Archive | March, 2019

Writing Progress

20 Mar

Earlier on this year, I decided to stop making excuses and sit down and write a book. This is something that I have wanted to do for a long time but I have always come up with reasons as to why I can’t or shouldn’t attempt it. I feel like the time is right at the moment to put my efforts into a project this size.

I decided to make the first draft on paper which might seem a bit old fashioned. I do feel like a dinosaur when all of the other members of the writing group furiously typing away on their brand new Macs and I’m fumbling around in the bottom of my rucksack trying to find a pen that works. I realised recently that 98% of the short stories and work that I have tried to do on a computer have remained half finished and my theory is that writing a first draft on a computer stifles my creativity. I have no evidence at all for this theory but I think that there is a ring of truth to it. I’m not sure if this is connected to the fact that I wrote stories by hand in English when I was at school and I have it in my head that that is the correct way to do it.

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I started off with a rough idea in my head about what I wanted the story to be about. So I just started writing. I wanted to get into a habit and write something every day if possible. It isn’t a hard habit to keep especially if you dedicate set hours each day to it. I guess it’s like watching a soap opera every day of the week at 7pm – once you expect to do it every day it just naturally happens.

As I was writing lots more ideas popped into my head and I became bombarded by ways I could improve things I had already written and how I could develop the back story of the characters more. I was so tempted to start the story again adding in the bits that I thought would make the story better. I wasn’t sure if this was the correct approach though. I asked the members of the writing group what they did – did they start to re-write the story as they went along or was it more useful to keep on writing until the end and then go back to add improvements?

The overwhelming answer was to keep on writing. One member of the group said that she had gone back to make improvements as she was writing and she hasn’t made any progress on the book as a whole because nothing that she ever writes seems perfect enough. I think this is also one of the reasons why I have found it problematic to finish even shorter pieces of writing; I get stuck on one bit where the writing doesn’t flow properly or I can’t think of the right words to express what I want to say. In the end I just give up because I can’t work out a way to progress.

So, I carried on regardless, knowing that some of the writing was awful (and some of it truly is) and that there were characters needed to be developed, specific descriptions that needed to be worked on and many other things. I made of list of things that I needed to address as they came into my mind. Things like: is the character’s reaction believable? Does it make sense that this person would live in this community or this style of housing? The more you think about it, the more it makes you crazy. By having a list, I hoped that it would be easier to come back to my original ideas later.

I finished my first draft two weeks ago. It is a very rough draft. I have a good outline of the story. Some parts make more sense than others, some are much better written than others. But it’s written. People often say that no one ever writes a good first draft and I certainly wasn’t going to disprove that.

I left it a few weeks so that I could forget about what I had written and come back to it with fresh eyes as I begin to type the manuscript onto the computer as I attempt to improve it and make it readable for an audience. I have found that as I improve something in one part of the story that I have to change or improve something in another part to make the story make sense. It’s very much a work in progress. I realise that I am at the start of a very long journey. I have, for example, started another list of things to consider and improve for the next draft version!

Like before, I am trying to write a bit each day. This time around I am making a conscious effort to make sure that what I am writing is good rather than just trying to get words down on a page. It seems to be working so far.

I have no idea how long it will take me to finish the second draft. Or the third. Or even the fourth but I am finally making some progress at last. I will, of course, let you know how I am progressing…

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Another update on Challenge #8

16 Mar

I have been cracking on with this challenge over the past few months. The sofa is starting to show signs of wear and tear because I have been sitting on it for so long. However, I feel like I am starting to make progress with this challenge. I have now watched 151 of the 250 films, which means that I have 99 films left to watch – psychologically this is very important. I am beginning to think that I am going to be able to get through this challenge.

Here are the films that I have seen recently:

15. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

I must admit that this film lost me somewhere in the middle. Rather than the main action being about Froggo taking the ring back to Mordor, there seems to have been a switch to a lot of sub-plots that are happening. After being so pleasantly surprised after seeing the first installment of the series, I now feel a bit deflated. I hope that the final installment that I am still to watch is better.

21. City Of God

Any film that starts with an armed gang of men and young boys chasing a chicken down the backstreets of Rio is always going to be a winner. This was the story of a ghetto in Rio in the 1970s and the violent drug gangs who run it. It’s gory and graphic in places but it tells an interesting story and is based on a true story.

55. Cinema Paradiso

This film won the Oscar for the best foreign language film. As the name suggests the story revolves around a cinema. The cinema burns down leaving the projectionist blind, so a young boy takes over the responsibility. The projectionist tells the boy he must leave because he can achieve better things. The boy becomes a famous film maker and returns years later to his home town. I really enjoyed this film.

56. The Lives of Others

A couple are investigated by the secret police in East Germany. The man who is put in charge of their surveillance ends up becoming involved in their lives. The whole film is in German but I did use English subtitles because I am not sure that I would have had understood all of it.

66. Oldboy

If I had’ve known what this was about before I sat down to watch it, I’m not sure I would have. It is probably one of the most gruesome films I have seen in a long time. It’s a South Korean film about a man, who is imprisoned in a room for 15 years, but he has no idea why or who is keeping him captive. When he is released, he sets out to get revenge but ends up falling in love with a woman, who later turns out to be his daughter. It’s all very disturbing.

147. Elephant Man

The story of John Merrick is well documented but I still found this story quite shocking and incredibly sad. I also never knew that Anthony Hopkins was in this film which was a nice surprise.

148. Wild Strawberries

This was a first for me –  a black and white Swedish film. What would we do without subtitles! I found it to be quite a weird film. A doctor is on his way to collect and honorary doctorate and on the journey to the ceremony he has a series of nightmares and day dreams about his past that have always made him feel uncomfortable. It was a good exploration of the meaning of acceptance.

152. Warrior

I’m not so sure why this is so high on the list. It’s about two estranged brothers, who independently decide to enter a mixed martial arts competition because both of them are broke. I thought you could see the plot twists coming a mile off – the elder brother is a physic teacher struggling to pay the mortgage, the younger one is a former Marine who deserted. Having said that, it was more about the action out of the cage than in it. The brothers also have an alcoholic father and come to terms with the circumstances under which their mother died.

170. Mary and Max

I have never heard of this film before but it had an all-star cast. It was an animated film (Wallace-and-Gromit-esque but a bit darker) about an eight-year-old Australian girl who is being bullied so she becomes pen pals with an older Jewish man living in New York. It was a really emotional tale because both of the characters have hardships and their friendship is something that helps them through those times. A must watch.

180. Gone Girl

I always get this story mixed up with The Girl on a Train because I read the books at around the same time and the stories both involve a grown woman going missing. It was a powerful story about manipulation and revenge and follows the plot of the book very closely. I had forgotten how horrifying some of the scenes in the book were though.

187. Platoon

 

188. Hotel Rwanda

This was one of the films I was dreading watching because of the subject matter. I watched this after watching Oldboy (above) so the scenes of genocide weren’t so horrific as I was expecting. I didn’t know a lot about the genocide in Rwanda apart from that there was one and thousands died. It was well acted and it felt like I was watching a documentary or a film than something for entertainment. At the end of the film, it is revealed that the film was based on real events which I found chilling but also awe inspiring.

195. The 400 Blows

This was a French film about a boy struggling to fit in at school, who also has to deal with his neglectful parents. I was disappointed. Not a great deal happened in the film and if I am honest, I was a bit bored half way through, even though some scenes were very funny.

206. Amores Perros

I realised fairly quickly that I have seen this film before. I watched it anyway because it was a long time ago that I saw it. It is three separate stories that intersect into one during a car accident. The subject matter is forbidden love (between a man and his sister-in-law), loss when a model is scarred for life after being involved in the crash) and remorse after a former assassin cheats his way into some money and goes to find his daughter, who he left behind years previously.

219. Prisoners

I do love a kidnap story and I think I might be becoming an expert in them because I had virtually guessed who did what to whom before the film was three quarters finished. When two girls are kidnapped, it leads to one of their fathers, taking the law into his own hands but he ends up getting more than he bargained for. It was tense at times and interesting to see the view of a revengeful father figure rather than someone who sits back and lets the police do their job. But if he was then the film wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good.

230. The Bourne Ultimatum

One word to describe this film: intense. From the beginning it was all action. I have only seen the first film from the Bourne series but I don’t think that I missed out from not seeing the others. I do think that the music had a significant impact on how dramatic the action was. The pace of the film was good in the sense that there weren’t big build ups to storylines which I find boring.

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Spending a day in Liechtenstein

12 Mar

If you have been following my blog, you might recall me saying back in February that my next trip to another European country would be in May when we go to visit Poland. I had a feeling that I would be getting itchy feet long before then and I was right. So I decided to visit Liechtenstein for the day.

Liechtenstein is the fourth smallest country in Europe and is only 1 hour and 20 minutes from Zurich by train. I was surprised when I got there to see that there was so much snow on the mountains and the temperature was a lot colder than it is in Zurich.

As the country isn’t big, everything in the city centre is easy to get to by walking and there are plenty of museums. Here is what I go up to:

Vaduz Castle

I hiked up to the castle, which is on the top of a  hill looking down on the city. I’m not exaggerating by saying ‘hike’. It’s a pretty steep path up to the castle. Unfortunately, the castle isn’t open to the public because it is the permanent residency of the Liechtenstein royal family. I thought that was a bit of a shame. There are 130 rooms in the castle so I would have thought that it would be possible to open it up to visitors for time to time. They can’t possibly use all of those rooms all at once. Even the Queen let the public into her residence when she was skint. Perhaps that’s the fundamental difference between the British royal family and their European counterparts – money. However, the castle is still impressive even if you can’t see it from the inside.

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The Stamp Museum

This is only a small museum but it is free to visit. There are some cool interactive tools, like being able to browse through the whole of the back catalogue of Liechtenstein’s stamps. I also didn’t realise that stamps used to be printed by engraving the design onto metal and then these engravings were used to make the individual stamps. Some of the examples on display showed how detailed the engravings are.

There was also an exhibition about the history of postcards which was interesting, especially as people don’t send them these days. Did you know that the stamp didn’t always used to be in the top right hand corner? Sender used the position and orientation of the stamp to communicate secret messages to the recipent.

Sculptures in the Street

As I was walking around the city and taking photographs, I noticed that there was a lot of art in the street. There is a large contemporary art museum (which I wasn’t in the mood to visit) so the city has a feeling of being quite arty. I like art and sculptures being in the street – I don’t see the point of things being locked away behind closed door rather than been enjoyed by people.

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Liechtenstein is the 29th country that I have visited in Europe which means that I have another 11 to visit before I can tick Challenge #8 off my 40 Before 40 list. Plus I now know how to spell it properly!

We have decided to have a few long weekends in different places this year rather than two weeks somewhere. Our next planned trips will be in Poland (May 2019), Luxembourg (July 2019), Serbia (September 2019) and Ukraine (October 2019). It could be that I end up being spontaneous and book a few more trips in the meantime but I will try to restrain myself.

Book Challenge by Erin 10.0 – Bonus Round

9 Mar

To coincide with World Book Day this week, I completed the bonus round of my online reading challenge. If you have been following my blog, you will know that I finished the first round and ten books in an extraordinarily fast time. If you want to remind yourself you can check it out here.

Once the first round is completed, you can go on to take part in a bonus round, which is reading books based on the same categories but trying to read books that have been chosen by other people who are taking part in the challenge. When you finish reading a book, you make a comment about it so that people can see if the books is worth reading or not.

Here are the books that I read for the bonus round:

Freebie (any book that is more than 200 pages long) – Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

I have heard a lot about Jojo Moyes but I have avoided reading any of her books so far because I thought that they were going to be too girly and sentimental. If I hadn’t taken part in this challenge I would never have taken read this book. I am glad that I did though. It wasn’t a classic boy-meet-girl story. It dealt with a some very gritty subjects and taboos.

Book that was turned into a Movie – Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

This was a great read about the story of the vet from a travelling circus. He ends up joining the circus after failing to take his final veterinary exams after his parents suddenly die. The different characters make the story and the descriptions of the animals, performances and the events are excellent. The story is told from different points in time so you learn about what happens long after the circus stops travelling. A highly recommended read.

Set in Europe – Dracula by Bram Stoker

This is another classic that up until now I haven’t got round to read. There was an ominous feeling to the book from the very start. Because the book is written from different points of view in the form of letters and diaries, the reader gets a holistic view of everything that is happening. Even though I knew that Count Dracula was the source of strange happenings, I still found it shocking when it was revealed that there were “two small puncture wounds on the neck”. I can imagine that reading this when it was first published without knowing the real identity of Dracula would be truly horrifying.

A Newberry Award Winner – The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth

This was an interesting and very quick read but I can’t say that I absolutely fell in love with it. The story is set in Japan and centres around a painter who has been commissioned to make a painting for the local temple. He wins the commission after his housekeeper brings home a cat. The painter believes that the cat is lucky and calls it “Good Fortune”.

A Friend’s Favourite – Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger 

The only thing that I didn’t like about this book was that there wasn’t more of it. The narrator is a boy who has been expelled from boarding school because of his constant poor grades. I felt the sense that he is completely lost and angst-ridden and unsure about what he wants to do with his life but doesn’t know where to turn to. I particularly enjoyed the interesting take he has on events that happened around him and some of the expressions that he uses.

Written over 100 years ago – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

It took me a while to get into this book. I’m not sure if that’s because I haven’t read anything else from Mark Twain and the only thing I knew about the Tow Sawyer books that he is famous for is because they are set in the southern states in America. Huckleberry Finn fakes his own murder/disappearance and the book is about what he does while he is “on the run”. I’m not sure that this book made me desperately pick up any more of Mark Twain’s books and read them. I also thought that the ending was a little bit rushed.

Title with 6 Words – The Way Things Look to Me by Roopa Farooki

I found this book in a second hand bookshop and bought it especially for this challenge because I was having problems finding another book with a six word title. The story is about a girl with Asperger’s syndrome and what affect that has on her relationship with her brother and sister after their mother dies. I thought the book was inspiring and explored the complexity of sibling relationships.

Cardinal direction in the title – East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I had high hopes for this book; people who had read it before me had commented that it was an epic masterpiece. I liked it but it’s definitely not one of my favourite books of all time. It charts the story of two brothers, who are complete opposites, and how their lives unfold. There are numerous complications for them – from their relationship with their father to the women who enter their lives. I didn’t really feel very invested into the story until about a third of the way through. Having said that, I was disappointed when it ended because I wanted to know what happened to the characters in the end

Originally in another language – Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

This is a bizarre concept for a story but is beautifully told. A travelling salesman wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into an insect overnight. He struggles to adjust and understand his new condition and his family are also shocked by his transformation. I felt sorry for both him as he tries to communicate with people but can’t and his mother who is convinced that his condition is only temporary. The ending was tragic as he is shunned by this family.

Begins with the letter N – The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

This is another very popular book that I have avoided to read until now. However it is beautifully and sensitively written. It tells the story of a couple who, despite her moving away and becoming engaged to someone else, fall in love. The story switches from present day when the couple are old and living in residential care and the past when they fall in love.

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Getting fit in Lent

7 Mar

Despite the fact that I noticed a while ago that there are Easter egg and chocolate rabbits in the shops, I hadn’t realised that this meant we were also fast approaching Lent. In fact I only remembered that it was Pancake Tuesday when everyone I knew on Facebook was posting pictures of pancakes that evening.

It has been a while since I have given up (or taken up) something for Lent and I thought I had missed the boat. It was getting short notice to decide exactly what I should do –  after all you don’t want to commit yourself to something that after a few days you realise is going to be impossible to achieve.

Rather than give up something, I have decided to take on something. For me this is slightly easier psychologically because I don’t feel like I am denying myself, rather that I am making positive steps towards something.

For that reason I have decided to get fit for Lent. Every day I will try to do some sporting activity that gets my heart rate elevated. Over the course of Lent, I hope that I will see a noticeable difference in my fitness levels and I will weigh less than I do now. This doesn’t mean that I will be running 12 miles a day, every day until the middle of April. Firstly, I am no where need fit enough to do that and, secondly, it is important to do a range of different activities and not the same ones all of the time.

I hope that I will be able to getting more running done but also some strength exercises, like sit-ups, press-ups and planks, to help with stamina and endurance. I plan to make a log of all of the exercises that I do and I will share this at the end of Lent so you can see how I have done.

I’m quite excited about this mini-challenge. The weather is getting nicer outside which means it is the perfect time to be getting active again.

Have you decided to give up or take something on for Lent? If you have I wish you all the best and hope that you can resist temptation until April 18th!

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A Day in Ticino

3 Mar

I decided to make the most of the good weather this week and escape to Ticino for a day. From the main station in Zürich it’s about two hours on the train and I was more than happy to spend that time alternating between having my head in the book that I am reading and admiring the stunning landscape that I was passing through.

I was welcomed in Lugano by incredible weather and headed to the Funicular for Monte Bre, one of the mountains near the lake that has exceptional views from the top. I was excited! The weather was so good that my photos from the top were going to be crystal clear and amazing and I was early enough that the place wasn’t already crowded with tourists. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the funicular to go up, it wasn’t working due to renovations. The following day it was going to reopen! Worst luck!

As I have been to Lugano a few times and my main reason to go this time was to go to the top of the mountain, I decided to head back to the station and head to Bellinzona, a place that I have wanted to visit for a long time.

On my arrival, I could see that the streets were decorated and ready for the start of carnival. There was already music playing, loud cheering and people dressed in costumes. The festivities wouldn’t start until after I had taken the train back home but it was good to get a feel of the place and the atmosphere in the warm-up stages.

I had to have a pizza for lunch: I have decided that this is the law when visiting the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. After refueling and getting my daily dose of Vitamin D, I decided to go and visit the three castles in Bellinzona. All of the castles and from different time periods and all are really well preserved. Because it is still winter season, the castles were virtually deserted and it was nice to walk around and enjoy the peace and get some nice photos as well. This did mean, however, that the museums at the castles weren’t open, which was a shame. I also under estimated the distance to walk between the castles. I ended walking over 17km during the whole day. But it was worth it for the views and the little bit of exercise.

I was so pleased that I made this trip, even though at the beginning I was disappointed about not being able to do what I had intended. The weather was great and I managed to get some good photos. Of course, getting to the top of Monte Bre during nice weather is still on my list and I hope to do that sometime later on in the year. I will be checking the transport up there is working first though!