On Writing

There is a difference between writing facts and writing fiction. When you write facts, you write about things you have seen, experienced and felt. When you write fiction, you write about things you have invented, or imagined. On the other hand when you write imagined facts as though they were truths… well that’s either lying or you’re just copying and pasting other real writers’ stuff! lol

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This is basically the difference between being a writer, and being a mere ‘content filler’. 

I’ve had a number of offers, both locally and pertaining to online media, where either betting companies, or news-rags, just needed someone to fill-in some pages, either with adverts full of pre-determined phrases and compliments towards their products, or where the job consisted of just researching stuff online and putting it forward in another format. And I rejected them all. I’m not an automated content filler. I LOVE writing as a way of expression and a way to share my experiences and the things and places I love. So, no, I will never reduce writing and my capabilities to doing a mere job which any machine can do.

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Brandon Sanderson, when explaining the difference between a writer and a content-filler, gives the metaphor of the difference between a cook and a chef. The cook just wants to do a job, he follows a recipe to the detail, mechanically, always the same, and produces a cheese burger. The chef on the other hand, wants to express himself, he wants to create, he wants to change and evolve. He doesn’t mindlessly pour four ingredients into a mixing bowl to produce food, he wants to pour himself into something which others will love, and which will change them in turn. And that is the difference between a content filler and a writer.

A content filler is there for the money. He doesn’t create anything. He copies and pastes. That’s easy.

A writer is writing because he not only enjoys it for its own sake, but because he NEEDS to write, in order to feel complete. Each time he writes, his emotions and experiences pour onto the page and fill it with character and color. This leaves part of him into everything he writes and creates. It is not easy, but it is fulfilling, interesting and wonderful.

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Each time someone asks me if I’m interested in a job as a content filler either using my own blog (this one) or their own magazine/website, I admit that I pause, and I admit that this is because of the pay. Let’s face it, who doesn’t need money? But the thing is, I have a good career and a good wage, and I never wrote for the money itself (though yes I do get paid), but mostly I write because I love it and I write only about things which interest me. So that is my priority, and each time I receive one of these offers, THIS is why I say no, and why I will continue to do so. And this is what I suggests writers – those who love to write and do it to express themselves, to do.

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t sell your art, because even if you say you are going to do it ‘once’, you will end up doing it again and again and in the end have no time to write what you really want.

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Write what you feel. Write about where you go, what you see, and about what happens to you. Write about your hobbies, your passions, your life. Don’t write fictions as though they were fact just because you are paid to – because yes readers DO notice the difference between those articles/stories which communicate real passion and real experiences, as opposed to the arid ones which just repeat already coined phrases ad infinitum.

It’s not easy, but in the end, it all boils down to your priorities. And to whether you are a real writer or not of course! 🙂 

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Daily Rant – Keyboard Warriors

The internet brought about a real revolution, and not just when it comes to communication and the media, but when it comes to the development of what I call ‘keyboard warriors’. These wannabe ‘rebels for any cause’ hide behind a screen and usually either use a false photo or/and a false name, waiting for the least excuse or imagined provocation to launch out into an all-out war or criticism, be it against a government, a company, an individual, a public person, or anything else under the sun.

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Of course, I’m betting in real life, these persons would probably be totally different. Not just your average Joe, but your average PASSIVE Joe, hiding snide thoughts and repressed emotions behind a veneer of passive-aggressive behavior interspersed with moments of acute low self-esteem. 

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We used to call them internet trolls, but the difference between internet trolls and ‘keyboard warriors’ is that trolls are just there to have a laugh at someone’s expense while fermenting pointless argument and hatred, while keyboard warriors actually BELIEVE they are in the right about something, that everyone else is against them, and that they are smarter than anyone else who doesn’t have the same thoughts. They NEED to believe this, because it is the only thing which makes them ‘special’ in their own eyes, and elevates them from the mass of humanity they encounter everyday.. on the internet of course.

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Most KB are usually either boisterous ‘friendly’ people one finds squawking every morning in the kitchenette at the office, making more and more noise in order to be the center of attention, or else the bespectacled fuming guy in the corner, smirking crustily at everyone else while not saying one thing. So, either one extreme or the other. The opposite of a balanced healthy individual. 

After all, no balanced healthy individual would think riling and haranguing strangers each day was something to be proud of right?

Or he might just be a religious fanatic looking forward towards the end of the world and seeing it everywhere too. Forgot that one lol.

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Not a Boring Post

Yesterday I was talking to my new colleague about an ex-colleague, who had once been her boss (she became her boss after leaving my office). At the time when this person still worked with me (a couple of years ago now), she wasn’t my boss though. Thank all the gods. Thing is, she was one of the most self-centered, obnoxious, hypocritical people on earth. Her low-self esteem, which she transformed into emotional bullying, did not help either. I spent 3 years working in the same office with her, and I must admit it was one of the most stressful times of my life.

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While talking with my new colleague, I vented a bit and told her stuff I had never told anyone except my partner about the way this person used to try and manipulate people. Not to mention all the ‘stories’ she used to tell me pertaining to her sexual and dating escapades, which only served to fuel my antagony towards her. Now let me be clear, I am very open minded and never judged any of her actions – the thing is, when you are in a professional setting, you just shouldn’t talk about certain things with colleagues! Period! This really made me uncomfortable with her, especially since she used to get into graphical details – very PERSONAL details, which I really didn’t need or want to know!

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When I described this one-sided relationship to my new colleague (because I for sure NEVER shared such intimate stuff with her in return), she was astonished. ‘No wonder you couldn’t stand working with her any more! I don’t even tell such personal details to my closest friends, let alone talk about them at work!’ That was her reply, and I was glad to see that I was not the only one thinking like that.

Yes some colleagues are also friends, but there is still a line which must never be crossed.

By the way, NO she particularly wasn’t a friend – in fact professionally, she was actually a fraud. She never did any work, came to the office late and left early, and even tried to get ME to do her work while taking all the credit. And THAT is where I got really fed up, told her to fuck off, and refused to work, talk, or interact with her in any way. I had been fed up with her for a long time, but I am not the kind of person to fight at the drop of a hat, so I try to reign myself in and calm down… HOWEVER when I realize that a person is hopeless and can only be of detriment to me, I tend to categorize her in my mind as a ‘waste of time’, and just move on. And when that line is drawn, I never go back, and good riddance (it’s the kind of thing which happened with most of my exes).

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The line was not drawn when she told me more than I (or anyone would have) felt comfortable with, but since she was a work-mate, it was drawn in relation to her work attitude. Having her moaning and groaning about her ex, and her one-night stands every bloody day for three years, did not help either lol. For me, personal and intimate stuff, particularly that pertaining to relationships, is PERSONAL. Meaning that since for me, it is special and magical, I do not share it with anyone and everyone who comes along – and this is why THIS blog is not a romantic one by the way. I rarely, if ever, mention my soul mate and partner, not because he is not always there, present in my life and a priority – of course he is, BUT because, in fact, my life with him is MINE and I do not feel comfortable sharing it on a blog. There is plenty much else I can write about anyways, so I don’t need to resort to that. 

Not to mention that I don’t want to be repetitive or boring (which so many blogs unfortunately, become after a while).

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Anyway, moral of the story – if there’s a colleague who’s bothering you, don’t wait for three years to set her in her place and show her that you want your relationship in the work place to be strictly professional. And this, of course, does not only apply to work colleagues!

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The Streets of Antwerp

Waking up in Ghent is an experience in itself. Our room at the B&B we were staying in, was only a couple of floors up, however the night before, I had purposefully left the curtains of the two large windows open, so as to be able to see the sun rising over the medieval streets. I say ‘we’, but I really mean me. The bf started grumbling as soon as the first shaft of light hit the pillow, so I had to get up and close the curtains, however (and this had been my intent all along) I took the opportunity to take a couple of photos before going back to bed.

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The cobbled streets were silent and deserted. As I watched the alley across our room, an early-bird (possibly a baker judging from his overalls) locked his house behind him, got on his bike and pedalled off to work. Cars, of course, are not permitted within the small historic streets of Ghent. Only bikes. And boats of course. Did I mention the fact that Ghent is full of canals? Like Bruges, some actually call it the Venice of Northern Europe!

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More of that later. After another short nap, I heard the landlady tapping at our bedroom door, signalling that she had left our breakfast tray outside. As I opened the door, the scent of newly-baked bread almost made me swoon (she later told me that she went expressly for it at the baker’s at around 5.30am each day – blessed lady!). There were pots of jam, some delicatessen items, hot milk, eggs (we could prepare them on our small stove in the kitchenette as we preferred), etc… I must say it was one of the best breakfasts I ever ate. Obviously compounded by the peaceful medieval view from the breakfast table! As we ate, we planned our day, which we were going to spend in Antwerp.

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Antwerp, another Flemish medieval city in Belgium, is actually a port city, and its port is one of the largest in the world, ranking second in Europe. Its origins date back even before the 14th century. It has a large number of historical landmarks, not to mention cultural ones, since the artworks created by its famous 17th century school of painting (not to mention other arts such as weaving), were sought after throughout the world. Unfortunately, we knew we would be unable to visit as many of the places we were interested in as we would have liked, since we only had one day to spend in Antwerp, however we fully intended to try our very best.

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After taking the train from Ghent to Antwerp, while leaving the train station, I was immediately enchanted by the beautiful flowering streets of this sweet city. Colorful flowers and plants flourishing in the warm spring sun, decorated every corner, as people from every imaginable country, ethnicity and nationality thronged the pavements. Shops sporting popular brands abounded, however to be honest I was more drawn to the tall medieval gothic-style buildings which majestically reared their sculptured facades right next to them! It seemed like there was so much to see! Everywhere I looked, the past sat right next to the present, and the mad cacophony of everyday life vied with the dreamy awe galloping through my senses.

Suddenly, incredibly, I heard a burst of classical music. It was a grand piano! Yes, right there in the middle of the street! A street-artist had somehow transported his enormous polished piano amidst all the flowers, gothic palaces and grand stores, and was playing a sonata as though his heart would break. Tourists, locals, and passers-by thronged around him clicking away madly at their cameras and mobile phones. Talk about live street-art!

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And we hadn’t even visited any of the places on our itinerary yet!

… more to come in a later entry!

P.S All photos are originals, taken by me on site.

 

Visiting Blair Castle in Scotland

Blair Castle, found near the village of Blair Atholl in Scotland, is located between Perth and Inverness in Highland Pertshire. Being the ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl, and strategically located in the Strath of Garry, it holds an important place in Scottish history, both strategically and culturally. Whoever held the Castle was gatekeeper to the Grampian Mountains, and the most direct route to Inverness, which is also the reason why Blair Atholl itself possesses such a colorful history. It is situated at the entrance of Cairgorms National Park and surrounded by a magnificent backdrop of hills and forests. The village of Blair Atholl itself in fact grew up as a means of supplying the Castle, and lies at the confluence of the Rivers Garry and Tilt, 10 miles north-east of Pitlochry. Blair Castle is the focal point of the Atholl Estates, which once covered 350,000 acres, that is, 141,640 hectares of the Scottish Highlands. Currently, the estate lies on 145,000 acres, that is, 58,680 hectares, making it one of the largest in Scotland.

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Blair Castle stands on the ancestral home of Clan Murray, as it was historically the seat of their Chief. The first known structure to be built on the site dates at least to the mid-13th century, and the oldest part of the present Castle is known as Comyn’s Tower, which was built in 1269. This was commissioned by John I Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, who wasn’t even the legal owner of the estate at the time. Comyn was in fact a neighbor of the rightful owner, David I Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl, who started building on the Earl’s land while this was away on crusade. When the Earl came back home, he found the interloper building on his land and complained about it to King Alexander III. The Atholls won back their land, evicted the Comyns, and incorporated the tower into their own castle.

In 1322, David II Strathbogie, Earl of Atholl lost his titles and estates after his rebellion against Robert the Bruce. The title was granted to a number of individuals until, in 1457, it was given to Sir John Stewart of Belvenie, King James II’s half-brother, as a reward for fighting against the Douglasses and Macdonalds. 

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The castle was engulfed in warfare once more in the 17th century during to so-called Wars of the Three Kingdom. At the time, the Murrays supported the Royalists, and this led to the castle being captured by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1652. These held possession of it until the monarchy was restored in 1660. In 1676, the restored King Charles II granted the title of Marquess of Atholl to John Murray, 2nd Earl of Atholl as a reward, and the 2nd Marquess was given the title of Duke in 1703 by Queen Anne.

During the subsequent Jacobite uprisings, the Murray family was divided as to its loyalties. In 1746, Lord George Murray, together with a force of Jacobites besieged his ancestral home in an attempt to regain possession of it, however before he could succeed he was ordered to retreat in order to fight elsewhere, at the Battle of Culloden. This was the last siege to take place on British soil. Afterwards, Lord George Murray went into exile and later died in Holland, George Murray, his oldest brother, died as a prisoner in the Tower of London, and James Murray, the 2nd Duke of Atholl, resumed residence of Blair Castle.

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James Murray in fact later inherited the title of King of the Isle of Man via his maternal grandmother. The title came with a huge income and properties, which helped fund his project of transforming the medieval castle of Blair into a grand Georgian mansion, tearing down turrets and castellations, in order to create a more fashionable residence. The 3rd and 4th Dukes also prospered, and the grounds around the Castle too were transformed and improved.

In 1844, Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert, visited Blair Castle and stayed there for three weeks, during which the Queen granted the Duke of Atholl permission for the founding of the Atholl Highlanders as a private army. This is today the only private Army in Europe. During the First World War, Blair Castle was used as a Red Cross hospital. During the Second World War, the Castle was used to house a displaced private school and a number of evacuees from Glasgow. Blair Castle was one of the first private houses in Britain to open its doors to the general public, which it did in 1932. The 11th and current Duke of Atholl visits each year, while the Blair Charitable Trust runs the day to day management of the estate.

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Blair Castle is the focal point of a breathtaking historical landscape. Its extensive parklands in the impressive magnificent Highlands are set in a number of walks and trails, and the grounds themselves form part of superb woodlands. There is a deer park and pony trekking center close by, as well as a woodland adventure playground for young children. One can most easily arrive at the Castle through Blair Atholl village. Once one passes the handsome gates, one can use the visitor’s car park to the east of the Castle, from which one can choose to explore either the gardens first, or the visit the castle itself. If one chooses the castle, this is reached by crossing a small pleasant footbridge over the Banvie Burn and walking across a large open area.

The first room one sees as one enters the castle is the 19th century entrance hall. Two storeys high, with wood panelled walls covered by muskets, swords and shields, the Great Hall is truly a picturesque experience. Crossing the main hall, across the vaulted ground floor, the Castle tour continues with a grand total of 30 other rooms. These give a rich and varied impression of Scottish life over seven centuries, and give visitors of the castle the opportunity of understanding not only the way the Dukes and Earls of Atholl lived, but also historic customs and traditions.

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One of the most spectacular of the Castle rooms is surely the Tapestry Room, which is hung with Mortlake tapestries, once owned by King Charles I. The Victorian ballroom is also impressive, with its display of 175 pairs of antlers. All the rooms are filled with iconic period furniture and fine art, including a number of Jacobite relics, Masonic items, fine porcelain, and collections of weapon and lace. The present dining room was built during the 18th century. 

The six-storey Comyn’s Tower is the oldest known part of the Castle, dating back to 1269, although it was later re-modelled in the 5th century. In 1740, the 2nd Duke transformed the medieval structure into a stylish Georgian home, removing the turrets and applying fashionable Georgian finishings. 

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Some of the rooms at Blair Castle are in use today for a number of ceremonies and events. They can be used as conference venues, for private dinners, business functions, corporate meetings, special receptions, and even weddings.

Beyond the Castle itself are its grounds and gardens, which flourish over 145,000 acres, and most of which were laid out in the 18th century. To the north of the castle is Diana’s Grove, home to some of Britain’s oldest and tallest trees, while to the east one can find the famous nine-acre Hercules Garden.

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My article on Blair Castle was published on the Polish website castles.today. If you wish to read it in its entirety, please click here.

Maltese Traditions – Il-Quccija

Malta is a small island, and yet its multi-cultural history cannot be denied, since throughout the years it was conquered and influenced by so many civilizations. The Normans, the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Turks, the Aragonese (Spanish), the French, and the English, all left their footprints in Maltese culture and traditions, and this mix makes up the unique Maltese habits and customs we know at present.

Il-Quċċija, which could be roughly translated as ‘the choosing’ or ‘the choice’ is one of the ancient old traditions dating back to the 18th century, which is still predominantly popular today. A year after a baby is born, its parents organize a party and invite all the family members and close friends for the gathering. After having eaten traditional Maltese party food, drunk a drink or two and chatted to their heart’s content, the parents prepare a table, basket, or section of the room for the Quċċija. The aim of the Quċċija is to determine or try to prophesy which profession or career the child would have later on in life, depending on which object he or she would pick up from all those offered in the pile.

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This entails collecting and setting out many different items, all reflecting or relating to a particular profession, career or aspect of life. For example, a calculator denotes that the child will become a mathematician, a rosary that he would become a priest, a pen that he would be a writer and a book that he would be learned and wise.

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(photo: Clare Galea-Warrington – https://cgwarr.wordpress.com)

In the past, different items would be set forth for the child to pick up, depending on his or her gender. If the child was a girl, most often the parents prepared a dish or table containing a pair of scissors, meaning that the girl would become a seamstress, cooking items, a ribbon, which if picked, would mean that the girl would be a beauty, corn which denoted fertility, or an egg which used to signify that the girl would have a big and prosperous home. If the child was a boy, the items would reflect totally different professions. A stethoscope would definitely be one of the items, in the hope that the boy would grow up to be a doctor, if he grabbed an inkstand it would mean that he was going to sit for the bar and become either a lawyer or a magistrate, while if he touched a geometry instrument it would mean that he would become an architect or engineer.

Today, the tradition has changed to reflect the society we are currently living in. Careers and professions are no longer subject to one’s gender, therefore usually the same items are offered to the child at the ceremony, be they male or female. The items themselves too have evolved, in reflection of today’s technological aspect. A baby might therefore grab a computer mouse, pointing at a career in I.T, or a credit card, pointing either towards a banking career or at the promise of future wealth.

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(photo: Clare Galea-Warrington – https://cgwarr.wordpress.com)

In the end, there is really no strict list of items which must be presented, and parents tend to let the baby crawl around everyday things which are to be normally found around the household. The object the child touches first, tradition holds, will be a dominant aspect in his or her life.

This small ceremony, apart from being held in the Maltese islands, is also believed to be something of a custom in some remote parts of Sicily, Italy, and Greece.

This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to read the whole article please go here

January Round-Up – Book Reviews

FINALLY, I have fifteen minutes’ time to sit down, take a breath, and write the round-up of the books I read in January. It’s been an unbelievably hectic week, and what’s more, it promises to be quite a hectic weekend too, so I’d better get down to it before I fall asleep at the desk.

January has been a good month in that I got hold of quite a few interesting books, some of which I’d had my eye on for a bit. I read a grand total of ten books, which is not too bad, though I admit some of them were not as long as I would have liked. So, here goes:

1 The Moth – Catherine Cookson – 1 star out of 5
I started out the year by deciding to try and read something by this author, since I had previously watched a couple of movies transposed from her novels. The movies are maudlin and depressing, but I thought maybe the novels would be better…? No such luck, apart from being disgustingly predictable, the ‘heroine’ is nothing less than the usual damsel in distress, the ‘hero’ is the ‘charming man of low class’, and of course, though set in rural England, the story-line is completely boring. 

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2 The Interpretation of Murder – Jed Rubenfeld3 Stars out of 5
Lovers of the Agatha Christie/Sherlock mysteries will love this one. Not to mention those who have studied, either professionally or in an amateurish way (as in my case) the theories of Sigmund Freud. Basically, a string of strange crimes and murders are investigated by a young psychoanalyst, who’s also a student of Freud. The plotline is quite good, but what I really loved was the apparent research and dedication the writer shows when describing America in the very early 20th century.

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3 The Rottweiler – Ruth Rendell3 Stars out of 5
I just love anything by Ruth Rendell. The way she portrays her characters, and especially her study of the main character, which is usually the serial killer himself, is truly revealing. Creating a net of everyday happenings, while introducing a number of characters, most of whom all know each other, Rendell creates an enthralling and unsettling landscape where you realize each person you know, in the end, has something to hide.

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4 The Green Mile – Stephen King4 Stars out of 5
I had watched the movie before, and I must be frank, read the book too, but it was such a long time ago, that I decided to refresh my memory a bit. And boy, was I glad I did. King’s suspenseful novels are always a joy, and this one in particular is pretty different from his usual work since there is hardly anything of the supernatural or fantastical in it. It is mostly a portrayal of racism, friendship, love, human behavior, not to mention a stark critique of society which leaves the reader feeling as though he’ll never be the same again after he’s read it.

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5. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald2 Stars out of 5
Ok, I know this is supposed to be like ‘the great American novel’, but seriously, I did not like the pace of writing, and the style much. I admit, if I hadn’t watched the movie before, I would have liked it even less. Yes, I get that it’s a portrayal of society’s hypocritical behavior, but still… I don’t know, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

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6 – 10 – The other five books I read this month were five novels collected in one single thick volume which I finally managed to purchase online. The volume is in beautiful hard cover and all the novels in it are by the horror writer Susan Hill. These are:

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Dolly – This novel had much promise but when I finished it, I felt as though the author could have been more specific or given us at least a partial answer to the weird happenings… 2 Stars out of 5

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The Man in the Picture – This one was my favorite out of Hill’s five novels, it is evocative of Wilde’s ‘Picture of Dorian Grey’, as well as portraying decadent Venice and its masked balls, which is a subject which always wins me over…. 4 Stars out of 5

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Printer Devil’s Court – Hmm I’m of two minds regarding this one. Again, I think it could have been explored more… 2 Stars out of 5

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The Small Hand – Not bad, a ‘traditional’ ghost story with an old mansion, a man with a troubled past, and an unreliable narrator. 3 Stars out of 5

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The Woman in Black – Yes of course I’ve watched the movie with Radcliffe, and the novel is much more toned down than that, still the atmosphere and the writing were breathtaking, though not as good, I think, as The Man in the Picture. So, 3 Stars out of 5

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And that’s it! Right now I’m reading a book about Celtic Lore and Wicca, so it’s not a novel, but I will still include it in my February round-up next month. To be honest, I think the next round up will contain less books than this one, since I will be going to Germany for a week soon, and I doubt I will be reading much during that time as I will be too busy sightseeing!

Mini-break in Sicily – Day 4 – Mount Etna!

My short mini-break ended with a bang – in more ways than one.

First of all, we had planned this day to be the climax of the trip. We had booked a Jeep ride up Mount Etna, and were very fortunate in that, even though generally such a tour caters for 6-8 people, since it was December there wasn’t a high demand at this time of year, and the private tour was just that – private, meaning that we were to be the only two people with the guide!

That was very fortunate considering the fact that in the middle of the night, I had woken up suffering from sciatica. My back was really killing me and I had seriously thought about not going up Mount Etna at all. My condition was so chronic that my whole left side, starting from my lower back down to my left leg, was totally frozen and very painful. I could hardly walk. Which is why being alone with the guide helped a lot, as he could keep a slower pace, while also helping my boyfriend aid me walk.

As you’ve probably realized, even though I was feeling awful, I still went up the mountain! I couldn’t miss such an opportunity which might never come again!

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After we met our guide and explained my situation, we started driving up the mountain while we joked, talked, and learned about it’s history and volcanic formation. There have been various eruptions and lava flows, which created a multitude of craters, caves and rock formations over the years all around Mount Etna. In fact, on the way we stopped to admire just such a crater. The red soil, which once had been lava, was truly beautiful. The colors deepened and changed depending on how many years had gone by since the eruption. I did not know this, but the guide told us that even though during the first few years, the earth where lava flowed was arid, afterwards it actually became more fertile than normal and it led to the cultivation of certain plants and trees, which were very special. If, for example, one was to plant fruit trees, these would produce fruits much redder in color than usual, and with a particularly strong flavor and taste. There was quite a market for this kind of produce.

Afterwards, we continued our journey up Mount Etna. I could actually see the fuming craters even from far off, and I was so excited as they kept getting closer and closer! The weather was quite warm and the sun was shining, it was all so amazing and I was really glad I hadn’t cancelled the trip, even though my pain did not abate during it.

At last, we arrived at the visitor’s center which is almost at the top of the Mountain. We stopped and walked around, that is, I tried to walk while leaning on my boyfriend. The panoramic views were more than worth the pain!! I found out that our guide was also quite a spiritual person, in that he believed in the pull of the earth and that certain points of the land are special, which I do too. Mother Earth is truly a force to be reckoned with.

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We also went down into a cave which had been naturally formed and excavated with the passage of the lava-flow. There are many like it around the volcano.

Lastly, the guide took us for a short walk on the other side of the mountain, through a dense and beautiful forest that had sprung up in the wake of the oldest eruption. We had to climb up some rough terrain, which was not easy for me without the use of my left leg, however I had the help of two strong burly men (my bf and the guide), so I managed wonderfully. Again, the panoramic views of the other side of the mountain, and the small villages and towns of Sicily which one could admire in the distance, were more than worth it.

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In the evening, we went to eat at, I admit, one of the tastier and most delicious places I’ve been to in my life. This was an agritourism – a farm where they served very fresh, traditional and typical food of the region, all of it produced and cultivated by the family who took care of the restaurant themselves!

I am just so in love with Sicilian food! In my opinion it is the best cuisine in the world! And the portions… phew!!!

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P.S My sciatica did not get any better by the way. When we got back home, I had to take a week off sick from work and stay in bed for days before I could walk without wincing.

PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

After Alice by Gregory Maguire – Review

We all know The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Penned by Oxford Professor Lewis Carroll (whose real name was actually Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1865, this quirky children’s fantasy has inspired multitudes of adaptations, movies, artworks, music and even fashion styles.

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Having been an avid fan and reader of Gregory Maguire ever since I read his novel Wicked, which had inspired the popular musical, and his Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which is an adaptation of Cinderella, I immediately jumped at the chance to read his latest work, After Alice. As is apparent from the title itself, the story is inspired in part by Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, and yet, Alice is NOT in fact the narrator or the main character.

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We meet Ada, Alice’s neighbor, who was in fact very briefly mentioned by Alice herself in the eponymous tale. Ada is a troubled child, constrained by Victorian precepts and tenets and by her unconventional household. In hushed whispers, we hear that her mother is a drunk and possibly suffering from postnatal depression. Her father, the Vicar, scarcely takes any notice of her, her baby brother is a squalling brat, and her governess is a simpering fool. In short, Ada has to fend for herself. Her only friend is Alice, whom, Ada discovers, has disappeared.

Maguire paints a very vivid picture of Victorian England. On the one hand, we travel with a surprised Ada to Wonderland, trying to catch up with Alice whilst encountering the consequences of her passage. On the other hand, we also meet Lydia, Alice’s older sister, throughout whose eyes we face such issues as the slave trade, women’s rights, and the British Victorian mentality. Fantasy is interposed with reality in a very interesting narrative. Picturesque and informative, Maguire’s style is nostalgic to Carroll’s, and yet totally his own.

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Now for the negative part – I must be honest, I have mixed feelings regarding this novel. I started reading it with very high expectations, having previously already been wowed by Maguire’s fairytale adaptations, his ingenuity, creativity and whimsical perspective. Also, being an avid Alice in Wonderland aficionado, I generally try to read, watch, or purchase anything related to my favorite fairytale. While Maguire’s story was marvellously written and illuminating with regards to Victorian society and beliefs, I found it sadly lacking with regards to the Wonderland part of the narrative.

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Carroll’s iconic Wonderland is spectacularly special because it simply makes no sense. As the Cheshire Cat once maintains in Alice in Wonderland, “We are all mad here.” And that is the beauty of Wonderland and the point of fantasy and fairytales – they’re not realistic, because they don’t have to be. Maguire on the other hand, tries to make sense of Wonderland, introducing puns and explanations where none are needed. Wherever he cannot find an explanation, he merely copies characters, situations and almost entire dialogues from Carroll’s original novel.

This article has been published on EVE.COM.MT – If you want to read the complete review, please goto – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/18/after-alice-a-book-review/