Wednesday, 19 June 2013

POWS Prize Update

Firstly, apologies for my week-long absence. I ended up on a total vacation from work. It was much needed and I'm ready to bounce back now. 

Last week was still an eventful one. I heard back about the POWS Prize, and unfortunately I was not successful. Despite this, I was invited to present my work at the POWS conference (which, sadly, I will be unable to attend due to other commitments and financial constraints), and I was also given some excellent feedback: 

This is a very good piece of work, but it doesn't make a strong enough psychological contribution for this particular prize..
Well done on an excellent piece of work.

I was very happy with the feedback as I expected that to be the likely outcome; I knew that my knowledge of psychological research would be what let my paper down. It's still a huge achievement to be shortlisted for such a prestigious prize. 

I'd like to thank the POWS panel for looking at my work so favourably, and hope to enter another paper for the award in the future.


Sunday, 9 June 2013

Great Brontë News!

Fantastic news reported by The Guardian today; a single-page homework essay by a young Charlotte Brontë has been bought by the Brontë Society, and will be going 'home' to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

The Brontë Society paid £50,000 for the piece of homework which was written for the French teacher Charlotte was in love with. Funds were raised through donations from Society members, as well as £20,000 from the V&A purchase grant fund. The document was previously held in a private library. You can read the Guardian article here.

The Brontë museum in Haworth is somewhere I try and visit each year, because it's a beautiful place and because I count the Brontë sisters amongst my favourite writers. I look forward to seeing the new acquisition when it goes on display.


CWWA Book Club Minaret Podcast

As I've previously blogged, on the 29th of May I attended the CWWA Book Club for their discussion on Leila Aboulela's Minaret. You can read my short post about attending here, and my (rather long) book review here

You can now listen to the podcast made of the discussion by visiting the CWWA Book Club site (here). I found it fantastic to be able to listen back to the session; it wasn't too cringe-worthy to hear my own voice! 

If you don't know what I sound like, I first speak at 2 minutes 28 seconds (with a comment regarding the superfluous nature of the novel jumping back and forth in time), again at 3:24, and a number of other times including 10:15, 15:18 and from 16:00 to 16:30.

The session was great fun, and I hope you take the time to enjoy listening to the podcast. 


Thursday, 6 June 2013

neo-Victorian Villainy Symposium report

Apologies that this has taken so long to appear. I was quite unwell for a few days of this and last week. Many thanks again to Ben Poore for organising such a brilliant conference. 
The Neo-Victorian Villainy conference was accompanied by a regularly updated Facebook page which heightened one’s expectations ahead of the event. By the time Saturday 25th May arrived, I was very excited to travel to York for the one-day symposium. The venue was fabulous; the new facilities of the Department of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of York were perfect for such a multi-media interdisciplinary conference.

In the state-of-the-art Holbeck Theatre, organiser Dr Ben Poore introduced the day and opened proceedings with his brief provocation on the theme for the day. His hilarious introduction was a well-delivered and perfect opener for the near two dozen attendees. After opening with references to ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ the musical, the short paper interestingly compared the darkness within the psyche, as seen in Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Jekyll and Hyde’, with the ‘melting down’ of the modern celebrity; Ben commented that the unfortunate contemporary celebrity is forced to expose their ‘darkness’ in the glare of the flashbulbs, where it is intensified. A closing remark was that we are not free of what we class as Victorian.

Following the initial remarks, delegates were faced with the unenviable option of two panels. Panel A was titled ‘Looking Back at the Victorians’ and featured papers on BBC Dickens adaptations, the Nineteenth-Century stage, and the 1959 film adaptation of The 39 Steps. Panel B was titled ‘Reinventing the Monstrous’ and included papers on Gothic creatures, Mister Creecher, and The Grand Guignol (and beyond). I chose Panel B in order to hear Vanessa Gerhards deliver her paper, ‘From Gothic Ghoul to Harmless Harbinger – Representations of the Archetypal Gothic Creature in Contemporary Media’. 

Vanessa Gerhards spoke about the progression of the Victorian ghost, popular in ghost stories and séances during the period, to the haunted house and ghost as shown in film today, which still resembles the Victorian ghost strongly. Vanessa took us on a tour of the evolution of the ghost through film and television, before doing the same with the figure of the vampire. We heard how the Victorian Gothic vampire was a seducing aristocrat, whereas the modern vampire is both emotionalised and humanised, with love as a new motivation for the vampire.

Following this fascinating paper, Chloe Buckley presented a paper regarding Chris Priestley’s 2011 novel Mister Creecher, which combines the legend of Frankenstein and his monster with the childhood of the Dickens archetypcal villain, Bill Sykes. Having not read the book, Chloe’s paper inspired me to go out and get a copy. She discussed the making of a monster, and how the book charts the moral decline of Sykes from street urchin to true monster. The paper was particularly interesting for those of us who were unfamiliar with the book, and I believe it’s fair to say that more than my own appetite was sufficiently whet!

The final paper of the panel came from Will Nelson, and he delivered a paper on the Grand Guignol. I must admit, I knew very little about Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, so I found the paper especially interesting. The illuminating paper charted the movement of horror from highbrow Victorian entertainment, to the low brow view of it today. It has definitely inspired me to read more on the subject of the history of this fascinating theatre and its productions.  

After the first Panel, the fantastic first keynote was presented by Dr Guy Barefoot on the subject of ‘Hollywood’s image of melodramatic villainy (just) after the Victorians’. Dr Barefoot gave a fantastic paper on the Hollywood villain in the early part of the Twentieth century. His animated delivery was particularly appreciated after a long morning session! It was very interesting to see how the traditional Victorian villain was so rife in early Hollywood productions, and how this character has clearly transferred to the modern screen too. I especially liked the discussion of Professor Moriarty, from his initial drawn depiction in the Victorian press, to his Hollywood representation.

Lunch was served in the foyer, and was very enjoyable indeed. Afterwards, the conference took a very different direction, and certainly a very unique one! Delegates were treated to a performance by York University students of extracts from Michael Punter's neo-Victorian play Summerland. The performance was outstanding, and the play itself was intriguing. The thrill and suspense of the Victorian séance was vividly brought back to life. Following the dramatisation, Ben Poore interviewed playwright Michael Punter, adding a further dimension of understanding to the fantastic play. 

The interview was followed by a second interview, this time with young playwright Laura Turner regarding her recent adaptations of Jane Eyre and The Hound of the Baskervilles. As an Undergraduate with an interest in creative writing, I found Laura absolutely inspirational; her achievements so far in her career are fantastically impressive. The interview with her regarding Victorian adaptations was very interesting, especially in the context of a day examining neo-Victorian texts. The creative plenary session was concluded by Ben Poore reading a paper on 'Writing the neo-Victorian Villain' by author Anne Featherstone, who unfortunately was unable to attend the conference in person, which was a shame as the paper was entertaining and engaging.

The second keynote was given by Professor Eckart Voigts, on Nell Leyshon's The Colour of Milk. In a brilliant twist, similar to that of the novel in discussion, the author herself was connected live via Skype and listened to the paper before engaging in an interview, and question and answer session with the audience. Listening to the author's comments on her own book and hearing her perspective was probably my highlight of the day. Professor Voigts's paper certainly inspired me to read the book for myself. His paper discussed the language and grammar choices of the book, which sound very interesting. Comparisons drawn to Alias Grace (Atwood) and Affinity (Waters) made the book sound even more appealing. I was fascinated by Nell Leyshon's explanation of how she 'found' her narrator's voice and its biblical language inspiration. 

The final panel of the day again gave delegates two options. Panel C was titled 'The Pull of the Past: Victorian Villains Abroad', whilst Panel D was titled 'Neo-Victorian Women Going Rogue'. My own paper was the first in Panel D, so despite being very interested in one of the Panel C papers, I was unable to listen to it. I delivered my paper titled ''Come on, you little bitch,' she said to me, 'sing out!'' - Villainous doctors and cruel [neo-]Victorian nurses. I felt my paper went well, especially because when writing it I was overwhelmed with the amount of material on the villainous asylum doctor in Victorian and neo-Victorian fiction. It was certainly difficult to condense into a twenty-minute paper!

Following my paper, Sarah Artt gave a paper on the post-feminist tart in the BBC drama Ripper Street. As an avid watcher of the programme, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the application of post-feminist theory on the figure of the prostitute. I have to admit, it has definitely altered how I will view the programme in future! It was enjoyable to listen to such an interesting paper following my own, as I calmed down from those presenting nerves!

The third and final paper of the panel was presented by Antonija Primorac, and was titled 'Adapting Victorian Villainy Today: Gender, melodramatic mode and the question of agency'. Again, the paper proved to be thoroughly interesting and applied some intriguing theory to the adaptation of the Victorian villain. This paper, along with the previous one, went together incredibly well - a credit to the organisation of the conference. The questions following the papers raised interesting discussion and could have gone on for a lot longer than the allotted time, but we had a final keynote to attend. 

The final keynote of the day was given by Professor Richard Hand, and discussed Joseph Conrad, adaptation and neo-Victorian villainy. Having previously studied Conrad, it was very interesting to hear about neo-Victorian adaptations of his work and the villains within them. It was also nice to hear a discussion about adaptations other than the most commonly referred to Apocalypse Now

Following the keynote, there was a wine reception, and later almost all of the delegates made their way to the centre of York for a delicious meal at the Meltons Too bistro. 

All in all, the conference was simply fantastic and an especially inspiring day from my perspective as an Undergraduate, relatively new to the field of neo-Victorianism. I have also spent a lot of time recently going through Victorian texts, so it was brilliant to have my eyes opened to a number of neo-Victorian sources, authors and texts. The symposium was very well organised and the creative plenary was a great touch. I had such a good time meeting some wonderful people and hearing some enlightening papers. 

Roll on the next conference!


Women's Prize for Fiction & Children's Laureate

Well, it certainly has been a week of announcements! On June 4th (Tuesday) it was revealed that the fabulous Malorie Blackman has been chosen to be the next Waterstones Children's Laureate, replacing Julia Donaldson (of Gruffalo fame) in the role until 2015. 

Next week I will be volunteering at the Hull Children's Book Award, helping to lead discussions with young people so that they can ultimately vote and choose the book they deem most worthy of the award, so I will definitely be asking their opinion on the new Laureate! I'm sure many of the young readers will be familiar with Malorie's Noughts & Crosses (2002) series of books; the first novel of the series happened to be one of the books handed out here in the UK as part of the 2013 World Book Night.

AM Homes with her "Bessie"

The other big literary news of the week came yesterday (Wednesday 5th June), when the winner of the 2013 Women's Prize for Fiction was announced at London's Royal Festival Hall. The winner was American author A.M. Homes for her novel May We Be Forgiven (2013), described by the Chair of judges (Miranda Richardson) as being "an American dream for our time".

Other books nominated for the prize this year include Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize winning Bring Up the Bodies (2012), Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour (2012), and Zadie Smith's NW (2012), so it was definitely fierce competition! I think it's brilliant to see how many female authors are producing such high calibre literature, and awards such as the Women's Prize for Fiction are fantastic in the way they honour this.

I'm yet to read the winning book, but it was on my radar as it is part of the Waterstones Book Club. I think I'll definitely be giving it a read now!


Monday, 3 June 2013

What's the Point?

Whilst writing content for this site (including the 'why keep reading' section), I thought I would write a little, post on why this blog exists and, basically, what the point of it is. 

This blog has a few purposes. I want to be able to present my research and I want to connect with Academics around the world. I want to have somewhere to vent all of the 'work'-related thoughts that are spinning round in my head. I also want somewhere to keep all my work in a nice and neat fashion. I already have a personal blog, but the people who read that probably don't want to hear endless book reviews or discussions about neo-Victorian asylums! You, dear reader, get that here instead.

In case you were wondering, I'll be posting a whole bunch of things. There'll be updates about my career, including my time at University, conferences I attend and speak at, and my essays and papers. There'll be book reviews and updates from the 'extra curricular' activities I participate in. There'll be (relevant) film reviews and any other random things that I think relate to Literature/Academia/my areas of interest.

So that is my reasoning behind this blog and website!
I hope you continue to read. 
Since this site was 'officially' launched two weeks ago I've had some 620 views, which I am beyond delighted about. 
Thank you so very much to anyone who has taken the time to read this website. 


The Great Gatsby (2013)

This blog isn't just about heavy Academic stuff. It's summer and so things should be more fun and relaxed, right? With that in mind, expect some more varied posts popping up here and there.  

Well... I finally got around to seeing the so-called 'film of the summer'. Yesterday (Sunday 2nd June) I caught an afternoon showing of Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. I should mention, I saw the film in 2D; it was filmed in 3D and available in that format, but, quite frankly, I object to paying out such a premium to see a romantic drama in 3D! 

The film has had so much hype. As an avid follower of fashion, I am only too aware that the film uses pieces adapted from both Miu Miu and Prada. As well as taking over the world of fashion, the film taken over the public gaze in a number of ways; Tiffany & Co. released a special Gatsby inspired collection after having provided many of the film's jewels, and both Harrods and London's Oxford Circus tube station featured a heavy amount of promotional advertisements.

File:TheGreatGatsby2012Poster.jpgBearing all this in mind, I was absolutely fascinated with the film which my friends had said was amazing 'for the party scenes and the opening', and which had been given a Rotten Tomatoes score of just 51% (based on reviews by 213 critics); for those of you who aren't familiar with the site, 100% is the best, so 51% is definitely not a good score. Sure, the most amazing films aren't always those which are popular with critics, but I was pretty sceptical that everyone I knew could only recommend tiny fragments of the film, and the fashion, of course. 

So, the film. Firstly I need to point out that I haven't read the book for some time, but I have ordered a new copy. I was impressed with the visuals; I am that kind of a film-goer, I enjoy looking at pretty films. The party scenes were impressive, so my friends were quite correct with that. It was an enjoyable film, but did feel a little long during some of the slower parts. As a love story it is really quite beautiful and heartbreaking, but... and here come the buts... it is not the wondrous Great Gatsby book I fell in love with the first time I read it.

I felt that the film lacked something, and I spent most of the 143 minutes trying to figure out what that 'something' was. Sure, the decadence of the early 1920s was very much present, but the whole idea of the novel being a cautionary tale against the rise of the rich, I felt, was missing or at least lacking. It started to be woven in towards the end, but probably too late. I also felt that the film was perhaps a little too wrapped up in being pretty and delivering knock-out visual aesthetics; the narrative seemed to come secondary to the cinematography. I loved the costumes, hair and make-up, but felt that post-production graphics went into overkill - another aspect which detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

I was pretty happy with the cast, especially Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, though that was largely because of both her beauty and fragility. I did feel that a lot of the time Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a little too much on the fragile side, and lacked the self-assurance I always picked up on in the novel. Despite this, I thought it was an excellent performance.

Overall, I think that what was glaringly obvious was that it was a Baz Luhrmann film; and that isn't necessarily a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I love [nearly] all of his other films, but when you're sat pointing out things that clearly make it one of his films, and it reaches the point of detracting from what you're, just no. Largely, I'm talking about the rapid aerial shots and zooming, the dancing scenes, and the party scenes in particular, which absolutely screamed Moulin Rouge! (2001). Even the portrayal of Nick Carraway by Tobey Maguire seemed a little too reminiscent of Ewan McGregor's character, Christian, in Moulin Rouge! for my liking. 

So, yes I enjoyed the film. It was a nice piece of visual entertainment. No, it certainly is not better than the book. Yes, it appealed to my love of all things Art Deco and 1920s. No, it is not something I'd recommend to the die-hard F.Scott Fitzgerald fan. Yes, it is something I'd watch again and recommend as a good bit of summertime viewing. 

And the oppulence... oh my! The oppulence. Someone dress me in a flapper dress and get me to Tiffany & Co. now with an unlimited amount of cash!



Sunday, 2 June 2013

New content

You can now read two of my essays via this page (the essays and papers section of the site). I have uploaded my POWS Undergraduate Prize 2013 submission paper, titled "Staying here will be good for you" - Amalie Skram and the [un]willing Female Psychiatric Patient. You can also read an essay submitted as part of my Undergraduate degree, for a module on the Gothic. This essay  is titled: The Role of Comedy in Jane Austen's Gothic-Parody Northanger Abbey

I warmly welcome any feedback on these papers and hope to upload more work soon. I am also working on my conference review for the neo-Victorian Villainy conference, and that should be ready shortly.