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The Host

If you are a twi-hard fan then back in the day you may have read Stephanie Meyer’s other novel, The Host (2008). However you may have stumbled across this book just as a lover of Young Adult sci-fi as it’s a pretty damn good read. I ended up flying through this book in one of those intense all night reading sessions after I’d bought it for a mixture of the two reasons above. It caught my eye because of the publicity it received, being from the author of the Twilight sensation, but it also fell into a genre I had a tendancy towards already.

There’s been a huge surge in dystopian fiction aimed at teenagers, to name just a few novels that have recently been gracing the ‘Top Seller’ lists internationally: The Uglies, The Maze Runner and Divergent. The genre, bench-marked by classics such as Orwell’s 1984 or Huxley’s Brave New World, has exploded in fiction aimed at young adults. Perhaps its popularity stems from a fascination about the state of our planet and a growing awareness of political and social fractures that might cause a modern-day dystopia. However not all dystopian themes mirror a future that could be possible many steering towards a very fantasy or sci-fi direction and might serve as pure escapism and indulgence in some pretty dark themes. Either way the genre is open to a lot of different themes and interpretation and if your looking for some good reads to ease you in then check out my recent post on some dystopian fiction I read when I was younger.

The Host is set in a future where a race of parasitic alien ‘souls’ have taken control of the majority of humans left on Earth, all except for small pockets of resistance. It is in the journey to find such a free community that the still-human protagonist Melanie is captured and taken over by a soul. The narrative centres on the battle of free will as Melanie refuses to completely lose herself to the ‘soul’ whose mission is to inflitrate the resistence and also the soul’s own conflicts of conscience. Along the way there is naturally love and heartbreak and a touch of action. Due for release later this month (March 29th 2013) I’m intrigued to see how they’ve adapted the novel for the screen.

In a similar vein the hugely successful trilogy The Hunger Games hit the big screens with its first installment last year. I always have mixed views when a novel I love is made into a movie. “They don’t look like that?! what happened to that bit!” are phrases that will often pass my lips after I’ve watched a movie adaptation. Preconceptions are shattered and that indulgence you share with a book in being able to visualise the words and characters and themes in your own way is ultimately gone. I’m not against it completely and there will be movies I watch where I’ve yet to read the novel and perhaps later do and enjoy in a different way. However for the most part I tend to seperate them as best I can. I personally felt that The Hunger Games movie was not a touch on the novel but can see why. There is afterall a complex world and fast paced plot to capture in 90 minutes or so.

Whilst The Host may be one I save until DVD release (which seems to come around so fast these days) I’m keen to check it out and hopefully be plesantly surprised! You can watch the trailer below.

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Dissertation Dilemma

I got back my dissertation proposal yesterday and, to my surprise, it had been given the go-ahead by my tutors. I say surprise because since submitting my idea I had began to question it. You can read the full proposal here but basically I’ve proposed to do a creative dissertation, specifically a selection of short stories, very character focused, based on strands of the existentialist philosophy. I knew my proposal was quite weak – my stories underdeveloped and my theme only a starting point at best – and had since been wondering whether I should switch to doing a discursive dissertation, a literature based investigation into a writer or theme of my choice.

Now my dilemma stands as such: do I throw myself into developing the short story suggestion? Even with the risk that always accompanies creative fiction, that being how subjectively it can be read (a bad mark on this could really affect my degree). OR do I change my whole idea without guidance from the powers above (aka my lecturers) to a discursive dissertation which allows for an essay format I am already familiar with?

Take a look at my proposal – let me know whether you think my idea has any strength and if anyone has any suggestions or starting points for research please feel free to comment or e-mail 🙂 many thanks

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Creative dissertation proposal

My dissertation proposal – feel free to pick apart and offer suggestions in any form!

A collection of short stories: An hour to exist – conceptual outline

The project will comprise of a collection of short stories based on concepts taken from the philosophy of existentialism. The stories will incorporate themes of absurdity, meaningless, angst, alienation and boredom. There will be 3 or 4 stories (around 1200-1600 words each) which will be entirely character focused with an aim to depict a ‘snapshot’ (an hour) of the characters lives. The characters will not know each other or live near each other but there will be details within each piece of fiction that ties them all together.

Hooper (2000 p.2) when talking of Edgar Allan Poe’s famously gothic short stories describes them adeptly: “In the space of a few pages and a few minutes we are offered quick but indelible glances into Poe’s dark characters.” He then furthers his view on some of Poe’s classic work such as ‘The tell-tale heart’ (1850) as offering us “peeks at the possibility of darkness in our own souls.” This sense that the reader can draw out of a story a sense of dark and quiet reflection is something that the collection proposed would aim to recreate.

“A good short story asks a question that can’t be answered in simple terms” (Mosley and Keison 2003 p.XV) The themes that the stories proposed will encapsulate will ask questions, and draw upon many worries in life that many of us think about or at least lie dormant within our subconscious. These include a sense of not fitting in, an awareness of death and a struggle to assert meaning to human life and existence. The issues raised by those who believe in the concept of existentialist philosophy can be seen as relevant to us all.

Many existentialist issues have been raised in literature such as Albert Campus’s novel ‘The Stranger’ (1942) and Satre’s play about the afterlife entitled ‘No Exit.’ (1944) Furthermore elements of such concepts can be seen woven into modern fiction such as Nick Hornby’s ‘High fidelity’ (1995.) Works such as these will be closely looked at and interpreted for their views on existentialist concepts and themes. ‘The Scream’ (1893) the famously haunting painting by Edvard Munch will be used as a starting point for inspiration as it is a beautifully captured piece that expresses intense and painful desperation.

Medium
The short story feels right for this project. There is a sense of totality in the reading of a story in one sitting, an intensity that can strengthen the message intended. “The pleasure of the quick, concentrated reading experience is more piquant.” (Hooper 2000 p.2) Every word in a short story feels precious; leading purposefully toward a predetermined effect.

The short story can also be seen as a ‘fragment,’ as a small glimpse into something immense. This ties in with the concept of the collection in that the stories would be snap-shots, focused and intense insights into individual’s lives, thoughts, and anxieties. The short story can be seen to present “in a vigorous, compressed, suggestive way, a simplification and idealization of a particular part or phase of life.” (Albright 2009 p.5) in other words it can be seen as a small piece of a puzzle, that although can seem abstract and sometimes incomplete, can still bring something to the user, and is vital and needed despite its size.

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Indesign magazine layout

This term we got instructed on how to use Adobe InDesign software in order to create magazine layouts and spreads. For one of our assignments we had to write a feature article on an aspect of Bournemouth (I choose the music scene and you can read the full feature here) we then had to produce a double page magazine spread for this feature. See what you make of mine below.

comments appreciated, to download the full PDF for a closer look click here

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The woman with the red umbrella

A short piece of fiction I wrote for a University assignment:

When you are ill you are told all sorts. Some of it bullshit, some of it helpful, some of it plain stupid. Friends and family cluster round your bed like ants in the garden, annoying and indistinguishable. “You’re bound to get better”, “Don’t think about the pain”, “stay positive.”

But when you are told you are going to die the silence that follows is the worst. Now people can’t fall back on their positive pick-you-ups because there is no positivity to be found in death, none whatsoever. You could search the dark corners of that empty and vast room for eternity and fail to find anything. So people are quiet. For the first time in fourteen months I felt as if I could hear again.

I could be cared for at home they told me; I laughed. Maybe that was rude but I couldn’t even begin to explain what it would be like to spend my last weeks trapped at home, suffocated by their pity. I didn’t blame them, not in the slightest, they loved me and they were bound to feel powerless, grief-stricken and numb, but I did not want that around me. I was happy here in my hospital bed, surrounded by people who dealt with death on a daily basis. Hell, I was practically living with death if I stayed here, maybe we could build up a rapport, a friendship. Maybe he would take me out nice and easy.

It was a week after I had been told about my date with death. My health was “deteriorating rapidly” I was told by my doctor.  “Tell me something I don’t know” I laughed. He gave me that funny look he gives me often, shaking his head. He was leaving when he stopped at the door, tentatively turning to me, “Molly, you know there is always the hospital’s minister, he can pop up and talk to you anytime you want.”

“Oh Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. I already see the counsellor. Not my thing sweetie. But thanks for the thought.” I smiled brightly. “Now some more morphine would be accepted with gratitude.” He held up his arms and clipboard defensively before leaving. I had always wondered why doctors carried around clipboards, but maybe it was to hide behind.

The hospital’s counsellor was called Mrs Sims. She tried to ‘engage’ with me, but they had the wrong woman for the job. She sat at my bedside with her pinched up eyes and cold hands and tried to talk to me for an hour every week. I dreaded it. How was I feeling? (How did she think?) What were my fears? (That these visits would over run?)

I turned to the bed on my right. An elderly woman had been admitted a few days ago but had been sleeping most of the time. When there’s a bed shortage (with the NHS when isn’t there a bed shortage?) they group you all together. The terminally ill, sarcastic young one and the old and forgotten one who is surely on her way out. C’est la vie. She stared at me now unblinking. Her eyes were small and green, the folds of skin around them had fallen down (gravity always wins) but they had once been pretty eyes, I could tell. She had had no visitors so far.

“Who’s in the photo?” I asked, pointing to the framed black and white portrait by her bedside. It appeared to be the only possession she had, apart from a slender red umbrella propped up beside her.

“That is Henry, my husband. He’s dead.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why? He died more than fifteen years ago. What have you got to be sorry about?” I felt stumped. Like my mum perhaps, who had just been told her twenty seven year old daughter was dying.

“I guess it’s just what you say.” I paused. “Do you miss him?”

“I see him everyday; the Lord makes sure of that.” If it hadn’t been disrespectful I would have snorted. Instead I just nodded vaguely.

“Child, you think you know everything about the world, about life and about death.”

“Don’t tell me I don’t know about death. I know death all right.” I felt angry now. The woman was smiling.

“Okay dear, Okay.” The nurse came to give her some medication then and the pale blue curtain that separated us was pulled firmly shut.

I lay with my eyes closed watching the soothing pattern of blood flowing in my eyelids. It pulsed slowly, a red haze blanketing it all. I could stay like this for eternity, here I was safe. The noise of the hospital was a far away buzz now, a backdrop. I thought about something Sims had said to me the other day about dealing with what would happen to me. I’d told her there was nothing to deal with, I would be gone, and I would cease to exist. People talk about coming to terms with death, about accepting it. But I would rather lie here in my red world and feel the steady pulse of my beating heart than feel sorry for myself. For I would be gone.

Over the next week the lady with the red umbrella and the dead husband, and I talked. Between pills and pain killers, drips and mushy food, she told me about her ‘God’ and I told her about my life. She didn’t look at me with sadness filled eyes, she didn’t tell me how young I was, how life was cruel. She told me I was cynical and bitter and I agreed. When she spoke to me with her straightforward attitude and the vagueness of a stranger I felt the knots in my stomach untwisting and the fears I had locked away rising to take centre place in my jumbled thoughts.

“Do you ever wonder where your God is sometimes?” I said one night. We both lay in the darkness but I knew she was awake. “Do you ever want to ask him why? Why bad things happen…“

“…to good people?” she cut in. “And no I don’t question it. My faith is all I need.”

I thought of my Mum crying, my little sister, the children I would never have, the grand children I would never have. It all made me awash with sickness. But I knew what the worst fear I had was. I just didn’t want to say it.

She died on a Tuesday. I woke to her empty bed neatly made on my right. Death makes sure it leaves no trace of its presence. I felt sadder than I’d felt all year. Later on a nurse brought round her red umbrella, she had left it for me. Attached to the slim handle was a post-it note. It read:

You fear that soon you will be gone, and that you won’t be remembered. But you should know that it is okay to be scared. For 15 years I have carried this red umbrella with me, through rain and shine. Whenever I feel my faith slipping, it reminds me that no matter how invisible I feel, God can always see me. Even if you see no God. He sees you, you will not be forgotten.

And I realised we are all just competitors in one big race trying to shout high and loud with our tiny voices: “I have lived. I was here.”