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 its 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

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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.

The Sim

The world seemed to buzz around me, disintegrating before my eyes. The pavement blurred into the road and the screech of brakes crackled towards me. I looked up and blinked. The walls of a room I didn’t recognise came into focus.

Something started beeping next to me; a high pitched chirp joined it in a disharmony my brain couldn’t process. People ran into the room, I counted three, cloaked in lab coats and lanyards and plastic gloves. I knew none of them.

They talked amongst themselves, barking words at each other that I couldn’t derive any meaning from. I tried to sit up, but my brain didn’t reach my body, and I remained stationary.

The beeping stopped. The people took a breath. They smiled. One of them stepped closer to me, the other two left the room.

‘Hi, Elspeth. How are you feeling?’

I frowned. She checked her notes.

‘Who are you?’

It was their turn to frown. ‘Elspeth, it’s me, May.’

‘Who? Where am I?’

‘You’re in your dorm, Elspeth,’ she said, her voice rising in confusion, ‘do you not remember anything?’

‘I remember a car.’ I grimaced. ‘I remember a lot of pain.’

‘What about before that?’

‘Could you be more specific?’

‘Before your life in the sim, Elspeth, what do you remember?’

‘Life in the what?’

She clutched at a walkie talkie strapped to her waist and spoke into it. ‘Doctor Fisher, I need assistance.’

‘Who’s Doctor Fisher? What is going on?’

Her voice shook slightly as she continued. ‘You don’t remember anything?’

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about! Where am I?!’

‘You’ve just woken up.’

‘What do you mean?’

Another person shrouded in a white entered the room. ‘What appears to be the problem May?’

‘Will someone please tell me where I am?’ The panic swirled in my gut as the two people remained silent, exchanging glances.

The man, who I presumed to be Doctor Fisher, turned to May. ‘Does she not remember anything?’

‘It doesn’t appear so, sir.’

He turned to me. ‘Elspeth, what year are we in?’

‘2016?’

‘What are the names of your parents?’

‘Maggie and Steven.’

‘And your siblings?’

‘I only have one brother. George.’

He turned back to May. ‘This is an unexpected hiccup.’

‘Will someone please tell me what’s going on?’ I yelled, my fear transforming into pure rage. May flinched at my outburst, speechless.

‘You’ve just woken up from a simulation,’ Doctor Fisher explained.

‘What?’

‘You’ve been in a coma for just under six months, during which you have experienced twenty years in a simulation we’ve been running in your brain – like a dream that we can control. It’s been very interesting. But we expected you to wake up and remember your current situation, as you would after waking up from a dream, but as you now know, that is clearly… not the case.’ Fisher’s voice was a monotone, his face remaining emotionless.

My breath quickened. The nausea clawed its way up my throat; a cold feeling spread from my scalp through my body.

‘What do you mean, my life is made up?’

‘The life you think you have is. Your real life is here in 2546. You are twenty-five years old.’ He consulted a clipboard, before snapping it shut, pushing his glasses up his nose and frowning at me. ‘If you wait here, we will decide the best course of action, hopefully reinstate your memory somehow.’

With that, he and May left the room. I tried to get up to follow them, but I found myself unable to move. I removed the blanket covering my legs and I felt the blood drain from my skin as I saw what little was left of my legs. They were reduced to skin and bone, none of the muscle that I had come to know and be so proud of as a triathlete remaining. It dawned on me that I hadn’t actually done that training; the years of hard work and dedication were no more than a dream.

Tears spilled over my cheeks. I tried to move, but my muscles barely twitched.

As I waited, I resolved to attempt to remember my life in this reality. Nothing revealed itself. Whilst I could remember a few times in which the world I knew suggested to me that it was not quite real, I could not remember anything of this one that I had been given as a replacement.

I focused on May – from her reaction, I clearly knew her well. I pictured her face in my head and searched for her somewhere within my memory. I found a glimpse of something, but as I pulled at it I lost the source. I was sure that I had met her before, but where, I did not know.

I looked around, beginning to doubt everything. If I hadn’t noticed that I’d been living in a simulation before, who’s to say I would realise now? The thought began to overwhelm me as the minutes ticked by.

May walked in just as I the walls started shrinking closer.

‘May?’

She looked up, startled. There was an almost imperceptible glimmer of hope in her eyes. ‘Yes?’

‘If I’ve been living in a simulation for years and had no idea, how do we know that we’re not living in a simulation right now?’

‘We don’t think we are, but who knows?’ Her eyes snapped back to the clipboard she held in her hands as she leafed through the papers attached to it. ‘If we are, then one day we’ll wake up, and that’ll be that.’ She looked at me, her face paling as the words lingered in the air between us.

‘Well. Yeah. Kind of insignificant, I guess.’

When May next spoke, her voice was barely audible. ‘You did choose this.’

‘What?’

‘You volunteered. I can show you the records if you like – Fisher thinks it may be too overwhelming, but…’

‘That should make me feel a bit better, I guess,’ I sighed, ‘but I don’t even know the person I was before this whole situation.’

May let her clipboard drop down to rest against her thighs.

‘She was great.’ May smiled, looking at me, but clearly seeing the me that she knew. She cleared her throat. ‘Anyway, we need to get you into rehab as soon as possible, redevelop your muscles. That’s the only thing the old you was afraid of – you had spent so much time getting as fit as you were. We had no idea how long the experiment was going to last.’

A flash of memory suddenly came to me as May sat there, of a girl, of a blurred night, and a morning spent feeling quite sorry for myself. I felt my cheeks flush.

‘May, how did we – do we – know each other?’

‘We were really good friends.’

‘Just friends?’

It was her turn to blush. ‘Yeah, just friends, why do you ask?’

‘Just something that must have happened in the simulation.’ My mouth fumbled around the word like it was cotton wool, objecting to calling every memory I had fake.

May wouldn’t meet my eyes. ‘I think I know what you mean. Anyway, if you want we can unhook you from this equipment and take you down to rehab now?’

‘So, you saw everything that happened in the simulation?’ My face felt like it was on fire as memories flashed through my mind that I had presumed no-one would ever know about.

‘We had the ability to, but obviously we gave you some privacy.’

I really didn’t want to find out exactly what it was that they had and hadn’t seen, so I dropped the matter. ‘You were saying about rehab?’

‘Yes, shall we go?’

‘Sounds good.’

May slipped the various needles and sensors out of and off me whilst I lay there. I let out a shaky breath as she turned from me, pulling the walkie talkie from her belt and requesting assistance moving me. Two people walked into the room, beaming smiles on their faces.

‘Hi, Elspeth, how’s it going?’ The greeting came from the taller one of the two, his bulky frame nearly too big for the doorway. I had never seen him before in my life.

‘Um, hi.’

The two people looked at each other, frowning. ‘Don’t you recognise me, Elspeth?’

‘Sorry, I don’t.’

‘You recognise me though, right, Elspeth?’ The other person had long hair the colour of daffodils, swept up and out of the way in a ponytail that reached their waist.

‘You look just like my friend Lizzie.’

The woman’s expression transformed, the ends of her smile flopping to her chin, the lines on her forehead deepening.

May sighed. ‘I did warn you she doesn’t remember anything. Elspeth, this is Amanda, and this is Peter.’

The two of them seemed quite lost for words.

‘Hi, nice to meet you. Can we please get to rehab? I’d really like to be able to move again.’

‘Sorry, Elspeth, this is all just a bit strange, is all.’ Amanda was almost speaking through tears. She and the guy took positions at the head of the bed, whilst May grabbed the front.

The rest of the building that I could see as I was wheeled through it was pretty much the same as my room – plain white walls, white linoleum floors, everything spotless. There was an occasional window set into the wall, and I took every opportunity to glance out. All I could see was unreally turquoise blue skies. From this, all I could discern is that we were high up in the building. Not that I was likely to know where we were even if I did see it – Doctor Fisher had said that this world was 500 years farther in the future than anything I had memory of living in.

The building was labyrinthian, with twists, turns, ups, downs, all down corridors that looked no different from each other. The sound of laughter emanated from some of the rooms, cries from others.

‘Where are we?’ I asked.

It was May who answered. ‘London General Hospital.’ With that, we pulled into a large, open room, not dissimilar in appearance to a gym.

I stored the knowledge away that London still existed and tried to focus.

‘See ya, Elspeth, and good luck!’

‘Good luck, Elspeth!’

I smiled at them through the mirror as they waved and left the room. My life must not be too bad here, I thought, if I was friends with them.

‘We have a lot to be going on with, so let me just grab Kim and we’ll be getting on to it.’

My question of ‘Who’s Kim?’ died in my throat as a man I recognised very well walked up to the side of the bed.

‘Hiya, Elspeth.’ He looked uncomfortable, leaning towards me slightly as if to hug me before stopping, halfway down, patting my hand with his and stepping back. ‘I’ve been told you probably don’t remember me?’

‘I have no idea who you are,’ the next words came out before I had a chance to consider them, ‘but I remember dating someone who looked very much like you. In the simulation.’ Sadness washed through me as I remembered that Logan and I hadn’t left things on the best note.

‘You and Kim dated for a couple of years when we were all in school,’ May explained, ‘He’s your physiotherapist.’ She looked over at Kim. ‘Are you all good here?’

‘I think so. Ready to start, Els?’

The nickname made me cringe. ‘Would you call me Elspeth, please?’ I murmured.

He cleared his throat. ‘Right. Sorry. Elspeth.’

‘I’ll leave you to it,’ May said, writing something on her clipboard before turning and leaving the room.

Kim and I struggled through the session. I didn’t know how much he knew about my life in the simulation, but he fed off my awkwardness, touching me as little as he possibly could, which, given that I couldn’t move at all, was still far more than I was comfortable with. We had barely managed to move me out of the bed before May popped her head into the room.

‘Time’s up. You don’t want to over-exert yourself.’ She walked over to us. ‘How did the session go?’ The question was directed at me, distracting me as she handed the clipboard over to Kim. He made some quick scribbles.

‘It was alright. Frustrating, mainly,’ I admitted. I glanced at Kim.

‘Well, it’s a long process. We hope to have you walking again in a few months, but we can’t promise anything. You ready to go back?’

May took the helm again as Kim helped her push me back to the room. She hooked me back up to some of the machines, ‘for monitoring purposes’ and pulled up a chair to sit next to the bed.

I noticed someone had placed a bouquet of ruby and yellow gerberas in a vase on the table at the side of the room.

‘Those flowers are beautiful.’

May blushed. ‘I thought they would brighten up your room a little bit.’

‘Aw, thank you!’

‘You’re welcome,’ she said, walking over to the chair against the wall. ‘Dinner will be here in a bit. I thought I could keep you company.’

We both knew that what she really meant was that she was staying to help me eat, but neither of us acknowledged it. ‘Yeah, that would be nice.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Can I ask you a few questions? Y’know, about my life here?’

The question seemed to take May slightly off guard as she placed the chair next to the bed. ‘Of course, what would you like to know?’

I tried to pick from the infinite questions that were whirring through my head.

‘Who are my family? And where are they?’

‘You were an only child. Your parents didn’t quite agree with your decision to pursue the research you were doing, so you haven’t talked to them in five years. I heard that they… they passed last year. Car accident. I’m sorry.’

I mulled this information over in my head. I couldn’t imagine life without my brother; we fought a lot, but he was one of the best people to go to when I needed cheering up. As for my parents, I couldn’t imagine a life without them as a part of it. My simulation self – and myself now – couldn’t contemplate not attempting to reconcile with them after an argument, no matter how big. But we had never had an argument that big.

‘What was the point of this experiment?’

‘That’s a pretty big question.’

I waited for May to continue.

‘Well, it started off as an experiment to see if we could put anyone in a simulation. How much we could control, how much control they had. We designed most of it for you, but anytime someone from this real world, for lack of a better word, appeared in the simulation, it was your subconscious taking over.’

‘So that means that my subconscious remembers everything in this world?’

‘That’s what we think.’

‘So, there’s a chance I’ll remember?’

‘Hopefully. We think it’s likely, but we can’t say for certain yet.’

‘How did we meet?’

‘We’ve been friends since school.’ May rested her head on her arms, folded on the bed. ‘Primary school. We met in the first week, us and Kim. We were inseparable.’

‘Why is Kim no longer our friend then?’

‘I never said-‘

‘You didn’t seem very familiar with him when we saw him earlier.’

There was a knock at the door. May got up and grabbed what looked like mush off the trolley at the door, thanked the person manning the trolley and returned to her seat next to me.

‘Sorry, it doesn’t look very appetising, but it’s the only option really, unless you want to be on a drip.’ She opened the bottle and sniffed. ‘To be honest, it actually smells quite good. Can we try with a straw?’

I opened my mouth and she placed the straw inside. I sucked at it and the mushy liquid hit my tongue – in fairness, it didn’t taste that bad.

‘In answer to your question, once you two broke up, we just kind of… drifted apart. It was hard to stay friends with both of you, you didn’t exactly break up on the most amicable of terms.’

I wanted her to expand, but the straw in my mouth prevented me from saying anything. I tried to prompt an explanation with a confused look, but May just laughed at me. ‘I think that’s enough information for one day.’ She looked at me hopefully. ‘I don’t suppose it’s triggering anything?’

I shook my head as I swallowed the last of the weird smoothie.

‘To be honest, I’m just getting more confused.’

She laughed. ‘Alright. I need to run some errands, but shall I come back after I’m done?’

‘Sure. I could use the company.’

‘See you later then.’ She smiled at me, taking the cup and straw with her as she walked out.

I hardly had a chance to pause for breath before Doctor Fisher walked in. ‘Hello, Elspeth. How are we feeling?’ He twiddled his thumbs and paced awkwardly around the room, checking things but not really looking at anything.

‘As well as I could be.’

‘What a positive outlook.’ He smiled at me. ‘I have a proposition for you.’

His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. As he looked at me, a feeling of unease slithered its way into my stomach. ‘What?’

‘How would you like to go back into the simulation?’

‘Back into the…’

‘You see, Elspeth, the experiment isn’t really finished.’

‘But I just woke up!’

‘Yes, but you realised you were in a simulation and woke yourself up.’ He spoke slowly, as if to a child, ’We still have more tests to run. Don’t you think some closure would be good for you?’

‘But it’s not real, is it?’

He shrugged. ‘This could all be fake. What’s the point of anything? You were happy in that simulation, Elspeth. Don’t you want to be happy?’

‘Can’t I be happy here?’

He shrugged again. ‘Eventually. We only want to run the sim for a couple more years, until you die naturally in it, that’s all.’

I considered it. I needed closure, at least, it wasn’t so bad to want that, surely?

‘A couple more years, you say?’

‘Yes, that’s all, and then you can live your life here.’

‘Alright.’

‘You’ll do it?’

‘Yes. I’ll do it.’

‘I knew you were more sensible than May! I have the injection ready, let’s get this done quickly now.’

‘Wait, May doesn’t want me to go back under? Why not?’

He came towards me, needle readied, frowning and dismissing my question with a wave of his hand. ‘I don’t know, Elspeth, just hold still now. Focus on the moment before you died in the sim.’

My eyes went to the flowers on the table at the side of the room, and a horrible sense of dread set in as I felt the needle prick my skin. His words brought the moment to my mind, the wind whipping at my face, the dampness of my ankles from cars splashing through the puddles next to the pavement, my phone clutched in my hand…

I looked up from my phone just in time to stop myself from stepping out into the road as a van screeched around the corner. I looked again and crossed the road. As I stepped up onto the pavement the other side, I noticed a bouquet of red and yellow flowers lying on the asphalt. I picked them up and placed them on the bench at the side of the road before continuing with my walk home.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn: A magical debut

I was lucky enough this summer to get to go to the YouTube convention Summer in the City in London, and among the awesome panels and the fabulous performances over the weekend, I managed to bag myself a free proof copy of Connie Glynn’s book Undercover Princess, the first in the Rosewood Chronicles series. I have been a fan of Connie’s YouTube channel – Noodlerella – for a while, and after seeing a reading of her book and hearing her talk about the process of writing the book, I was really excited to read it. And Glynn did not disappoint.

The novel centres around the character of Lottie Pumpkin, who arrives at a new school to start year 10 and finds that everyone at the school believes that she is the undercover princess from Maradova, despite the fact that the undercover princess is in fact her roommate.

The plot of the novel is very fresh and original, and differentiates itself well from the other ‘school’ books that are all too easy to find in the Young Adult section of any bookshop. One way in which this is done is through Lottie starting in year ten, rather than starting at the start of year seven. I found that the novel skipped events that I would have considered essential to a book about a person’s school life, but in missing these events out, although it seems initially strange, the book is transformed from a book about a student at school to a story about a character that happens to be set at a school.

The language and descriptions of this novel are fantastic, as is the characterisation. When Glynn signed my copy of the novel at Summer in the City, she said to let her know what theories I had whilst reading it, because she was really excited to see how people interpreted the book. And I do have a fair few theories, brought about through subtle clues throughout the book.

This book was a wonderful debut by Glynn, and I am very much looking forward to the next installment in the Rosewood Chronicles.

Alien Contact

Lucy rubbed her fingers against her temples, sighed, and pushed herself up from her desk, taking a much needed tea break. She looked wistfully over at her overly complicated computer screen, its many lights flashing and blinking as she scooped the three teaspoons of sugar she needed to make her tea palatable into the novelty mug that had ‘world’s greatest scientist’ emblazoned on the side and stirred. Her eyes went out of focus as she tried to think where she had been going wrong, what she could be doing differently.

When Lucy had responded to the ad in the local newspaper asking for a scientist to work on an extra-terrestrial project, she had imagined it as a minor stepping stone in her ten year plan to top researcher at NASA, taking up six months to a year at most whilst she entertained the whimsical fantasies of some weird obsessed scientist. Three years later, she hadn’t left, and she was far too invested in the project to want to.

As she stood stirring her tea, unmoving, her boss, Dave, walked in. He was every bit as eccentric as she had imagined before meeting him, although she now found comfort in his plaid flared trousers and the obscure fabric patches that adorned the lab coat he insisted on wearing all of the time. He grabbed a flask from the side, a bottle of tomato juice from the fridge, and slopped and equal amount of both of their contents into a separate mug before taking a big swig of his concoction.

‘Any luck yet today, Luce?’

‘Nope. I can’t see what I’m doing wrong though, I’ve been working through the same calculations for weeks but I can’t see anything wrong yet. I’m probably missing something obvious but I can’t see what it is.’ Lucy sighed, sipped her tea, and walked back to her desk.

‘I can have a look through it all soon if you like? I just have to finish what I’m doing.’ He gestured towards the stairs that lead up to his workshop. In three years, Lucy had not been up there. The assortment of noises that leaked through into her office didn’t exactly make her want to either.

‘That would be great, thanks.’ She threw a smile over her shoulder as she sat back down. She vaguely heard Dave trek back upstairs, slurping his weird drink.

The screen had blurred in front of Lucy’s eyes without a single change being made. The clock said that two hours had passed, and Lucy thought that that level of hard work was deserving of a trip to the meal deal fridges of Tescos. She slipped out of her chair, grabbed her coat and bag, and walked towards the door.

Where an ethereal glow greeted her.

She frowned and tilted her head in confusion, trying to see if there was some weird new light that someone had installed outside their offices, but the light seemed to be floating inside the door. And it seemed it seemed to be gaining more and more substance as the seconds ticked by. Lucy reached out to poke it, and it jiggled and squeaked.

Lucy leapt back three feet and let out a squeak of her own.

Some other garbled noises came from the glowing substance, which had by this point obtained two very faint eyes and a mouth, from what Lucy could tell. The garbled nonsense started to sound more human, circling through a range of languages that Lucy recognised before finding English and speaking to her.

‘Good morning. We have come from the Peace Federation of the Galaxy to warn you against the action you are taking. We have noticed you have been attempting to contact the most aggressive species of the galaxy, and we would like to remind you of Peace Charter 17a. which confirm that no one nation can act alone to antagonise the Othron.’

‘Wait, what? Who are the Othron? Who are you?’ Lucy didn’t have time to receive any answers before Dave came to stand next to her, and screamed in excitement at the floating, glowing being.

‘I knew you were real! I knew it! That’s a – you’re a – you’re an alien!’

‘Sir, please, I am here on urgent business and my translator is low on charge-‘

‘Everyone told me I was crazy! But I’m not!’

‘Sir! Please listen to me! The Othron are on their way you need to notify your people and evacuate!’

Whilst Dave continued to jump around in circles screaming, ‘I knew it!’, it was left to Lucy to try and explain that they didn’t have the access to the world’s rocketships to evacuate everyone. This didn’t seem to phase the messenger as they continued to bark instructions at Lucy and, to a lesser extent, Dave.

‘We have representatives visiting every person of influence we can tell, the signal was strongest coming from here. Please evacuate, we only have two minutes left before the Othron could arrive, there is large concern across the community, please madam, evacuate before…’

With that, something that looked like a potato with five limbs materialised in front of Lucy, and she briefly considered how ridiculously crowded it was getting in the entryway of her office before everything went white with a blinding flash.

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.

The Pink Pyjamas

The pyjamas sat, untouched, on the rooftop. Despite the relative suburbia that the roof resided in, very few people noticed them. Those that did thought about them for only the brief period of time that it took until keen eyes were distracted by something else. Anyone who would speculate about them would be highly unlikely to deduce the reason for their rather peculiar placement, for the reason, as would be expected, was as strange as the result.

Tom woke up with a start, covered in a sheen of sweat. He checked the clock. Five hours until he had to get up. Five hours that he knew would be spent lying wide awake.

The nightmares had only recently started. They ranged from horrific, graphic affairs, with maniacs wielding chainsaws and killing everyone he loved, to being trapped in a white room. Well, not trapped, exactly, but with no way out. Endless solitude, in whatever direction he ran screaming. It was one of the latter that had visited him on this particular evening, and he was just shaking himself out of it when he saw her eyes.

They shone in the dim light in such a manner that they appeared to be without a body, just shining white orbs with wide, black pupils in the centre surrounded by violet. They stared at him, unflinching.

Just a dream, just a dream, Tom thought to himself, turning to face the open door of his bedroom. He wriggled restlessly, attempting push the look of those eyes out of his head. Eventually comfortable after much rearranging of the bedding, he turned back to the window, just to check. Just for some peace of mind.

They were still there.

Still staring.

He stared back.

There was something tempting in the eyes, as if they were beckoning him over. Wincing as his feet touched the cold tiles, he shuffled over to the window and looked out.

A giggle flew from the figure before it leapt out of sight, upwards, towards the roof. It was clearly a figure now, for the manner in which it had jumped from the window showed its arms and legs trailing behind it.

Tom opened the window and bent his body to look out, up at the roof. His room sat in the top of the house, but slightly set back from the furthest point that it jutted out, giving him a clear view from his window of the furrow that formed where the two gradients of the roof met. The figure, now merely a shadow, danced around, giggling.

Curiosity sufficiently piqued, he turned away from the window and walked to the ladder that lead up to the loft. Up until the age of eleven, Tom’s favourite place to sit was in the roof furrow. It was only then stopped by his mother, who had stood by the window and screamed at him to come back inside, reaching her hands out to attempt to pull him back inside. As soon as his feet had hit the floor of the converted loft, the window had been locked, the key hidden in his parents’ room. It had taken years for that window to be opened again for fear that he might see it and attempt to climb out. His parents’ faith in his only desired exit method being the front or back door had returned when he had fallen off a climbing wall at the age of fourteen, and immediately lost the desire for climbing anything that was not stairs or a ladder.

Or so they thought. In truth, Tom had revisited the roof a handful of times since that incident, just to think. The key was still semi-hidden, but the under-the-plant-pot hiding place was hardly ground breaking. It took him all of three minutes to get into the loft and get the window open. He switched his torch on as he climbed out, shining it on to the figure.

A young girl appeared in the beam wearing pink cat pyjamas. Her hair seemed to float in the wind, the mousy tendrils flying about of their own accord. Her feet were bare, her lips were dry and cracked; she looked almost feral.

“Hi,” Tom said, confusion making his voice waver.

She simply smiled, extending her hand towards him. He took it and she pulled him across the top of the roof, no hesitation in her steps. He followed gingerly, wishing that he had grabbed a jacket. The t-shirt and boxers that he usually slept in did little to protect him from the chilling wind.

The girl abruptly sat down in the roof furrow, and he joined her, the space not quite big enough for the both of them. “So,” he said, “where do you live?”

The girl turned to him, confusion washing over her features. “Here.” She turned back to looking at the night sky, and Tom considered this meant the conversation was over – besides, he was too afraid of this tiny girl to ask anything more. They sat like that for perhaps five minutes before he felt that sitting there much longer would result in his butt being frozen to the tiles. He got up and turned to leave, navigating the frosty tiles with extreme caution.

“Wait, don’t go!” the girl cried out. As he turned back to her, she slipped.

Her tiny bare feet struggled to find purchase on the roof. Her arms wind-milled wildly. She flew into the air, and just as Tom reached out to her, she turned to dust.

Her pyjamas were all that were left, floating to settle on the roof where she had been sitting moments before.

There was no caution in Tom’s steps now as he rushed to get inside. Lying in bed, he considered the events as he drifted back to sleep.

The daylight brought logic – it must have been a dream. There was no way that something like that could be real. He tried to push all thoughts of it from his mind as he trudged downstairs, ready for the monotony of another day.

Tom peeked into the utility room as he walked past, where he saw his mother, bent over a pair of pink cat pyjamas, sobbing.


© Alyx Hurst 2017

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.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed by the Pantaloons – raucous fun blown away by the wind

A little over a year ago my parents mentioned that there was a performance of Much Ado Ado About Nothing at Smallhythe Place, and asked if I wanted to go. As a fan of Shakespeare, I said that of course I would, but I had no idea what I was in for in watching the Pantaloons production. The Pantaloons are a travelling stage company who specialise in comedic interpretations of various stories – since I was left in hysterics at the performance of Much Ado About Nothing, I have seen them also perform The Importance of Being Earnest, and have heard of them performing Pride and Prejudice as well, both with the same reaction from the crowd, everyone entralled by their comedic abilities. So when I found out that they were performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, my favourite Shakespeare play, at Hall Place, I was very excited.

However, the day came, and there was one key issue: the wind. The Pantaloons largely perform outdoors, meaning that they are, to an extent, slaves to the weather. The wind really didn’t help them in this case – there were parts of it that I struggled to hear, sitting around four rows back to the side (being open air, people brought their own chairs or picnic blankets, so this is a rough estimate of space). The way they were positioned didn’t help – there was a wall that they could have positioned themselves against to help the audience to hear better. As they ran around the audience, stealing people’s picnics, and came closer to this wall, it was far easier to hear them, but this may have been just that they were speaking louder due to being amidst the audience.

The show was also the victim of the traffic around the venue. Hall Place is next to a very busy road, and so the actors were fighting with the noise of various vehicles going past, including no fewer than two police cars. The company was very professional throughout, using their great improvisational skills at various points to turn these issues into part of the comedy of the play with great skill, without a hitch or a pause in flow.

The wind and the traffic were in no way the fault of the company, of course, it was just such a shame that there were these issues that hampered the performance. A fair number of people actually left at the interval. I have to admit, if I did not already know the story, I would probably have had no clue what was going on, as was the case with a few members of the party I went with. The doubling of characters confused this as well – they had different accents, and slightly different clothes, but it would have been difficult to hear these accents if you were any farther back than we were, and therefore hard to distinguish between many of the characters.

The actual performance was absolutely amazing, and reminded me how much I love the Pantaloons and their hilarious interpretations of Shakespeare. The use of an audience member as Hippolyta, and the subsequent performance of a song based on audience submissions of various romantic things (pet names, places, and tv shows) was highly amusing, and went down very well with the whole audience. The comedy of the rude mechanicals was also very well exaggerated in a way that was very funny to a modern audience – I desperately wanted a t-shirt that said ‘Pyramids and Frisbee’ but alas, I did not have the cash. The performance of the whole company was good, but for me, the performance of Kelly Griffiths was standout. I have seen her in multiple shows before and the range of expressions her face goes through in one performance always leaves me in awe (and fits of giggles).

There was only one aspect of the performance that I thought didn’t work so well, and that was in the final section of the play. The performance of Pyramus and Thisbe is a comedic highpoint of the play, and is made by the comments of the various characters watching. Due to the very nature of the Pantaloons, having only five members of the cast and doubling a lot of the characters, this wasn’t possible, so the cast member playing Theseus, who also played Snout and Puck, went into the audience once his part playing the wall as Snout was over dressed as Theseus and said only around half of the lines, and as they weren’t in conversation they didn’t have the same comedic effect. The point of the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe seemed to be slightly lost, and my poor Mum, who went in with zero knowledge of the plot, was very confused as to what was going on at that point. In the whole play though, this is my only criticism, and this again was out of the hands of the company in a way, due to the very nature of their performances.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable production that had me laughing right the way through – I can’t wait to see the production of The War of the Worlds in the Spring!

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!