Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Predictions for Winds of Winter: ASOIAF Spoilers

So Blogger has this cool feature which will destroy your productivity forever which tells you how many people are reading your blog and where they come from and what Google search lead them there. And mine are all either A Song of Ice and Fire predictions and the Rome drinking game. So clearly this HBO motif I have going on is working for me.

With that in mind, I feel a bit bad that people are looking for serious speculative predictions about book six and I'm giving them crack theories about zombie reunions. So, without further ado, here are my real, sincere, hold-me-to-it-and-everything predictions for Winds of Winter:

Dany's third betrayal will come from Jhiqi and/or Irri.

Why? Because when GRRM throws something out of left field he really throws it out of left field. So far all of Dany's betrayals (and perceived betrayals) have come from the men in her life. They are also the only ones she really suspects. Looking at characters like Melisandre, Cersei Lannister and Shae it's clear that GRRM doesn't think women are delicate flowers who are incapable of betrayal/double dealing/burning people alive.

With the last betrayal being 'for love' I think it's fitting that  it's not for money or politics but the unfortunate result of two minor characters who couldn't keep it in their pants. In DwD there's a scene where both handmaids are arguing over Rakharo, who has apparently got all tall and built and handsome recently (wait...he was a teenager the whole time? The fuck...?) Dany scolds them, saying something along the lines of 'He's blood of my blood: neither of you can have him.' Which seemed a really weird thing to say as a) she was fixated on Daario at the time, b) she has never expressed any interest in any of her bloodriders, before or since, c) I just do not see the Dothraki still loyal to Dany hitting on Drogo's wife. Irri... doesn't count. Somehow an affair between Rakharo and one of the handmaids (my money's tentatively on Irri) goes wrong at a crucial time, leaving Dany high and dry.

Ned Stark's bones will finally be returned to Winterfell in A Dream of Spring. This will either end or herald a series of events leading to the reunion of the surviving Stark children.

GRRM keeps mentioning Ned Stark and his remains long after his death- far too long for them not to have some kind of significance.

The series will end with one of Ned Stark's children beheading a major character.

Why? I'll admit, this is based on a prediction where Bran is the one holding the sword and admittedly it has a nice symmetry to it. But Arya is the one with the kill count...

Don't start carving Jon Snow's headstone just yet.

Did Brienne die? Did Asha Greyjoy? Or Davos Seaworth? Bran and Rickon both survived (apparent) decapitation and even being thrown off the top of a tower couldn't kill Bran. Even Catelyn isn't gone, strictly speaking. GRRM has learnt that after the stunt he pulled with Ned Stark (not to mention the Red Wedding) he can live off his rep as the guy who will brutally murder your favourite character in front of you and smile while doing it.

I'll admit I'm 50/50 on this because the major characters who've died already have been:

Jon Arryn
Lady (and Mycah)
Robert Barratheon
Jory Cassel
Ned Stark
Septa Mordane
Khal Drogo
Rhaego (The Stallion Who Mounts The World)
Renly Barratheon
Ser Rodrik
Maester Luwin
Hoster Tully
Vargo Hoat
Robb Stark, Greywind (and various of his friends)
Joffery Barratheon
Lord Mormont
Qhorin Halfhand
Lysa Arryn
Tywin Lannister
Kevan Lannister

I'm counting major characters as people who were significant to the plot and/or developed as characters. (Obviously my list will be different to your list so feel free to comment if you think I've missed somebody important.Here is a complete list of the dead, complete to the end of Storm of Swords.) Out of my list I count six women, including Lady. Out of thirty odd. Nineteen of them are patriarchs, i.e. men in a position of command. To me ASOIAF is a story about what happens when the patriarchs are killed, the status quo is unsettled and everyone from Cersei Lannister to Bronn is grabbing at power.

Obviously Lord Commander Jon Snow is a patriarch, so I'm not going to pick out a get well card either. But a number of things bother me about his death:

-Melisandre is on site and seems to like/need him. Melisandre is a red priestess. We've seen red priests bring back the dead. Just sayin' Also we totally need undead family bonding with Lady Stoneheart.

-We didn't see anything happen to Ghost. I don't know how it works (and I really don't want to find out by losing Ghost, Nymeria, Summer or Shaggydog) but while a Stark (or Snow) child can survive the loss of a direwolf, a direwolf might not be able to survive the loss of their Stark, because symbolism. (On this basis I'm also reserving judgement on Sandor Clegane, as him being Sansa's Lady-replacement has become fact to me somewhere along the line. Until someone gets her a puppy I won't be convinced he's gone.)

Also, wargs. Jon Snow is probably second only to Bran in understanding the whole skin changing deal. As long as Ghost is alive it's likely there's a part of Jon Snow that's still alive.

Sansa will outmanoeuvre Petyr Baelish.

Couples will be as follows: Jaime/Brienne, Arya/Gendry, Theon Greyjoy/Jeyne Poole.

What are your predictions for the rest of the series?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Slow Blogging: Why It's Okay To Take A Step Back

Although I'm set to graduate with a BA in English and Creative Writing in little over a month I'm always eager to read, do or learn about anything that might make me a better writer.* And, as I was trawling the internet for writing related blogs and/or articles I stumbled across this article, by Anne R. Allen about the benefits of slow blogging.

Apparently slow blogging isn't what I usually do where I tap away at an article in between checking my Twitter, seeing how the stats for my blog are doing and generally screwing around on Youtube. Slow blogging is to the internet what Slow Food is to McDonald's. Before you ask, I'd never heard of it either. But I looked up their website for more details and it's actually a really cool concept, aimed at getting people to think about what they put into their bodies and how it's affecting them and the environment.

Allen describes slow bloggin as writing "a few thoughtful, well-researched posts a month rather than daily blabber". Which makes sense. Although I often wish my favourite bloggers would write more often, I follow them because I find what they have to say interesting, not because they say a lot. Not to mention that you have to get away from your keyboard and experience the world to actually have things to blog about.

It's a common complaint among the new generation of writers that they spend so much time online promoting their writing that they have no time or energy left to actually write. I thought it was a thing we just all had to live with. Anne Allen is the first person to actually tell me that it's okay: that you don't have to blog every day, that the way to get attention isn't just to scream into cyberspace and hope somebody hears, that it's okay to sacrifice quantity to quality. And it's a profound relief.

Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have written twenty-odd posts in a month if I didn't sincerely love entering into this dialogue with the internet but it takes time. Time I need to send out job applications and work out if I can fund an MA or MRes (like an MA but scarier sounding) next year, or wonder how I'm going to cram all the stuff I've accumulated into my parents' car. Time I need to write.

I recently read an article of quotes and writing advice from the late great Ray Bradbury (a man whose work I've sadly never read but am trawling libraries for**) one of which was: “I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That’s three or four hundred thousand words a year. Most of that will be bilge, but the rest …? It will save your life!”

That seems to fly in the face of slow blogging but in a weird way it actually kind of confirms it. The way I see it, the way to be effective as a writer*** is to write and write and write all the time, be ready to cut your losses and admit that something isn't going anywhere when it isn't and to be ready to hack away and edit and revise and rewrite when it isn't yet but might. We all have those very few posts or poems or stories or scripts where everything was perfect in the first draft, where you only needed to make a few cosmetic changes before it was ready to print. I only know one writer who has a writing style like that and to my knowledge she hasn't written anything in a year. Perfect first drafts don't come along often but okay second drafts and good third drafts do.

At time of writing this blog has been running for a month. As of today I'm going to start limiting myself to regular weekly posts and put anything that can't wait on my (sorely neglected) Tumblr.

What do you think? How often do you update your blog (assuming you have one)? What do you look for in other peoples? Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcome.

*This should in no way reflect on degrees with a Creative Writing element: I am a hundred thousand times more knowledgeable, experienced and disciplined than I was when I started the course. It's just I'm not arrogant enough to think that I can't be better.

**I don't have money or space to buy more books right now, at least not if I'm going to a) get my stuff back home, and b) have money to come back.

***Obviously there si more than one way to be an effective writer as no two people are the same. This is just the only one I know. If you have an easier method I'd love to learn what it is.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Kate Reviews: The Kingkiller Chronicles

So I finally reviewed the Kingkiller Chronicles. ...Only not here.

Mookychick, an online magazine that is basically an explosion of all that is counter-culture feminist and awesome, featuring a wide range of articles on everything from how to pull off a corset or become a magazine editorto how to how to defend your right not to have children  to weaning the baby you did choose to have. They're all-inclusive like that. I've contributed in the past and thoroughly urge anyone who wants to write professionally and is interested in... well anything really to submit something. They don't pay for submissions but it is good experience.

Until recently I've been too busy with dissertation panic to write much of anything at all and when I did manage to submit something it ended up being caught in a backlog. But finally, here is the article on the Kingkiller Chronicles that I've been meaning to write since I first put down the book some time in early December/ late January.

Unfortunately I can't reproduce it here but I can give you a copy of my initial reactions from my former, soon to be deleted blog (which sadly expired for the same reason an article I planned in January finally got published in June i.e. DISSERTATION PANIC).

 From the vault:

So Santa brought me something special this year. The something special being A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. And Santa being my sister. Needless to say there will be SPOILERS.

Merciful Tehlu. THIS. IS AWESOME. Remember when The Name of the Wind came out and it was ridiculously brilliant and it revolutionised fantasy and made even the mainstream critiques sit up? Well this one is better.

At times during Book One I found myself feeling the odd twinge of guilt reading about Kvothe. Was he a Marty-Stu in training, effectively the thinking geek’s Bella Swan? His cluelessness with women and his lack of common sense make up for this even early on but I couldn’t shake the feeling that if Kvothe was in my class aged fifteen he’d annoy the hell out of me. (Which is actually kind of the point: Kvothe is not exactly diplomatic.)

But in Book Two he gets a crash course in humility: not only has he reached a level of University that he finds challenging, he gets the snot beaten out of him by a ten year old martial arts prodigy and hits a block in his Naming lessons (though not necessarily in that order). This makes perfect sense: his training with Ben prepared him up to a point and now he’s on his own. Or not, because the supporting characters really step up: Wil and Sim continue to be awesome, Fela gets some character development and even Denna becomes likable once she starts interacting with Kvothe’s friends. Also, now it’s been strongly implied that she’s a (very) high class courtesan (to the point the only way to imply it more strongly would be if she tattooed it on her forehead) I find myself liking her better than when she was just this wandering waif getting fawned over by random men. And of course it doesn’t hurt that Kvothe has got over his single target sexuality and got laid elsewhere. I mean personally I’d still rather he ended up with Auri but only because I love her more than chocolate and it’s a sad day when your completely insane friend who lives in an abandoned basement and won’t tell you a real name is more dependable than your wandering on/off love interest who also won’t tell you her name. Maybe Kvothe just has a type.

I also like the slightly cracky way the atmosphere changes from student hijinks, to Boy’s Own adventure story, to political intrigue, to a Dungeons and Dragon’s party in the woods, to fairytale, to martial arts film and back to student hijinks. Seriously, he even takes a year out to study martial arts with the mysterious mountian people of Ademere. I think Elodin may be based on Patrick Rothfuss: I kind of imagine him dancing round in wizard’s robes mixing martial arts cliches with tabletop RPGs and Dangerous Liaisons to create something fresh and original and cackling madly while he does it.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Why Cersei Lannister and Ravenna (SWatH) are the Same Person

[Mild spoilers for both, including the ASOIAF series.]

1) They're both stunning power hungry blondes who clearly share a dress maker.

2) Watch the scene where Ravenna kills the king and tell me it wouldn't work if someone auto-corrected the names to Cersei and Robert.

3) You wouldn't want to take a drink off either of them. Especially if you're married to them. Or (in Ravenna's case) if it's milk...

4) Both ladies have no problem bathing in front of their twin brother.

5) Both brothers will eventually be attracted to women a bit more... militant.

6) A lot of the crap that happens in Dance With Dragons could have been avoided if Cersei wasn't worried about a younger, prettier queen taking her her place. Too bad she doesn't know which one. So clearly they share a common interest.

7) They use ravens to gather information... albeit in different ways.

8) Neither of them can bring people back from the dead. Yet.

And a few reasons why they're not:

1) Jaime Lannister has amazing hair. Finn... not so much.

2) Cersei alienates her allies and appoints dangerous people to power because a) she's arrogant; b) no one ever taught her how to rule a country. At least Varys likes her. Ravenna just drains the life force of her enemies and devours their hearts. I know the actress playing Magaery Tyrell was a little older than expected but I don't think it's fair to say she's gone the way of Greta just yet.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Wading Into Hugh's Fish Fight

For years in the UK there's been a debate about how much fishermen are allowed to catch. Basically there are legal limits to how much fishermen are allowed to catch to prevent the seas from becoming over-fished. Unfortunately this has led to fisherman throwing the excess portion of the catch back into the sea, meaning that just as many fish are being killed. Now there's a petition to make throwing fish back into the sea illegal.

And that's what I know off the top of my head as someone who hasn't eaten fish since 2004. Like I said: it's kind of a Big Deal over here. This website can give you much more in depth, well-informed information and if you decide you agree with their cause you can sign the petition quickly and easily.  All they ask is a name and email address.

And now a reminder of why fish are part of our cultural inheritance. WARNING: Americans may not find this funny.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Unsolicited Poetry: Orpheus and Eurydice

It occurred to me that I've talked a lot on this blog about myself as a writer but I haven't actually shown you much of my writing. So, without further ado, here is the poem that nobody asked for.

Orpheus and Eurydice

All of Greece heard news of Orpheus’s love,
for fair Eurydice, her honeyed breath
and curling hair, her lips, her eyes, immortalised in song,
his tributes to his muse, his goddess, life.
He loved her with all his soul, more than sight,
more he rashly claimed, than fear of death.

Perhaps he was unwise to test the lord of death
for on their wedding day,  disaster met his love.
Eurydice trod upon a snake hidden from her sight
whose deadly venom stopped her heart and breath.
Orpheus refused to mark the passing of her life,
too grieved to lay her out or sing the funeral song.

With her, all his joy was gone, his wedding songs
dried up, his lyre unplayed, his life consumed by death.
He had nothing left with Eurydice lost; his life
a string of endless days. And so he went to seek his love,
to go where few have gone before and kept their breath.
Lyre in hand he walked ‘til Hades’ gates were in his sight.

A lesser man would turn back at the sight
of those endless caverns and that eerie song,
a keening wail from throats run out of breath.
Orpheus was unafraid to trespass in the halls of death,
He sang the monstrous dog to sleep with songs of love
and braved the Styx, whose oily waters sought to sap his life.  

Unable to conceal the rush of life
still in his veins he made his way into the sight
of Lord Hades and his bride, his stolen love,
Persephone, the Queen of Death. There he sang his song,
a song of love and loss and pain and death.
The gods, their servants, subjects held their breath.

On bended knee he begged Euridyce’s breath
brought back that she might be returned to life.
his pleas moved even the stony gods of death
who promised her return if he could hold off the sight
of her. They journeyed up, her following his song
until he tripped and turned and saw his love.

With that the lovers were undone. His pretty words were gone, a waste of breath.
Eurydice would no more hear those songs. She was forever barred from life,
from sun and sky and Orpheus, her love, by stern and unrelenting Death.

It was published in the NSU Writers' Society anthology, which can be found here:

Friday, 8 June 2012

Kate Reviews Snow White and the Huntsman

So me and some friends went to see Snow White and the Huntsman. Because we're cool like that.

My overriding impression was that it didn't suck. I mean, bits of it weren't great; I still cannot comprehend why anyone thought it would be a good idea to give Kristen Stewart a stirring speech when her whole shtick is looking pretty and soulful and not talking (or, let's be fair, acting) very much. It's easy to make fun of Kristen Stewart so I'm imposing the rules of fairy tales (and vampire baseball) and giving myself three strikes. That's one.

Anyway, back to the film. While bits of it weren't great, other parts really, really were. The costumes, effects and cinematography were what sold the movie for me; I'm not above paying admission to sit in a dark room eating popcorn and looking at pretty costumes for two hours. Not that I'm a girly-girl or anything: I love seeing a strong woman in chain mail (so much more flattering than plate) as much as a pale-and-interesting princess in floor length skirts. I can't say too much about the ending because I don't want to give the plot away (though seriously it's Snow White, make an educated guess) it is at least a story about Snow White Doing Things For Herself rather than Snow White Who Is Too Dumb To Understand Stranger Danger But She Gets Married At The End So That's Okay. And yes, I groaned a bit when they described her as  being 'as loved for her defiant spirit as her beauty'. This was a weird line because:

1) She was never actually shown as defying anyone except when someone was actively trying to kill and/or molest her. That's not defiance. That's common sense.

2) Seriously, she was taking home a wounded magpie. Are magpies forbidden in Far Far Away?

3) People don't tend to like defiant children. This is because children rarely use their defiance on social justice and focus more on defying vegetables/homework/bedtime, often all three in a single evening.

Apart from aforementioned speech, which wasn't that well written anyway (in fact may have been written by the same person who wrote Englebert Humperdink's Eurovision entry Seriously, it's like he typed 'cliches about love' into Google and set the results to music.) Kristen Stewart was actually well cast as a shut-in who's been locked in a tower with no one but magpies and a creepy stalker for company for the last ten years.
...Look, I know you're probably waiting for a Kristen Stewart joke but I only get three and I'm not wasting one on that. Not when it practically tells itself. (Okay, fine: strike two.) Seriously though, she doesn't do a bad job. If her facial expressions are a little overly subtle at times then at least they cast her as someone who has an valid reason to have not picked up non-verbal communication, having been locked in a tower for ten years. Of course the poor kid doesn't understand how to interact with people.

The script was also a big selling point for me. I have conflicted feelings about dark fantasy because: a) it's an awesome concept; but b) it's been badly done before. A lot. Me and my friends have a game called Dark Fantasy Book Club where we go to the dark fantasy section in Waterstones, pick out the trashiest book we can find and vote on whose is worst...because we're cool like that? Anyway, Snow White and the Huntsman is dark fantasy done right. The urban bits of the world look gritty and lived in, which is how I maintain fantasy kingdoms (and sci-fi, come to that) should look, unless there's a reason for them to be all clean and shiny and perfect. Sanitation. The Middle Ages did not have it. The dark forest is also really cool: it has this ambiguous menace where you don't know whether it's all in her head or if it really is full of giant monsters that want to eat your face. Similarly fairyland (Sanctuary) is perhaps the best designed portrayal of fairyland I've ever seen onscreen. Whoever designed that set deserves an Oscar for the sheer amount of obscure fairy lore they managed to incorporate: they had foxgloves, stone circles and humanoid fairies who acted like a separate species and not tiny cutesy humans. At the same time they had some nice original touches like snakes and tortoises with mossy camouflage. All in all it didn't fall into the trap of being too Gothic or too pretty-pretty and instead created its own unique look.

Speaking of unique looks, the costumes were easily my favourite part of the film. Normally that's a bitchy thing you say when you're leaving a theatre but not in this case because the costumes were just that good. There's a scene where Thor (I refuse to call his the Huntsman on the basis that "The Huntsman" is not a name) cuts away Snow's long skirts so she can walk in the forest. Snow is naturally unhappy about the strange man she just met taking a knife to her clothes in the middle of the dark and scary forest... At least I think she's unhappy. She might have been going for afraid, defiant or possibly aroused. Or confused. Let's face it, it's hard to tell. Strike Three.

During this scene my thought process was as follows:

1) Oh I can hear the fanfic being written.

2) Him cutting off her clothes is just going to be a thing in the fandom now, isn't it?

3) NOOOO!!! The dress is my favourite character!

Again, that's not an insult. Snow's main costume was my favourite part of the film. Because, seriously, look at it. I love how deceptively plain it is with all the accents of red and gold around the sleeves. They're so subtle you just can't stop looking at them. Not to mention the slit sleeves and the accents of lace. They did a really good job of creating something that looks modern and medieval, practical and pretty. Kristen Stewart is so flawlessly beautiful she doesn't really need to be dressed up in elaborate costumes and I think the costume designer did a really good job of playing down Charlize Theron's natural beauty by encasing her in these really structural elaborate dresses, suggesting that her beauty is also somehow unnatural. So when young girls like Snow and Greta stand next to her in simple costumes and look just as good it's an extra slap in the face.

Another thing I liked about the film was how subtly it integrated traditional Snow White elements (and by traditional I'm including the Disney version because, let's be honest, it's a cultural icon) like the animal companions and puffed sleeves. The fact that a lot of this didn't strike me until I left the cinema is a point in their favour.

All in all it was a pretty good film. It's not Citizen Kane or anything (not that I have any intention of actually watching Citizen Kane, since Peter-Fricking-Griffin spoiled the ending for me) but if you like Gothic fairy tales and high production values I'd recommend it.

Have you seen Snow White and the Huntsman? Do you want to? Has this review changed your mind? Do I need to be quiet now?

Add your comments, questions and complaints below.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

GoT Name Generator (Spoiler Free)

So I was looking online and I found this: Game of Thrones Name Generator Apparently my GoT name is Ser Patrek Stonehouse.

There is now  Something For The Ladies although to be honest it's not nearly as detailed. Which is kind of weird to me because I've always read ASOIAF as a book with very strong feminist themes, because so much of it is about how society views women and the roles available to women and what happens when they decide they want to do something else...

I'm rambling, but I guess one of the great things about ASOIAF is it's so big and all-encompassing people can see what they want in it. I'm interested: what do other people like about ASOIAF/Game of Thrones?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

An Open Letter to My Seventeen Year Old Self


At the moment there's a lot of talk about deciding what you want to do with your life and you're adamant you want to be a writer. A lot of people, many of them much older and wiser than you are, are telling you how hard it is to be a writer; how low the pay is, how fierce the competition, how soulcrushingly destroying it is to get nothing but rejection after rejection. You know in your heart of hearts that not everyone who wants to be a writer gets to be. The future must look pretty scary for you.

I am sitting where I am today because you were strong enough and brave enough (and clever enough and stupid enough...) to argue, reason with and flat-out ignore all of those people who said you couldn't or shouldn't or that the work would be too hard or the subject too soft.

I am so incredibly grateful to you. Because of the decisions you made I'm at the end of a BA in English and Creative Writing. It has been three amazing years and although there have been bad times too I won't worry you with them, because you won't get this letter until you sit here writing it, four years in your future. You're going to love how much better your writing gets, discover you can write poetry (you've actually got high marks and even performed it in the past), see what all the fuss is about script writing. You'll get drunk and get kissed and get your heart broken (often in some combination of the above). Then something so awful will happen that you think you'll never stop being sad about it and while it will always be a sad thing, I promise you, you will hit daylight eventually. (I will say this though: make the most of every day you get to spend with people you love because none of you will live forever. Don't take life and health forgranted.) The end result of all this is that you'll grow up. Not all the way yet (you have been known to eat leftover ice cream and a bag of strawberry laces for breakfast) but we're getting there.

I'm writing to you now because I'm in the same position you are: wondering what comes next. Today someone I trust told me the same thing you know: that the only important thing is that I write. I hope I can have your wisdom and strength of conviction to make good decisions about my future and see them through.

I owe you more than you can ever know

Kate Taylor, aged 21

[Inspired by the previous post.]

I'm curious: what would everyone else out there say to their seventeen year old selves?

Some of the Best Advice I've Ever Got

25 Things I’ve Learned In My 20s « Thought Catalog

So I somehow stumbled across this via a link on Twitter and OMG I don't even have words...

It's funny and poignant and profound but my favourite thing about it is how unprentious it is. To quote too much would spoil it but I can pretty much sum up my point by saying that one item on the list is: "Loving yourself is hard. Hating yourself is harder." and another is: "You’re going to puke in public. It’s fine. No one cares. Just puke."