smattering of humans stood beside her, glancing furtively sideways and then back at the heavily armed soldiers behind Horatio, clearly unsure as to whether they had chosen the right side.

‘It doesn’t have to be this way, Horatio. Please, we can live in peace.’ Margaret knew any pleas were futile, but that didn’t stop her trying.

‘We can’t live in peace whilst these beasts,’ he gestured to the creatures standing behind Margaret, ‘insist on trampling our land.’

At the claim over the island, the trolls growled, prompting a roar from one of the dragons that sent a fireball into the sky.

‘It’s not your land Horatio. It’s no-one’s land.’

Horatio smirked. ‘You’re just too weak, Maggie. Too weak to take what’s rightfully yours.’ He put his hand to the hilt of his sword. ‘And that, sister, is what will be your downfall.’ He raised his sword and the human battalion charged forwards. Swords clashed with axes and clubs. Half the soldiers were cooked within their armour.

It only took a few moments before the fighting was over, and the soldiers – the ones who could still stand – retreated. Most of them lay dead or dying; the few who were lucky enough to only be injured sat howling in pain.

The dragons were sitting on their back legs, licking the scratches that the swords had covered their bodies with. The fairies who weren’t injured flitted around, helping the wounded on both sides. The humans had all run, from both sides, leaving only those who could not move on the battlefield.

‘It didn’t have to be this way.’ Margaret was crying now, tears forming rivers through the mud and dirt caked on to her face as she took in the sight off all the bodies. ‘We can live together peacefully.’

Horatio had somehow survived, and other than a gash along the side of his torso which had already stopped bleeding, was unharmed. He sat up, clearly incredulous.

‘Do your eyes not work? Can you not see what these monsters did? How can we co-exist with such violent, dangerous creatures?’ His voice rose to a squeak with the last question as he gestured to the creatures, who were, for the most part, unharmed.

‘You provoked them.’

‘I did no such thing! I only tried to take land that is rightfully mine.’

‘We only arrived here ten moons ago, and you think we have the right to all land on this island? These creatures have existed here peacefully for so long…’

‘These creatures are not as intelligent as us. They don’t deserve the treatment we give them, let alone what you are suggesting.’

Horatio hoisted himself up to standing and climbed on top of his horse. ‘I’m going to protect us, sister. Make sure you’re on the right side of those barriers. There’s still a chance for our stories to remember you fondly.’ The hope in Horatio’s voice was pitiable. His mouth stayed fixed in a frown, but it trembled slightly, like a toddler on the brink of a tantrum.

Margaret had lived with Horatio for so long that she had no hesitation as she said, ‘Don’t worry, brother. I will,’ turned away from him, and walked into the line of the trees.


I’m currently doing CampNaNoWriMo and this serves as a sort of short story precursor to the main body of the novel, and something surprising came out of just starting with an idea in the world and letting myself write! I would recommend it to anyone suffering from writers’ block to move past it and potentially take things in a direction you might not have previously considered! Also Camp NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo itself is great motivation for getting that novel that you’re so desperate to write down on the page or screen – and that, so I have been told many a time, is the first and most crucial step in any writing project.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

Reflecting on my first year at uni

Having just finished my first year at university, I thought it might be good to reflect on it and share some of my tips for people who are in the position that I was last year – terrified, excited, and almost completely clueless as to what they’re going to face come September.

There’s not much that I can say in terms of workload that hasn’t already been said a million times over – university learning is self motivated. No-one is going to chase you up if you don’t do it, it’s your loss, so discipline is super important – although the occasional nap (or daily in my case) won’t hurt you. At least it won’t if you do a low contact hour subject like I do!

Also, if you do the reading for the lectures, you will understand them far better. Granted, there is some reading that is a little redundant, but it is far better to do it if you have the time to start off with, and then later use your time doing more useful things. Just try to do the reading – you don’t want to be the person that turns up to the first seminar absolutely clueless. Like I said before, university is self-lead teaching to an extent, so get as much out of it as you can by doing the reading.

Realise you’re not necessarily going to get a first. I have a lot of friends who were very high achieving students at school, and they got to uni, got a 2:1 for a piece of work, and were really upset. I’m not saying you’re not going to get a first, you might do, and well done you if you do, but a first is not the be all and end all, and even if you don’t do so well in first year, learn from it. You’re there to learn, after all, so see a lower grade a chance to improve yourself. Go and ask for help if you don’t understand your marker’s comments, and if you need it, ask for help with your essays from the services that are available at your uni. Friends can be invaluable for this, especially with creative writing. Exchanging work and reading through each other’s helps both of you, both in proofreading and in seeing how they responded to the same prompt.

Make sure that you know where you can go if you need help – I have been in the fortunate position not to need any help this year, but knowing where those services are can be really helpful in those times of stress and panic, so you – or someone else – can do something about it.

Here comes another cliché – don’t be afraid to try new things. I started Ballroom and Latin American Dance this year through university, and it has honestly been one of the best experiences of my first year at uni. You don’t have to commit to everything that you sign up for – I signed up for four or five societies after my uni’s societies fair, but I now only regularly attend two of them. And the societies expect this dropout – it’s far better to try these new things and then decide you don’t like them than to not try anything at all and wish that you had come March. Most societies even offer a free trial session, or don’t require you to pay membership until a few weeks in, so you might as well give them a whirl. Societies are also one of the best places to meet people, as you’ll be with people with similar interests to you, and you’ll meet people from across the uni, across departments, across years, postgrads, undergrads… Basically, socieites are great, so sign up for them if you can.

But also remember that it is okay to say no. I was feeling a bit rough the first few weeks of uni, especially in Freshers’ Week, so I went to two quiz nights and one night out. My flatmates asked me if I wanted to go out every night, but as I don’t drink I was quite daunted by the prospect of going out with a large group of complete strangers, so I stayed in my room instead, and I was far happier for it (as was my bank account!). I’m not saying don’t go out, all I’m saying is that if you really don’t want to do something, you don’t have to do it. Try to do new things, but if you’re really not feeling it, no-one is going to hate you for saying no. I’m still good friends with my flatmates, so if my experience is anything to go by, there’s nothing to be feared in saying no.

On the topic of flatmates, remember that you need a little give and take, but at the same time you can’t be a doormat. If you have a 9am you have to get to, or like me have to get up at 4am to get ready for a dance competition, and they’re hosting pres, blasting music and yelling at the top of their voices, just go in and talk to them. If they’re decent people, they will offer to move pres (it’s not like there’s likely to be a shortage of accomodation in walking distance that they can use). If they don’t, just remember to make as much noise as you can getting ready in the morning. (I joke, of course). Do your washing up, tidy and clean up after yourself, take the bin out, but don’t let your flatmates leave you to sort the state of the kitchen or any other shared areas in the flat. I was really fortunate with my flatmates, we’re all quite clean and tidy people. I do, however, have friends who live with flatmates who use their stuff and leave it disgustingly dirty, ruin it, or (the worst flatmates I’ve heard of) don’t take out the bin, rather taking out the full bin liner and leaving it on the floor until it spawns maggots. So basically, good luck with flatmates, and try to be a good flatmate yourself.

Chat to people. There is never an easier time to meet people than the first few weeks of uni – everyone is out to make friends, no-one knows each other. I walked up to someone because I saw them wearing a Welcome to Night Vale t-shirt in freshers’ week, and we’re now really good friends. Granted, some people I spoke to in freshers’ week I now only see on occasion when scrolling through Facebook, but I didn’t lose anything in talking to them. And if you aren’t making that many people during Freshers’ Week, it’s not an issue. It becomes so much easier to meet people once term properly starts, and you have lectures and seminars that force you with groups of people.

Don’t try to pretend to be someone you’re not. The best way to make the best friends is to be yourself, as you’ll end up with friends who are like you. That’s kind of general life advice, but from what I’ve experienced, it’s especially true at uni.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who isn’t enjoying uni within the first couple of weeks is to at least stick it out until Christmas. What will you lose by staying at uni for a few extra months that you would gain by dropping out after a few weeks? It’s a rollercoaster of emotions – you’ll feel fine for a bit, then you’ll feel a bit wobbly, then awful, and fine again – not necessarily in that order. As I said in my previous post on change, I would quite happily have not gone to university the morning of travelling up, and I would have quite happily gone home many a time during the first few weeks. But now I’m home for the summer, I miss uni terribly. I miss my friends, I miss the city, I even miss my lectures and seminars. So give it your best shot, it can feel really hard at times, but before you know it, it will be the Christmas holidays, and if you don’t feel better by then, then uni probably isn’t for you. Which there is no shame in, uni definitely isn’t for everyone. But at least you would have given it a good go, and you know for sure.

On a more practical note: budget. I sat down with my mum a few weeks before uni started and we worked out what allowance I would need on top of my maintenance loan and the savings I had from working over the summer. I opted for uni accomodation with an en suite, which was expensive, I’m not going to lie (it worked out ~£700 a month, bills included, on an 8 month contract), but I am personally glad I did. I then had to budget a lot, because my loan didn’t even cover my accomodation, so I had to watch my pennies. My recommendation would be to cook as much as you can, if you’re going to be on campus all day, take a packed lunch with you, and find the cheapest place to shop locally. I’m lucky in the sense that I am a vegetarian, and vegetarian food from the supermarket is so much cheaper than meat in my experience. I didn’t go out very much, and when I have gone out I’ve never paid more than £5 for a ticket to get in, and never buy any drinks once I’m out. I also don’t drink alcohol (a personal choice), so I didn’t have that to pay for either. I would add at this point that you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to, you can drink occasionally, no-one really cares. I was convinced prior to going to uni that there’s a massive drinking culture at uni, everyone drinks, and you’re considered weird if you don’t drink, and whilst yes, there are a lot of people who like to drink a lot at uni, they don’t care if you drink or not. It’s your business. And, at least at my uni, there are a lot of societies opting for more non-drinking events – laser tag, bowling, and trampolining, to name but a few. So if that’s a concern of yours, don’t worry.

I hope this has helped someone, and I wish everyone going to uni in September the best of luck, and I hope that you enjoy the experience as much as I do!