Thursday, 1 February 2018

Oh, the Places: The Elephant House

I first visited Edinburgh last July. It was at the height of summer, when A Level results were still just under a month away and my soul was craving adventures into uncharted territory. My family had been planning to holiday in Scotland for several years, and it was one of the things that I'd hoped to tick of my 18 before 18, but alas. However, 2017 was the year we finally got the ball rolling, and soon enough, we had set foot in Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh was somewhere that I'd always wanted to visit, but above anything else, I desperately wanted to see The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote and edited Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. As someone who aspires to be an author themselves, and as someone whom Harry Potter has so heavily impacted upon, it felt personally necessary to head to The Elephant House at least once during my five days in Scotland. In the end, we ended up sticking our heads in once in the evening, when it was too packed to even comprehend queueing, and we breakfasted twice in there. Those two mornings, in particular the first, in which we got a spot in the for once empty cafe, looking across to Edinburgh Castle, is a memory I cannot help but treasure. As a writer and a Potterhead, this is a place you can't not visit. 

Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wanderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her small English city.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Best Books of 2017

So 2017 has proved to be a weird year for my reading. I completed my Goodreads Challenge 2 weeks before the end of the year... and even then, that was dragging myself to the end. Normally I surpass my Goodreads goal by several books. This year? I'll be seriously impressed if the books I actually need to read for my degree have been read by the time this post goes live. My mental health took a huge toll in October, and nosedived from there onwards, meaning I wasn't reading for pleasure, and was seriously struggling to read for my degree, too. However, whilst this has been the case, there were a handful of books that I loved during 2017, which, naturally, I have to share with you. These were my favourite books of 2017...

1. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Oh this was soooooo good. I don't think I ever have flown through nearly 700 pages of utter wonder at such pace, and I doubt I ever will again. I, known Harry Potter obsessive, couldn't even get through Order of the Phoenix this fast. Over the course of the trilogy, I'd become so invested in these characters and this world that at every plot twist here I was left reeling, sometimes needing to put the book down for hours at a time out of sheer emotion. And, on top of everything else, it wrapped up beautifully. The perfect ending to an astonishingly good trilogy. REVIEW
Read in July

2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi 
I don't think I ever expected to love Persepolis anywhere near as much as I did. The artwork isn't necessarily in a style that appeals to me, which is interesting given the graphic novel format, but the content and the story that was told mattered in my eyes so much more. Persepolis opened my eyes to a fragment of history which isn't discussed and is far from talked about, and did so from the perspective not of a wikipedia writer or history graduate, but of someone who lived through this time and can give a refreshing, eye-opening account of her life in Iran. This taught me about a time I ashamedly knew nothing about, and made me increasingly aware of this period of history, so for that I'm exceptionally grateful. 
Read in April

3. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Now, looking back nearly a year on, I find it hugely ironic that I was so reluctant to pick A Darker Shade of Magic up. It's fantasy, it's historical - both elements that prior to this I generally tended to avoid. V.E. Schwab has a way with words that is an intimate, charming magic, whispering to the reader in the same manner as wanderings of the mind. It's dark, as stated by the title, but the humour, the characters, and the emotional development that occurs over the course of the novel is striking. Also: parallel universes, magic, and a masquerade ball, how could I not love this? REVIEW
Read in February

4. The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace

Coming from a similar vein to Rupi Kaur's Milk and Honey, which was in my 2016 favourites, it's understandable that I loved this collection. I bought this in the interval between parts of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child back in August, mainly for the dedication to "The Boy with the Lightning-Shaped Scar." The Princess Saves Herself in this One is a collection that will haunt me for a long time to come. It isn't the most embellished or lyrical poetry, but it packs a punch, and speaks to the soul in a way that often rendered me speechless. I loved this so much that I wrote a book review of it as part of my poetry portfolio for the first semester of my degree, that's how good this was. I will dive into this again and again, whether looking for inspiration for my own writing, or for motivation in every capacity of life. Just beautiful. 
Read in September 

5. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Contrary to many who read Miller's The Crucible for A Level English Literature, my final A Level text was Death of a Salesman. This play seems to generally acquire a widely mixed, mediocre response, and more people I know than don't said they hated this. Personally, I was shocked by how poignant and gently beautiful Death of a Salesman was. It isn't an easy read; it's harsh and bitter and is buckling under the pressure of post-war capitalism in 1940s America. Though the premise seems bleak and basic, this play is deep beyond face value, and I doubt I'll ever read anything quite like it again. (Not to mention the fact that I ended up with an A for A Level English Literature, which may have helped solidify and reaffirm my love for Miller's play.) REVIEW
Read in March/April

6. As I Descended by Robin Talley
Since reading The Lunar Chronicles several years ago, I've fallen deep in love with retellings. However, until reading As I Descended, I'd never read a retelling of Shakespeare, and now having done so, I can't believe I waited so long. I knew from the start that I'd love this book; Talley's debut, Lies We Tell Ourselves was one of my favourite books a few years ago, but I didn't realise just how much. As I Descended not only gives wonderful ethnic and LGBTQ+ representation (finally some accurate bisexual representation), but is incredibly chilling, creating the perfect atmosphere for a Macbeth retelling set in a Virginia private school. Please just read this!
Read in August 

7. A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
This had far too many moments in it that rung eerily true of my own past experiences with anxiety, and yet was really educative on areas that I hadn't really considered before, such as selective mutism. A Quiet Kind of Thunder perfectly hits what its like to be shy and also to be scared to speak among people you're not familiar with, and it was weirdly comforting to see this from a perspective that was outside of my own head. For a while I was worried that this was going to go down the path of "your head is a mess, but don't worry, love will solve everything!" but A Quiet Kind of Thunder actively went against this. It shows and promotes that love won't solve a mental illness, it can be an added bonus on the side, but love isn't the answer - and I appreciate the distancing from traditional YA tropes there.  REVIEW
Read in April

8. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

The latter quarter of 2017 brought the start of my degree majoring in English Literature, and whilst there was a heck of a lot of books I read for my modules that I sadly didn't enjoy, I really really loved J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. It's problematic, and I have my qualms on every page, especially surrounding the context of the time's ideas on gender, but nonetheless, this is a wonderful tale of escapism and fantasy for any reader, regardless of this being categorised as a children's book. 
Read in October

Friday, 5 January 2018

2017: A Year in Review

January is usually a pretty terrible month, coming off the high that is Autumn and the festivities of December, but this month was possibly the most social I've been... ever?! I don't think I've ever had so many interactions with friends in such a concentrated time before (then again, I've never had this many friends before either so...). I had a pretty easy time getting back into the swing of work for college, even though the stress of exams was beginning to simmer under the surface. Then of course, there was La La Land ... it killed me... as in, the soundtrack is the only thing that I listened to for an entire week. Additionally, I got my last two offers from universities I'd applied to - my fourth choice and then my fifth. After that everything got a little complicated when I found out that I couldn't put my second choice as my insurance because it was an unconditional offer. As I write this I have no idea what the fuck I'm going to do... Bangor is my firm choice and always will be, but unless York St John are willing to compromise, I don't know what to put for my insurance. (I worked it all later, says 2018 Holly, but the stress was unneccessary) Wrapping up a rather chaotic month, my MuggleNet internship got a month extension! 

February was a month where I did so much and experienced so much more than I could have possibly predicted for the dregs of winter. The stress was starting to increase a little as predicted ahead of exams in June, and on top of that I was trying to secure my job at MuggleNet. My eighth and ninth articles were my final chances to show what I'm capable of, and that made me really just how much I wanted this job. At the very end of the month, I actually got hired as a member of permanent staff for the site, so for now at least, I'm there to stay! Speaking of Harry Potter, my friends and I won a ridikkulusly hard quiz at our local Harry Potter Book Night, gaining Waterstones gift cards as our prize (not to forget the glory). I still don't know how we managed it... The month proceeded on to be one of seeing friends time and time again, and attending book events; one for Stephanie Garber and another for Maggie Harcourt.  In the final few days of the month, I attended an applicant day for my first choice university: Bangor University and got another chance to indulge in Hogwarts buildings, seagulls, sea spray, and views of the mountains - everything I adore in one!
Also:: I saw two pretty excellent films this month: Moana and Hidden Figures (which is a new favourite of mine) - you should check them out! 

What started out looking like fairly busy month became busier by the day in March. On the first day of the month, I officially started my job as a member of staff at MuggleNet! This had been a dream of mine for years that'd I'd never expected to happen, and yet there I was. IT was also the month that I started being a blogger for events at my local Waterstones - starting off with Samantha Shannon! Then after a couple of weeks in the quiet depths of revision, I had what may have been the busiest 10 days I've ever experienced, involving an applicant day at my insurance choice - York St. John University, and travelling to London twice. The first of these was a rather unexpected surprise invitation from Amber to be her plus one to the preview event of the Forbidden Forest at Warner Bros Studio Tour London, and so I finally got to visit my favourite place again, and this time with a friend! Being there late in the evening and getting to wander around when it was quieter and darker was so fun, and we got to see things that we hadn't expected to, such as Privet Drive. The day was tainted by the fact that we were caught near the Westminster Terror Attack when that was going on, but nevertheless that didn't stop us returning a few days on. Later that week, we were back in London again for the March for Europe anti-Brexit protest, and of course the House of MinaLima, Foyles and Veggie Pret. This was both Amber & I's first protest, and if the opportunity arose, I'd do it again. After the wind down from this week, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was FINALLY released on DVD, and from the moment I had the DVD in my hands, it quickly became my revision reward. 

April was mad. Of course, it was revision packed, but at the same time, it was a month filled with unexpected encounters and new experiences. Early on, I had the opportunity to once again blog an event for my local Waterstones; this time the incredible Angie Thomas on The Hate U Give. Aside from this the month was generally quiet aside from the stacks of revision and the few days where I went on "revision based trips." Over Easter, as part of my Wuthering Heights revision, my mum and I went to Haworth to visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum, and then a week later I headed to Shakespeare's Globe to see Othello with Amber. The day was mainly spent with sore feet because I wore the wrong shoes, exploring the British Museum (naturally, I got to London too early), and visiting the Platform 9 3/4 shop at Kings Cross Station. 

Honestly? I'm very surprised that I managed to pull through May. Bar leaving the house twice (once for seeing Patrick Ness with my friend Lottie, and once for book club), I was a hermit in the depths of revision. I was doing 10 hours a day, every day, minimum. It seems extreme, but it was obsessive and was the only way I ever truly felt okay with myself. I also voted for the first time, in my city metropolitan elections (my side won, which I must say was an added bonus). It was the hardest month I've faced in years, and between the night panic attacks and recurring meltdowns, I'm genuinely shocked that I've made it to a point where I'm on the other side of it all and have hours of the day I've not seen since January. There was also a terrorist attack in my city, and that knocked the wind out of me for a bit. As I wrote in the aftermath, it was hard to deal with, and made Manchester feel more like a house than a home. As you can gather, it truly was a crappy month, but nevertheless, I pulled through stronger for it. 

June was a fairly mixed month, as until the 9th, I was sitting exams, some of which went well, and some of which - through no fault of my own but through the fault of the exam board - went not so great. I spent most of that week having bad panic attacks, encountering a serious lack of sleep, and studying until the early hours of the morning ahead of said exams to make sure I had the information down. In the midst of this on my one day break that week from exams was the General Election, which turned out horifically. Astonishingly, I managed to avoid any form of results until 3pm when I finished my final exam and met up with a friend for coffee afterwards, but it was still such a disappointment. The next couple of weeks, whilst experiencing the immense relief of being on summer and taking a break for a while, were mainly spent sleeping, and recovering from the months spent without really looking after myself from stress. I like exams, I always have, but I was simultaenously very glad of a break until University commenced. The remainder of June was spent adjusting to the sudden amount of endless days without few committments that I now had, and loving having the time to read, go outside, and write again. In the final few days, I got really ill, which was probably delayed exhaustion, but prior to that my friends and I participated in a Harry Potter 20th Anniversary Quiz Night, and didn't do too badly. Finally, going back to 9th June, this was the month in which I left college, which was sad for the end of lessons and some friendships that were built up, but also happiness for it meant the next step was around the corner. 

July on the whole was incredible. Always my busiest month, 2017 was no exception to this. Whilst still trying to adjust to the summer, I decided to fill as many days as I could with things to do, including reading. I don't think I'd read as much in a month up until that point all year, and that included one of my favourites of 2017: 666-pages-long A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. Additionally, July was when I finally saw Wonder Woman. I'd never seen a superhero film before this for reasons that even I don't know, but this was spectacular, and good enough that the next week I went again to see it with Lottie. Aside from this the rest of the month was consumed by travelling. My friend Jess & I went to Matt Haig's Manchester book signing in mid-July, and following this, a week later I headed to Edinburgh for five days. Until then, I'd never been to Scotland before; so another country ticked off the list and intense wanderlust once again fulfilled! I rarely go on holiday to cities, and rural, costal areas like Wales are far more suited to my taste, but Edinburgh was a beautiful city that I'd happily revist again. Admittedly a lot of my time there was spent trying to find Harry Potter sites, including breakfasting in The Elephant House and going on Edinburgh's "Potter Trail" which was fantastic. I even raced to pick up my copy of the official script edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child just before we headed back to Manchester. Overall, it was a lovely few days away and a good distraction from the current A Level results anxiety looming over me. At the end of the month, Lottie and I headed down to London for YALC/LFCC which was amazing, and consisted of endless hours of books, missing our train home, FINALLY meeting Gee, seeing Amber and Hannah, and in a total struck of luck of managing to get a ticket, meeting Dan Fogler aka Jacob Kowalski from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them... why yes, I did lose the plot. 

August was simultaneously gruelling and amazing. It was the month that changed everything. At the beginning of the month I went with my friends to V.E. Schwab's Manchester book signing, totalling the number of times Lottie and I had seen her in a week to 3. She's always so lovely and answered all our questions - what more could you ask for from one of your favourite authors? However, following on from and underneath this was the constant anxiety of A Level results looming. I spent the first half of the month constantly on edge and frightened for what the outcome would be. Then on the 10th of August, I got 2 out of 3 of my results through: English Literature and Sociology. Whilst I had done amazing in both results and that would definitely help me stand a chance at getting into the university I wanted to attend, I was still scared on the basis that my Media Studies exam had gone horrifically. 17th August was a day that I knew would be the happiest or the worst I'd ever encountered, and thankfully it was the former because I got an A in Media Studies, meaning I'd overachieved what I needed to get and thus had got into Bangor University! The feeling of having achieved what I had so desperately desired was immense, and the day was celebrated by going for lunch with my mum and dinner with the family. The day was amazing, but it was slightly tainted by the fact that I discovered I had one day less before move-in than originally told, and it unsettled me in the sense that suddenly I couldn't value time at home more if I tried. A couple of weeks later, and I was back in London; this time for a solo trip I'd been planning for years. I think this was pivotal for me trusting myself and having faith in myself that I can push the boundaries of my anxiety. Exhibit A: I'm terrified of the London Underground, but day 2 and I did it alone, then day 3 navigated 3 changes alone. Day 1 I forced myself to leave my hotel and walk into central London. I love London, spending time there travelling around book shops and so much history, but I know that I could never live there. Those 4 days, especially the first 3 alone were so great for pushing myself, and also for doing what I wanted to do in London, no strings attached. For example, I went to the British Museum 3 times, walked the length of Hyde Park, visited the Natural History Museum, and spent a ridiculous amount of time in Foyles. But above all, the most wonderful thing about those days was Wednesday 30th, when I FINALLY SAW CURSED CHILD! I couldn't have fallen more in love with the production if I tried, and I got to see their 500th show! Everything was, to fulfull cliche, so utterly magical, and I was left feeling speechless. From the moment the play started, tears were streaming down my face, and I cried for the majority of Part 1 Act 1, and Part 2 Act 2.  

September commenced on a day that I'd been waiting for for years. 1st September 2017: 19 Years Later. For me, this was practically a religious day, and I spent the entirety of it with Lottie and Gee travelling around central London and, of course, being at Platform 9 3/4 at 11 o'clock. To be around so many Harry Potter fans, for such an immense, significant moment, was so unbelievably special in a way that I'll never be able to truly explain. Following my return from London, I had two weeks of spending remaining time with family, finalising paperwork, and then packing for university. The weekend of the 16th-17th September were probably the hardest couple of days of my life, with moving to Bangor on the Saturday, and then my family leaving to head back to Manchester without me on the Sunday. Studying at Bangor was all I'd been working for, but the moment they left and the hours before and after that were brutal. Then freshers week happened, which was insane, chaotic and exhausting, and I ended up with freshers flu right as I officially started my degree at Bangor University. Overall, September was a manic rush to the senses of displacement, excitement, anxiety, and adjustment whilst trying to make new friends in my new setup. There were a lot of times where it wasn't enjoyable, and I disliked freshers week far more than I liked it, but going from starting this year with no idea where I'd be in nine months time, to reaching the end of September when I'd completed my first week of university is immensely satisfying.

October was... well... October was interesting. Though for reasons I can't say because they're very personal, the only way I can describe this month in terms of the year is as one giant, giant plot twist that I am so grateful for. October was crazy, again for reasons I'd rather keep private, but a huge part of that month was also the adjustment into university life and finding a rhythm. It's now December and I'm still yet to find that rhythm, but October was for the most part about settling and trying to establish my university life. I had some really bad mental dips in the latter half of the month, which totally disrupted the lifestyle that I'd been trying to maintain at university, and ultimately cost me a lot of money, but I got through the month a month further into my degree, and with a heck of a lot of stories. 

November was the quietest month of my year by far. Although I was consistently going back and forth between Manchester and Bangor, it was kind of my month of radio silence across most aspects of my life. Again, I fell into a horrific mental dip which saw me through the latter half of November and in the first half I was on reading week, frantically trying to get on top of university work and submitting my first essays. There were good moments, some very good moments, such as having dinner with Amber and Hawwa (Hawwa and I, despite living a town apart for years, finally met!) but for the majority of this month I was seriously low and had no enthusiasm to do anything other than sleep. So yeah... that was November...

December was huge for me in my personal life... again for reasons that I'd rather keep quiet, but it was huge, and I'm so grateful for it. This was a month of house viewings and Christmas celebrations, and on the 12th I had my first University Christmas Ball as part of the School of English Literature. It wasn't what I expected... at all.. and by the end of the night I was rather drunk and my feet were in agony, but I feel like it made me closer to the people on my course, and I'm thankful for that. From the 15th, I returned home to Manchester for Christmas and a much-needed break from university life. Following then, everything became rather manic, and the latter half of the month was spent seeing friends who I'd not seen since before university started, such as my book club friends for our joint birthday meal, meeting up with Gee from The Books Bandit in London to go to the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition, which was truly incredible. This was the first time I'd ever been to London at Christmas, and everything glowed with beauty as we travelled around the Kings Cross area and then headed across to the Southbank Christmas markets. A few days later, my 19th birthday came around, followed by Christmas, and then my first visit to see Amber in Cambridge, a city which I'd been dying to see for years. My year ended perfectly, hearing from and seeing the people I care about the most, and spending the final day of 2017 with my best friend, who I hadn't seen since we both started university. 

Overall, 2017 was a hell of a year. I always knew it would be, but in many respects it was what I'd imagined for the right and the wrong reasons. It was a year in which I encountered so much, achieved so many goals and experienced so many new things, but simultaneously, it wasn't ever easy, and when I peaked my mental health dipped hugely. Now, I enter 2018 ready to face more, whether that be trials or happiness, and hope for maybe a more stable year. 

Monday, 18 December 2017

2017: Film Favourites

Admittedly I entered this year with a lot more hope for my cinematic-viewings than I'm ending 2017 with. I love film. I really love film. But more often than not, I struggle to find the time to hit the play button and get the screen rolling. Of course, as a first year undergraduate student, there is screen time, oh trust me, there is screen time. When I've done my work for the day and 11 PM rolls around and I can't sleep, Netflix is right there, as is my Amazon Student Prime subscription (which should probably be made the most of given there's only four months left on it. Anyway, I digress..); However, if it's that time of night and it's between a film on my "To-watch" list or yet another rewatch of Gilmore Girls, then the latter, my comfort watch, is probably going to be the winner. Despite all this though, I entered 2017 with the intention of broadening the genres of film I consume, and have come away from the bulk of this year having seen some incredible films, and I've finally watched the films that I'd been meaning to jump into for years. So without further ado, here are my favourite films of 2017. (Disclaimer: these haven't all been released in 2017, but were watched for the first time in this year).

Wonder Woman
Honestly, I am proud to say that it took me 18 years and six months to actually watch a superhero film. Maybe it's an awful thing to say, but it's true: this film made me feel empowered beyond belief. I've never seen anything quite like Wonder Woman and probably never will again. Within a week, I went back again with my friend Lottie to see it all over again, and it was still just as incredible as the first time around. Gal Gadot is fierce and brilliant as was everything about this film, right down to the cinematography and the music. This certainly took me by surprise, but I couldn't love it more if I tried. Watched in July

La La Land
I should stress: I hate musicals. I don't know why, but something about them just doesn't sit right with me, ironically a former long-term dancer. But La La Land did something to me that I'll never truly be able to explain. I don't know why it was or how it was, but La La Land spoke to me at a time when I needed to here about the struggling artist wanting to achieve their dreams, even if they knew those dreams were far fetched. It isn't a flawless film, and I do have my problems with it, but everything down to the exact note and semibreve was perfect and delightfully moving. You can probably rightly imagine that I spent months afterwards listening to the soundtrack on loop and learning the piano versions myself. Watched in January

Hidden Figures
Again, rather like Wonder Woman, I never expected to quite like this one anywhere near as much as I did, and now I'd very contently say that it's in my top five favourite films ever. Hidden Figures is (again, for lack of a better alternative word) empowering and glorious and whilst I may be dire when it comes to mathematics and physics and anything science-based, I like any other female can appreciate the genius that is within this story, and watch it again and again with intense admiration. (Also, Taraji P. Henson was astounding as Katherine Johnson and didn't get nearly enough praise for said role.) Watched in February

Stranger Than Fiction
Absurd and ridiculous, but utterly endearing. Leena of Just Kiss My Frog had recommended this god knows how long ago as a film worth watching for writers, as it grapples with a writer dealing with intense writer's block. It's an insane comedy but knows when it needs to be serious or romantic or hard-hitting, and packs all of those punches in exactly the right places. It is like I said totally bizzare, but simulataneously definitely worth a watch. Watched in August

Remember when I briefly joined the film society at University? Yeah... that was a brief, brief stint in which my friend and I watched one film and then realised it clashed with the Writer's Guild (which turned out to be hugely pivotal in how my life is now), so... priorities. I don't know if, had it not been a free screening at University, if I would've ever actively chosen to watch Birdman, but my god I love it. It's ambiguous and weird and crazy as hell, but the way this was crafted is something that I couldn't not love. If you've watched this, then you'll know I'm talking about that constantly travelling camera. So! Good! Watched in September

Dead Poets Society
Frankly I'm not 100% certain that I want to place Dead Poets Society on my list of favourites for 2017, because often there were moments where I felt strong dislike for this entire production. However, whilst I stand by that, let's consider this to be my honourary mention, as this was a film that I'd been wanting to watch for years, and even though it wasn't everything I expected and hoped for, the acting was outstanding and it certainly hit my feelings hard. Watched in November

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy
Above all else, this predominantely exists on this list for sentimental value, as these are the first films I watched with my boyfriend. I'm not entirely sure as to what happened in any of these films, because we spent the majority of each one talking, but from the general gist I got, these were fantastic... especially the final one in the trilogy. Though I may not totally understand yet what was going on, it was enough for me to go and buy my own copies of the trilogy to rewatch and learn, and enough that I'm genuinely invested enough to want to watch The Force Awakens and then, hopefully, The Last Jedi. All watched in November

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Currently I'm... #1: First Year, Semester 1 First Term

Current plan: Write one of these each term for the duration of university.

Listening to...
It sounds ridiculous, but the Made in Manchester playlist on Spotify has been played in the late hours of the evenings on loop since moving to university, especially in late October and throughout November, when the homesickness really started hitting me the hardest. It's weirdly comforting to hear the music of the place you call home, all in one playlist. Outside of this, I've continued listening to Alohomora! the MuggleNet Harry Potter re-read podcast as I walk between lectures and on train journeys, and for studying in the library, when not loving listening to the sounds of crackling, folding pages, I tend to turn to classical playlists to concentrate on my work. My personal favourite is Ludovico Einaudi's albums, but basically any classical playlist does the job.

Admittedly, the adjustment to my degree has hit me like a train. Since starting university, I haven't read anything that hasn't been part of a reading list, and whilst I love my degree, I really miss the freedom to read for pleasure as well as for academia. So far my dominant module has been Children's Fiction, but I've been attempting to get some non-degree reading done, such as recently starting The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I am to, hopefully over Christmas, read A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, the sequel to one of my favourite books, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

Not anywhere near as much as I used to, but the old favourites still manage to sneak in here and there. I'm a lot busier than I was prior to university, and tend to avoid becoming the "Netflix in bed all day kind" of student, In spite of this, however, the late hours of the night are filled with rewatches of Gilmore Girls, my favourie TV show. I tend to watch whichever season is closest to my own personal life, and find solace in Rory's own chaos rather than my own, so as it currently stands I'm rewatching season four, when Rory starts at Yale University, on repeat. Beyond Gilmore Girls, my other Netflix favourites have been rewatching The Crown ahead of series two, and Medici: Masters of Florence. My amount of news consumption has dipped dramatically since starting university, as I live in this weird bubble where unless you actively search for news, you can go a week without hearing about anything in the outside world. I'm lucky enough to have a TV licence, and so watch BBC news constantly, if I'm not using the Guardian app. And finally, I have, at long last, watched Star Wars. Whilst the person I was watching it with and I talked through the majority of it and I generally don't entirely know what the hell went on, they're pretty bloody cool, and I'm glad to finally say I've seen the films.

As it currently stands, I'm taking a sort of unconventional route at university. Since October, I've chosen to come home every weekend, back to Manchester, which has been really rewarding in the long-run: I get a break from university life and the flat in student accommodation, and I get time to clear my head and refocus ahead of the following week. My life is divided into weeks being for university, university people, and friends I've made there, and my weekends are for family and for friends from home. Regardless of whatever other people do, I'm enjoying my system: I like not feeling trapped in one spot, and am so thankful that I chose a university that is relatively near home, even if in Wales, and I have the freedom to come home if and when I need/want to. As well, frankly, as an insomniac, though I don't get a lot of it, I don't think I've ever enjoyed sleep as much as I do now when I'm constantly exhausted. Sleep is a gift from the gods.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Letters to Winter: 2017

Dear Winter,
It's 1 AM, and less than 24 hours until December. The dregs of November are leaving now, and I can hear you calling to me from the near future. I'm not normally this late at writing or working or anything that involves deadlines. I am meticulous and a planner and the Hermione Granger of thinking ahead. Yet here I am: forcing myself to write in the dead of night because for once, I've let my scheduling guard down. That's how things have been recently: some of the writings I had been working on until Autumn hit have come to a hiatus, but so many have commenced too, with extra calibre, because I finally, finally started university. Not only that but after all the anxiety and fear and... everything that was wracking my brain last time we spoke, I got to where I wanted to be. I did it.

On Tuesday afternoon I was sat with... for the sake of privacy let's say... "somebody", in my bedroom at University. We were sat watching a film and the light was gradually dimming, and I don't know where we'd come from to get to this point, but I just turned my head and went "Oh god, it's December on Friday." to which I gained an equally unenthused response from them. I think this is the first time in my life when I've truly felt the pressure of time when November is coming to a close, December is hitting, and with it you, Winter. How I've perceived time since starting my undergraduate degree has changed drastically. Most of the time it feels frozen, and I have to carve with a pickaxe into it in order to feel like I've achieved anything, even the food shopping. Sometimes, just... occasionally, it feels like time is melting. Those moments when it feels like time is melting are beautiful; when everything feels like it has fallen into place and you want the moment to pause but you know the blood of the clocks will simply run faster for the fact that you are enjoying yourself. This year has been manic... and I have done so much, but in terms of life changes, Autumn has been the greatest shock to the system.

Winter, you know I've been through the mill a bit. "A bit" is a wild underestimation, but Autumn has been the most tumultuous, unpredictable, and yet catastrophically thrilling time of my life. I worked so hard to get to this point, and this time last year, as I wrote, I was desperately craving an offer, nevermind even a place at my university. And yet a lot of the time, due to my mental state, I'm not happy. I've had days where a lobotomy would be welcomed, days where I want to just feel nothing, and I have had weeks where I haven't wanted to move... and that's... concerning, and I'm working on it. But nevertheless, it isn't half frustrating when you achieve a huge dream, a huge life goal, and then things aren't quite what they seem. Like I said, I'm working on it, but I need to focus right now on the incredible things that are going on. I have made friends, and I have something that is also, shall we say... more than that, too. I'm living independently but valuing the time I spend with my family at the weekends more than ever, and I'm having amazing new experiences. I got my dream, I got exactly what I wanted, and although things aren't perfect, some phenomenal things are occurring in my life right now that light it up more than words could possibly explain, I just need time to work some things out.

December is going to be huge. You, Winter, are going to be huge. By the time Spring arrives, I'll be 19, and soon enough 20. A year ago in my last letter, I said I was ready for adulthood. I still stand by that, but what I've learnt is that are we ever really ready? My goal was feeling that I had it all together: I got the job at MuggleNet permanently, I got into my dream university, I have met some incredible people and have my wonderful friends and family, but there are still and always will be cracks. There is no such thing as having it together, I realised a week ago when at the end of a truly horrific day, I lugged myself to the Morrisons at the end of the road, bought a pizza and ice cream, realising that I had nothing that I felt in the mood to cook, and sat feeling the most isolated I've felt since I got to university. I messaged my friends and one very wisely said "adulting isn't having it together. Nobody has got it together. Adulting is conquering one crisis at a time and trying to make the best out of what is going on." That is what I need to do, and that is what I'm aiming to do in your hours this time around, Winter. If I am low, I am low. If I'm happy, then that's a major success. I'm working on it. I will conquer this, it's just going to be a long and difficult journey.

I'm working on it. For now, I shall inhale the scent of Christmas and hope for a little snow.