Sunday 23 November 2014

After Us: Apocalypse Anthology

With only a week till release day, it’s about time to tell you about my latest project.

When the world ends, what comes AFTER US?
Featuring stories from Edd Hodsdon, Melissa Holden, Lorna Holland, and Mark Looker, AFTER US explores the effects of an apocalypse on the survivors.
AFTER the apocalypse the laws and rules of the old world bind US no more, and mankind’s true, savage nature takes over.
AFTER the apocalypse, none of US will ever be the same again...

After Us is an anthology comprised of 8 short stories written by me, Edd Hodsdon, Mark Looker, and Melissa Holden. All the stories are based around the theme of the apocalypse, but there’s a bit of everything in there - from action to romance to sci-fi.

After Us includes:
Behind Bars – Edd Hodsdon
Cure in Age – Melissa Holden
Keep Your Friends Close – Lorna Holland
Left to Die – Melissa Holden
Lonely in a Crowd – Edd Hodsdon
Strangers on the Road – Mark Looker
Silent Screams – Lorna Holland
Sally Lin – Mark Looker

After Us is available on Amazon Kindle now.

Let me know if you've bought After Us in the comments below!

Monday 13 October 2014

Gig Review: Steve Harley at The Stables MK

Last night, Sunday 12th October 2014, Steve Harley performed as part of an acoustic trio at The Stables in Milton Keynes. Steve is perhaps best known for his time in the band Cockney Rebel back in the ‘70s, so his smaller acoustic sets of late are very different to the shows of his heyday. However, this doesn’t mean that the new direction is a flop – if anything it’s the opposite!

This was an incredibly personal show, which Steve added to by telling stories about his life and songs at intervals throughout. There was also a good balance between his older and newer songs. The first half was mainly the older songs and classic hits whereas the second half, after the interval, mostly featured songs off his latest album Stranger Comes to Town. Although the second half seemed more relaxed, the set list was structured well so that both halves complemented each other and neither detracted from the other.

The other members of the trio are pianist James Lascelles and violinist Barry Wickens. Their friendship is obvious, resulting in the three working together really well and using each other to further their own performances. However, they are also all highly talented musicians in their own right. As well as the keyboard, James plays additional percussion instruments throughout, and Barry alternates between his violin and a second acoustic guitar. 
One of the highlights of the evening was during 'The Lighthouse', when Barry did a fantastic violin solo. You could see that he was completely immersed in the music, and the result really was something special. Another highlight was the encore where they played 'Make Me Smile', one of Steve’s biggest hits. The song was performed with such energy that the audience sang along with the chorus and a few people even got up and danced!

 It wasn’t all like that though, as Steve dedicated 'No Ordinary Man' to his elderly father. It was a moving tribute that leant a slight tone of nostalgia to the whole evening. This was added to by Steve explaining that he’d written another of the songs for his son as he left home for university. 

The only hiccups in the show were when James had a few minor technical issues with the sound, and when Steve forgot the opening lines of 'The Best Years of Our Lives' and had to restart the song. However, both incidents were dealt with light-heartedly, so they didn’t impact the rest of the evening at all.

 The beauty of having been in the music industry for so long is that Steve now has fans in every age group. Granted, being only 20 I was in the minority, but there’s not many artists that can truthfully say their shows are attended by everyone from teenagers to pensioners. For me this made the night even more special, seeing people of all different ages joining in and enjoying the music together.

In addition, The Stables was the ideal venue. It’s a relatively small theatre with a capacity of only 400, so even being virtually sold out it still suited the intimacy of the performance perfectly. The whole place has a kind of indie feel, and it’s perfect for smaller acts and acoustic/folk music. It’s also really well designed, meaning you get a good view of the stage from every seat, which is becoming increasingly rarer in venues as promoters try to pack in more and more seats to generate more and more money.

If you can, I really recommend getting tickets to see Steve Harley – it’s a great night out and is definitely worth your money. Plus Steve’s one of those artists who’s always got upcoming tour dates, so there’s no excuse to miss him!

Are you a fan of Steve Harley? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday 26 July 2014

Film Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves’ sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes is undoubtedly a special effects masterpiece – but the effects don’t steal the show.

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, most of humanity has been wiped out by a vicious plague to which only 1 in 500 are immune. Although small groups of humans still survive, their shortage of numbers and resources has severely damaged civilisation as we know it. However, the apes have flourished. Led by Caesar (Andy Serkis) they have developed their own culture, and most of them can now communicate in basic English.

The dwindling fuel supply causes a small group of humans led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) to head into ape territory in an attempt to restore power to San Francisco’s surviving inhabitants. As expected, peace between the two races is fragile and short-lived, and before long war breaks out, putting both human and simian lives in danger once again.

One of the strongest points of the film is that there are no clear heroes or villains. There are both good and bad human and ape characters, which makes it harder to decide whose side to take. As the film progresses the characters are pushed into ever more desperate circumstances. They begin fighting amongst each other, allowing us to see both the differences and, increasingly, the similarities between the two races. Malcolm faces opposition from resistance leader Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), whereas Caesar is occupied with power struggles with rival Koba (Toby Kebbell), alongside the main war between humans and apes. As a whole, the ape characters are stronger than their human counterparts, some of whom are somewhat limited characters who fade when compared with the multi-faceted characters of the apes.

The special and visual effects bring a higher quality to the film, aided by the intricately detailed sets. The opening sequence detailing the decline of humanity is an especially good use of the effects, in addition to concisely providing a recap of past events and simultaneously setting up the main premise. A post-apocalyptic atmosphere peppers the landscape with ruins of familiar landmarks and throwbacks to the previous film. This sets the tone for the design of the film, with a quality that clearly shows the patience of the filmmaking. Similarly, the incredible use of motion capture technology is essential, adding to the characters rather than being overused.

The film shows ideas which allow it to engage with intelligence on controversial topics including everything from leadership to law.  There is also a clear social message throughout, regarding gun control. The film highlights the difference between the humans and apes by repeating and upholding the apes’ key principle – “ape shall not kill ape.” Despite their differences, the apes are shown as a family, looking out for each other. And then there’s the humans. Humanity’s love affair with guns is highlighted throughout the film, where on multiple occasions the peace is left hanging in the balance, dependent on the twitch of a trigger finger.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a deeper emotional intelligence to match its spectacular special effects, making it one of the year’s must-see films.

The film is available now on DVD.

Have you seen Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday 16 June 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

A couple weeks ago I was invited to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour by fellow writer Penny Gotch. Basically, once nominated you have to answer four questions about your writing process, then tag three other bloggers/writers to do the same next week.

You can see Penny’s post here.

So without further ado, here’s my contribution:

What am I currently working on?

In short – a lot!

I’ve recently organised all of my ideas and half-written drafts into neatly ordered folders in an attempt to: a) stop losing things, and b) realise what I’ve actually got to write! This was something I really needed to do, but it’s slightly scary now that I can see just how much is waiting to be written...

However, the project I’m focusing on most at the moment is an upcoming Apocalypse Anthology with some fellow writers.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to think my work is unique because I don’t just stick to one genre - I’m one of those people who like to dabble in everything. I mostly write fiction (YA is probably my favourite, though I do write a variety of genres), as well as non-fiction articles and feature pieces. I’ve also been known to write poetry, and I have a few play/screenplay ideas in the pipeline...

I’m also a stickler for detail. Everything I write tends to be very descriptive and detailed, to the extent that I often have to cut excess description from my work. I think this makes my writing more interesting but it’s also a central part of my writer’s ‘voice’ – it’s just how I write.

Why do I write what I do?

Simple. I write because it’s always been the thing I’ve most wanted to do.

I write non-fiction because I want to share my opinions. I write poetry because I want to share my thoughts and feelings. And I write fiction because my favourite books have always been like good friends to me, and I hope one day to write a book that will be the same to someone else.

How does my writing process work?

Assuming it’s not a uni assignment or an article that urgently needs writing, I tend to write quite slowly. That’s because I proofread and correct as I write, so I average less than 500 words of fiction a day, with edits. Saying that though, I do make a point of writing at least a little every day – I know that if I didn’t I’d never get anything written!

And now - this is the lovely writer who's agreed to participate next. Keep an eye out for her post next week!

Harriet Clifford

Harriet Clifford is an 18-year-old aspiring journalist who hopes to study English Literature at University in the next couple of years. She contributes to several online magazines, including Kettle Magazine, My Student Style and Eat More Cake, as well as regularly updating her two blogs. When she isn’t writing, she is baking, sewing, reading, watching TV, drinking tea or playing with her cat.

Check out her blog: The StudentSurvival Kit
And her personal blog: HarrietClifford 

Are you a writer? What's your writing process? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday 8 June 2014

BBC Top 100 Books list

Last Updated: 10 July 2023

I've seen a number of blogs featuring this list recently, so decided I might as well join in!

I've crossed out the (shamefully low amount of) books I've read. To make myself feel better I've also highlighted the books I own but have yet to actually read - although this doesn't mean I'm likely to read them any time soon since my room is filled with boxes of unread books...oops.

Saturday 17 May 2014

18 Reasons to Date a Writer (Especially If You're One Yourself!)

Recently, the lovely Melissa wrote a post on her blog about reasons not to date a writer, especially if you’re one yourself.

While a lot of the things on her list are true - I’m definitely guilty of numbers 2, 6 and the last two - there’s got to be some benefits, right?

So seeing as both my boyfriend and I are writers, I thought I’d make another list of all the good things about dating a writer.
  • You’re both super creative.
  • There’s always someone willing to read your work and offer comments that are actually helpful.
  • You get an editor/proof-reader for free.
  • You’re guaranteed to be just as weird as each other.
  • You can say you’re a murderer (because you kill your characters) without being taken literally.
  • No need to explain your career choices.
  • You can make stupid writing related jokes.
  • You probably have a similar sense of humour so it’s easy to make each other laugh.
  • You have a lot of shared interests.
  • You (mostly) get each other’s references.
  • You have a wide range of interests.
  • You’re likely to quote random facts because you do a lot of research for your writing.
  • You don’t normally have to correct each other’s spelling and grammar (except when he still can’t spell ‘definitely’ right!)
  • You tend to be quite meticulous because you pay attention to detail and plan everything out way in advance.
  • You might keep weird hours because you’re writing, but you won’t be alone.
  • You won’t find it strange when they drop everything to write down a new idea.
  • You won’t be the only one dissecting the writing of that book, film, TV show, Facebook status...
  • And you also won’t be the only one thinking you could have done a better job of writing it!
Are you a writer? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday 21 April 2014

You're wrong, Ruby

Horses are not replaceable, and neither are other animals - dogs, cats, or even hamsters. Just because they’re not human doesn’t mean that their lives are any less worthwhile than mine or yours. Animals are sentient beings with the ability to think and feel just like humans. This only goes to show that their lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

After all, you merely have to talk to someone who has lost a beloved pet and they’ll undoubtedly tell you that animals are definitely not replaceable. Because they’re not – it’s as simple as that.

This follows jockey Ruby Walsh’s recent comments at the Cheltenham Festival, where he said that horses are replaceable and people are not. Despite receiving a massive backlash Ruby has continued to stick by his controversial comments, angering animal rights activists, anti-racing campaigners, and members of the public alike.

It’s not entirely surprising that Ruby has received so much criticism over his comments, given that the UK is widely known as a nation full of animal lovers. Instead it just goes to show how little he cares about animals, and therefore how out of step he is with the rest of us.

These remarks show an obvious lack of concern for animal welfare from Ruby. Surely being a jockey means he would have formed a bond with the horses he rides? I would have thought that all the hours of training and race preparations he undergoes would have helped him to do that. But apparently this is not the case. Certainly if I were a jockey I would want to get to know the horses so I could learn to recognise each horse’s distinct personality.

Ruby’s comments clearly illustrate that he has got little respect for the horses that have helped to bring him success over his 20 year career. It is disrespectful, not least because it shows that he thinks horses are nothing more than a means to an end – a way for him to make money and be successful. He should not disregard the lives of horses just because they aren’t humans. Horses are not machines, so they don’t deserve to be treated like them.

This just demonstrates Ruby’s complete lack of empathy for the many horses that have died during races. It’s estimated that around 400 horses die every year during or as a result of horseracing. To put that into perspective, 11 horses died at the 2006 Cheltenham Festival and there hasn’t been a Festival without a fatality since.

It’s sad to think that equine tragedies are still so commonplace today - even with all the new safety measures that have been brought in. These supposedly safer racing measures have included the introduction of new starting methods, smaller jumps, and stricter monitoring of the horses’ health.
There is also debate over whether the new measures are actually working. Evidence suggests that in an attempt to make the sport safer, it’s actually becoming more dangerous. For example, fewer and smaller jumps mean the horses are able to run faster for longer. This wears them out more quickly and puts an increased strain on their bodies.

Despite all of this, the statistics don’t lie: the death toll isn’t changing.

Maybe this is because of the people involved in the racing industry. If Ruby is anything to go by they aren’t taking animal welfare seriously at all, which renders the whole concept of improved safety methods pointless. It’s the attitudes that need to adjust, not the rules. If the jockeys aren’t co-operating, nothing will change and horses will continue to die needlessly.

But this isn’t the first time Ruby has caused controversy. Back in 2011 he earned a 5 day suspension for overusing his whip on a horse. He then proceeded to spearhead a call for strike action and tried to overturn a change in the law regarding whip usage by threatening to stop competing in Britain altogether.
Ruby needs to realise that claims like these are only going to make him more unpopular. His high opinion of himself will simply make the inevitable fall in popularity harder to bear.

In an ironic turn of events Ruby fell from his horse during a race a few days after making his comments.  As a result of the fall he sustained injuries including a broken arm and fractured shoulder, which prohibited him from racing for 2 months.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find horses across the country snickering in their stables tonight. Poetic justice? I think so.

Are you a horse-racing fan? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Selfies... them or loathe them, you can’t escape them.

You only have to log in to Facebook to see most of your friend list posing and pouting for the camera. But why have they become so popular?

Five years ago most people would never have heard the word ‘selfie,’ let alone have known what one was. Analysts say that the usage has risen by a staggering 17,000% over the last year.
This is because lots of celebrities started taking selfies and posting them online. Fans saw photos by the likes of Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Beyonce and started to take their own. Since then, the selfie craze has only got bigger.
2013 was dubbed ‘the year of the selfie’ and it was also the Oxford Dictionary word of the year.

It certainly seems that the selfie has become a firm fixture in the modern world.

Now you can get software that can add everything from filters to backgrounds into a selfie, and with apps like Instagram and SnapChat it has never been easier to share photos.

However, there is a lot of debate about the link between posting selfies online and cyber bullying. People argue that it promotes dissatisfaction and low self-esteem among teenagers, with bullies taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet to target vulnerable people.

Others say that selfies are a good thing as they can help to promote positive body image. One example of this is the body positive movement, which helps people accept and be happy with their body shape.

Now that selfies have become popular people are trying new and inventive ways to put their own twist on the craze. For instance, there are now selfies taken subtly by people at work, in cars, in school...not forgetting the ‘Selfie Olympics,’ where people competed to upload the most inventive selfie.

Arguably the most famous selfie is Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie from the Oscars, which now holds the Twitter record for the most retweeted post ever.

Despite all this, most selfies are still nothing more than harmless photos on social media.

Last year, the selfie of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service made news headlines across the world. It was heavily criticised for being inappropriate because of the circumstances, but they weren’t the only ones.

Until recently, there was a blog comprised of selfies people had taken at funerals. Submissions for the blog are now disabled, but this only happened because of the media’s interest.

Maybe this is a sign that the selfie craze has gone too far. Perhaps it’s time to stop the endless stream of photos and move on.

Besides, it won’t be long before a new trend emerges, and soon everyone will have forgotten about the humble selfie.

What are your thoughts on selfies? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday 8 April 2014

End to End - the ultimate British cycling challenge?

For years people have been cycling the length of the UK, from Cornwall’s Lands End to John O’Groats in Scotland. Nowadays it’s seen as the ‘done thing’ – you can’t really call yourself a keen cyclist unless you’ve done the trip. But why is it so popular? And is it really worth it?

To find out I talked to 29 year old Chris Magowan, who undertook the challenge in 2009.

“I loved it,” he told me. “It’s a brilliant way to see the country and I’d encourage anyone to give it a go.” 

Before the journey Chris wasn’t much of a cyclist. At the time he was living in a flat in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, with his friend Chris Kennedy. They were talking about all the things they’d been through together – GCSEs, A Levels, university – and they realised that they had completed everything they set out to do when they were at school, so didn’t have a target to aim for anymore.

So how did that lead to them doing End to End?

“Chris’ colleague Dan jokingly suggested the cycle, and Chris mentioned it expecting me to shoot it down but I said yes, and that was it. As far as I was concerned I was doing it.”

“We also thought it was a good opportunity to raise some money for a local charity. We managed to raise £2200 for the Hospice of St. Francis. I know several of the carers there and know they do a fantastic job - they need the support as the only funding they receive is through donations.”

Since he wasn’t cycling much at the time, Chris did a lot of training to prepare. He told me, “I trained quite a bit, gradually increasing the distances. I went from not riding a bike at all to cycling 10 miles to work.” 

Most people choose to go from Lands End to John O’Groats, but Chris did the trip the other way round, riding north to south. “Initially we decided to go north to south, purely because it sounded like going downhill. I spoke to someone who had done the cycle in both directions and he mentioned that the Cornwall/Devon section is the toughest due to the rolling hills.”

Despite enjoying the whole trip, Chris’ highlights were riding through the Scottish lochs and visiting Chester. “It was the end of our longest day and we walked into town to see all the old Tudor style buildings. Chester was a wonderful place to stay.”

It wasn’t all long days and hard work though, as Chris is quick to point out. “We did silly things to keep each other amused. One of my fondest memories is cycling up Rannoch Moor in the pouring rain singing ‘we all live in a yellow submarine.’ We also created a game of baa-ing at sheep when we passed a field. If we got a reply we got a point.”

It sounds like they had fun. “Except for Chris’ map-reading,” he laughs. “I map-read for the first 10 days but Chris began to whine that he was bored, so I let him map-read on day 11. Within half an hour we were lost in Bristol’s industrial area. After swearing never to let him map-read again, we had to climb over a fence and carry our bikes through a field to get back on the right road.”

They completed the 1024 mile trip in 15 days. “I was surprised how good I felt at the end. I would have been happy to turn around and go back!” He added he’d like to do the trip again, this time the opposite way around. 

So what’s next for Chris?

“I like the idea of cycling to Monaco for the Grand Prix...”

Chris also had some advice for people thinking about doing End to End. “Allow plenty of time to train and contact CTC (Cycle Touring Club) to review the different routes they have. It’s also useful to do a short trial run trip. But most of all, just go for it!”

Have you done the End to End challenge? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday 28 February 2014

Neknominations: fun, or stupid?

Last Updated: 13 June 2023

Neknomination videos have been virtually impossible to avoid on social media – if you’ve been on Facebook recently chances are you’ve seen at least one video.

This is the new online drinking game, particularly popular among students, that is currently storming social media. Once ‘neknominated,’ the participant has to down a pint (comprised of alcohol mixed with pretty much anything else the nominee has to hand). They then nominate others, who have 24 hours to complete their challenge and pass it on.

The game was reportedly started in Cambridge as early as 2008, but has since travelled all over the world, from Australia to Ireland, before returning to the UK. As it has gained popularity, increasingly bizarre videos have emerged. For example, one girl stripped off in a supermarket to do her challenge, and there have been incidences of people drinking everything from washing-up liquid to goldfish.
But is it just harmless fun?

Perhaps it started off that way, but it is becoming more and more dangerous as participants strive to make the best videos. This has resulted in people drinking often high amounts of damaging substances in harmful combinations. At the time of writing, 4 people have died in the UK and Ireland as a result of Neknominations.

But still people are continuing to do the challenge.

A worrying amount of peer pressure is involved with the game. There is a certain need to conform, and to prove yourself to others. In some circles, the more disgusting or dangerous the drink is, the more the drinker is respected.

However, some people are refusing to participate even if they are nominated. That includes me. I just don’t see the point of the game, especially when people have died because of it.

Obviously some people are more sensible about their choice of ingredients, but still – drinking a concoction of alcohol mixed with God knows what else really can’t be good for you. Some people put solid food like sweets in their drinks as well, which are just asking to be choked on.

However, not all Neknomination videos are like this. Recently a new trend of ‘Kindness Nominations’ have emerged. These are where people have been Neknominated but have decided not to participate, instead using their video for alternative purposes. One example is South African YouTube user Brent Lindeque, who used the money he would have spent buying alcohol to do something positive instead.

Neknomination videos will doubtless fall into obscurity soon enough, but videos like this just go to show how something negative can be easily turned into something positive. 

What do you think about Neknominations? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday 1 February 2014

Coriolanus at National Theatre Live: a cinematic success?

Aside from the 25th-anniversary concert of Les Miserables in 2010, Coriolanus was my first experience of seeing a play in the cinema. And did it disappoint? In a word: no. I was so drawn into the production it felt like I was actually there, and I had no problems ‘bridging the gap’ between the theatre and the cinema. I thought the play was brilliant.

All the actors played their roles well, from the hot-headed passion of Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus to the sly scheming of Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger’s tribunes. Mark Gatiss’ Menenius brought a welcome touch of humour, providing moments of light-hearted relief to ease the tension. Hadley Fraser, playing Coriolanus’ nemesis Aufidius, was another who played his part well, clearly demonstrating the changes in his character’s mindset throughout the course of the play.

The minimalist staging was an effective change to the tradition of lavishly elaborate sets often seen in Shakespeare plays. I found it a bit odd initially to have the actors who weren’t in the scene at the time sitting against the wall at the back of the stage, but I quickly got used to it.

In particular, I thought the shower scene was very effective because it showed us Coriolanus’ vulnerability. Also the effect created with the blood staining the water droplets red was exceedingly impressive visually.

One thing that did throw me a bit was the brief snatches of music in the transitions between scenes. The modern score was a bit jarring and I felt it didn’t really fit with the play at times. Similarly, I wasn’t overly impressed with the costumes. Some of the actors appeared to be wearing barely-adapted modern clothing, which I didn’t think worked well. Still, these are only minor things that didn’t detract from the overall high quality of the performance.

At the end of the play, some of the people around me in the cinema started to applaud, some didn’t, and awkwardness descended over everyone. Nobody really knew how to act. Of course in the theatre you clap at the end to show your appreciation. So why were people applauding actors on the cinema screen? In my opinion the boundaries blurred at the end. During the play you can pretend you’re in the live audience, but those imaginary walls break down when the play finishes and the audience rejoins reality.

Emma Freud’s interval interview with director Josie Rourke was interesting, if rather cringe-worthy in places. Did we really need to be reminded that the play starred MTVs “sexiest actor on the planet?”

However, the entertainment value of the interview paled in comparison with the cleaners sweeping the mess of fake blood, water, and whatever else off the stage. Granted, that doesn’t sound very interesting, but it was the topic of conversation all around me. I heard one woman remark to her companion, “I wonder how much money they waste on fake blood.”

Coriolanus: gruesomely gory, yet current, captivating, and definitely memorable.

Did you see Coriolanus? Let me know in the comments below!