18 Jun 2017

A Brief Update

Hello readers!

I do apologise for my dreadful lack of blogging these last two weeks. I have, alas, been busy—both with university, and with other areas of writing. To begin: you may find my analysis on the aftermath of the General Election interesting.

The question that is on everyone’s mind — be it political commentators, several reputable pollsters, and of course, May herself — is surely: how did it come to this? Barely two months ago, it seemed inevitable that she would win, and win big. By embracing Brexit, and indeed presenting herself as the Queen of Brexit, May believed she would win millions of votes from people who voted UKIP (an anti-immigration party) two years ago. On top of that, Labour was in chaos: Corbyn (Labour’s controversial leader) had faced a motion of no-confidence, a walkout by his Shadow Cabinet, and was the most unpopular leader in opposition history.

And yet, here we are, in an election where Labour gained seats (and a rare 40 percent of the vote share) while May has lost her majority. What gives? What led May from being the uncrowned queen to the empress with no clothes?

Full article on Red Pers.

I have, on top of this, finalised my essay to be published in Issues in Earth Science—I will be receiving the prize money soon. On top of that, there has, of course, been the matter of Fallen Love. My upcoming new book is filled with delights, but writing it has proven to be a substantial amount of work. As I have written previously there are various reasons for this, not least the fact that I am writing in a new genre.

I have also been doing more miscellaneous things, such as visiting Amsterdam in the summer—photos can be seen here—and attempting to make the best of the unexpectedly pleasant summer weather.

In any case, you’ll forgive me when I say this post is short. I must soldier on, with an exam on Thursday and a book that refuses to write itself. Until then, may the stars be with you.

4 Jun 2017

The General Election 2017: It’s as Simple as ABC

Hello readers!

Today—as you may be able to guess—the subject is the UK General Election. This will not be an analysis piece. The question I wish to answer is simple: how should you vote? The answer is likewise simple: anything but conservative. Of course, this is not a propaganda piece, either; I wish to persuade you, the reader, with sound, factual argument. So buckle up—it’s going to be an interesting ride.

Theresa May: Weak, Dishonest, Out of her Depth

The Prime Minister’s mantra this election has been “strong and stable”. She repeats it at every opportunity (except for debates, of course, because she doesn’t attend those). Indeed, the new mantra has even superseded the old clichés—such as the much-loved magic money tree.

It is said, however, that weak leaders describe themselves by what they hope to represent, rather than what they actually represent. Think of it as being a bit like “the People’s Republic of China”—neither a republic nor of the people. More a statement of ideals, if you will.

Theresa May is, in many ways, politically inept. The commentariat used to believe she was some sort of political genius; how else, they reasoned, could she have toppled Cameron and become PM? (The answer: opportunism and lack of serious opposition.)

The most damning proof of her ineptness is likely the “dementia tax”, so baptised for targeting people in need of social care—aka dementia sufferers—with a tax on the value of their home. The details are problematic enough; the tax is rife with the possibility of abuse. But perhaps more worryingly still, May announced this unpopular policy before the election, U-turned, and then pretended she hadn’t. Hardly the mark of a great statesman or master negotiator.

Speaking of master negotiators, her Brexit approach is... utter shambles. This may surprise some of my readers. After all: they say May is trusted on Brexit. She certainly wants you to believe it. But I shall recourse back to the analogy I gave previously; the People’s Republic of China is as much a republic as Theresa May is a “safe pair of hands”.

Partly this is because of her team. Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has described the Germans as Nazis—an act of such mind-numbing stupidity, it almost defies comprehension. Then there is David Davies, the Brexit Secretary, who admitted he had made no economic assessment of Brexit—nine months after the referendum! And don’t even get me started on the Secretary for International Trade (or is that Dr?) Liam Fox, who was forced to resign as defence secretary on allegations of corruption.

Then there is May herself. “No deal is better than a bad deal” she proclaimed to thunderous applause, as if the EU negotiations were like buying a carpet at a bazaar, perhaps. And not, you know, a massive constitutional challenge with millions of people’s citizenship rights—on both sides of the Channel—at stake.

So-called “No Deal” Brexit would also be an economic disaster, the likes of which the much-maligned Corbyn would struggle to accomplish. Banks are already making plans to leave, with calamitous consequences for UK tax revenues. Tearing Britain out of the Customs Union will result in huge delays and expenses, destroying pan-European supply chains for British exporters, and forcing business leaders to defer investments or move production elsewhere. The country’s triple-A rating has also been slashed.

Or, in less technical terms: No Deal Brexit will be a shit storm. And the fact that Theresa May is seriously contemplating it should tell you a lot about how competent she really is.

The A-Word

The Tories wanted this to be the Brexit election. Alas, this is not so. The fact of the matter is, this country has not forgotten about austerity; it remains a problem, festering deep beneath a complacent Conservative party. People do care about the NHS, which the Red Cross has deemed to be in “humanitarian crisis”. They do care about schools, which are facing real cuts in funding per pupil. They do care about high energy prices, social care, pensions, and the chronic shortfall in housing.

And if you care about those issues, then don’t vote Conservative. Judge them on their record, as they say. I won’t go into technical details; the effects of their policies are plain for all to see.

It’s as easy as... ABC

It’s easy for me to say “anything but Conservative”, you think. Isn’t Corbyn some swivel-eyed IRA supporter? Doesn’t Tim Farron think gay sex is a sin?

Only, it isn’t as hard as you think. Corbyn has his sore spots, true. But what he may, or may not, have said about the IRA was thirty years ago; this is, after all, 2017 and not 1983. The agonising over whether or not he’ll press the red button is just that—agonising. It’s about as likely as Godzilla jumping from the sea and rampaging through London. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate. But only a little.)

And Corbyn does have the answer to the problems this country faces now. His manifesto recognises the real issues we face, puts forward serious proposals to fix them, and is costed too. (Remember the Tory manifesto? Which party seems more competent, really?)

But why, you ask, should you not just vote for Labour; in other words, why is my motto “anything but conservative” rather than “vote Labour”? The answer is our good old First Past the Post voting system. It is better to vote for a Liberal Democrat, or a Green, if voting Labour means getting Tory. Or in other words: better half a loaf of bread than none at all.

You have every right to doubt the Lib Dems, though.

Tim Farron is the embodiment of hypocrisy. But as I say: sometimes one has to choose the least worst option.

Parting Words

We do not know exactly what will happen on the 8th June. Perhaps we will have a hung parliament; perhaps the Tories will win comfortably. It is even possible that Corbyn will do it, and become Prime Minister.

But let us leave that for later. For now, the message I want to give you is this: we live in on the edge of a very dark time in politics. Hubris, short-sightedness and ignorance could isolate us from Europe, with devastating consequences for the economy and for the people caught in between. The Tories have run down our public services to breaking point; it is only a matter of time before something cracks. Our Prime Minister has shown her weakness to the world.

This is no time for entertaining hypothetical scenarios about Armageddon. This is no time for mud-slinging and personality politics. On the 8th of June, I urge you to vote with a clear head. The future is in your hands... even if it’s cliché.

28 May 2017

A Summer of Words

Good day, readers!

Today, Alex has finally taken the time to write a proper update—although Alex hopes you did enjoy the second guest post by Molly. Quite a number of things have happened since Alex last wrote; therefore, this post will be a longer one. We will have four topics as the subject matter: to begin with, Alex’s university life, followed by all elements of his writing—poems, essays, and of course, Fallen Love.

Without further ado...

A University Experience

The academic year is scheduled as follows: there are two 16-week periods, and two 6-week periods, with breaks in between, and a nearly two month long summer holiday. Alex has completed the first 16- and 6-week period; the second sixteen week period, which he is in now, is almost at an end. Thus, there are six more weeks until the summer holiday.

The next 6 weeks will have Alex study for a course known as “Global Identity”, which—according to former students—is quite a bore. Therefore, Alex has hopes to make significant headway in his writing.

University life has brought many challenges for me (yes, we’re not in third person anymore). Friendship, romance, loneliness—to name a few emotions. On top of that, there have been practical difficulties. Accommodation, bank accounts and bureaucracy were just some of them.

Academically, I have found university to my liking. I have obtained excellent grades so far. Although, of course, it has meant significant work: ten exams, ten substantial essays, and countless smaller assignments. What can I say? I need a proper break.

Two Lovestruck Poems

I have alluded to romantic feelings, and indeed, there has been a special someone whom I have fallen for. They will be known only as “The One Who Shall Not Be Named”.

The poems are called Eromenos (transliterated from the Greek, meaning “beloved”) and the Dove. You may read them below.

Eromenos

The Dove

Essays, and Money

I have won my first paid essay competition! The science publisher, Issues in Earth and Space Science, has accepted my essay for a €50 prize. The title of the work is “Fantasy and Science Fiction: A Curious Divergence”. I won’t release it just yet—but it will be published in short order.

I have not yet decided on what I want to use the money for, although I hope to make a modest donation to charity.

In addition, I have also submitted to another academic publisher—the ERIS Journal for Humanities, run by the VU university—which will release the results this summer. First prize is €350, so wish me luck!

Fallen Love: A Difficult Tale

In addition to all these efforts, there has, of course, been what is perhaps the most important: Fallen Love, my upcoming novel.

Its tale is a long and fraught one. Initially—nearly two years ago, in fact—I began writing the Ark, which was the story I first planned to tell. Alas, that did not work out as expected; I wrote on my experience here. Instead, following a moment of dark inspiration, I chose to write the tale I am now creating.

Efforts so far have not gotten me nearly as far as I would have wished. I wrote 48,000 words; after a fair amount of revision, I am now on 46,000. I expect Part One will come in at under 45,000. After that, I will began writing Part Two—for a grand total somewhere between 80K and 90K words.

Since I have been rather taciturn with regards to the story (I have only posted a blurb on the “Upcoming Books” page) perhaps it is time I let slip a few more details.

Fallen Love is a story set in Dublin, in the year 2620. It is a strange place: Ireland is run by an authoritarian regime known, simply, as the Party. Europe is united in the form of the European Superstate, against the Chinese menace. Dark things walk the Earth—mutants that prey on humans, driven by a passion known only to them.

Mark, a young man belonging to the Fallen—a Class of people with few rights—doesn’t understand why his father abandoned him, nor why he’s fallen for Conall, an arrogant Upperclassman with a love of beautiful things.

Neither of them suspect what lies in store for them. There are barriers that guard their world from the forces of the Dark One; but they grow thinner, and the menace looms larger. Mark will soon discover that his father had every reason to leave...

Finishing Thoughts

I am a busy man, as you can see. My work takes on many forms—be it academic essays, romantic poems, or evocative novels. My only command is that you stay and listen. There is more yet to come... though not this week. There is one more exam yet to go!

22 May 2017

Guest Post: A Book Review by Molly

Hello readers! Alex has been mighty busy these past days (weeks?) for the reasons he has already mentioned: university, journalism, essay writing, and of course, Fallen Love. He will update you on the latest events soon. Until then, why not read this guest post by Molly Fennig—the second guest post ever published here on the Magical Realm—and also my own review on her website. Happy reading!

Guest post by Molly Fennig, teen author of the YA thriller INSOMNUS and blogger for mollyfennig.com.

purple-hearts

I picked up Tess Wakefield’s debut novel Purple Hearts in a bookstore in Wisconsin, in part because she was a Minnesota author, just like I am, and in part because I loved the cover with the converse shoes and work boots underneath a teal background with a white title (as much as it is frowned upon to judge books by covers as a metaphor, I firmly believe there’s a reason the metaphor exists, especially when there’s not much else that can be considered when choosing a book).

The other reason I bought Purple Hearts was because I was intrigued by the blurb. I spend a long time picking up book after book, carefully setting it back because the backs promised a Girl who meets A Boy who is Not Like Any Other Boy or stories that seemed similarly cliché. Purple Hearts, on the other hand, is about a girl, Cassie, who marries a soldier for his health insurance and they must “set aside their differences to make it look like a real marriage… unless, somewhere along the way, it becomes one…”

Although it’s easy to see where the story might go, the way in which the story unfolds and the choices the characters make are not cut-and-dry, creating a book that is hard to put down. The dilemmas are realistic, as are the solutions, and the plot is character-driven, as it should be.

One of the first things that pulled me into this book was the writing style. Part of me kept reading because the plot was compelling for sure, but an equally large part of me kept reading because I wanted to keep experiencing the wonder that is Tess Wakefield’s writing. The dialogue is realistic. The characters are complex. The figurative language is beautiful. If her writing contained nutritional value, I would happily eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week.

This was also a book with one of the most successful uses of multiple points of view, where the narrator switches each chapter. Part of this is due to Wakefield having created strong characters that are not too much alike and both have similar, although maybe not exactly equal, narrating power. The chapters are short, keeping the pace of the book fast, and the switch between the points of view is amazingly effortless for the reader.

(Spoilers): In terms of what I would have changed in the book, I had a little trouble believing Luke wouldn’t have any more problems with his drug dealer just having beaten him up, especially since I’m sure Johnno has other people he could recruit to help get back at Luke. I’m okay with it, especially since I can’t think of a better solution except maybe calling the cops, but it made me have less faith in his decision-making abilities.

Also, I loved the ending, but I also think it could’ve been longer, at least so I (selfishly) could’ve experienced just a little more of Wakefield’s writing. It did feel make the story feel complete and cohesive, which I loved. Also, the ending was realistic and fitting without being too predictable, a feat for which I thoroughly commend Wakefield.

All in all, I think adults and young adults alike would love this book, especially those who like romance that isn’t too cliché or cheesy and who like rounded characters, great writing, and a unique premise. I can’t wait to read what Wakefield writes next.

If you liked this post, check out my blog for writing tips, book reviews and more, mollyfennig.com, and check out my book, INSOMNUS, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

10 May 2017

The Battle is Won, but the War Continues

As part of my journalism endeavours, I have written another article on the French elections, this time regarding Macron’s challenges as he enters the Élysée. An excerpt is quoted below; the full link can be found at the bottom.

It would be no understatement to say that Macron’s victory in the second round of the French presidential elections has made EU politicians sigh with relief. His opponent — the Front National candidate — ran on a platform that included taking France out of the euro, calling a referendum on ‘Frexit’, and turning France into a facsimile of the Vichy Régime. Regardless of standard political considerations, Macron’s success was a victory for all decent people throughout Europe; it demonstrated a rebuttal to neofascism and a vote for liberalism, no matter how flawed.

But although the election is over, the war is not. Le Pen will be back again; the populists and their ilk will continue fighting elsewhere in Europe, whether in Austria, Denmark or indeed the UK. It is not enough to merely make the arguments for tolerance and European co-operation. Rather, it is also about convincing the voting public that the answer to our ills — be it employment, security in work, the role of supranational institutions, or tensions with immigrant communities — does not lie in embracing the easy promises of populists or the seductive certainty of hatred.

Read more...

2 May 2017

May Day (Or was that yesterday?)

Hello readers!

Alas, I have not been able to keep the Magical Realm up-to-date with the latest developments; you can blame it on my university work (papers, and exams!), as well as my work on Fallen Love and Red Pers. Still: no time for excuses. Today my update will be brief, but hopefully informative.

Progress on Fallen Love

Alas things have been going slowly. I have a large number of ideas for revision, and not nearly enough time, it would seem, to get down to writing them. To recapitulate: part one is complete, and I am currently halfway through revising it. I am changing the tense to present-tense; I am making changes to various scenes; I am adding things; I am subtracting things; and generally I am obsessing over things.

Red Pers

My journalism has been more productive. I have edited two articles: Shambhavi’s on the Turkish referendum and Saga’s article which will be published on the website Wednesday. I shall be writing an article of my own soon, though this week I have had an exam with another coming on Thursday; time is in short supply.

Essays

Finally, I have a confession to make: I have been very busy writing essays for paid competitions. I have submitted to ERIS, a humanities journal; and to IES, a website dedicated to space science. I cannot release my essays just yet... but I am confident they will win. Do keep an eye out for the announcement.

Life in General

I will finish this blog post with a few general notes on my life in other areas. I have visited my parents in Glasgow, and will soon release the photos I took therein. I have also been reading—writers are, after all, profligate readers—and once more I will remind you that my reviews can be found in the “Reviews” tab up top.

Very well. Time waits for no one; I shall be back with more updates, but until then, keep following!

16 Apr 2017

Easter Musings

Hail readers!

Alex shall today use his Easter break to discuss another intriguing aspect of writing: first-person versus third-person narration. This is a topic that is quite bog-standard in creative writing circles, but one which Alex has not really thought about too much—until now. The reason, of course, is Fallen Love; it employs first-person present-tense narration, and this inevitably poses some challenges when compared to the Necromancer, which is third-person past tense.

So without further ado, allow me to present my thoughts on the advantages—and challenges—of the different narration styles. Hopefully you will find the discussion interesting (and well suited to a quiet Easter break, unlike my usual fiery polemics).

First or Third Person Narration? (Read: Intimacy or Flexibility?)

What, then, is the difference between these two common narration styles? The obvious answer is that first-person narration reveals the events through the eyes of the character (using “I”) whereas third person narration makes of a detached narrator (using “he”, “she” etc.) Nonetheless, there are some additional variations to consider: the third person style, for example, can be limited or omniscient. The first person style can be reliable or unreliable, and also has various degrees of closeness to the character.

To address the confusion, here is a list expounding the differences:

  • First person. In general, this is used for intimacy, especially when the story revolves around one important main character.
  • Unreliable: this is when the character’s account of the story is not always reliable—the character may lie, or fail to mention important things, and so on. This style is useful for certain narrative purposes.
  • Reliable: this should be obvious enough. Still, although the character doesn’t lie, their account of the story is limited by their own perception. This style isn’t equivalent to third-person-omniscient, by any means.
  • Third person. This is useful for telling the story through the eyes of multiple characters, and tends to de-emphasise the importance of one character in the grander narrative.
  • Limited: this is when the narrator doesn’t know the future or have perfect knowledge of the past. You can imagine the narrator as being someone close to the characters—knowledgeable, but human.
  • Omniscient/God narrator: this is when the narrator has a bird’s eye view of the events in both time and space.

So when and why do we use these different styles? There is actually no single answer; there are various recommendations, and some writers and editors swear by them, but as far as I’m concerned choosing between the styles is very much down to artistic choice.

You may have noticed that, earlier on in this post, I used the third person; right now I am using the first. This reflects a change in what my writing is doing. In the first instance, third person narration acted as a form of self-deprecation, and gave the reader a humorous introduction both to the topic and to me as a personality. In the second instance, the first person style serves to give me my own distinct voice, and thus carry a sense of authority.

Writing fiction works in a similar way. First person narration usually works to give the reader a sense of intimacy and connection with the main character—and a lot of readers enjoy this. Third person narration can be very impersonal, and usually works well to carry across a complex multidimensional plot. The dehumanising effect is another element of it: Game of Thrones is a good example of this.

But note the words usually and can. The reality—as with many things in writing—is that these different narration styles can blur together, or even act contrary to standard doctrine. Some first person narration is very intimate indeed, whereas other first-person narration is more detached; this depends on the main character’s personality. Third person narration can be intimate: it can tell the reader a character’s darkest secrets and brightest hopes. Some authors have a very warm, intimate, or humorous third-person voice.

Mark Lawrence, an author I regularly read and admire, has written a lot of dark fantasy in first-person narration. In his case, the question is not so much about making the reader like the main character (in the traditionally understood sense); rather, it’s about getting the reader to understand just how dark and depraved the main character can be (but making them love the character just the same).

Trudi Canavan, another author I admire, writes very compellingly in third person. Her romances make me swoon—at least figuratively, since swooning would be terribly unlike me.

So, to conclude: generally speaking, writing in first person is about intimacy, and writing in third person is about perspective, flexibility, and emphasis on plot. But writing is complicated. There are many things that go into character development and plot; the narrative style is more of a tool, and one that can be used according to preference.

What About Fallen Love?

This leads me onto the complicated subject that is my new novel. I have written the book in first-person, but I have broken a traditional rule: the narration is not in the eyes of one character, but three, and possibly more. Namely, we read it in Conall, Mark, and Kaylin’s perspectives.

The first reason is simple—there are many important plot elements which go on behind the scenes, and which Kaylin is somewhat aware of, but not the two boys. The second reason is also obvious: I like reading romance from both sides.

Still, this choice brings some challenges. For one, readers can sometimes struggle with multiple first-person Points-of-View (although my beta readers have not complained, so perhaps the number of POV changes and how they are accomplished matters). For two, it’s quite demanding in a technical sense.

Take language. Conall, an Upperclassman and poet, tends to use more elaborate language in place of the simple. Mark, on the other hand, usually uses more direct expression. Still, neither of them are stupid—getting the balance right is tricky.

Of course one might ask why I didn’t use third-person. The answer is that I wanted to focus on character development in this book, more so than in the Necromancer. In the latter book, world-building and fast-paced plot kept the story flowing; in the former, I think the reader needs to be closer to the characters in order to really understand them.

A Brief Note About Tenses

Since this post is proving fairly lengthy, I shall keep my digressions into the role of tense relatively short. Two kinds of tenses are used in fiction writing: past and present. The former uses ‘are/is’ and the latter ‘were/was’. (Of course, there are 12 tenses in the English language, so this is a gross simplification.)

What do they do? Is there any difference between them? Frankly, I have found them to be problematic. I wrote the Necromancer mainly in the past tense, and Fallen Love was a mishmash until I settled on present. The difference seems to be one of grammatical pedantry, as opposed to a real literary technique; whether the prose is written in present or past tense, it makes little difference.

Rather, I have found that the usual truisms about tense—present is for immediate action; past for complex, multi-layered narrative-building—to be, well, truisms. The myriad action scenes in the Necromancer were very fast paced, despite the use of past-tense. Conversely, I have worked on the action scenes in Fallen Love so that they flow better. Other elements of writing—punctuation, the characters’ interest and motivation, the reader’s knowledge of the plot—have far more of an impact.

Finishing Thoughts

I hope you have enjoyed my rather long and technical musings on this matter. To surmise it all in a few sentences: first person is for intimacy, third for scaled up narrative building; past is for multidimensional plot, present for immediate; and all of these are just generalisations.

So there you have it. I will be doing more blogging soon, although—aside from my work on Fallen Love and my commitments to Red Pers—I am also busy with academic work. Still, I will be visiting my parents again on Friday, and will have the week largely free.

Until then!