Review: Welcome to Night Vale

Before we get into today’s post, a quick announcement: Always in the Write has Facebook and Goodreads! Like us on Facebook here and follow us on Goodreads here. Now back  to our usual scheduling! Ro x 

‘And now a brief public service announcement. Alligators: can they kill your children? Yes.’ – Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 1 ‘Pilot’

Welcome to Night Vale is fortnightly podcast. It is in the format of a community radio for the fictional American town of Night Vale, hosted by Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin). There are currently 89 episodes as I’m writing this, along with 7 bonus episodes and separate live performances that are available to purchase separately.

The podcast is free to listen to and ad-free. It usually starts with co-creator Joseph Fink discussing tour dates, merchandise and other Night Vale related updates, and ends with a brief message and proverb from Meg Bashwiner. There are many guest voices, including Wil Wheaton as Earl Harlan, Mara Wilson as The Faceless Old Woman and Retta as Old Woman Josie. It is available on iTunes, via their website or YouTube channel, on most podcast apps and more (see their website).

I must admit, I’m not actually up to date on the show. I started listening when there were about 25/30 episodes and unfortunately didn’t have time to catch up and keep up to date with them. I pick it up every few months or so but I’m yet to catch up. This past week however I’ve been listening to it a lot – I’ve had a lot of packing/tidying/unpacking/tidying to do, and it makes a nice change from listening to the same playlist over and over again, as I’m prone to do. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to episode 76. Each episode is around 25-30 minutes long, including the introductions and proverbs.

When listening to previous episodes of the show, especially if you’re binging as I tend to do, the introductions do get boring – the announcements are out of date and same-y, but you have to remember that the show is only released every two weeks and wasn’t really meant to be binged. The introductions aren’t very long, however, and break up listening quite nicely; so it’s not all bad.

I realise I’ve written 300 words of this review without actually reviewing anything! So, here goes. The show is darkly funny, which suits my sense of humour perfectly. Science fiction is quite hit and miss for me, however Night Vale seems to get it just right. It isn’t too complicated, and yet paints a picture of the town brilliantly. Despite the plots and events being told mostly retrospectively by our host, Cecil, Welcome to Night Vale manages to find the balance between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ the audience well. The show aims to mix the supernatural, horrific and down-right weird with everyday life, and does so in a charmingly amusing way. It dips into the serious and profoundly philosophical matters of the meaning of life, humanity’s place in the universe and other such topics, but never for too long without returning to light-hearted comedy. For me, Welcome to Night Vale is reminiscent of the original radio performances of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and is following a similar path in the publication of the Night Vale novel last October.

The format of a podcast is a really interesting one for storytelling, and Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor use it incredibly well. Using the premise of a radio show is a convenient and effective way to use podcasting. The different segments keep it organised but interesting, and add separate aspects to the podcast as well as the main plotline for the episode. Episodes often revolve around a certain event, for example, but this is broken up by segments such as horoscopes, sponsor messages, an advice section, traffic updates and of course, the weather.

The weather segment is a song performed by a different independent artist every episode, providing exposure for new and budding artists from many different genres – even though the show revolves around similar plots and the same characters, you never know what you’re going to get with the weather. Although they are currently fully booked for the next year, they do take music submissions when they can; listeners are able to contribute to the show and get exposure for their work. Fink and Cranor truly go out of their way to support fellow independent creators in everything they do, Night Vale related and otherwise. This year saw the creation of Night Vale Presents, described on their website as;

The Night Vale Presents network continues Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink’s mission to encourage new, independent podcasting from writers and artists who haven’t worked in the format before. More podcasts will follow under the Night Vale Presents network in 2016 and 2017, both from the Night Vale artistic team and from other artists with a similar vision for independent, original podcasting.’

Not only is Welcome to Night Vale a great show that supports independent artists, but is also very diverse and inclusive. Cecil Baldwin, our host, is openly gay, and the cast and characters are diverse in age, race, gender and sexuality. In a town where a five-headed dragon runs for mayor and a Glow Cloud (allll haillll) is the head of the PTA, it’s difficult to be prejudiced. Unless you’re from rival town Desert Bluffs, no one really cares who you are.

Welcome to Night Vale is a well-established podcast now, and so may be difficult to catch up on, but I’d definitely recommend giving it a go, for several reasons. It is a brilliant show and a fantastic success story for independent creators, which is giving back to the independent arts community in many ways. If you do want to listen but are behind, don’t panic! Most episodes can be listened to as stand-alone plots, and they recently released a catch-up episode for the last few episodes. There are long-standing jokes and mentions of previous plotlines, however these are largely explained enough for new listeners to understand as well.

In the words of the Night Vale website: Turn on your radio and hide.

See you soon,

Ro x

Why Are We So Averse To Poetry?

I recently finished reading Dart by Alice Oswald (Review here). Dart is a narrative about the River Dart in Devon. It is also a 48 page long poem. If you’d have told me even a few months ago that I’d be able to sit and read 48 pages of poetry and actually enjoy it, I’d definitely have laughed at you. It’s not that I don’t like poetry- I love it- but the idea of a poem that long is definitely off-putting. It sounds daunting, and like a lot of effort, as any poem that long would, but you’d be surprised. It seems to me that a lot of us have an aversion to reading poetry of any length – I suppose many people believe that it has to be difficult to understand and inaccessible, but this simply isn’t the case.

I think most people first experience ‘traditional’ poetry in school – poets like Dylan Thomas, Keats and T.S Eliot are probably what springs to mind if you were to ask most people what poets they’ve read; along with images of boring English lessons in stuffy classrooms (if my A Level teachers are reading this, I love you and remember that I did an English degree because of you – bear with!).

GCSE Anthology
Just looking at it makes me panic and I sat my GCSEs 5 years ago!

What most people forget is that this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of poetry. Poetry isn’t just the GCSE anthology or Shakespearean sonnets. If you don’t enjoy this kind of poetry, there’s plenty more out there. Poetry can be fun and light hearted, and even for children – take this excerpt from Roald Dahl’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf’:

’That’s wrong!’ cried Wolf.
‘Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.’

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, ‘Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.’

Of course, a lot of poetry is serious, and for adults, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. The first time I properly felt like I engaged with ‘grown up’ poetry was in listening to a spoken word performance by Sarah Kay, entitled ‘B’ (If I Should Have A Daughter) (the actual poem ends at about 3:40 in this video). Yes, it’s a little bit pretentious, but it’s so engaging and optimistic. Poetry can be simple and fun, as well as deep and thought provoking.

Spoken word poetry also allows theatricality and performance to become part of the poem – it becomes more three dimensional. In the discussion after she performs, Kay mentions her introduction to spoken word poetry, and the ‘indignant’ first poem she ever performed, as a fourteen year old. I think if anyone thinks about teenagers writing poetry they probably think of angsty goth kids writing about death and destruction – but this isn’t the case either. Take these four girls, for example. ‘Halloween’ is political and yes, indignant, but it makes a point in an engaging way.

Sarah Kay
Sarahhh ❤ 

Poetry is powerful and unlimited, and can be about anything. Poetry can touch you in the same way that prose or music can, so why is there such an aversion to it? I believe everyone could find a poem that speaks to them in some way, even if that poem is simply an Edward Lear limerick that makes you laugh. Poetry doesn’t have to be complicated and elitist, and we don’t have to be scared to read it. Like most literature, poetry reflects life back to us; this might not be obvious in Romanticist poetry or Breton lais, but it’s by no means an art form that should be written off, if you’ll pardon the pun, just because we don’t always enjoy studying it at school.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites;

‘Still I Rise’ – Maya Angelou
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/still-i-rise/

‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ – W.B Yeats
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/he-wishes-for-the-cloths-of-heaven/

‘OCD’ – Neil Hilborn
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnKZ4pdSU-s

‘Pangur Bán’- Anonymous
https://www.ling.upenn.edu/~beatrice/pangur-ban.html

 

http://poet.tips/ – This is a really cool website I found yesterday if you’re struggling to find new poets to read. You can type in the name of a poet you like, and the website will give you a list of recommendations for similar poets to check out!

See you soon,

Ro x

PS – I know this is two days late and I need to stick to my own schedule!!
PPS – Featured image & image of Sarah Kay taken from videos linked above.

TV Review – House Of Cards: Pilot (minor spoilers!)

I know, I know, I’m four seasons late to the party on this one. I’d seen it on Netflix before, but never chosen to watch it for various reasons; mostly because a lot of my Netflix choices are often light-hearted comedies and easy-to-binge favourites. As a student I preferred things I didn’t have to think about a lot of the time – that I could work while watching or just sit and relax with. House of Cards has been sat in my to watch list for a long time, and now I have the time to fully commit to it I figured I may as well review it in the process. Also, before you say it, yes I should’ve read the novels first – but in fairness to me, I didn’t know it was a book series until the title sequence!

house-of-cards-kevin-spacey

The show begins with a dog getting hit by a car. Enter Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and the first of his infamous monologues, spoken as he strangles the dog. As a dog lover, killing one in the first scene of the show wasn’t exactly going to get me on side – but even I must admit it got my attention, and provided a powerful premise to the rest of the episode. Underwood is set to become Secretary of State under the newly elected president; however at the last minute another man is given the position. This triggers the cut-throat, yet measured attitude shown at the start of the programme – Frank doesn’t get angry, Frank calmly plans his revenge and acts carefully.

So far, the show is well written and cleverly done. I’ve heard a lot of good things, and I can see why it is so popular. Frank Underwood reflects the opinions many of us hold of politicians – he is jaded and sly, his morals are questionable and his goals are entirely selfish. Yet, he’s still incredibly likeable. His smooth talking, Southern charm appeals to us and although on paper I shouldn’t be able to stand him, there’s something that makes him a compelling protagonist.

I haven’t seen the British version, and as I said I didn’t know it was based on a book series, so my knowledge of the show is mostly limited to what’s in this episode. The pilot is interesting and well-paced, and has left me intrigued and wanting to find out more. I don’t think I’ll be able to binge watch it in one sitting, but I’m certainly hooked.

Girlguiding UK: 106 Years Old and Still Going Strong

Girlguiding is, as the title suggests, an organisation for girls and young women aged 5-25. The Guide Association started here in the UK, however has spread across the world. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) boasts 10 million members in 144 countries. In the UK alone there are around 450,000 young members (aged 5-25), as well as many adult members who volunteer their time and resources regularly. As it stands, about a quarter of all 8 year old girls in the UK are Brownies, and Girlguiding as a whole is the largest youth organisation for girls in the UK.* Why is it, then, that people still ask me if it’s needed?

This is a matter that is incredibly close to my heart. I joined Brownies aged 8, just before a particularly difficult time in life. We won’t go into details, but Brownies provided a place where my self esteem wasn’t constantly taking blows to the head – and I just didn’t get that anywhere else. I didn’t go to Guides, purely because although my confidence had improved, the Guider for my Brownies’ sister unit was terrifying. Skip forward 4 years or so and I joined Rangers – right in time for the Centenary year. When I was 17 I started helping one of my Ranger leaders at a Rainbow unit, and a little over a year ago I started my training to become an adult leader for Brownies with a unit here in Aberystwyth. I started as a tiny, shy little girl and now I’m a slightly less tiny, much more confident Tawny Owl! Guiding has given and still gives me so much, and I love giving back by volunteering with them – which is why it is so frustrating that people cannot see all the hard work this organisation does.

Brownie
Believe it or not, I was 10 in this photo.

Now, I know this seems hypocritical considering last week I was writing about how gender is unimportant in literature. Unfortunately in reality, however, we live in a male-dominated, sex-driven society which is often unwelcoming to young girls. Girlguiding allows for any self identifying females to have a safe space in which to develop, learn and just have fun away from their male peers. Of course, that isn’t to say that girls can’t be just as mean-spirited, domineering and competitive with each other – but a network of girls and women all over the world supporting each other and working together can only help stamp out the negativity nurtured by modern media in favour of celebrating other females.

Perhaps it is the organisation’s age that leads people to believe we’re insignificant – 106 years is a long time, and when mothers, grandmothers and even the Queen were members, it hardly seems cool now. People seem to think that Girlguiding hasn’t changed in that time; that we’re outdated, unchanging and disconnected from the modern world. Why is it then that The Scout Association, an even older organisation of a similar nature, doesn’t get the same questioning? Correct me if I’m wrong, but personally I’ve never seen any of my Scouting friends asked why their organisation is still around.

Yes, members may be taught traditional skills like cooking and crafting, but the point of the organisation when it was started was to allow girls to do everything boys could – and this still stands. Girlguiding offers girls the chance to go camping, try new sports, build fires, learn first aid and survival skills and so much more. At the core of leadership training is the girls themselves and how to involve them in decision making and building the term’s programme. Each section has different ways of doing this – Brownies have ‘pow-wows’, for example; not my favourite terminology, I’ll admit, but it is essentially sitting down with the girls and giving them the chance to tell us what they want to do more of.

Rangers
We apparently just wanted to pose.

 

A gendered organisation like this is intrinsically political. Guiding embraces this by allowing their members to discuss serious issues that affect them and the world around them. Senior Section members (aged 14-25) can train to become Peer Educators, and teach local units of all sections about a range of topics that interest and affect them, including sex and drug education, self- esteem and body confidence discussions and most recently mental health and wellbeing. These sessions are tailored for most if not all sections, and so girls as young as 5 are being taught about serious issues in a way that is accessible and understandable, and comes from other girls as well as adult leaders.

In a perfect world, this organisation wouldn’t be necessary. In our world, however, a world in which women are consistently dominated and silenced, even just in simple conversations, Girlguiding gives girls the space to develop and use their voices. Don’t try and tell me that that’s not something to be proud of.

Do you have a Guiding/Scouting story? I want to hear it, let me know in the comments!

See you soon,

Ro x

* Figures were found here.