J.K. Rowling: “I’ve got nothing to prove.”

J.K. Rowling’s first adult novel Casual Vacancy was released on Thursday to a very mixed reaction. Early sales predictions show the novel has exceeded expectations and the book currently sits in 5th position of the week’s bestsellers chart, but Rowling’s first venture into adult fiction has been met with some criticism.

Rowling, whose success came from the renowned Harry Potter series, is estimated to be worth over £6.4million already. Speaking frankly in an interview aired by BBC on Wednesday, Rowling said that she no longer has any reason to write, other than for herself. This new venture in adult literature then was something she was pursuing for her own love of writing, rather than in search of the next bestseller. A very different experience from when she first started writing Harry Potter. Divorced and living off state benefits, Rowling’s success rescued her and her daughter financially. Since then, Rowling has become one of the most popular children’s authors of all time and the Harry Potter franchise has taken over the world.

Casual Vacancy is brave move by Rowling. Knowing her next book would always come under intense scrutiny Rowling dared to venture away from the series and the genre which brought her so much success previously. I admire her almost as much for this as I do for her brilliant work in creating the world of wizardry in the Potter series. Not fazed by her previous success, Rowling has dared to be different and has been quick to accept the criticism that has all too swiftly followed.

Until we get the chance to read her new work for ourselves, here is the interview conducted by James Runcie for the BBC. It is an incredibly candid and interesting interview with one of the most famous writers in the world.

J.K. Rowling Interview

To Kindle or not to Kindle

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The Publishers Association released statistics this month which show that there has been a boom in the sales of digital titles, with figures increasing by over 180% from 2011. E-books have brought in over £84million in revenue in the first six months of this year so it is clear that the digital age of publishing is well and truly upon us. According to statistics over a third of people now own Kindles or other e-readers in the UK, with many more showing an interest in joining the revolution within the latter half of this year.

And it is clear to see why. There are many advantages the e-book can bring to everyday readers. Firstly, the e-book makes reading far more accessible. Anybody can purchase a book from various online sellers at any time of the day- meaning that more people will be tempted to buy titles they’ve seen reviewed or been recommended. Furthermore, the access is instantaneous- they can download their digital copies straight away to their e-book or tablets. This revolutionises the way in which hotly anticipated books can be accessed; no longer will people have to queue outside Waterstones in the early hours in the hope of acquiring a copy of the next bestseller (circa Harry Potter 2007). And probably the Kindles biggest selling point is the ease of transport. The small lightweight device can carry hundreds of digital books and can slip easily into any handbag; it really is the perfect accessory. Rather than lugging a small library on holiday with you, or on your commute to work, you can simply load an array of literary treats onto your e-reader and be on your way. Hurrah!

And what’s more, the advantages aren’t simply for the readers. Digital books offer a massive advantage to any author who is looking to self-publish. Authors will be able to gain more autonomy over their work; taking control of how their work is produced and sold. It also means smaller authors will be able to get their work out in the public consciousness a lot easier. The thought may leave some publishers reeling but it is a small win for the independent author.

And yet, despite being a regular and avid reader, and a massive advocate of emerging talent, I am just not sold. Let’s get my boring technical qualms out of the way first. To buy an e-book reader, you have a minimum £90 initial output to actually buy the technology to be able to read the e-book. And do you make that money back? Not likely. At the moment, e-books are pretty much the exact same price as a paperback version- despite the fact that there is no printing, no warehousing and no transporting costs. So why is it not massively cheaper to buy an e-book? J.K. Rowling’s Casual Vacancy went on sale yesterday and is currently selling on Amazon for £11.99 for e-book version, and £9 for hardcover with free delivery. Not only then is the e-book not cheaper than the printed version, but is actually more expensive- how does that work? And how many people are aware that when they download an e-book they are simply renting the product rather than buying it? Yes, the seller can remove any e-book from your digital reader without any notice if they ever need to.

But those things don’t bother me nearly as much as my personal reasons for not wanting to jump on the Kindle bandwagon just yet. I have quite a romantic notion of reading; I believe reading is an experience, an experience which cannot be achieved with digital readers. When I choose a book I often like to marvel at the cover art or illustrations within the book (see Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for a nice example). Most people who don’t read say it’s because reading is boring. And yet this new format makes reading even more dull than it has ever been- how is that inspiring the next generation of readers? This new format also makes it impossible to pass on any books you love to friends and family. My mother and I are always swapping books and my circle of friends or constantly borrowing books from each other- it sparks debate and discussion. Turning to a friend and saying “I read a great book the other day, here’s the ISBN you’ll have to pay and download yourself” is a lot less motivating, and is surely detrimental in the long term to our reading experience.  And lastly and simply, am I the only one that likes to see how close I am to finishing a book? How many people, eye-lids drooping, check how many pages are left in the chapter before they go to bed?  The whole reading experience is just completely lost if you’re reading these digital versions instead of a good old-fashioned paperback.

I don’t even feel like publishers know how this new technology will affect the industry; there seems to be no consistency in their approach to produce and market e-books here in the UK. I am not condemning digital progression, but I do strongly feel that there is a lot to learn about how it will change and shape the future of reading. There are a lot of questions still unanswered about the e-book that need to be answered before people will whole-heartedly buy into the idea, and I doubt the answers will ever be straight forward. What works for the trade industry will not necessarily correlate to academic publishing; especially not when reports are already showing the children retain less information when they read e-book versions of textbooks. And what works for one book release will never automatically work for another. How am I supposed to feel comfortable with this technology, if those at the heart of the publishing industry still seem so uneasy about the change. So for now I stand distant and wary, but will be keeping a close eye on any developments that may well quash my concerns.

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Following an incredible month travelling around the United States, I embarked on the long journey home. I had already finished the few books I had taken with me and so I decided to pop into the airport and purchase something new to get stuck into on the flight back to London. Having browsed for a while I settled on New York Times Bestseller The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen.

The first in a series The Keeper of Lost Causes follows the story of Carl Morck, a homicide detective in Copenhagen. Morck, who is recovering from a major incident which left one of his team dead and another paralysed, is issued with the task of heading up a new police department: Department Q. The role of this new department is to revisit old cases that were left unsolved in the hope of unearthing new evidence. The novel follows Morck as he tackles the case of Merete Lynggaard, a former politician, who mysteriously went missing 5 years previously.

Adler-Olsen’s ambitious narrative switches between Morcks present day first person narration and that of Merete Lynggaards from the time she went missing. This element of the book adds an interesting twist on the ordinary crime novel. The conclusion of the novel then is reached simultaneously by both narrators in one climatic scene which leaves the reader reeling at the discovery.

Morck himself is a particularly interesting character to follow. His arrogance and general attitude makes others in the office despise him and his appointment to Department Q is essentially a move to get Morck out of the homicide office. And yet there is a humour to the narrator which makes him ultimately completely likeable.

Adler-Olsen also introduces some incredibly interesting secondary characters in the novel, highlighting some acute social subjects. Lynggaard’s mentally disabled brother Uffe provides a casing point for the research needed to improve the treatment of people with brain injuries, while Morck’s assistant Assad, an asylum seeker from Syria, seems to be hiding a dark past.

What you get with The Keeper of Lost Causes is a completely fresh approach to the crime genre, and a book which scintillates its readers on every level, justifying entirely its many awards and accolades. Already an International Bestseller, it is actually difficult to find much wrong with this novel.

Women’s Revolution

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Last week I read a harrowing tale from a brave British journalist that had travelled to Egypt to report on the state of affairs over there. She was aiming to report on the social problems relating to female human rights and was in Cairo when she got attacked by a group of men and was publicly abused. I would strongly encourage everybody to read her account here: http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/please-god-please-make-it-stop/

But aside from a deep feeling of sorrow for this girl, I found myself completely angered by the injustice she had to suffer just because she was female. And what’s worse, this behaviour is considered somewhat of a norm in Egypt.  Women in Egypt have to continually suffer this gross invasion of personal space and complete dismissal of their human rights, when men decide to grope and leer whenever a female walks by.

Britain are by no means perfect when it comes to equality; with more men still representing the country in government than women and the wage gap between men and women still worryingly high, we still have a long way to go. But our health and our safety, our privacy and security, are all a given and we rarely have to worry about those rights being encroached upon. It’s appalling then, that while we are worrying about our economic and professional prosperity as women, that just 2000 miles away women are actually living in fear every day.

In April 2012, the National Council for Women (NCW) in Egypt had to protest against potential sex laws that would massively impinge upon women’s basic human rights. The two laws, one which would lower the age for marriage and another which would allow a husband to have sex with his dead wife for up to 6 hours after death, caused outrage in Egypt when parliament announced their plans.

These laws would undo all the hard work that women in Egypt have been fighting for up until now. And this is what really grates. Women’s voices are still not being heard.

In the early part of the 19th Century women in the UK joined their American sisters into battle; the battle for the vote. The Suffragists and Suffragettes used a variety of different means and methods to get their voices heard, to relay the message that women deserved a say in the way the country operated.  It took a lot of time and determination but they saw success when the vote was granted in 1918(UK) and 1920(US). Obviously, this was only the start of women’s fight for equality but women had proven their ability to force changes and shape the way men thought of them. And nearly 100 years on, it seems that these battles are still taking place in other parts of the world.

And in realising this, I have an overwhelming sense of knowing that had I been born in that era, I would have fought on the picket lines and happily participated in hunger strikes for women’s freedom and equality. And yet I feel completely helpless in this modern day revolution of women’s rights that is taking place in Egypt.  A war of words from the west will do very little to convince the misogynistic Islamist-dominated parliament in Egypt that they need to make some serious changes, and fast.

The Bucket List


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With university coming to an end and the horrendously sudden realisation that it’s time to grow up and actually start acting like an adult, I find myself daunted by all the things I want, but have never had the time or opportunity, to do. Having been financially crippled by the last three years, I am now looking forward to having the monetary capability, as well as the time, to fulfill some of those lifelong ambitions.

When I first sat down to write what has only ever previously been a romantic unspoken notion, I found that writing my bucket list was harder than I had anticipated. How extravagant does an ambition have to be to make it onto the bucket list? How achievable do the activities have to be? I settled on 30 things that I can, and will, accomplish by the time I kick it. Some are more outrageous than others, and obviously some are going to take far longer than others to achieve. But looking forward into unknown territory, I find myself comforted by the notion that I can, and will, always be working towards an end. It may not be career driven, romantically charged, but it’s enough to keep me in a perpetual state of progression.

Whilst I appreciate that many say that university is the time of your life, I resent the idea that everything is downhill from here; I am far too young to believe that is true, and far to naïve to think that there aren’t more adventures to be had. So as I sit here, contemplating the huge empty hole I have to fill with career expectations and a stable living environment, I realise that it’s just as important to keep learning. Unearth new things about yourself, your friends, acquire new skills and make new memories. For, it’s these things that we will inevitably look back on with the fondest of hearts, and these achievements that will ultimately define us as a person.

And what’s more, when were feeling low or unfulfilled, this list should act as a catalyst to make you strive for all the greatness you are yet to witness in yourself, and will remind you of all the possibilities open to you if you are willing to seize the opportunities. This personalised list of objectives will become your mission, should you choose to accept it, and has the power to bring about some amazing results.

So, if you have an hour to spare, I encourage you all to collate a bucket list of all the things you aim to achieve in life. These goals can change, can increase, can even snowball into bigger dreams but for now just look deep into your heart and your imagination and see what you most desire.

The next time you find yourself swamped at work, and feeling like you are constantly working just to keep afloat, drowning in the mundanity of everyday life, you can look at that list and know that you still have a lot to be excited about. You may even feel motivated to try and tick one off. Ralph Waldo Emmerson once said that ‘Life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better’. At this point then, I find myself wanting to make the most of life; for what point is there in it, if it’s not to be enjoyed.  

My Top 10

  1. See a Wonder of the Natural World
  2. Travel America
  3. Learn to play the guitar
  4. Cycle from the Andes to the Amazon
  5. Meet a REAL celebrity hero
  6. Complete a triathalon
  7. Read my way through Waterstones top 100
  8. Learn German
  9. Get published
  10. Travel in a hot air balloon

Multi-tasking is magicians’ work

University life is non-stop. In between lectures and seminars, essays and exams, we still need to find time to train for sports teams, attend societies, partake in a part-time job, make an appearance at Crisis/Ocean/Market Bar. There seems to be a never ending list of to-do’s that will literally take up every hour of your day. Never has there been a time in my life where I have been so chaotic in trying to control everything that is going on around me and no matter how hard I try, I always feel like I’m two steps behind. How are we supposed to manage such a mountain of tasks and maintain our sanity?

There is a significant difference in my current approach to that which I adopted in first year. Last year, lectures and the library were the first to go if I was feeling hectic, and sleep was my main priority. And whilst this was brilliant and kept me quietly content for those wonderful 8 months, it would appear that such laziness will not help me make it through this second year. You’d think by this point in the term, I may have discovered some miracle cure for the diminishing hours in any given day, and somehow found a way of staying home and doing work whilst simultaneously going out and socialising with friends, but alas I have had no such luck.

It could definitely be a personality thing. Some people thrive in having busy schedules, getting off on filling their Blackberry calender with events, and by some miracle manage to do it all. I am not fortunate to be graced with such super powers, and am far too easily tempted away from those monotonous tasks that stay on your to-do list for far too long. And as far as multi-tasking goes, I can just about manage to check Facebook, text my friends and watch television at the same time- if only this could translate to writing essays, whilst reading and sitting in a lecture.

University certainly brings out your organised side, or it at least it should. Multi-tasking is not only advised, but is essentially necessary just to get through that mountain of activities/work/socialising. The university offers workshops in career choices, how to perfect your CV and various other activities- but they definitely need to start one in multi-tasking so we at least have a chance at making it through university in one piece!

The Evolution of Man

 

Evolution of manDespite Darwinian claims that man has evolved from primitive beings to highly sophisticated and intellectual creature, I continue to struggle to see the truth in this claim. Either the men that don our wonderful university have somehow missed this final step in the evolution process, or Darwin is telling porkys!

I have recently had the pleasure of moving in with some lovely lads who instantly made me realise that men are still as primordial as ever. And whilst I have taken pleasure in watching them acclimatise to the reality of cooking, cleaning and attempting to get out of bed prior to the Loose Women gracing the TV, I now feel this overwhelming duty to warn those who are yet to witness the primal effort at existing that comes with living with guys.

Firstly, it became immediately obvious to me that cooking is not something that comes naturally or even unnaturally to boys. Some will refuse to make anything other than a bacon sandwich, others will simply live off cereal and the majority will never progress beyond the one dish they managed to master in the first week. Boys will inevitably struggle with any menial cooking task you ask them; be it stirring gravy, defrosting dessert or even cutting an onion. And ask them to run to the shop of red wine vinegar and you should expect them to spend 10 minutes looking around the alcohol section of Sainsbury’s before returning home empty handed. Watching a typical lad grapple with the kitchen is distinctively similar to watching a dog learning to swim; they will either refuse to go in, sink or just swim really badly.

You must also be aware that despite rumours that men are more entrepreneurial than ever, most university boys will not surface before midday. If men aren’t in bed, then they can generally be found on the sofa/in the gym/at the pub. And should a guy be up at the godforsaken time of ten thirty then they will generally expect some sort of fanfare or sympathy. In all fairness, though, it’s far better if the lads spend much of their time asleep, it saves you from having to watch them complete 10 million objectives on Halo.

Obviously, with such a hectic timetable, you also have to appreciate the boys find very little time for chores. One male friend once told me that ‘you don’t have to clean the shower because the water cleans it every time someone uses it…’ so I wouldn’t have high expectations of cleanliness when cohabiting with the opposite sex. Skid marks in toilets are generally compulsory and often accompanied by lovely brown toilet water, and you can almost always depend on dirty dishes lining the kitchen tops.

So considering we’re living in a generation of meterosexuals, young business enthusiasts and aspiring graduates, it’s fairly hilarious to see that when it comes to men and domesticity, things really haven’t changed in the last millennium or two. Men are just as primitive as they have ever been. The evolution of man is clearly just a myth aimed to trick us women into living with the beasts.

Experience over Education

Having just finished my first year of your University, it struck me that I have just 2 years left of avoiding the inevitable 40 hour working week which awaits me when I join the real world. This prospect is both welcome and horrifying simultaneously. Whilst I cannot wait to pursue all these dreams and ambitions I possess, the realisation of the difficulty of achieving these aspirations weighs heavily upon my shoulders. I am living in a world where a great education from a prestigious university and an abundance of enthusiasm just isn’t enough.

Gone are the days where you could walk out of university and into a high profile corporation. Plain love for what you do seems to count for nought. Now, to even get your foot in the door you need to have a wealth of experience in whatever field you choose to pursue. You need to have relevant experience for any job you now apply for, despite having been in education for the first 21 years of your life. Realistically how much experience can one person have in their chosen career by 21? Surely the entire point of undertaking an undergraduate degree programme is to progress towards your career goals? When did a degree become a mere credential rather than a track to success?

I love studying and am thoroughly enjoying my time at university, yet my experience seems tinted by this sinking feeling that it will all lead to nothing. Soon I shall just join the other 50,000+ graduates that struggle to find employment every year. One Times shows that 22% of graduates are stuck in non-graduate jobs for up to 5 years after university. The realisation being then, that thousands of people are racking up £30,000 debt just to find the same job they could have prior to university. Remind me again why the numbers of applicants to university is rising every year? Maybe an old school attempt at working your way up through a corporation shouldn’t be so swiftly written off.

Today it seems that a degree will only progress you towards a career as an academic, all those other jobs you have dreamed of since you were 10 have one hundred other hoops to jump through, lions to tame and mazes to negotiate before you can even attempt to convince the big boss that your worthy of their time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully appreciate that employers would prefer there potential new employees to have some experience, but what is an acceptable level of experience to expect? Having spent the last month trying to secure work experience, I am well aware of just how difficult it is to get even unpaid work in some industries. And here we arrive at the junction where you cannot get any interview without experience, yet will continue to lack experience until someone takes pity on you and, lack of experience aside, gives you a shot.

So I stare down the barrel to a life of being work bound, paying a mortgage, and being unable to avoid taxes, I realise that I have a mountain to climb if I am actually going to end up in a job I will love. Does that put me off though? Not just yet.

Fancy a real conversation?

We are the Facebook generation. A generation, who feel the need to publish all of their day to day activities on the internet, for hundreds of friends online to read. It is this generation then, that have swapped real life conversations for Skype and MSN that have given up on proper relationships. People seem more content to converse over social networking sights then grabbing a coffee with a friend and having genuine interaction.

How did it get this far? There are obvious advantages to these social networking sites, and I too have fallen victim to its addictive nature but it’s time that we stepped away from our computers and actually engaged with our friends, family or colleagues. Finding out that a best friend got a dream job would be far more exciting if I was told in person; not so much when it’s scattered among the rest of the ten thousand status updates that litter my news feed!

And that’s another thing, I wouldn’t expect my neighbours cousins brothers nephews friends fiancé to tell me how she ‘will never feel the same way again’ in person so why, oh why, do I need to see it on Facebook? Why people seem to feel the need to a) update their status every time they undertake even the most meaningless tasks and b) broadcast break ups, make ups and sexual encounters to an entire network of people, is completely beyond me. Social networking sites seem to have become a hub of gossip and rumours, where even the smallest of comments can be blown completely out of proportion. We have become a generation who need to know everything about everyone.

So, as radical as this may be, I would like to propose that we stop living our life through the internet and actually get out and engage in some real conversations. Let’s publicise actual human interaction; let’s just enjoy each others company.

Here’s to turning Twenteen

Peter Pan said to Wendy “Come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown up things.” As I turned 20 it dawned on me that at some point, in the not so distant future, I would have to start worrying about grown up things. My friends, and I use the term loosely, seemed to revel in my misery as I realised I was getting old. It’s a fairly daunting prospect and one that I would do anything to avoid. Peter, won’t you take me to Neverland?

I am not ready to grow up and quite frankly I don’t know who can make me. I still own a teddy bear, I quite clearly indulge in Disney and I still find flatulence fairly amusing. Just because I am no longer a teenager doesn’t mean I can’t be careless and irresponsible surely? I must have a few years of pranks and pettiness left in me. I begrudge being told that I am old, or that it’s time to start acting like an adult. While I am well aware that I now have responsibilities, I am not too keen on taking life all too seriously. I vow, then, to enjoy being Twenteen.

Twenteen is this marvellous age where I can enjoy all of the benefits of living on my own, spending my money how I want to and staying out as late as I want without feeling like I need to justify my decisions to anybody. Twenteen is that wonderful empowerment of knowing that you are in control of your own future and it can be whatever you want it to be. Twenteen is being able to put cling film on the toilet seat so that your housemate pisses all over the floor- now it’s your house so who is going to tell you you’re being immature or silly? (Except your housemate, should s/he be a) boring or b) grown up.)

Getting older is, unfortunately, inevitable. And whilst I am not quite ready to let go of my teens and embrace my twenties, I intend to have a lot of fun finding that somewhere in between.