Archive | January, 2013

Currently reading…

30 Jan

…’Wilt in Nowhere’ by Tom Sharpe.

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One of my first forays into comic literature and I’ve had this book sitting around for a good few years as it was a Christmas gift from a couple of years ago.  Only recently, however, did I think it would be interesting to examine the comic novel so I started reading this and so far, I actually quite enjoy it.

I’ve always been drawn to haunting novels that examine the complexities of human nature (a la Kazuo Ishiguro and Ian McEwan) but it’s good to mix things up a little and not be so intense all the time.  Sharpe’s writing is easy to read, witty, very English and has actually had me laughing out loud on various forms of public transport.   It’s thoroughly dependent on a tight plot and lots of characters’ misfortunes interweaving leading to hilarious consequences.  Good for a chuckle but the characters don’t exactly imprint themselves in your memory which is often the case with comic novels in my opinion.

Review of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’

24 Jan

OK.  I know I’m probably rather behind here I finally made my way down to a packed London cinema yesterday and watched Tarantino’s latest masterpiece ‘Django Unchained’.  I’d heard amazing things about it and I thought perhaps they were inflated or subject to Tarantino-bias (because, let’s face it, many Tarantino films have achieved cult-like status and rightly so) but I loved it. 

I loved the retro Spaghetti Western genre in which it was filmed and of course the soundtrack was no less than one would expect from a Tarantino film.  What I really liked, though, was the sensitive way with which such a loaded theme as slavery was dealt.  I don’t think it was treated flippantly as very few people have argued – in fact, it was incredibly thought-provoking and has inspired me to learn more about such a fascinating and vicious era of history.  The film really demonstrated the sheer brutality of many white Americans who genuinely saw African- Americans as a subspecies and, in usual Tarantino style, there were disturbing scenes of violence scattered throughout. 

Stellar performances from Christoph Waltz and Leonardo diCaprio.  Waltz is so engaging and charismatic, he definitely overshadowed Jamie Foxx for me and I was mesmerised by his character of Django’s mentor, Dr Schulz.  I liked the way his character evolved throughout the film and some of the most tense scenes were when he and Mr Candy (Leo’s character) were at the dinner table.  And Samuel L Jackson’s character of the crazy old butler was enthralling and added a different dimension to the simplistic white vs black concept.  Here was a man whose love for Mr Candy was unparalleled – to the point that he had become seemingly comfortable with seeing his fellow African-Americans maimed and tortured.

What I found most haunting about the film was the depths of hatred that the black Americans were subjected to.  If you think about it, equality was granted relatively recently which makes the whole thing even more abhorrent. 

Charity writing

23 Jan

In an attempt to expand my writing portfolio, I am now a writer for SPANA (https://spana.org/), a charity that supports working animals of the world. Being a (relatively new) animal-lover, this fits me perfectly and some of the case studies that I’ve read about really are pretty amazing. Many animals in far-flung places are a vital source of income for families yet are subject to harsh working conditions on a daily basis.  SPANA generally works with mainly donkeys but other animals include llamas and horses.  Mistreatment, general abuse and abandonment of these working animals is usually due to i) ignorance regarding proper animal treatment, ii) lack of money and facilities, iii) lack of compassion for animals due to education ‘gaps’.  SPANA not only works to treat injured animals with vets providing specialist care from mobile clinics but they also organise education programmes in schools to build empathy and understanding for animals among children.  In addition, they offer an emergency outreach programme where they care for animals that are in countries facing natural or man-made disaster.

Writing for an organisation obviously means familiarising yourself with the tone of voice, style of prose etc.  This is imperative and allows the work to ‘blend’ in with the voice of the organisation which is a necessary skill for freelance writers.  I think I’m generally OK with this although it does require a lot of time and patience – I just have to read as much SPANA literature as I possibly can to start ‘thinking’ in the same voice.  The tone in this case is informal, simple yet professional.  It’s not patronising in any way but relays the message in a clear and unambiguous tone.

So I’ve been writing some pieces for the seasonal newsletter that’s sent out to the charity’s regular supporters.  Am looking forward to seeing the final thing 🙂

Rachel Cusk’s article: in praise of the creative writing course

22 Jan

Over the weekend, I was interested to read an article by Rachel Cusk in the Review section of The Guardian (available to read at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/18/in-praise-creative-writing-course) on whether the cynicism surrounding creative writing courses is beginning to look outdated.  The article emphasises the controversy around the standards that these students in these classes are held to.  People can give you all sorts of advice, and often do, regarding what constitutes good writing but whose opinion should you listen to, if any at all?

A lot of these creative writing courses do train people to produce work to a ‘publishable standard.’  After all, seeing their work in print is the ultimate goal for a lot of writers.  The publishing world is like any sector and in many ways, creative writing courses hone your ability to make your mark on such a competitive industry.  However, I suppose the fear here is that these courses will inevitably churn out hordes of unoriginal authors, jumping on bandwagons of topics and themes that are considered popular.  You just have to look at the ridiculous number of books that were published in the aftermath of the Twilight success, all featuring vampires.  Or the ‘erotic thrillers’ that came out after the housewives’ favourite, Fifty Shades of Grey.

While this is a concern, I feel that the market can differentiate between the trashy and the literary.  And there’s a market for both.  If creative writing courses can provide support and encouragement to writers then surely this is a positive thing.  Many would-be writers do not have the confidence to get started, doubting themselves and their ability.  Courses like these could offer some form of guidance with a basic set of tools and encouragement, motivating them to succeed.

In the same vein, I received my first feedback from the LSJ course and so far, it’s been incredibly useful with personalised suggestions from my tutor and advice on books to read that would help me in my writing.  Guess I’ll have to wait and see how the course progresses though to give a full analysis.

Aside

Doodling

12 Jan

I’ve been trying to clean out my room and came across some doodles and sketches I’d done in an old notebook.  Let’s just say, these confirm the fact that I was a weird teenager but it’s interesting to get an insight into your younger self’s mind now and again.

The doodles below came from a page I’d entitled, ‘The wisdom of the melancholy penguin.’  I might have to resurrect the melancholy penguin soon although I would say he’s not only melancholy but also very neurotic, bordering on schizophrenic.  I would love to say this represents a bygone era – a time of teenage angst – yet I can definitely still relate to his words of wisdom today as a 23 year old woman. And they say you grow up…

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Writing a novel

11 Jan

So I’ve finally committed myself.  I have always wanted to write and publish a novel but, quite frankly, have not been disciplined enough to actually sit down and get started.  However, there’s nothing like a bit of pressure to make me work so I’ve started a distance learning course at the London School of Journalism to provide me with the impetus to get into the habit of writing.  I’ve completed my first lesson and am awaiting feedback from my tutor so I’ll be sure to update you on my experience with the course.

In the past, I’ll admit I was skeptical about these sorts of creative writing courses, thinking that writing should reflect the individual completely and such courses would only serve to stifle one’s creativity.  However, I do think there are certain aspects of creative writing that are beneficial to learn.  You may have the most amazing stories to tell but without an understanding of the process of writing a novel, from plot structure to narrative voice, you will find it difficult to succeed in such a competitive world.   So: expect updates galore.

Economics essay

11 Jan

In 2010, I wrote and won an essay competition organised by The Economics Network (The University of Bristol).

Source: http://studyingeconomics.ac.uk/jade-yap/

How my economics degree is preparing me for life

As a young girl, I can safely say that I never dreamt of becoming an economist analysing supply and demand graphs nor did I have a burning passion to understand why firms make the decisions they do. Most of my interests stem from a desire to learn more about people. While Economics is typically seen as the ‘dismal science’, the most topical and important issues that affect all of us are undeniably based on Economics. These range from understanding how some people live in dire poverty while others live like kings to realising how Nick Clegg or Gordon Brown’s change in policy is really going to affect the average Joe. An understanding of Economics has effectively enhanced my understanding of life.

It can sometimes seem completely absurd that the scary looking equations your teacher writes on the board in your Econometrics class are not incomprehensible squiggles but, lo and behold, actually applicable to this world. Or that the slightly overweight lecturer babbling on about the different types of demand is worth anything in real life. What are a bunch of textbooks filled with graphs and text really going to tell us?

The answer is that they can tell us an awful lot.

By learning the concepts, we can then apply these to everyday situations (like the best car to buy given your budget) as well as huge global crises, like the length of time it will take for businesses to recover from the recession. Learning that the typical firm’s objective is to maximise profit and that the average consumer wants to maximise his or her utility allows us to understand how we can move on and develop further – through incentives and compromise. This idea has become especially relevant with the recent party election campaigns. I, for one, will admit regrettably that I was previously of the view that public policy would not really make a difference to the population but I now find myself scrutinising Labour and Tory policy claims. For instance, I now understand the implications of Labour’s plans to increase tax for everyone earning over £20,000 by 1% if they still remain in power. Understanding Economics also makes me pretty cynical that the Conservative Party’s claim that ‘nobody will be worse off as a result of [Conservative policy] changes’ is plausible, or even possible. Either way, I have transformed into an informed voter, more active and aware of changes that are happening in the country in which I live.

In an odd way, I was fortunate to begin studying Economics at a time of global recession. Whilst most people were worrying about their waning job prospects, I found it absolutely fascinating to be a student at such a critical time and learn about how we got where we are today. The recession was big news everywhere and only emphasised the importance of Economics; it affects everyone from the banker in the City to your local shopkeeper who had to close their business down as a result and is now unemployed. Studying Economics at university has helped me to realise that with the right knowledge, we can prevent a huge economic downturn from occurring in the future.

It can sometimes seem disheartening when you’re sitting in the library, up to your eyes in lecture notes and things just don’t seem to be sinking in. Studying for a degree in Economics is by no means an easy option – but then again, we all know that real life is definitely not black and white. This is why I think there needs to be a more active approach taken when teaching and learning Economics. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve found the enthusiasm and encouragement to become truly passionate about Economics at my university a greatly infectious experience. With heavily subsidised subscriptions to The Economist and numerous talks with key speakers from all over the world, there are plenty of opportunities to become engaged with Economics outside of the classroom. This buzzing environment has inspired me to pursue many of my current interests, from working in an NGO with the objective to achieve greater income equality in Cambodia last summer to interning at Cancer Research UK and analysing the different budgets of the political parties for health and social policy and what benefits each party can bring.

Although I still do not know what I want to do after university, please do not think that a degree in Economics basically equates to a career as an investment banker. My studies have provided me with so many transferable skills and honed both my qualitative and quantitative abilities. I am actually excited to see where I end up in the future as I have no doubt it will be doing something inspiring with the numerous skills that I’ve acquired. Even after my degree, though, I will probably still feel uncomfortable to label myself an ‘economist’ because there is such a wealth of economic theory out there and the world is constantly changing, I would never be qualified enough at all to do so. However, this is precisely why I love it; I’m constantly learning, developing and understanding and that is why I find Economics such an exciting and important subject.