14 Mar 2017

Politics and Agenda 2017

Hello readers!

I hope you enjoyed the guest contribution by Molly Fennig, and also my own guest post on her website. Today I am back to the usual Magical Realm fare: politics, and writing. But before we go onto the former, allow me to speak about the latter.

Fallen Love

I can now officially declare that part one of two is complete; the book is more than halfway to being finished.

This, as you can imagine, is excellent news—and it has come at no small cost to myself, as I have been most busy writing (as well as dealing with the general rough and tumble of academic life). Thankfully, my writing goals and deadlines have proven useful in motivating me.

For the time being, I am not working on Fallen Love; instead I am focusing either on academic life or on fulfilling my duties here at the Magical Realm. This is actually because I am leaving the book to rest in the drawer for a bit before I go back to revising it (and I will revise it) and to writing the second part. I have reached a milestone—but more is left to go.

Once I do begin working on it again, however, I will sadly be unable to make more than token efforts at blogging. You can blame it on the significant academic work I have to deal with—it falls on top of everything. Still, you can still follow me on Twitter (@AlexStargazerWE) as well as on Google Plus (+AlexBujorianu).

‘But Alex!’ you cry: ‘Won’t you give us any juicy details?’

Well, since you insist…

I wanted it to be a fairytale. I would love him; he would love me. We would sing happily ever after and set off into the sunshine.

But dark forces are at work. It’s not just the Party—the monstrous authoritarian regime that bans our relationship. It’s not just our Class, or our failings out, or family, or school. The boy I fell in love with might not be entirely human…

Onto Politics

I could talk about Brexit on the eve of Article 50 being declared—and with the culmination of countless ammendments, both in the Commons and the Lords, that were designed to offer a sensible Brexit but were defeated by gutless Tory MPs and a useless Opposition.

I could talk about Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon has declared that the new Independence referendum will be in Autumn 2018. I could talk about how me and my parents will vote…

But I won’t. In all honesty, I’ve written enough about that already (see: The Brexit Bus or just search ‘Brexit’ in the bar to the right). There is nothing to add, at this point, beyond more speculation: it’s time to wait and see now. Let Theresa May declare Article 50 and see if she gets her wishlist from the EU. Let the campaign for the new Independence referendum begin.

Instead I will be writing a little bit about an election closer to home: the 2017 Dutch elections. Polling day is tomorrow; and while the stakes are not that high, this election will nevertheless be important both for me and for setting the mood in 2017.

Some background is in order. The Dutch have a political system that not only includes proportional representation, but also has very few barriers to entering politics in general—there’s no lower limit to enter parliament and even the finances of standing for election are unusually liberal. This results in a political system that is extremely fragmented. No: I mean it. There are 11 (eleven) major parties. Even I, a politics aficionado, am torn—with D66, Groen Links, and even PvdA having plus points and minus points that put them on an equal footing.

I am not going to give you all a rundown of the 11 parties and their main ideologies and political positions. That would take too long; and besides, it is superfluous for our purposes. Instead, I will say this: all of the eleven parties bar two are respectable. This is not to say that I agree with them—but it is to say that they practise serious (non-populist) politics, and that they respect the fundamental tenets of modern liberal society. By this, I mean two things: secularism, and human rights. The latter involves touchy subjects like the rights of gay people and minorities.

The Christian Union is a fringe theocratic party. But the elephant in the room is the PVV (the so-called Party for Freedom and Democracy). Essentially, it is the Dutch equivalent of UKIP. Oh sure—it has some peculiarly Dutch liberal window dressing. Geert Wilders, the charismatic, comedian-like lunatic in charge of it, is happy to defend gay people and liberal democracy—from Muslim immigrants. According to him, the public enemy no.1 in the Netherlands is Islamofascism. (Public enemy no.2 is the EU.)

The trouble with the PVV is that they’re not all wrong. Islam is not the religion of peace—it hasn’t been since Muhammad and the Shia-Sunni split. It certainly isn’t good for the Middle East; indeed I and others have argued that it’s the real root of the conflicts there, more so than Western intervention—and on par with Ba’athism. And Muslim immigrants in Holland do hold some disturbing views: while 91% of the Dutch population supports same-sex marriage (Eurobarometer 2015) this is less true of the Muslim population. In the UK one study found that half of Muslims thought homosexuality should be illegal (The Guardian).

Unfortunately, one does not fight fascism by electing fascists. And Geert Wilders has uncanny similarities with fascists: he wants to ban all Mosques, for example. Even Donald Trump hasn’t suggested that yet. (And it’s an even more extreme position than he had a few years ago, when he merely suggested height limits for mosques, and then banning the construction of new mosques). That’s not all; the rhetoric he employs is reminiscient of Hitler. Dutch mainstream politicians have betrayed ordinary Dutch people. They are all in a conspiracy with the evil Muslims. Refugees (or ‘migrants’) are an army waiting at the gates. The EU is an international plot to undermine the will of the Dutch people.

Compare this with Hitler. He also said that mainstream politicians colluded with a disparaged minority (Jews) to undermine the will of the true German people. He also believed that an international conspiracy acted to undermine the glory of the Third Reich.

Anyway, that’s enough about Wilders. Let’s ask a different question: what kind of political power will he get in this election?

Current polls put his party between 13% and 20% of the vote. This is disturbing—in the latter case the PVV would be the largest party in parliament—but par for the course for the European far right. The thing is, even if the PVV is the largest party, this isn’t saying much in the fragmented political landscape. Even 20% is a long way off 50%. And virtually no one is willing to go into coalition with him.

So the Dutch elections are really about waging a wider moral battle. The forces of liberalism and pro-Europeanism on one side (embodied especially by D66, CDA and GroenLinks)—and the force of dark nationalism on the other. While I won’t go as far as to say that the Dutch elections will influence other elections in Europe, I think it is fair to say they make for an interesting case study.

12 Mar 2017

Guest Post: Advantages of Being a Teen Author

Hallo allemaal! I know I have been dreadful in keeping the Magical Realm updated, so today I am bringing you something new: a guest contribution. I will be writing a post of my own in the near future, though, don’t you worry.

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

Writing a book is something many people dream of, and few actually accomplish. Some have already achieved that goal as teenagers, though, including Alex and I. When most people hear that I wrote a book during my junior year of high school, they usually respond with, “Wow, how did you have time for that?”

The answer is, with volleyball and homework and clubs, I didn’t just happen to have hours of time I could use to write. I did, however, find ways to work writing into my schedule.

I wrote on the bus on the way to school, or at least thought about what was going to happen next in the story. Also, I set aside at least thirty minutes a day after homework, and before anything else, to write. This meant while I didn’t totally give up TV, I definitely wasn’t watching regularly, just as I wasn’t spending as much time reading for fun or watching movies.

When I did read for fun or watch television, though, I was sure to capitalize on the experience: taking character and actor names for my own stories, looking for what made realistic dialogue, and getting new plot ideas that made me excited to continue my story.

Similarly, I was sure to capitalize on the resources I had as a high schooler to strengthen my writing. I used the same techniques for peer reviewing in English as I did for editing my novel. Annotations and close reading, while usually used for literary analysis, helped me determine plot holes and awkward wording in my manuscript. Analyzing other authors helped me hone in on my writing style and discover what I liked in the books, and, conversely, determined what I incorporated into my writing.

Other classes helped me grow as a writer besides English class. Spanish taught me almost as much about the English language (such as parts of speech and faulty predication) as it did about Spanish. Psychology gave me the idea for my novel, INSOMNUS, and the scientific explanations for the supernatural abilities my characters had. Of course, some classes, like math, had limited effect on me as a writer, although I suppose without it, I wouldn’t have been able to number my chapters. (Although I could’ve just made them chapter names, so really, who needs math?)

So, if you’re a writer in high school or college, what can you do to take advantage of the resources you have?

  1. Take writing classes. This may seem obvious, but do it!
  2. Take compelling classes that have nothing to do with writing, such as engineering or cooking, to give you ideas for characters, plot, and worldbuilding.
  3. While walking to class or sitting in the library, listen to how people talk so you can write more realistic dialogue. Listen for things like how often they day what they really mean and what kinds of words they use.
  4. Maximize downtime. Whether it’s on the bus, like me, in the few minutes before class starts, or as a study break, take the time when you can to come up with new characters, outline your plot, or just to write.
  5. Join a writing/reading club or schedule in time. Especially in college, it can be easy to go weeks without reading fiction or having writing time. By scheduling it in, either weekly or daily, you’re more likely to end up doing it. Plus, joining a club or reading with friends can be a fun way to make a solitary activity more social.
  6. Review other people’s work. Even if it’s just looking over a friend’s essay, it can help you refine your editing skills. Plus, it’s always easier to edit other people’s work, so it’s a great place to start.
  7. Find people to review your work. Whether it’s the same friend whose paper you edit or someone else, there are likely plenty of avid readers who would be willing to look over a chapter or two, at least, of your book, and see errors you missed after having read the manuscript four hundred times.
  8. Reach out to teachers in the industry. I wouldn’t have published my book without help from my creative writing teacher, who is a part of the writing and speaking industry, so reach out for advice or to be connected to other people who can help.
  9. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, journaling can be a great way to collect information (events, feelings, ideas, names) for future stories as well to help you write stream-of-consciousness. It’s also a good tool for writer’s block.
  10. Use social media/screen time for writing instead. The same goes for any time-wasting activity you normally do. While you don’t have to give it up completely, limiting your time on such activities can free up a fair amount of your day. That being said, when you do go on social media or watch television…
  11. Use social media/screen time for inspiration. Use pictures people post for characters and settings or use social media to connect to other authors and grow your platform.
  12. Make school assignments lessons in writing. Take what you learn about writing essays and expressing your thoughts coherently and apply them to your writing. Use research skills for research papers to get background on your story. If you find you work better with deadlines for school projects, give yourself writing deadlines. Use ideas from psychology, sociology, and economics to give your characters realistic motivations.

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.