Tuesday, 26 July 2016

FIVE YEARS AS A POTTERHEAD



Five years ago, Harry Potter meant nothing to me. I heard the words occasionally in passing, and I'd once drew a scar on my forehead, just to point out that Harry and I shared initials. Other than that, J.K Rowling's wonderful world held no significance. Two school friends at the time discussed their viewing of Deathly Hallows Part 2 in front of me, and even though I knew whether Harry lived or died, a part of me wanted to watch the film, just to say I'd seen Harry Potter at the cinemas. 26th of July rolled around, and along with my mum, I saw Deathly Hallows Part 2; and everything changed.

To conform to a cliche - it was very much an 'overnight change.' I went from being entranced by this film to rapidly reading Hermione Granger's page on the Harry Potter Wikia to find out everything that had happened. Never mind spoilers, I had to know everything. Within a week, Harry Potter was all I talked about to my family. Within 2 weeks, I was a beta for Pottermore and by December became a proud Ravenclaw. Within a month, I had tracked down all the films, watched them, and absorbed them into my blood. Within 6 months, I had copies of all 7 books, and was quickly plowing my way through them. I had a security blanket. 

When I returned to school following the summer of 2011, I felt as if I had something nobody else had. 'Geek,' 'Weirdo,' 'Nerd,' 'Freak,' were things that I was called countless times on a daily basis. I was bullied. A lot. And it was a time of isolation, segregation and separation from everyone else, because 'I was too much of a good student to be someone worth being friendly to.'  I was lonely, but when we had reading lessons in English, or when I had no one to be with at lunch and break, I could head to the library, crack open a copy of Harry Potter, and be immersed in a world in which I didn't feel so alone. 

If you love this series, then you  know what an impact it can have. It's so hard to explain its immense scale, because what Harry Potter has transformed everything for me. Watching the films helped me through my first experience of losing someone, only 2 months after first seeing Deathly Hallows Part 2. Characters like Hermione told the 12 year old who hated school because of the bullying that went on there that it was okay to be proud of being studious and bookish. Luna told the 15 year old who felt so distant from her friends that she should embrace her differences, and if people don't like the fact that she wasn't the average teenage girl, then they should go and talk to someone else. The Marauders told a 16 year old who had lost her friends and in sickness was alone that it was okay to take risks, go out, and seek new experiences. 

Without J.K Rowling's wonderful world. I wouldn't be here. High School left me with bouts of depression and anxiety that I still grapple with. There were times when I didn't think I'd see the next week, let alone the next year, but Harry Potter kept me going. Knowing in 2013 and 2014 [two of my lowest points,] that new films from the Potter-universe were only 3 years away kept me going. At a time when I didn't know what my future would hold, all I was certain of was that I wanted to survive long enough to see the first film in 2016. Now the release is 3 months away, and I'm here. I'm here because of my overwhelming love for Harry Potter. It has saved me. 

Friendships that I have now would be different or none existent. Places that I've seen would remain unseen. The career I now so desperately desire would be someone else's dream and not my own. Lost in a Library wouldn't exist. The Holly who I am today would be so, very different or wouldn't be here at all. 

We're now 5 days away from the 8th story being published, and more and more content being produced on Pottermore. This is nothing more than a poorly composed, incoherent ramble, but it needed to be vocalised. I couldn't be more thankful for Harry Potter being a part of my life, and I thank it for every day it has added onto my time on Earth. 


*Disapparates*

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

UEA'S FLY:: A Festival to Watch

Summer is finally here! Endless days of freedom and a break from education are just around the corner. With these unscheduled weeks comes plans for expeditions, adventures and searches for new experiences; whether that be diving into that new paperback you've been saving for the 'right' moment, or attending a literary festival. If you're abroad, you may have already ventured out to Book Expo America [BEA], and for those of us living in the UK, YALC is less than 14 days away. Whilst YALC is very much in the spotlight when it comes to Young Adult events, have you heard about FLY Festival?



Established in 2013 and having run this past June, FLY festival was founded by University of East Anglia. As Natalie Bailey tells me, it was Norwich's gained status as a UNESCO City of Literature that sparked the idea for FLY. 'It happened after it was announced that Norwich would become the only UNESCO City of Literature in the country. I realised that Norwich and the university had such a rich literary culture, but we weren’t actually doing anything for young people. So, it seemed like a real gap in the market and missed opportunity. Normally, I work as part of UEA’s outreach and recruitment teams, putting on lots of events for young people. So, it seemed like a great opportunity to link those two things together. So, I spoke to Antoinette – who is one of our literature and creative writing teachers with lots of experience in running festivals - and we joined forces to create FLY.'  



By no means did FLY festival come together quickly, as Antoinette Moses explains. Planning and establishing a literary festival isn't as simply of a process as you'd like it to be. 'It takes a very long time and a huge amount of work. We’re already starting on preparing next year’s festival.' Excitingly, foundations for the future are quickly being solidified too. 'We have the dates for the next five years of FLY already booked. Next year is the 10th-14th July. We already have a few wonderful writers in our sights, which we haven’t confirmed yet. All of that work is already going on, more than a year in advance.'


When I ask what UEA's FLY team feel goes into running a literary festival, Moses shared her definition of such an event: 'A festival begins with a dream of what a really great event could be.' The questions Moses asks herself are long and detailed, yet they carve out a beautiful image of how her dream festival would be. 'What kind of festival would I like to go to? Who would I like to hear? What if we could run a competition where students write their own stories? What if we ran such and such a workshop? It all starts with a lot of ‘what if?’ questions, just like storytelling. Storytellers always use ‘what if?’, and running a festival is the same. So, it starts with a dream, and then we have to raise the money to make it happen. Then when it all comes together, you have the money, you have the ideas, you have the authors, you have the space, and then you put on and market the show.'

I choose to raise rival and commonly heard of literary events such as YALC and Hey. The question of how FLY attracts audiences and visitors arises, and I wonder how the team set FLY apart in their target audience of 14 to 18 year olds and schools. The difference 'Our target audience is actually young people who don't already read.' The irony of this is fascinating, but Moses explains this demographic further. Of course, we love for enthusiastic readers to come as well, but we want to encourage non-readers to start reading for pleasure. To do that, we need to target schools, because if you expect our audience to go out of their way to buy tickets individually, they won’t do it.' There's an evident difference between enticing adults to buy tickets for their families, and drawing in teenagers who don't want to read. 'With young children, their parents will buy tickets for them and organise for them to go. And adults have the passion and initiative to buy tickets themselves. But teenagers who aren’t actively passionate about books won’t do that. So, what we have to do is seduce them. They go with their teachers and suddenly they realise, ‘my goodness, this is fun’. Then, they start reading. That’s why we’re unique.'

The festival, as Antoinette Moses highlights, isn't just about talks and readings, but about using the University of East Anglia and its resources to their full potential. Fly's team is aiming high in the hope of bringing the magic reading to those who don't read for pleasure. 'The festival is about inspiring young people through bringing them in contact with the best writers of Young Adult fiction. We also give them the opportunity to write themselves. We have the resources to put on workshops and get the students actively involved.'  The rich variety of activities and goals the festival hopes to achieve is certainly inspiring. 'This year, we had 40 workshops. Students had the opportunity to not just hear the talks, but also to get involved and see what kinds of writing they can create themselves through activities like our Poetry Slam at the end of the week. People reading for pleasure is something Natalie and I come back to again and again; it is the most important factor in a young person’s life, more important than their socio-economic status and the world they grow up in. Encouraging reading for pleasure can change literacy levels more than anything else. So the excitement that FLY generates about reading for pleasure – that’s what the festival is all about.'

2016 appears to have been a fantastic year for the festival, and future programmes look promising. In a midst of excitement of reminiscing on 2016's festival, Moses recalls the 'great authors like David Almond and Holly Bourne. Other great guests like Chris Riddell, great workshops led by experienced academics, and just an inspiring overall experience that will be sure to make you active and passionate about reading and writing.'

The question now is what can visitors expect from FLY in the coming years. 'We provide young people with the excitement of meeting authors, when before they’ve just been names on a page. And that’s an excitement I still feel as well. I’m excited when I meet Chris Riddell and Meg Rosoff and Celia Rees and all the other wonderful authors. Being the producer of this festival and being able to meet all of my favourite authors is such a joy and a privilege. I just feel very lucky to be doing it. It’s so exciting to just see this buzz at the festival and to see how students react to these voices. It really is a privilege being able to do this. It’s something very special.'


FLY's striking and burning desire to gift young people with the joy of exploring new worlds through literature is undeniably present throughout each of Bailey and Moses' answers to my queries. 'We think that FLY can change lives. FLY can enable students who don’t read books to actually start reading. That changes lives. That changes lives completely.' With people like Antoinette Moses at the helm of the project; someone with immense passion for literature, writing, and evoking that same love in young people, FLY is taking off. This is a festival that I will be proud to support in it's coming occurrences, and is certainly one to watch.



Thank you so much to Antoinette Moses and Natalie Bailey for answering my questions, and for Nathaniel and Bobbie at the University of East Anglia for inviting me to the event, and giving me the opportunity to learn more about the project when I couldn't attend in organising the interview. To find out more about FLY, take a peek at their website HERE

Sunday, 10 July 2016

[Don't Mess With 7] My Concerns for Cursed Child


Disclaimer - This is from the perspective of someone who hasn't seen and won't be seeing the previews of Cursed Child. When I get my copy of the script book on 31st July, my opinions might change entirely, but for now, this how I feel. And for the sake of anyone who reads this poster - Please NO SPOILERS. #KeeptheSecrets.


Now, at the point where I've been a huge Harry Potter fan for five years, I'm every bit of a fangirl you would expect. When it comes to something in Harry Potter, old or new, I scream, I laugh, I cry. I love. So you would imagine that when the premise of Cursed Child was announced that I would be overjoyed. Apparently not.

J.K. Rowling's series is phenomenal, and an extraordinary series of literature; therefore we live with this idea of 'more must be better.' But what if more isn't better? What if more is worse?

I have a lot of issues with Cursed Child, which only seem to have cumulated since the original announcement of the play in September 2015, and truth be told, I'm scared. Scared is different to concerned. Scared is an entirely new level. Because I'm questioning the possibility that Cursed Child could ruin my love of the Harry Potter series. I've spent half a decade building my life around this series, and so the thought of that happening is terrifying.

Firstly, why a play? Why is it that Cursed Child has to be told in the format of a play? WHY? Personally, it feels like a cop out, and where Rowling could have published a full length novel with this plot, it instead is in a two part play, which will be released as a script.

Another great concern regards about how much character development readers will see. As Chris Rankin [Percy Weasley] observed in Episode 189 of the podcast Alohomora, one of the greatest aspects of the Harry Potter series is the extensive descriptions, back stories, and beautiful prose that runs vividly throughout the tapestry of its seven books. In a script book format, this cannot be established, and this is crucial when learning of the personalities of the second generation, new characters, and the now slightly more aged Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

I'm scared that this will ruin my love for Harry Potter. Because it could. It absolutely could. I'm scared that in not liking Cursed Child, even in hating Cursed Child, that it could ruin a love that has grown and grown and grown over the past five years. I don't want to loose something that has so much of me poured into, that has saved me from myself more than once. But I can't not read it.

I've always wanted more from the Potter world, more from the characters, and more about James, Albus, Rose, Hugo, and Lily. But not like this. I'd rather you gave me a full length, JKR novel, or instead just pieces of information via e.g Pottermore. I want to know what houses they're in, their personalities, their birthdays. Perhaps what would have been better would have been something within the 19 year gap between Flaw in the Plan and Nineteen Years Later. I just think the idea of all was well is about to come to an end, and I don't like that. Because who doesn't want Harry, Ron and Hermione to be happy?

Please let me know what you think. What do you think?