A New Chapter

This week, I graduated university (in case you hadn’t noticed by my Twitter account…) – I walked confidently down the cathedral aisle, managed to stand proud on my rarely worn 5-inch heels, and shook hands with three men I’ve never met before. But one of the unemployed masses I will not be. After 5 months, 38 applications, and just 2 interviews, I’ve landed an incredible opportunity in the industry I’ve been dreaming of – starting on Monday. It might not be the role of a lifetime, but it’s the most fantastic way to begin my career, get my foot in the door, and really get stuck in to the world of publishing.

Regardless of what people often say to me, these achievements haven’t been easy, but they were always going to happen. In my life, academic success has been paramount, and I’ve always strived to be the best I could possibly be in all areas and subjects. As such, despite feeling disillusioned by my degree choice, to be leaving with a strong First was always my goal – I don’t know what I would have done had it not happened, but the fact that it did is a reminder of making each opportunity worth it. Combined with a higher-than-expected dissertation grade and being named the winner of the Garrick Club Library Prize, I have been overwhelmed by the recognition I have been given for my effort, despite the highs and lows. I haven’t coasted through life – it was determination and hard graft that got me where I am today, and I’m proud to admit it. It’s not arrogance, it’s an acceptance of what I’ve put in, and the rewards I can now reap from it.

Life is what you make of it. If you sit back and just let things float by, it’s unlikely that anything will truly fall into place – of course, these things do happen, and I know many people who just always seem to be in the right place at the right time to achieve well with minimal input. But I’ve always been one for pro-activity, putting yourself out there to get what you want. If you apply for everything, the odds will most likely end up favouring your attentiveness, and if you’ve been doing your best to gain relevant experience and personal skills, you’ll be even better.

So now I’m frantically shopping for office-friendly clothes, charging up my new Kindle (thanks mum and dad!), and preparing myself for the life of a commuter. It’s been a whirlwind romance, from first letter, a brief 40-minute interview securing my passion for the company, to an offer three days later to start as soon as possible, and the HR Officer letting slip that the managers were buzzing after we first met. I’ve had little time to get my head around it, but perhaps that’s for the best – after all, I am an avid over-thinker. Instead, I’m jumping in head-first, leaping from student- to adult-life without so much as a pause to take in the scenery. This is an exciting world we live in, and mine’s about to get a whole lot bigger…

Remembering Kilimanjaro

At this time of post-university limbo, it felt appropriate to reflect on one of my biggest achievements to date. Exactly a year ago today, my summit dream on Mount Kilimanjaro ended. At 5000m, after several hours of disorientation, fainting, and hallucinations, I was turned back suffering from altitude sickness. Hindsight is both a gift and a curse – I’ve never been able to quieten the very small voice asking whether or not it was really that bad, maybe I should have just pushed on. But when those guiding you, who have a wealth of experience and a far greater understanding of risk, tell you to go back down, I was powerless to say otherwise. After months of planning, fundraising, and preparing, I returned from the mountain unsuccessful, but healthy and alive.

It is with a strange, out of body, dreamlike view that I remember that trip – and rather than hindsight covering my eyes in a rose hue, I can remember the pain, struggle, and difficulty, but am beginning to appreciate my time in Africa more and more as the months move on. The week I returned, I vowed never to go back there. Now I can see it for what it was – an incredible experience that tested me on every level and one that I want to conquer for good. I now feel I have a far greater respect for mountains than ever before, knowing that for all the macho go-get’um in the world, sometimes you have to listen to what it’s telling you and stop. But it also revealed more about me than I ever thought, and not just during the trek.

Organised by a company for students, the hike was followed by an optional holiday to Zanzibar, one which I am very glad I chose. Zanzibar is by far the most beautiful country I have ever seen, with turquoise sea, pure white sand, and the most breathtaking sunsets – only marginally beaten by the views of the Milky Way from my night-time lavatory explorations from my tent. However, it also revealed to me a part of Africa that I was unprepared for; a culture we’d not been told about. I admit that I wanted a selfish, relaxing break after the mountain, and didn’t want to think about anything but the waves and my books. And for the majority of the time I did just that – but I hadn’t been prepared to feel so unsafe, so wary, and so lost at the same time. I can’t help but look at the pictures with a tinge of sadness at how uncomfortable I felt alone in my hotel room, the windows covered in mesh rather than glass, or lying on the beach with one eye always watching the people on the shoreline. My family all live in South Africa, where I was born, so I am of course aware of the differences between that continent and Europe. But it was a level of unease that jaded a lot of my memories, and is something I never want to feel again. It has put me off exploring similar countries any deeper than to enjoy their holiday resorts – yes, the scenery was idyllic and beyond any film, but that is as far as I now want to go.

Nevertheless, as I look back, still somewhat unbelieving, I can do so with a more educated eye – not shadowed with the romanticism of the mountain dream, nor completely corrupted by disappointment or fear. I can see it for what it was. The chance to test  every part of myself, spend two weeks with twenty incredible people who I now call my friends, and witness a whole different part of the world in the most intimate way. As I now spend my summer desperately awaiting job offers, feeling stuck in some kind of purgatory, it is nice to remember that I did achieve something great, pushed beyond my limits, and returned with a quiet determination. I can finally say, one day, I’ll do it all again…

Review: The Notebook

After I saw Quizoola! last year, I quickly realised that Forced Entertainment aren’t your traditional theatre company. In fact, they’re as far from traditional as I think I’ve ever come across. So when it was suggested to me that I go see another of their shows – The Notebook, part of this year’s LIFT festival – I thought “as long as it’s shorter than 12 hours, it might well be very interesting”. And I was definitely not disappointed. Set in the beautiful Council Chambers at the Battersea Arts Centre (oh how I love reclaimed old buildings), this play is a disturbing but intricately simple production.

Based on the 1986 novel by Hungarian writer Ágota Kristóf, it follows twin brothers evacuated to their impoverished Grandmother’s during World War Two. In an unspecified central European country, the boys uncover secrets, explore their surroundings, and attempt to understand the world around them in an increasingly off-kilter and matter of fact way.

The format of placing two actors on stage, in perfect symmetry, each reading from the eponymous object, would always run the risk of seeming rather dry. I admit that during the first paragraph I wondered whether this would be another longitudinal play that I’d have to suffer through – however, I was happily proved wrong. At the first description of Grandmother, we were laughing, and I realised I was in for something special. The structure didn’t differ that much during the 130minute piece (with no break I might add) – bar a few movements of chairs and just one occasion of actual ‘staging’, Robert Arthur and Richard Lowdon remained resolute in their story and frame.

It is in its simplicity that The Notebook holds its power. Throughout the piece I was engaged, and could probably draw Grandmother’s house if asked, complete with a blueprint of room layouts – testament to Kristóf’s writing. But Artistic Director Tim Etchells, who led the company-devised performance, did well to focus on the complexity of the words. The temptation could have been to fully portray what the boys went through, but it is the exact opposite that makes it such a poignant piece. At times we were laughing out loud; at others we were silent with grimaces on our brows and hands to our mouths. The experiences explained were done so in such a cold, unemotional way – the ‘notebook’ being the rule-laden composition exercises the boys set themselves to maintain their studies – that we were left wondering how many events like these really took place during the war, and how many more we will never even contemplate.

By turns heart warming, heart wrenching, and just downright uncomfortable, The Notebook is a powerful piece of theatre. Do not underestimate the effect of minimalist sets, wooden chairs, and red knitted jumpers. Nor that of Forced Entertainment to leave your mind fried.

The Dreaded Job Hunt

On the 7th June, my university career ended – I finished my three-day run of Caryl Churchill’s Fen, closed up my coursework folders for the last time, and sighed a sigh of relief once more about my dissertation marks and upcoming graduation. I still have a month to go before I get to throw that cap into the air, but I am finally relaxed, breathing in the summer, and relieved that the degree is all over.

Now begins another long journey – the one towards my chosen career, where my dreams, passions, and ambitions are to be tested and questioned, along with my patience. Since February this year I have applied for nearly 30 jobs of varying levels of practicality, likelihood, and interest. Being pro-active, my CV is thankfully bursting with relevant experience, and my fingertips filled with enthusiastic cover letters. However, now that studying is over and my part-time work is only providing half a dozen shifts a month, I begin the slow process of ever-increasing applications.

Job hunting is something that everyone dreads. It is filled with disappointment, frustration, and the tedious task of re-wording a cover letter as many times as possible in an attempt to remain enthusiastic. But what is keeping me going is the knowledge that I have found a career path that I am excited by, and that I am willing to work for. When I started university I didn’t really know where I was heading – I chose my degree because I enjoyed the subject, not because of its job prospects, and it was only through one bored summer where I got a placement at Penguin Books that I discovered publishing. It was one of those occasions where everything just clicked; the office was fun, every day was different, and even the mundane tasks were completed with a sense of satisfaction. Seeing a piece of text go from manuscript to publication is incredible, and to be a part of that journey has become an ambition.

That is undoubtedly the key – find something that excites you and keeps you interested, even at its most every day and boring. Similarly, if you haven’t found that niche yet, get some experience with a hobby you enjoy, and you might just find your calling. I emailed Penguin because I like books, and wanted to try something different. It wasn’t my intention to discover my profession, I just wanted to fill up a week. What’s the thing you do to relax? The activity you turn to when you’ve got free time? The place you dream of when you’re stuck with nothing to do? That might well be a good place to start.

So I continue to hunt – with a list of over 60 publishers to sift through daily, and increasingly creative ways to say “I’m really keen!”, my job hunt begins in earnest. In fact, just this morning I sent off number 28, possibly with my strongest cover letter yet. Watch this space… soon, I may be magnifying Editorial Assistant.

Book review: If I Could Turn Back Time

If I Could Turn Back Time is the story of Zoë Kennedy, a broken-hearted sales assistant whose dream is to become a fashion buyer, and redo the last 6 months so her dreamy surgeon boyfriend David doesn’t dump her. Just before Christmas, she might just get the chance.

Nicola Doherty’s book provides instant entertainment with little to distract. From the start her characters are relatable and at times cringingly close to home. Whilst not being the most complex of tales, nor the most enthralling storyline,  it nevertheless maintains your interest as you predict each coming chapter and are gratifyingly rewarded.

I would describe this as a very good holiday or downtime read – if you’re after something that gets you thinking, perhaps turn elsewhere. However if you’re looking for an inoffensive and amusing pastime, you can’t go far wrong. Fashion, unrequited love, and a bit of physics manipulation, If I Could Turn Back Time is a simple page tuner that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Set Your Mind Happy

Yet again, there has been a lull in my blog posts. But there is valid reason this hiatus – dissertation, final assignments, and a holiday in Wales have all taken hold of my time. I would apologise, but I’m not sorry that my life is busy and engaging, to the extent that I forgot to share, and long may that continue! The internet is full of articles all about positive thinking – how to train your brain, visualise your dieting results, think yourself happy. And a lot of the time, we read them over a lunch break and then move on. But I have discovered that for all the jargon, sunny stock images, and scientific justification, there is a huge element of truth to it, even if you don’t follow the studies or programmes.

The last few weeks and months are notoriously stressful for final year university students. End of year exams, projects, the dreaded dissertation. All whilst your loan is coming to an end, you’re suddenly faced with potential job prospects, and attempting to pay through the nose for graduation. But I set myself a target – to complete the dissertation to the best of my ability, and not run myself into the ground in the pursuit of its completion. And just like that, I made it happen. I’ll say it now – I’m not writing this to boast, “oh look how good I am at life!”, because I’ve not been good at life for the past 21 years, I’ve just managed to find a way to make this year better. Hopefully, you’ll find this a little bit useful in transforming your own days.

At the start of the year, I decided to never do uni work on the weekends. I would approach this last year as a 9-5 job, working during the week between lectures (after all, I only had 8 hours a week!), leaving myself with room to socialise and enjoy life. Even just this one small act freed up time to spend doing what I love – climbing, hiking, going away, and relaxing. I’ve never been a night-before person anyway, but that discipline and routine got things done quickly. Writing a realistic timeline for dissertation gave my mind goals, and seeing it written down gave the same results as ‘visualising’ the finished product. Each week I knew which section had to be completed, and by the Friday night I was sat atop 1000 more words. Continue reading

Book review: A God In Every Stone

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I know very little about the First World War, aside from a half-term at primary school looking at possible old bomb sites on a local field. I definitely knew nothing about the British Indian Army, or the affect the war had on the British colonies that still existed in the early 1900s. So when I picked up A God In Every Stone, I didn’t know what to expect – set around 1914, following the journey of an enthusiastic archaeologist battling male society, and a young Indian man returned home war-wounded, I naively thought this tale might be one of mysterious encounter and forbidden love. I was very wrong indeed. Kamila Shamsie, Granta Best of Young British Novelist 2013, spins intricate webs that intrigue, move, and draw you in deeper, until you’re left not entirely sure where you are.

Vivian Rose Spencer – Viv – is a young woman desperate to uncover the history cemented in the stones of Peshawar. Struggling to make her way as a female archaeologist; she strives to prove herself to her parents, her mentor Tahsin Bey, and society. Caught at the start of the war she balances her passion with her duty, and finds herself torn between the war-wounded men and the cry of falling statues. The trauma of the military hospitals leads her to abandon England in the hope of encountering once again her Turkish teacher and friend, a lone woman heading into tumultuous India. Little does she know what a misspent word might mean for the fate of Tahsin Bey, and what their dreamed future might really become.

Qayyum Gul is proud to be a part of the British Indian Army, and to fight at Ypres is a high honour. But his career is short-lived, and he eventually returns to his family with a glass eye and a chest full of remorse. Slowly, he becomes overtaken by the view of Civil Disobedience, desperate to teach his younger brother Najeeb that the English are not his friends. Meanwhile, Najeeb finds himself immersed in Greek words, tales of brave adventures, and the depths of the ground below his feet – under the kind eye of Viv, he grows both in intelligence and curiosity, mapping out a path towards museums and knowledge.

A God In Every Stone uncovers the remarkable story of Scylax, the warrior whose silver circlet becomes a source of conspiracy, greed, desire, and homage over centuries; culminating in a young boy discovering his passion for the long-lost in the dusty fields of ancient Caspatyrus, beneath the destructive nature of the war on society, community, and family. Kamila Shamsie entwines the empires of 485BC Persia, the Ottoman empire’s crumbling end, and colonial India, all amidst the turmoil of conflict. With incredible skill and attention to detail, this book is important to history lovers, those with religious curiosity, and anyone who maintains a romantic notion of the age of discovery. Do not hold it lightly, but dig deep into its recesses and reveal its myths for yourself.

 

Thank you Bloomsbury books and GoodReads for this review copy.