A Writer’s Satisfaction

I must admit, researching and writing interviews is not my favorite form of writing. Of course, I do love the opportunity to meet new people and discover different modes of expression, not to mention taking part in the artistic local scene, since most of the interviews I conduct usually center around either artists or cultural events. However, some part of me still feels that this is not the sort of writing I’m meant to focus on.

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Still, it brings me great pleasure to see how my interviews are so very well-received.

My two latest interviews were totally different in nature. Both resulted in quite different, yet very pleasant results. The first such article, published on The Sunday Times of Malta, which is a leading weekly local newspaper, centered around a Japanese Cultural event in Malta and included an interview with the Secretary General of the Japanese Association. As a result of it being published, the Ambassador of Japan to Malta contacted me personally, asking for a soft copy of the article, in order for it to be shared and distributed among various Japanese cultural associations, as its fervor would further promote the communication between our two countries. I was really flattered about this! Imagine Japanese organisations, Ministries, and many other people in Japan will be reading my article! 

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The other interview which was published a couple of days ago concerns a local painter and was published on EVE magazine. The artist in question is not very well known, yet he was so pleased with the interview that he left the following comment on EVE’s website, which I really appreciate:

‘I’d like to thank Melisande Aquilina, for this fantastic article about my love towards art. She has done a really excellent job. I feel tremendously grateful towards her talent as a writer. Melisande is giving a great contribution towards persons like me, whose work is hardly known. This is a great day for me, thanks to you Melisande.’

Thank YOU!

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The article in question can be found here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/04/benny-brimmer-painting-in-light-and-shadow/

The interview which was published on The Sunday Times is unfortunately not available online as a whole.

Things like these are what really make my day!

 

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Oxford University – The Real Hogwarts!

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Have you ever found yourself in a particular place and suddenly felt completely at home? I couldn’t identify this pervading feeling at first, but when I visited the University of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England, a couple of years ago, for some strange reason it felt amazingly familiar. I had never been there before and yet, that indecipherable feeling of connection could not be shaken off.

The architecturally gothic buildings and the streets thronged with bustling students, the jovial camaraderie and the many fairy-like gardens and little shops sporting old tomes and coloured school uniforms… I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Until I started visiting specific places of interest that is, and then all the pieces of the puzzle magically made sense.

Oxford is Hogwarts. It is Diagon Alley. It is Lyra’s parallel Oxford from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials Trilogy’. It is Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen University’ on Discworld, J.R.R. Tolkien’s playing field, C.S Lewis’ inspiration, and Lewis Carroll’s domain. Traces of Wonderland and Narnia permeate the streets. Oxford – the place where so many literary titans met, conversed, evolved, were influenced, and created their master works.

We left our car in a small parking area outside the city proper and took a bus which left us on Magdalen Street, where the first thing we saw was Balliol College. This is the oldest of the 38 constituent colleges which make up the University of Oxford.

When one speaks of this University, one must keep in mind that the different colleges or communities in which students live and study all present different outlooks and approaches to learning, having their own various idiosyncrasies, sports teams, coloured uniforms, patron saints, facilities, and academic prospectus. And yet they all make up one University – 38 different parts of one great whole, as well as a number of academic departments divided into four divisions. Is this starting to sound a little bit familiar?

Balliol College, founded in the late 13th century, had long existed as a medieval hall of residence for students. There is, in fact, evidence that teaching took place here as far back as 1096AD, making Oxford the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Moving on towards the iconic Bodleian Library, I passed outside the enchanting Sheldonian Theatre, built in the 17th century. Its eight-sided cupola is truly a sight to behold. However, I had no time to enjoy any of the music concerts or lectures taking place within.

As we walked away from the theatre, I chanced to look up and for a moment, thought I had been suddenly transported to Venice. This is because I was passing under Hertford Bridge, also known as ‘the Bridge of Sighs’, which joins the two sides of Hertford College. Although popular for supposedly being a replica of the eponymous Venetian Bridge, it actually looks more like the Rialto Bridge of the same city.

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My target, however, was the second largest library in Britain – the Bodleian Library, which is famous for containing each and every book published within the UK. Over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles of shelving to be precise. Are you impressed yet? I was all agog even before going inside. When I stepped over the threshold, I was flabbergasted – it was Hogwarts! Literally.

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The Bodleian Library was used as part of the set through-out four of the Harry Potter movies, not just as a library, but as the infirmary, as well as serving as the Hall where Professor McGonnagal teaches the students to dance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christ Church College

Duke Humphrey’s Library, which is the name of the oldest reading room within the Bodleian, was used for the scene where Harry Potter enters the Restricted library under his invisibility cloak with a lamp to steal a book in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

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Here, one can also find a section of mysteriously chained books, which are known to have inspired Terry Pratchett’s depiction of the magical library within his ‘Unseen University’ of wizards. And what about the magnificently vaulting ceiling within the interior of the Divinity School, a medieval building which is attached to the library itself? Definitely not to be missed.

Just a side-note… the official head of Oxford University is called the chancellor, while the vice-chancellor is the one who organises central administration and the in-house professors are generally called ‘Masters’. Readers of Terry Pratchett should find themselves familiar with this state of affairs. The coat-of-arms of Oxford University, an open book with a crown underneath it and two above it, funnily looks a lot like the coat of arms of the Unseen University too.

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Moving on down Catte Street, I soon visited other well-known Oxford Colleges, such as All Souls, Queens, as well as Magdalen College, where C.S Lewis, author of the famous Narnia books, was a tutor, and Exeter College, where I could admire the bust of one of its most famous past students, J. R. R. Tolkien.

On the other hand, unfortunately I did not have the time to visit the cloisters found at New College, which were used as the backdrop for certain scenes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Needing a break and something to eat after all this walking and awe-inspiring sightseeing, I paused at the Oxford Covered Market, centred in the middle of the city. This historic market goes back to the 18th century. It offers a plethora of fresh food stands, artisans’ products, traditional stalls, greengrocers, bakeries and handcrafted knick knacks. Truly a landmark in its own right.

After some well-merited refreshments, we walked on down Wheatsheaf Yard towards Christchurch Cathedral, which serves as both the College Chapel and Mother Church for the Diocese of Oxford. The gothic long-spired building, with its colourful stained glass windows, vaulted cloisters and intricately carved ceiling, is truly one of a kind.

A short walk south of the cathedral brought us finally to Christ Church College, which, for me personally, was the climax of my trip to Oxford University. I definitely know which college I’d wish to attend if I could be an alumna of Oxford University! ‘Welcome to Hogwarts’… so says Prof McGonagall as Harry is about to enter his school for the first time. And those same steps we see on screen are the same steps which actually lead up the dining hall at Christ Church College.

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The Meadow Building, built in the Venetian Gothic style popular during the Victorian period, dominates our view as soon as we enter this college. The courtyard also gives one a view of Bodley Tower, whose picturesque stone staircase was portrayed magnificently throughout various Harry Potter movies. Up the magical staircase we go to the dining hall at Christ Church College. The first thing we see on our immediate right as we enter the hall is a portrait of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The large stained glass windows around the hall and above the fireplace sport a myriad of Alice in Wonderland figures – from Alice herself to the white rabbit, and even the mock turtle. It was while Dodgson was rowing on a small boat near Magdalen College with the Dean’s three daughters, of which one was called Alice Liddell that he first started improvising the tale we all love and know so well.

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Christ Church Dining Hall was the inspiration for the Hall in Hogwarts, with its wood-panelled walls, its long long tables and its tiny lamps. The movie was not actually filmed in it, but a perfect replica of the place was reproduced within studio.

The many portraits lining the dining hall in Christ Church also played an important part in J. K Rowling’s novels. The table at the far end, known as ‘the High Table’ and used by senior members of the college, was also perfectly replicated as the table where Professors at Hogwarts dine and make speeches.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christ Church College, just as no tourist worth his salt could drive off without spotting the small store known as The Alice in Wonderland Shop. Located just in front of Christ Church College, this colourful Wonderland emporium stands on the historic spot pre-viously filled by Alice Liddell’s favourite candy shop.

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The shop is full of Alice in Wonderland merchandise – different decks of cards depicting characters from the story, tiny china tea-sets, replica pocket watches, figurines, tea cosies, books and much more. If, like me, you’re an Alice aficionado, prepare your cheque book!

This article of mine was published on The Sunday Times of Malta on 23.10.2016 – http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161023/travel/Oxford-University-the-real-Hogwarts.628830

Confession! Sorry dear bloggers!

FINALLY a moment of peace! Been so busy these past few weeks! In a good way though! Lol actually in a VERY good way.

And here I must admit to something. Something which actually I am not ashamed of, since it makes me reflect about how amazing my life really is. The confession is this – unfortunately this blog is not a priority in my life. Shocked? Well it’s the pure truth. Yes I adore venting and communicating random feelings and thoughts here. I love making friends and i’m flattered by the numbers in the stats section which show the popularity of my little random tit-bits of writing. Yet these past few weeks have made me realize how much is actually going on in my life and cherish the fact that I have so many vibrant priorities to continue fostering.

What have I been doing? Well apart from finally travelling extensively within the Scottish Highlands, the Hebrides and Scotland itself and enriching myself in the process, I have been writing like mad, taking amazing photos in order to hold such memories forever, updating my home and abode and also getting more and more writing commissions… which apart from being fun to research and write, are also starting to bring in some concrete cash (more than the usual tiny sums I mean).

You may notice that I referred to writing twice. This is because mentally, i tend to divide my writing into 2 different categories. Creative writing and commissioned writings. I enjoy them both but in truth it is creative writing which lets me give vent to my imagination and inspiration. After all, this is what writing is all about! And as another writer once said ‘A writer HAS to write’ (referring to Lucy Maud Montgomery) – it is not something one does to follow some agenda, have followers, or appear in the lime light. A writer cannot NOT write if you get my drift. About everything. Every day. Which is why i feel that this blog is not a priority. I never publish any of my pieces here – not the original real writings which reflect my heart and soul. That’s because there is no real copyright on publicly hosted blogs. I also actually rarely put on articles which i have written under commission, and when i do i always paste the original newspaper or magazine link too. So, after all my creative writing + commissioned writing (more and more such jobs are cropping up lately), I admit that I hardly have time to dedicate to this blog. Though sometimes, like today, i actually glance in here a bit 😜

Going back to my latest travelling adventure – each thing learned, historical place visited and experience made, only served to further inflame me, birth new ideas and inspire more writing. All is stored up in my head and heart for now, but will come out soon enough! P.S all the photos interspersed throughout this post are ones I took in Scotland.

And of course, all this emotion, passion, curiosity and fascination with life, is all wrapped up together with my love for my soulmate. That all pervading, mysterious, funny, ever-growing love, which makes all the days and nights so much richer. In the end, what can be better than seeing and travelling the world? Doing that with the one you love of course! And what can be better than writing? Writing while knowing that the one you love is there, in the next room, waiting to cradle you in his arms and kiss your lips when you are done. 

So, confessions apart, if you are reading my blog – this is what you will get. The wild meandering crazy thoughts of a girl who’s too busy and mashed up for comfort, but who nonetheless is prepared to offer an honest and clear-cut opinion and perspective. Not in an effort to attract attention or appear as something she’s not, but in the pure desire of being herself and reaching out to like-minded creatures.

P.S For those who were wondering, though I did sail on Loch Ness, unfortunately, Nessie was not to be seen 😛

Facebook ‘Pages’ – Do you have this Virus?

There is currently a trend of everyone to create their own ‘Facebook page’ lately. Facebook pages are usually a way for artists or businessmen to market either their talent or their products. Restaurants have Facebook pages, as do shops and designers. Painters, singers, writers and dancers have pages. Many people, from VIPs to actual nobodies (who nonetheless wish they were ‘popular’ apparently) are all the time sending an ‘invitation’ for ‘likes’ to all and sundry, as though the more ‘likes’ you had from the people out there, the more you valued yourself.

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Well, I am a published writer. I write for a local magazine, a local newspaper, and a Russian historical website, and even though (unfortunately) writing is not my main job, it is a very special part of my life. Writing has always been my passion and I always wanted to become a writer of books. For now, I have merely contented myself with selling articles freelance, but the best is yet to come ;p

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Anyways, some time ago a friend asked me how come I did not have a Facebook page, when even people who did not provide any product, information, or service had one, merely to appear ‘hip’.

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I provided a product and could market my talent through my Facebook page – so why didn’t I create one? Simple – I DON’T WANT TO!

Personally as a writer and as an individual, I feel that I have many facets to my personality. One or another of these facets may appear in one article or the other, or they may not. The point is that I am not just that. I am not just a writer who writes articles about relationships. I am not just a writer who writes about historical castles and battles. I am not just a world-traveller with a travelling features column on a weekly newspaper. I do not want to be defined by these things because I am much more than that. Also, I put too much stuff about me online as it is!

Don’t get me wrong – I like posting pictures on Instagram, comments on Facebook and (sometimes) an extra informal article, like this one, on a blog, HOWEVER I feel that there are also hidden depths to my consciousness which are impossible to define, and therefore ‘collecting’ all of me on a ‘page’ is not possible and makes me feel uncomfortable. Kind of like giving presents to one’s stalker. (And believe me I’ve had stalkers in the past and I know what I’m talking about).

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So, no i DO NOT, and will never have a ‘Facebook page’. That is, unless I publish a gazillion books and my manager and PR decide to upload one for my fans… but that’s another story ;-p

 

The Secret Sin of Writing

It is a truth universally acknowledged that what sells, and GOOD WRITING are two very different things. It is also a fact that most artistic geniuses, which are freely viewed as such today, were nobodies when they were alive, and in fact many of them were unbelievably poor and wretched.

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Not all of them of course, Charles Dickens, being a carismatic charmer, made more money out of his public readings, which advertised his own writing skills, than from his journalistic writings. Mozart, who was a child-prodigy, wowed the nobility with his precociousness, and Lord Byron was also well-known not only for his boyish Casanova-like behavior, but also for his poetry and grace. These however are just flukes, and not the norm at all.

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What sells is what magazines and newspapers look for. What sells is the thing most Editors really consider when reading a draft for the first time. Shakespeare was a struggling playwright in his time – one of the many trying to gain the attention of the nobility to earn a living. The same could be said for Marlowe, Blake and many other such artistic geniuses. They tried to find a balance between pleasing the masses and being true to their art. One wonders what great artistic treasures they could have produced, had they not been constrained by the need to earn money through the use of their talent.

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I need money. Doesn’t everyone? Now more than ever, I need money. This is the point in my life where I think, I will need money most. That is why I totally understand how and why a writer, a musician, an artist, sometimes has to prostitute his or her talent. It does not mean I like it. Hopefully, it will not always be so. I will always need money of course, but I dream of a time in future, when I will be comfortable enough to at least relegate my office hours to work, and then afterwards be free to write whatever I want, for the sole pleasure of writing it, and not for any other ulterior motives.

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Of course, if others like reading what I write, and I make a gazzillion euros out of it, I won’t complain either ;p

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The Times of Malta vs the Rise of my STRESS levels!

When I was younger, I used to love perusing the magazines which came with one of Malta’s most popular newspapers – The Times of Malta, not to mention the daily comic. As I grew up, I discovered the online website, which presents all current articles in an easy-to-access, friendly structure.

And there, began the trouble.

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The issue as such did not stem from my reading current affairs (although that in itself is enough to turn anyone’s hair white), but in reading the many IGNORANT, NARROW-MINDED and HYPOCRITICAL comments spouted by most of those who, having nothing better to do with their days, spend an inexplicable amount of time not just commenting on each article, but actually bickering and fighting amongst themselves. These people don’t even know each other – most of them use, in fact, a nom de plume, and yet, the same ‘names’ continue cropping up again and again, often voicing not just opinions pertaining to the article itself, but always steering the conversation towards political themes, religious fanaticism, or even personal name-calling.

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Faced with this HUGE evidence of my own country’s stupidity, each time I read an article, I promise myself to NOT EVEN PEEK at the darn comments… since I’m aware that if I do so, I will inevitably start to fume at the ears, not due the fact that I would have a different opinion (everyone is entitled to their own views after all), but because the blatant shortsighted, senseless, and most of the time irrelevant tosh thrown pell-mell all over the place by such ludicrous and mindless individuals, just makes me want to vomit. I don’t know why I sweat it so much, I mean it won’t make any difference to me personally that Cikku tal-pastizzi is a misogynistic asshole, or that Doris tal-haxix is just a bitchy twerp waiting for an excuse to roll her eyes at everyone. I should be resigned to the hopeless fact that unfortunately, most Maltese village-idiots, not to mention wanna-be posh bullshitters, are just like that.

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Except that apparently, no matter how my brain signals to little opinionated me that that is the case, I still hear my unadultarated voice shriek in indignant rage whenever I’m faced with such insurmountable obtuseness.

Because that is the worst I think – not that someone is stupid… after all everyone can learn, but that they DO NOT WANT TO. Most people, if told by their grandmother that the earth is flat, that washing their hair with egg-yolk makes it shinier, and that anyone who doesn’t go to mass three times a week is evil, just take all this clap-trap at face value without ever questioning or even being interested in thinking of the ‘why’.

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Here is an obvious example http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150317/local/mum-who-left-baby-in-car-to-be-charged.560248

This article concerns a woman who left her baby unattended in her car. We have all heard stories of how awful and detrimental this can be to a small child’s health, particularly in hot countries like Malta and Italy. Anyone who leaves their child, or a pet, unattended in such conditions is guilty of massive negligence, and we all agree on that. HOWEVER, just look at those comments! To quote:

‘Unbelievable ! – But as the saying goes … You can take the woman out of Africa, but you can’t take Africa out of the woman.’

‘You can’t take the jungle out of certain people.’

‘single mother huh?’

SERIOUSLY? So you think that just because the person is colored, is not Maltese, and is a single mother, she obviously does not know any better? What about all such other cases which happened in Italy, Britain, and many other countries? Were they all single mothers? OF COURSE NOT! That has nothing to do with it!

Meh… talk about labeling and racial intolerance!!

Now tell me again… how on earth can I keep my stress-levels in check after reading such bs??

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