Book Review | Urge To Kill *Spoilers*

I was given this book in exchange for an honest review.

Urge to Kill, if you couldn’t guess by the name, is a crime/thriller novel. Set in my own town of Warwick, the novel follows newlywed DI Matt Turrell as he tries to keep up with a killer getting ever-closer to home. The novel also follows the killer, Clive Draper, as he draws in victims and makes his way to his ultimate target.

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Can Monkmania Change Views On Academia?

If you’re in the UK, you may have heard a new craze in the lead up to the University Challenge Final. I am, of course, talking about Monkmania – the love of Eric Monkman; Economics student, head of Wolfson College, Cambridge’s UC team and all-round genius. His eager attitude, facial expressions and sheer brainpower have won over the country.
Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that all the attention Monkman has garnered is positive; in fact, most probably like him “ironically”. They love to mock him, rather than genuinely love him. He’s a novelty that they’re probably already bored of at the time of publishing this. I put it to you, however, that this sudden wave of attention for University Challenge, Monkman himself and academia in general, could be good.

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Harry Potter and Social Issues -Could JK Rowling Have Gone Further?

It is undeniable that the Harry Potter series deals with social issues in many ways – they are written into the text in such a way that has shaped the way generations have and continue to view the world. Millions of young people have grown up with Harry, often looking to the Wizarding World for guidance. It is unsurprising, then, that as we and our society develop, that we both appreciate the ways the series explores social injustice and acknowledge the aspects that are unsatisfying. While the series tackles many issues in an immensely overt way, there are things that could be improved.

Hermione, for instance. In the current stage show, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hermione is played by Noma Dumezweni. Many were unhappy with the idea of a black actress playing her. Others however, myself included, feel that Hermione as a black woman adds to Hermione’s story. She faces racism in the wizarding world for her ‘blood status’ – she’s a muggleborn, which is frowned on by some “purebloods” – wizards born into wizarding families. She faces immense prejudice at the hands of Draco Malfoy and other purebloods, and in the film series has a racial slur, “mudblood”, carved into her arm by Bellatrix Lestrange (Deathly Hallows, Part 1).

Noma.jpg

Noma Dumezweni. Found here

In the novels, JK Rowling doesn’t specify the colour of Hermione’s skin. While I believe that writers should limit character descriptions and leave the reader to garner their own impressions of the characters, stating that Hermione had dark skin could have strengthened the impact her struggle with racism stronger.

Another aspect I feel could have been explored was Dumbledore’s sexuality. Rowling revealed on a book tour for the last novel in the series that Dumbledore was gay. Many LGBT+ people look to the series for it’s messages of acceptance and love, and relate to struggles such as Hermione’s. A gay character further opens up the world to LGBT+ people, however Rowling chose not to write in Dumbledore’s sexuality – at least not overtly. Of course it would be difficult to publish a children’s book, particularly in the 90s and early 00s, with an openly gay character – but considering the immense success of the Potter series, I seriously doubt sales would have been that affected if she had written it into one of the later novels.

In a book series that has taught me and so many others about acceptance, love and equality it is disheartening that some things like these examples that could have easily been included were left out. At the same time, the series isn’t solely a social commentary, and manages to balance discussion of several important issues with magic, dragons, mermaids, Dark Lords and even the odd Quidditch match. We can make several real life comparisons and learn a lot from the series, even if it isn’t perfect.

See you soon,

Ro x

Featured Image by Vondell Swain


Book Review – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

‘Love is not breathlessness; it is not excitement; it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love”, which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.’

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a novel by Louis de Bernieres. Set in 1940s Cephalonia, the novel explores the realities of love, life and war for the people of the island. This review will have spoilers but it was published the year I was born so I think it’s been around long enough!

I’ll admit that it took me a long time to finish this book. The writing is incredibly detailed and rich, and as a result can be quite difficult to get into. It’s certainly worth the effort though, and de Bernieres’ characters are incredibly realistic and multidimensional, as is his description of the island.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is for the most part almost like a collection of short stories, as opposed to one novel – it is told through various peoples’ viewpoints, which eventually overlap and merge into one story. Although it was hard to get into, it is easier to tackle if you read it part-by-part. This method of writing is an interesting one, and certainly something de Bernieres does well. In using different viewpoints to tell the story he not only keeps the writing interesting and varied for the reader, but also adds to the effect of the story. This way of writing builds up the world in a way that simple physical description can’t –realistically we all see the world in different ways, and de Bernieres’ characters are no different. Dr Iannis, for example, sees Cephalonia in a largely intellectual way; he sees history, his pride for his home is built on hundreds of years of imperialism and rebellion, survival and victory. Captain Corelli, on the other hand, has no such connection – he simply sees it as a beautiful island. He grows a connection to it, but one completely different to anyone else’s and unaffected by the history and ancestry Dr Iannis associates with the place.

In the same way, we see many different views on life and the war. De Bernieres’ characters are all sympathetic in some way – readers even find themselves sympathising with Gunter Weber, a German soldier who follows Nazi ideology quite firmly. In fact I think while reading it I found myself sympathetic to almost all of the characters – Mussolini and Hitler being obvious exceptions.

The setting of Cephallonia itself is an interesting one, and lends itself to incredibly tragic historical context. In 1943, the island was the location of one of the biggest prisoner of war massacres of World War Two, and yet it isn’t widely known about or discussed. The Massacre of the Acqui Division saw over 5000 Italian soldiers killed. De Bernieres uses Captain Corelli’s Mandolin to give a voice, not only to the island and normal people in the war, but also to those killed in this tragic event. It seems a shame to me that events like this aren’t put into history books, and that we often only see the facts and figures, rather than real stories. De Bernieres is an advocate for social history, and this is obvious throughout Corelli.

Okay, let’s get on to the unpopular opinions. The ending. I know a lot of people who love this book, and for the most part I agree, but I found the ending largely unsatisfying. I understand what de Bernieres was trying to do in separating and later reuniting Pelagia and Corelli, and I realise the effect that leaving the novel on a hopeful note has, particularly in a social commentary like this, but I’d almost have preferred the book to end without the reader knowing what happened to Corelli. Maybe I’m just cynical but it felt like de Bernieres was told to make the ending happier by his publisher. It’s been a few weeks since I finished it, and in that time I’ve come to terms with the ending and why de Bernieres chose to end it that way, but I still can’t say I like it, personally.

All in all, this is a brilliant piece of historical fiction and portrayal of smaller social groups in a largely generalised and politically regarded historical era. Corelli is realistic, funny and surprisingly optimistic. Maybe one day I’ll learn to love the ending. Maybe.

See you soon,

Ro x


It’s Not The Time.

I know I’m supposed to be posting a creative piece today, but this is just so much more important. I’m so saddened by the attack in Orlando and confused by some reactions to this that I couldn’t just carry on like normal today – creative piece will happen later on in the week.

As I’m sure you’re all aware, last night 50 people were killed and 53 injured in a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando. A place that was considered “safe” for LGBT+ people to embrace and celebrate who they are was attacked. My heart is so heavy and while I started writing this angrily, it’s just turned into more sadness over the loss of life.

In a situation like this, you expect people to mourn. You expect Facebook news feeds, Twitter feeds, WordPress readers to be full of people paying their respects. Of course I saw many of these sorts of posts – there’s an awful lot of sadness and an awful lot of anger, as there should be. I also unfortunately keep seeing people making the comment that it “doesn’t matter” that these people were LGBT+, and that “all lives matter”. A lot of people are comparing it to the Paris shootings.

This attack was not just a terror attack. This was a hate crime – as Owen Jones so rightfully put it, it’s comparable to someone walking into a religious building and open firing. This wasn’t an attack on anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time as in the Paris shootings. The victims of this attack didn’t happen to be LGBT+. The attacker knew most if not all people in there would be LGBT+. It cannot be denied that this was a homophobic attack.

It matters that the attacker targeted a certain group of people. It should be a no-brainer that this matters. It doesn’t mean that these peoples’ lives are any more or less important than any others, nor does it mean that the Paris shootings are any more or less tragic. It matters because the LGBT+ community have fought for so long just for the right to exist, and this has been taken away by one man with a gun. It matters because no one should have to fight for the right to stay alive and safe, especially in their own communities.

I could go on and on about how oppression works and what the impact of this attack will be etc, etc, but this isn’t the time. This isn’t the time to tell people to calm down. This isn’t the time to pick fights. This is the time to support the LGBT community and appreciate that people all over the world are grieving. Don’t make it worse.

Ro x

 


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.