‘And a reminder of this morning’s top story – there are reports across the globe of people waking up with what can only be described as super powers. The official notice at this present time is not to be concerned, and to visit your local authorities if you or someone you know is showing signs of something out of the ordinary.’

I yawned, covering my mouth with one hand as I grabbed a bowl and a box of shreddies with the other. The final week of uni was hitting me like a rubber mallet, and I was so happy that I only had to get through two more days before I was free for Christmas. My housemate Jo was sprawled over the sofa, still in her pyjamas, and had the news turned up at full volume.

‘Can you believe this? I want to have super powers!’

‘Ah, but with great power comes great responsibility,’ came the voice of my other housemate, Freddie, from the stairs. She was already dressed, had her backpack on and was wearing bright yellow gloves and a bright yellow scarf to match. ‘Anyway, I’m off, keep me updated if you guys get super powers!’

‘Freddie, it’s 9am. You’re not going to the library already are you?’ I asked through a mouthful of shreddies, incredulous.

‘Yup, gotta get some work done, bye!’

‘You make me sick!’ Jo called after her before flopping over and screaming into the sofa cushions. She lifted her head an inch and turned to me. ‘How come it’s Christmas time and all I can think about is uni work?’

‘Because lecturers are sadistic.’ As I spoke, a tiny drop of milk dribbled out of my mouth and hit my t-shirt. I swore and put my bowl on the countertop, looking around for a cloth. I froze as I noticed a blue and white striped jay-cloth hanging in mid-air next to me. I reached out and poked it, and it span in place. ‘Jo…’

‘What?’ she groaned as she turned over. I could tell that I wasn’t hallucinating by the way she screamed, ‘Holy shit!’ and jumped up to stand next to me. She stared at the jay cloth, and poked it herself. It span more.

I reached out and grabbed it out of mid-air – it was slightly damp. I sponged away the milk on my t-shirt. As soon as all evidence of my disgusting dribble was gone, the cloth vanished.

‘What. The. Fuck,’ Jo whispered, ‘you have super powers.’

‘Alright, let’s not get too over-excited, for all we know I could be Cloth Woman.’

Jo thought for a moment. ‘Well, what happened before the cloth appeared?’

‘I dribbled milk on myself.’

Jo narrowed her eyes, grabbed the spoon out of my bowl and flicked shreddies on to me.

‘What the hell?’ I went to grab the dishcloth off of the side when I noticed another cloth hanging in the air. I grabbed it and started sponging myself down again. ‘Quite a useful super power to be honest.’

Jo’s eyes glinted with mischief. ‘We need to test the limits of it though.’ As soon as the second cloth vanished, she tipped some of the now very soggy cereal onto the floor in front of me. This time, a mop appeared in front of me. She tried to grab it, but as soon as she tried to pull it from the air, she shrieked and pulled away. ‘It shocked me!’

I grabbed it and pulled it towards me. ‘It feels like a normal mop to me.’ I offered it to her, and she warily poked it before taking the handle again. Just like before, as soon as she moved it, she yelped and dropped it.

‘Guess it’s only for you to use.’

I shrugged and mopped up the milk, and just like the cloth, the mop disappeared. ‘So I’m now Cleaning Lady.’

‘It would appear so.’ Jo shrugged. ‘Still pretty cool though.’ She picked up her phone.

‘You better not tell anyone until I have this figured out.’

‘Relax, I’m just telling Freddie. And anyway, if Twitter is to be believed, there’s no point “going to the authorities” or whatever that newsreader was saying. They’re swamped.’ She turned round the screen to show me the pictures of the police stations, a queue that looped right around the building filling most of the screen.

‘Fuck that, I have a seminar to go to.’ I handed Jo back her phone and took mine out of my pocket to check the time. As I unlocked the screen, the ‘low battery’ notice appeared and my phone turned off. ‘Great.’ I walked towards the stairs, and heard a thunk behind me.

A charging pack with a cable to charge my phone floated in the air behind the bannister. It was slightly dented, presumably where it had hit the bannister, but as soon as I plugged in my phone it came back to life.

‘Maybe it’s just anything that I need, it provides me with?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Whatever it is, I’m very jealous,’ Jo replied, scrolling through Twitter.

By the time I got to uni and realised that I had forgotten my pencil case, I almost expected a pen to be floating next to me. I grabbed it before anyone could notice and got my paper out ready for the seminar to begin, tapping my newly acquired pen on my paper. All that anyone was talking about was the super powers news, and I noticed a few people absent from the seminar. I began wondering what super powers they’d woken up with, whether we were all the same or whether they were sending tornadoes tearing through campus as we sat there.

My seminar tutor, Rachel, had just begun speaking when Claire, my only friend in my seminar, and the girl I had had a crush on since the day I met her, squeezed through the door, mumbling apologies about her tardiness. She sat down next to me and I smiled and said hi, trying to appear calm whilst I focused all my energy on not making anything appear. I’d been trying to find away to tell her that I liked her for weeks, so god only knows what this newfound power was going to make me do.

‘As you all should know, there’s a pair presentation next semester, in which you have to analyse one of the texts we’ve studied using one of the theorists’ essays that we’ve looked at so far. I thought I would put you all in your pairs now so you can start researching over Christmas. So if you could all find a pair… ’ Rachel looked around at all of us, looking ready to leap in and force any stragglers together at a moment’s notice.

‘You want to be partners?’ Claire turned to me, beaming, and raising an eyebrow.

‘Sure – what shall we do our presentation on?’

‘I think we’re assigned topics.’

I made a face. ‘Hopefully we get a good one. I’ve got enough work I don’t want to do over Christmas already, I don’t want something else to add to that.’ I leant back in my chair to scoop my hair into a ponytail, and it was then that I noticed it, growing from the ceiling.


I didn’t have time to wonder why this wasn’t floating like everything else had, I just willed it to go away with all my might. It stayed there. I risked a glance around; it appeared that no-one else had noticed it. I was just going to have to pretend it wasn’t there.

‘So, got any plans for the Christmas holidays?’ I asked Claire, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

‘After all this news this morning, I’m going to try and see if I have super powers.’ She wiggled her eyebrows at me. ‘Want to help in my experiments?’

‘I would have to travel for like an hour and a half.’ I tried to pretend that I hadn’t already worked it out in the hope that she would ask me to visit her.

‘I hope you’re more dedicated to our presentation than that – besides, I could come to you. Or we could meet in the middle.’

‘Right, are you all in pairs? Good. So I’ll go round and assign you each a topic – Claire and Stevie, you have the Judith Butler essay…’ I tuned out of what Rachel was saying as I scanned over the handout with the task on it again.

‘This is going to be interesting,’ Claire said, reading through the list of texts we had to choose from.

No-one seemed to notice the mistletoe in the rest of the seminar, everyone too busy brainstorming with their partners. As I was packing up, I looked up and was relieved to see it was gone. I started to walk out of the room, but Claire caught my arm as we stood in the doorway. ‘Hey, I just wanted to ask you something.’

I bit my lip as the mistletoe respawned in the doorway just above our heads. ‘Mmm-hmm.’

‘I was wondering if – sorry, let’s move out of the doorway.’ As she turned, I took the opportunity to leave before she noticed the mistletoe.

‘I have to run, actually, I have to meet my friend, but message me, okay?’ I took off down the corridor, moving as fast as I could without it being suspicious.


‘Hey super girl, how’s it going?’ Freddie asked me as I walked through the front door.

‘The worst. You know I told you about Claire? Well, my super powers decided to give me a helping hand today.’

I heard Jo’s voice as she stampeded down the stairs. ‘Oh my god, what happened?’

‘Mistletoe happened.’

‘How festive, I love it.’ Freddie smiled wistfully.

‘You wouldn’t if you were me. At least she didn’t notice it on the ceiling, but in the doorway was almost an entirely different story.’

‘I think you should just tell her,’ Jo said, folding her arms, ‘I, at least, have listened to you whine on about this girl for months. Just tell her you like her.’

‘A little late now, don’t you think? “Oh, don’t mind this mistletoe floating between us, it’s just because I suddenly have super powers and I really want to kiss you” doesn’t sound weird at all.’

‘You said it was on the ceiling and in the doorway, so it won’t float.’

‘She has a point.’ Freddie smiled.

I groaned. ‘Fine. I’ll talk to her. But not under the mistletoe – only somewhere with a high ceiling.’


The next day, Claire messaged me.

‘Hey, don’t know if you’re free but wondered if you wanted to go through some of the presentation some time today? x’

I looked up to check the ceilings at my spot in the library – they were certainly high enough. I’d managed to avoid suspicion thus far, snatching the sandwich out of the air before anyone could notice after my stomach grumbled. The only use of my newfound super power other than that had been performing the same demonstration for Freddie that Jo and I had used as an experiment the previous morning. I was taking advantage of people randomly developing super powers and everyone else being scared of people with super powers by spreading out in the library, so I already had a double desk space. I typed a response to Claire and hit send:

‘Sure, I’m in the library and was going to be here all afternoon. Second floor, let me know when you get here x’

A minute passed and the chair beside me scraped back. I was about to tell whoever it was that it was occupied when I saw Claire’s dark curls and stopped myself. ‘I was about to yell at you for taking that seat.’

Claire laughed as she pulled out her notes. I glanced upwards and there it was, on the ceiling a floor up, the mistletoe. I had a sudden rush of gratitude for the weird open-plan design of the library, and turned back to Claire.

We spent the next hour working on our presentation, interspersed with many tangents and a lot of chatting. The topic of super powers came up again, and I changed the subject by shrugging and saying that I didn’t think that it was that much of a big deal. Claire looked at me like I was crazy, but I stopped her from saying anything by going back to talking about the presentation.

‘I’m getting kind of thirsty, you want to go get some coffee?’

I looked at my water bottle on the table, which I didn’t even bring with me, that had refilled every time I felt thirsty. ‘Sure, I could do with a coffee.’

We packed everything up and headed down to the café in the library. I swore under my breath as I noticed that all of the tables had low hanging lights above them. I ordered a coffee and realised I’d forgotten my purse. I held my hand in the air next to me and the exact change fell into it. I made a mental note never to take money out with me again, picked up my coffee and followed Claire to a table.

Claire was talking about the super powers that she’d heard that people had got, and how amazing it all was, and I tried to focus on what she was saying, but my eyes kept returning to the mistletoe growing from the lamp between us.

‘Are you alright?’ Claire asked, putting her hand on my wrist on the table.

‘Yeah, sorry, just-’

‘Oh, I hadn’t even noticed that, sorry…’ Claire didn’t meet my eyes, pulling her hand back and folding both her hands in her lap. ‘Now it looks like I picked the table with the mistletoe and I didn’t, I’m sorry, I find mistletoe really weirdly pressuring, I didn’t mean to-’

‘Sorry, it’s my fault, and anyway, just because it’s there I don’t think we have to-’

‘What do you mean, it’s your fault?’ Claire looked up at me, eyes narrowing, frowning.

I sighed, my heart thudding. ‘Um, I meant… I-’

‘You don’t have weird powers that make mistletoe appear, do you?’ she said, laughing.

‘Not… specifically mistletoe.’

‘Wait, what? You have super powers?’

‘I think so.’ I bit my lip, now taking my turn to avoid eye contact. ‘I seem to be able to make things appear when I need them.’

‘Why would you need mistletoe?’ Claire’s voice wavered as she spoke.

I wished in that moment for a time machine so that I could avoid this situation and say no to coffee, but I couldn’t avoid telling her at that moment. Besides, she already knew, I could tell as it hung in the air between us, unsaid and unrecognised. ‘Because I like you. And I guess my subconscious, or whatever force controls this dumb power, thinks that this is the way to acknowledge that, I guess. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make things awkward, I just…’

I looked up, fearing the worst. Claire was smiling. ‘So you didn’t run away from me earlier because you were scared I was going to ask you out?’

‘You were going to ask me out?’ My voice squeaked with surprise.

‘Yeah, but you ran away so I thought you just were too polite to say no.’

I laughed. ‘No, I ran away because this happened.’ I pointed at the mistletoe, and she laughed too.

‘I must be the most unobservant girl ever.’ She picked up my hand that still rested on the table, holding it with hers. She leant across the table, so she was directly under the mistletoe ‘So, Stevie, did you want to go out with me?’

‘I would love to.’ I leant forward just far enough to close the space between us.

When we broke apart, I looked up to see that the mistletoe had disappeared.



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

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.

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.

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!

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!

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave: brilliant inside and out

I had heard about The Girl of Ink and Stars many times from many people before I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave – it was Children’s Book of the Month not once but twice at Waterstones, (later going on to win Children’s Book of the Year), was a Financial Times Book of the Year, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, was nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Award, and was shortlisted for both the Jhalak Prize and the Branford Boase Award. Not only that, but many people I trust for book recommendations and follow online, such as Carrie Hope Fletcher on YouTube, read it and recommended it. And I, as an aspiring young adult author, really wanted to read it.

Initially, many other books got in my way. Naturally, studying an English and Creative Writing degree, I had a lot of poems, novels, short stories, and plays to read for my course, and these obviously took precedence. Everytime I walked into my local Waterstones, there was a lovely display of copies of the book, in windows or on the tables, and I desparately wanted to pick up a copy, but just… didn’t.

But then I met Kiran Millwood Hargrave. She came to do a guest lecture at my university about writing “children’s” fiction was inspiring, especially for someone like me who sits working on my young adult novel whilst my friends work on amazing pieces that sit nicely under the label of ‘literary fiction’. She was incredibly lovely, no pretenses that the process was easy as she projected the word counts of her numerous drafts to show how the first draft was never the finished product, frank talk about the effect of mental illness on her writing process and how she battled through it, and information about the way things are done publishing-wise either side of the pond. She also discussed with us how ridiculous it is that some books are considered better than others due to their genre, a sentiment I very much share. Needless to say, The Girl of Ink and Stars jumped up my reading list, and I bought a copy almost immediately. And I am so glad I did.

The first thing that amazed me was the beauty of the whole book. The cover itself is gorgeous, but the pages themselves are where the true amazement lies. Each page is decorated like a map in keeping with the protagonist Isabella’s dreams and her father’s job as a cartographer. The result is that every page feels like a step on the journey that the characters undertake, mapping out the unknown of their island. I’ve never seen pages like it, and I urge you to pick up the book if only to see the pages.

The only potential issue with a gorgeous cover is that sometimes the contents don’t quite live up to their presentation.

This book definitely did not have that issue.

The story centres around the character of Isabella, who volunteers to guide a search for her friend after she gets lost in what the people of her village call ‘The Forgotten Territories’. More than eager to explore the island and chart it on a map, following in the footsteps of her father, a cartographer, she ventures in to the Forgotten Territories with the search party, and finds herself facing a lot more trouble than she initially expected.

The exposition of the story is slow and subtle, revealing a world that is not too dissimilar from our own – after all, Kiran Millwood Hargrave does say that the places in all of her novels are real places, but they obviously feature some slight embellishments. The relationships between the characters are great – I particularly enjoyed seeing the friendship between Isabella and Lupe, as a focus on friendship rather than romance is so refreshing to see. The mythic elements were really interesting, and tied well into the rest of the plot.

The only complaint I have about this book is that I feel it could have been a little longer. As it was, at just over 200 pages, I felt the world wasn’t explored to its full potential. I would love to have seen adventures spanning over the whole island in depth, as there are some villages displayed on the map that are barely visited, only for a page or two, and some that are not visited at all. The world of the book was so great, it just seemed a shame to leave it at what felt almost like the bare minimum exploration, especially when the protagonist talks about how much she wants to explore the entire island of Joya throughout the novel.

Overall,  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and adventure, and wants to read something refreshing.

The Transition by Luke Kennard: a reflection of issues of a highly possible near future

The first thing I noticed when picking up Luke Kennard’s debut novel the Transition was, as it so often is with any book, the cover. It certainly stands out – the blue cover with plain white writing and a weird circle would be expected more of a textbook than fiction.

The premise in itself is very interesting, which is always a good start. The novel is set in a near future, where there is a secret program that goes by the name of the Transition, aimed at people who have committed crimes in an attempt at reformation of character. In this program, you and your partner live with a couple older than you, who attempt to teach you their ways. Karl and his wife Genevieve are the couple who are subject to the Transition in the novel, after Karl is convicted of fraud and a tax infraction. The novel explores their experience through the Transition, the problems that they face, and the truths that Karl uncovers.

One very interesting thing about the book is that you are kept as in the dark as Karl. He discovers things that are somewhat fishy about the Transition, but his mentors, Janna and Stu, have responses to any and all of the queries he raises. It is up to you as a reader, as it is up to Karl, to believe whichever side you find most reasonable. The better side is more defined at the end, but the ambiguity throughout leads to uncertainty as to how the novel will end. Normally, I can predict the ending of any plot, and so I was a little wary to finish this book as any ending I could imagine was unsatisfying – if there’s one thing I hate, it’s an unsatisfying ending. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the ending. It made perfect sense, and now I’ve read it, I can’t imagine it ending any other way.

Kennard also explores the issue of mental health very tactfully within the novel. However, it would have been nice to have Genevieve as not so much of a damsel in distress all the time, requiring Karl’s constant supervision (at least, in Karl’s opinion). Her success is depicted as a result of mania before depression, which is not unrealistic, but it would have been nice to see her have some further character development. I understand that her not having any development is representative of the cyclical nature of her mental health issues, but even the slightest development would be appreciated – something to show that she is a capable unique person in spite of her mental health issues. Regardless, the manner in which everyone treated Genevieve with relation to her mental health issues was the most truthful and good to see – the way Karl describes people ‘running for the hills’ when she takes a turn for the worst is not dissimilar to the way I have seen people act both in my own personal experience and in the experience of others. The treatment of mental health in the modern day is something that we seriously need to address, and Kennard certainly highlights that through this.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes being afraid for our future as the human race. Kennard’s switch from poetry to prose seems effortless, and I look forward to reading any future novels that he writes.

The Value of Comedy

After being set yet another text to read on my degree course about dark, depressing topics, I began to wonder why it is that we never study anything happy. This is not the first time I have considered this – my course mates and I actually asked the lecturer we had for the first half of this term whether she would set any short stories with an upbeat tone. She thought about it, and admitted that no, she hadn’t set any happy short stories, and the fact that this was not a conscious decision made me think about it even more.

There is a general trend through the study of literature to study texts that explore darker themes, with sad endings. In my sixth form, I studied a total of twelve texts, and one of them – The Importance of Being Earnest – was a comedy. The rest consisted of five tragic plays, two novels with murder as a central, recurring action, two poetry collections exploring the futility of life and the sad state of society today, and one graphic novel about the Holocaust. Delightful. Then at GCSE, it was Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls that we studied, To Kill a Mockingbird before that, etcetera, etcetera. But why is this? It seems as if we almost give texts that are tragic a higher value, but why?

It could be considered that texts that are comedies are seen as having less value, as they aren’t necessarily texts that we think about afterwards. When the curtain goes down at the end of All My Sons after the gunshot, the audience are left thinking about the morality of the characters’ actions, and how they could have reached a less tragic conclusion to the one that they have seen. But when the curtain goes down at the end of The Importance of Being Earnest, the audience are left smiling, maybe talking with the people that they are with about the hilarity of some of the scenes. This difference does not mean that Wilde’s play does not include explorations of themes related to humanity, but instead that these explorations are not as often noticed. In this instance, the only way to give more value to comedies is to give them literary value, in a sense, by studying them more widely.

Do we feel that if we take simple enjoyment from a piece of art, it is worth less than something that leaves us churned up inside? This idea could be less wacky than it sounds – think of popular fiction. More often than not now, a text being ‘popular’ means that it is less valuable, ‘popular fiction’ is used as a derogatory term by some literary scholars and snobs. But how does that make any sense – surely a text being more popular means that it’s better?

Or is it simply that we view comedy as trivial? To do this would in itself be stupid – it will be the comedy produced now that will clearly portray to people of the future the attitude towards politicians, celebrities, and culture at large. Think of the representations of Donald Trump seen on Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show in the USA, and how so many of our most famous comedians have used Brexit and the US Election as fuel for their latest routines. It is this that are the clearest representation of the populous’ current opinion of the state of the world, and whilst that can be taken from tragedy, comedy, at least today, has more immediacy than its counterpart.

One of the comments that I remember in our lectures on Shakespeare last term was made by our lecturer comparing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to other Shakespeare plays. She pointed out how cleverly crafted the whole play is, how the characters have to be on and off stage at just the right times for the doubling of roles that more often than not occurred. It was clear how planned the play was, and how it also made points about members of Shakespearean society. Hamlet, by contrast, is a train wreck. There is no way that Shakespeare started off with a plan in writing it, better to just kill everyone off. Now whilst I’m not in anyway saying that Hamlet is not a good play (I love it and the characters more than you can know) it is strange that it is studied so much more than the masterpiece that is A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the latter is more of an ‘introduction to Shakespeare’ play that you study in year seven and never consider again, moving on as you mature to the more ‘serious’ topics.

Whilst I don’t deny that the darker themes explored within a lot of tragedy need to be shown to the world, it would be strange to say that comedy cannot also explore these themes, and sometimes in a very interesting way. Why not study a tragedy, and compare it with a comedy that contains the same themes, and see how the two different genres explore the themes differently? Surely that’s more interesting that comparing two explorations of a theme from the same genre – but I may be speaking too subjectively.

My brother actually gave up studying English Literature at A Level because ‘everything was too depressing’. I’m not saying that we should completely cut out the tragedy, but some variety would be nice.

And hey, as a writer, I know how difficult good comedy is to write. So can we please just give it a bit more of a chance?

Living in the Present

‘The present is all we have, yet it is the one thing we will never learn to hold in our hands’ – Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (2016)

She sits, mug of tea cupped in her hands, and observes. She knows that she is in her home, and that she lives there with her family, but she does not remember their faces, or how she came to be here.

The voice comes from the speaker. ‘Live in the moment.’ She breathes in. Breathes out. Centres herself. Forgets that the speaker is there.

Her children come down the stairs – she knows, now, that there are stairs just outside of the kitchen, but it is something, she realises, that she did not know before this moment. Or maybe she did, and she simply forgot. Everything before this moment seems so cloudy in her mind. She leaves her mug of tea to make her children breakfast, and as soon as her back is turned, it disappears from her mind, as do her children’s faces. Her task remains in mind, and she wonders as she puts the bread in the toaster whether she has ever done this before. She certainly can’t remember doing it if she has.

She has a husband, she knows that for a fact. But she does not remember any of his individualities at all. Why did she marry him? She feels a strange claw grip in her lower abdomen as she realises she does not know where he is.

Her phone screen lights up.

The message on the screen reads ‘Greg’ in bold letters, underneath that, ‘Thinking of you, have a good day xx’.

Of course, her husband is Greg. He has a job. He is at his job. She remembers, although she still has no idea what his job is. Or who he is.

Her children soon leave the house, and she is left with a cold mug of tea wondering what they look like.

The speaker comes on again. ‘Breathe in. Breathe out. Live in the moment.’

She does as she’s told, forgetting the momentary fear about a stranger instructing her movements. As she hoovers the house, she wonders how the mirror got to be on the wall, or how the violet stain came to be so ingrained into the carpet. All her brain comes up with is that it does not matter, but she finds herself unable to stifle the worry. How did she even get to be in this house?

The doorbell’s sharp trill interrupts her thoughts. She turns off the hoover and abandons it.

The silhouette of the man on the other side of the door is visible through the frosted glass. She has a fleeting thought that it could be her husband, but despite still not remembering what he looks like, she knows that this man is not him. A feeling curls its way into her stomach, making her feel nauseous and clammy. She pushes it away and opens the door.

She recognises the man in a blurry sense. He wears a clearly expensive suit, his hair is very carefully styled, his face full of the tell-tale plump that only botox provides. She takes this all in whilst resisting an incredibly strong urge to slam the door in his face and lock herself in. She cannot recall why she feels that way, so she simply stands.

‘Hello, how are you feeling today?’ His voice carries a smooth control that only increases her panic.

‘Confused.’ Something within her tells her that this man knows why she feels this way. And how to stop it. But he simply offers his hand to her.

‘Come with me, I will help you.’

Every part of her screams against it, but she takes his hand and steps out of the house nonetheless. ‘I am still in my slippers!’ she says, suddenly embarrassed.

The man only smiles at her. ‘So you are. Would you like to change into shoes?’

She can sense that it is not a question, but nods anyway. She takes a step backwards, releasing the man’s hand and looking for a pair of shoes that are hers. She slips into a pair, leaving her slippers neatly in a gap.

The speaker fires up again. ‘Live in the moment. Breathe in. Breathe out.’ She obeys.

The man has not moved when she turns back to him, and he proffers his hand again. She takes it, and steps out, squinting at the bright light.

‘Where are we going?’ she asks. She knows there is something wrong with the question before he turns to her with a patronising smile.

‘Do not worry about where we are going. You have been there many times before. Just live in the moment. Appreciate the world.’ He turns away from her as he says this, and does not look at her again. Not as he opens the door to the back of the car, not a glance in the rear-view mirror as he gets in and locks the doors, not as he drives her through winding streets, not even as he opens the door to let her out of the car. He stands aside, lets her climb out and take in her surroundings before closing the door and walking away. She has no choice but to follow him.

‘In here please.’ He steps aside and lets her through a metal door into one of the giant concrete bricks that make up the surrounding landscape.

Flashes of memory come to her now. She knows that she has been here before, she knows that when she left here she never wanted to come back. She knows that there is no turning back now.

Two people wearing all white suits walk up to her, one moving behind her and restraining her arms, the other facing her, wearing a smile.

‘Hello again. I hear you are having some trouble. Are you ready to feel better again?’ The woman standing in front of her is blank faced, talking to her as if she is senile.

‘What are you going to do to me?’ she whispers.

‘Do not worry, you will feel better soon. Come with me now, it will make everything so much easier.’

She does not move. A sharp push in the base of her spine forces her to move, and she realises the person behind her is pushing her forwards, through this empty room, towards the next door. If she thinks about it, she can remember what the person behind her looks like, the way their white suit hangs off their tiny frame, their bleached white hair that perfectly matches the colour of their suit.

She struggles in a vain attempt to get herself free. The grip on her only tightens.

‘Live in the moment. Breathe in. Breathe out.’ The voice stills her, its presence in her ear unexpectedly restrictive. She tries to fight the urge to obey, but all she manages to do is make her breath shake.

She is forced down on to a reclined chair and strapped in at her wrists, chest, and ankles. The two white suits leave the room, and a woman in a lab coat walks in.

‘Hello, Lisa, is it? I’m Georgia.’

Her breath quickens. Is that her name? It sounds right, but how can it be? How can she not remember her own name?

Georgia looks confused. ‘You don’t remember?’

She does not give her an answer. ‘Please don’t do this to me,’ she whispers, ‘I want to remember. I don’t know who I am anymore.’ Her cheeks are wet. Georgia looks at her in shock and offers her a tissue before realising the restraints that encircle her arms. Georgia dabs at her cheeks.

‘It’ll make you feel better, I promise.’ Georgia does not sound as sure as her colleagues.

She is not sure of her memories, but she knows that she has not seen this woman before. She only shakes her head and turns away.

‘Right, the first step, here we go.’

The liquid in the syringe is unnaturally blue, and the fear escalates as it is pushed into her veins. She gasps as vivid memories flood back into her mind, straining against the straps as visions of her family dance behind her eyes. Her name is Lisa. She is thirty-six. She has been married for ten years. ‘Please,’ she gasps out, ‘Please, no more.’

‘Are you in pain?’ Georgia halts the rest of her preparation.

‘No, I remember. I remember everything.’ Her cheeks are wet again. ‘Please don’t take this away from me, please.’

Georgia hesitates. ‘It will make you feel better.’ She sounds as if she is convincing herself more than anyone else.

Lisa shakes her head. ‘No, it won’t, I’m sure of that, please, let me live.’

‘I have to do my job. Please don’t make this any harder than it has to be, we know what’s best for you.’

‘How can you say that when I have no idea who the people I love are unless they are sitting right in front of me?’ Lisa knows she is winning even as her voice shakes – none of the doctors she has met have ever let her talk this much.

‘That is one of the unfortunate side effects of the cure…’

‘Cure? This is torture!’

Georgia breaks. She puts her head in her hands and begins to cry, at which point two others walk into the room. They push past her, pick up the syringe and inject step two into Lisa’s arm as she screams.

A week later, sat at home, she receives a letter that simply reads,

I am so sorry. I will try to fix this.


She does not know who Georgia is, or what she is apologising for, but she feels bizarrely content.