The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens

Have you ever fantasised about poisoning someone? Be honest. Well, if you have, you will, perhaps, feel a little less ashamed in knowing that you are not the only one. Testament to this is the notorious ‘Poison Garden’ sprawling, beautiful and deadly, right in the middle of the gardens at Alnwick Castle in northeast England.

I must admit that when I first visited Alnwick Castle, my main motivation for going was the fact that it was one of the main castles used to portray Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter movies. Fandom apart, I love exploring castles whenever I’m abroad and while reading about the various historical attractions one can find in Northumberland, of which there are many, Alnwick caught my attention for many reasons.

Originally built during the 11th century, Alnwick Castle is the second largest inhabited castle in England being the seat of the Duke of Northumberland, who with his family, actively occupies part of the castle to this day.

While trying not to buy too many souvenirs at the gift shop, right after we had purchased our tickets, I was amazed as I looked through the free visitor’s map and pamphlet they had given us, realising how much we had to explore.

Although the castle itself was enormous (all the different parts were labelled in a diagram), the gardens seemed almost to dwarf it, featuring several differently themed sections formally landscaped around a central water cascade. The pamphlet promised a bamboo maze, a large wooden tree house, a number of water fountains and features, a cherry-tree orchard complete with tree-swings, a deer park and many other attractions which I couldn’t wait to see, however what really piqued my interest as soon as I read the sinister-sounding title on the tiny map, was ‘The Poison Garden’.

After asking about it at the gift shop, I was told that this garden was always kept under lock and key, due to the dangerous plants and flowers growing inside and that one could only enter with an official guide at various prescribed times.

Fortunately, the next guided tour was scheduled to start within 15 minutes, so off we went to find the entrance. The cloudy sky and intermittent rain seemed to be the perfect foil for such a grisly tour and as we waited in front of the iron-wrought gate with a number of other visitors huddling underneath rain-jackets and umbrellas, I couldn’t help but wonder at the giant lock and painted skulls warning us off.

Finally, a lady with a jolly smile greeted us, cautioning us against touching anything within  the garden once we were inside. This, she said, was because every tree, plant, leaf and flower inside was highly poisonous, not only through ingestion but even through touch. The gate was opened and we filed in slowly, only to have it clang shut behind us and padlocked once more. Every tree, plant, leaf and flower inside the garden is highly poisonous.

Every tree, plant, leaf and flower inside the garden is highly poisonous.

The first thing we saw as we shivered in the rain and waited for the guide to start explaining the different plants to us, was a large black coffin. Smiling, our guide told us that even though it was not Halloween, that coffin was always there as a warning and to further set the stage for a number of macabre stories relating to the venom-filled bulbs, roots and plants found inside.

The use of poison dates back as far as spiritual and mythical beliefs have been recorded. Our ancestors knew much about the power of plants. They knew not only which parts of the plants were poisonous, but also what quantities to use to kill, cure, drug, or relieve pain.

The multicoloured trees, shrubs and flowers within the Poison Garden glittered sensuously with rain-drops as we made our way around them while hearing stories about their various uses and the gruesome incidents and murders caused by the plants, which had been historically documented.

The pretty blue flowers of Monkshood, also known as Wolf’s Bane, had been used to poison enemy water supplies during times of war in ancient Europe and Asia, which caused numbness of the throat, intense vomiting, diarrhoea, muscular weakness, spasms, paralysis of the respiratory system, and convulsions which could be fatal.

Yet another innocuous-looking shrub was revealed by our guide to be ‘wormwood’, which is one of the ingredients used to make Absinthe. Sporting tiny yellow flowers, wormwood is both a hallucinogenic and an emetic, it is in fact banned in most countries.

Although the ancients knew how to use herbs and plants to heal, it was very easy to misconstrue their dosage or use, thus resulting in a number of ailments and deaths.

Belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, is well-known today to be made of foliage and berries which are highly toxic, however Venetian ladies used the juice from this plant as a cosmetic. It was, in fact, distilled as eye drops with the aim of enlarging and darkening the pupils, making the eyes look larger and more mysterious, hence the name ‘bella donna’ which means ‘beautiful woman’ in Italian.

The guide told us that the poison in this pant is so effusive, that just three of its tiny sweet-tasting shining black berries are enough to kill an infant.

Our guide also explained that many of the poisonous plants found within the garden at Alnwick grow avidly in the wild and can be erroneously ingested by a pet or child left unsupervised.  Even the common daffodil, that is the narcissus, can be poisonous, since the bulbs contain toxic alkaloids.

As we walked even deeper into the garden, I noticed that one small section in particular was dramatically cordoned off with chains. Seeing me looking at it in undisguised curiosity, the guide smiled and showed us the small sign at its edge. This in fact, was the ‘illegal drug’ section.

 The Poison Garden at Alnwick was often a site for teachers and parents to bring students and children, in order to educate and caution them on drug abuse and the misuse of illegal substances.

She assiduously pointed out that all the illegal plants found in this part of the garden, such as marijuana (cannabis) which is a hallucinogen and cocaine, which causes nose ulcers, convulsions and depression, among other effects, were grown with express permission from the government under a Home Office licence.

Other commonly-found poisonous plants we saw and discussed during our visit included bluebells and snowdrops, whose bulbs are very poisonous when ingested and which can cause nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.

There was also common Juniper, whose berries can be fatal in small amounts; prickly lettuce, which is a sedative and can be addictive; oleander, which is highly toxic and may cause skin irritation if touched, and death if eaten; the opium poppy, which is a source of morphine, laudanum and heroin; and the tobacco plant, whose nicotine effects are well known.

In other words, if you find yourself walking along a wild garden or forest, be very careful what you smell, touch, or put in your mouth, because even though something may seem pretty and innocuous, appearances can be deceiving!

The exterior of Alnwick Castle.

By the way, this article was originally published by the Maltese newspaper The Sunday Times, however due to a bug embedded in the webpage concerned, I am told that I am unable to share it in any browser for now, which is why I am resorting to my blog.

The url itself, strangely enough, is still working, so if you want to take a look at the original, go here

Update: the bug has been cleared and any shares have been restored… ugh what a mess! Not gonna delete this entry from my blog now anyways. So there!

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Re-reading Narnia – Misogynistic but Pleasant

It’s 2018 and I’m sick in bed. For a change. 2017 was characterized with health problems and currently, 2018 doesn’t look to be much different. On the bright side, this gives me more time to read (and watch K-dramas).

Being in the mood for Xmassy children’s books to end the year, at the end of 2017 I started re-reading the Narnia books. I hadn’t read them in years and having purchased a second hand quasi-new copy at a very good price, thought this the perfect opportunity to do so.

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If you have only watched the Narnia movies, you have missed a lot. In case you did not know this, there are a total of 7 Narnia books (and only 3 movies). Speaking of the movies, the first movie to come out, and the most famous of the Narnia books, is ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Although most people believe this to be the first book in the Narnia series, it is actually the second, that is, in Narnian chronological order. Let me explain – the American published Narnia books number the series in order of publication. And in that case, yes the ‘Wardrobe’ book would be the first one. C.S Lewis himself however, preferred to look at the books chronologically, meaning that ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is to be considered the first book, which is how UK publishing houses do it.

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I myself own a UK version of the box series (thank the Goddess), in which the books are numbered chronologically, which is how I prefer to read them. This means that the books should be read like this:

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Movie No. 1)
  3. Prince Caspian (Movie No. 2)
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Movie No. 3)
  5. The Horse and his Boy
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

While books 2, 3 and 4, which were made into movies, tackle the adventures of the Pevensie children in Narnia, the other books concern other main characters. The Pevensie children feature in these books sometimes as well, but they mostly do this as Kings and Queens of Narnia and they are not the main characters.

I love the books HOWEVER there are some things which bug the hell out of me. For example, no one can deny that almost every book treats the female gender as though it was made of glass. This mentality is not surprising since the author was writing these books in the 1950s, however reading sentences like ‘it is a sad day when women must go to war’ really irritates me. War is ALWAYS terrible, no matter who actually fights in it. Also, why are the boys always given swords and weapons, while the girls have to make do with bows and small daggers, or even face seriously scary foes with no weapons at all??

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As author Philip Pullman himself writes, these books are ‘monumentally disparaging of girls and women’. And what about the baddies who always seem to be powerful women who have gotten ‘above themselves’ defying the patriarchal institution of Aslan? I am of course talking about the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Prince Caspian’s wife, another powerful woman, is not even given a name in the series! The only ways she is referred to is as someone’s daughter or someone’s wife! Very disturbing to say the least!

That being said, another thing which irritates me is the whole Aslan – Jesus metaphor, but that’s just me and it is mostly portrayed in the last book… at least in my perspective since I tried to ignore it as much as possible till the end, and considered the whole thing as fantasy.

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Apart from that, re-reading the series was a blast, and I also discovered echoes of Neil Gaiman, which leads me to believe that the series must have inspired Gaiman to write and develop certain ideas, such as the star-woman concept in ‘Stardust’ for example.

Nice!

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!

 

The Female Orgasm

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is much harder for a woman to reach orgasm than it is for a man.

It’s a fact – nearly all men climax without difficulty, and yet women seem to need more attention and more effort on the part of their partner to reach the pleasure peak of the so-called Big-O. So much so in fact, that until a few decades ago, doctors even believed that it was scientifically impossible for most women to reach this sexual climax at all. In certain cultures, those who actually did were sometimes even considered to be unnatural by their husbands or partners.

On the other hand, nowadays we get a totally opposite yet still wrong picture through porn and the media, which portray women orgasming vociferously and vigorously multiple times as a matter of course. Unfortunately, reality is quite different!

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Not all of us are automatically turned on every time we’re confronted by an excited male, nor is it so easy to reach sexual gratification just because someone squeezes our booty or jumps up and down on us a couple of times. Yes, women can reach orgasm too, but no, they do not reach this sexual target as automatically and easily as men do.

Why? Because apparently while men only seem to need a visual and physical stimulus for them to reach a certain state of excitement, women also need a mental and/or emotional stimulus.

There are two types of orgasms. These are vaginal orgasms and clitoral orgasms. Sigmund Freud, the father of psycho-analysis, used to believe that older women had vaginal orgasms, while younger and more immature women had clitoral orgasms. Experts no longer believe this. However, Freud was right in thinking that there were two kinds of orgasm. This was also maintained in a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2013, which showed how ultrasound tests revealed that the two kinds of orgasms – clitoral and vaginal – differ in blood flow and sensations produced.

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French gynaecologists Odile Buisson and Emmanuele A. Jannini tracked blood pressure and patterns as it flowed through the female body and organs, and they saw changes in blood flow during different types of stimulating contacts…

This article of mine was published on EVE.COM.MT – Please click here to read the rest! http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/11/29/the-female-orgasm-fact-vs-fiction/

The Lolita Subculture – I love it!

So, next weekend in Malta there’s a yearly Comicon which takes place each year at the beginning of December. I’ve been attending this Comicon since its second year of running. I haven’t always worn a costume, and I admit the times I wore one, I wasn’t the one who made it – it was a bought costume, so shoot me lol. That being said, I dressed twice as Alice from American McGee’s Playstation game ‘Alice Madness’ (I love that character!) and twice I dressed as a Gothic Lolita.

The first time I wore an outfit I had purchased from Sai Sai in Camden Town, London – my fav clothes shop in all of London! Last year, my outfit was inspired by Shampoo, which is a character from the anime Ranma 1/2 – hence the blue wig. Yup, that’s me in the photo below!

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I honestly don’t know whether I am going to attend this year for various reasons. Still, the Comicon is not far from my thoughts, which is why I wrote an article on The Lolita Subculture, which was published in the online magazine EVE.COM.MT

Here’s the link to the article – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/11/27/the-lolita-japanese-subculture/

Please feel free to comment!

Have you ever attended a Comicon or a Comic Convention? Did you dress up?

Feeling Intellectually Snobbish

I guess one should be grateful about Plebs trying to write in English. People say it’s the effort or the thought that counts, and not the result – they say it when someone loses a competition or gives a lousy present, so I guess, seeing people whose written English is just so terrible, trying to make an effort, should give one a bit of hope right? At least they are TRYING to write.

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And yet, the conjugation of the verbs, not to mention the turn of sentences, or lack thereof really, are so bad – that I end up wondering. Wouldn’t it be better to just resign yourself to the fact that your English is terrible and that you are just not capable of writing, in English at least, instead of pushing yourself, and others, to suffer through that horrifying syntax? It’s torture really, especially when you’re a voracious reader tenderly minding your own business, and suddenly there it is. Like a freezing squall surprising you out of nowhere. Like a sudden punch in the face. Those bloody sentences which go nowhere, the lack of auxiliary verbs, the mixing of the past and present tense. And don’t let me start about the vocabulary. Ugh.

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Yes, I’m kind of a language Puritan. What can I say? Would the term ‘Grammar Nazi’ fit? Perfectly I’d imagine. Oh yes, I make mistakes, especially when I’m typing using some itty-bitty mobile keypad, or when I’m distracted. But making a typing error in a status or a hurried comment is one thing, while actually publishing a whole article without even bothering to edit the bloody thing, is something totally different

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For Pete’s sake, one can even do that with the auto-correct function these days!

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Ugh, yes rant over.

And THIS is why I hardly ever read local amateurish stuff.

PLEBS

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Oxford University – The Real Hogwarts!

Balliol College

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.

Christ Church College

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

Eating my own Words!!

So, last January (on the 19th to be precise) I wrote a blog post on this page reiterating again and again that I would never, ever publish my own FB page on online media. Obviously, I ate my own words this week, since my professional freelance writing FB page went up yesterday. lol

You can find it here btw, if you want to like and follow – https://www.facebook.com/MelisandeMoonsong1/

Be my guest haha.

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Whatever. No one’s infallible.

Thing is, I was browsing along a couple of Freelance-promoting websites, and they all said the same thing – if you want to promote yourself and your writing acumen, you’ve got to have an online portfolio. 

This spate of interest on my part came after the CEO of a particular new local Maltese publishing company contacted me through (surprise, surprise) Facebook, and asked to see my blog. Yes THIS blog. Which, to say the least, is hardly professional, since I mainly use it to vent my own personal idiosyncratic irritations. And then it hit me – apart from my actual work, these poor people looking for a language-wise writer have no means of actually finding said gem. Unless of course, s/he is pointed out to them by ‘common friends’, or the like. 

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Thing is, I had never actually thought of freelance writing as a ‘career’. Not consciously at least. It just… well, happened. I like to write. Some people knew that and contacted me asking for a sample. They liked it, and were willing to pay for more. Time passed, and more people read my stuff and liked it. They contacted me, wanted a sample… and bla bla, there you have it! I never really set out to actually earn MONEY from it, if you know what I mean, but now that I’m on this cruise, which I actually like and enjoy, I may as well learn how to steer the boat, right?

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My primary job, as well as mode of income, is still my day-time qualified job. However earning that something extra by doing something which I enjoy doing, is of course, awesome.

As a side-note, I’ve learnt that this type of freelance writer is called a ‘Moonlighter’. A ‘Moonlighter’ is ‘ a professional with a primary, traditional job who also moonlights doing freelance work. For example, a corporate- employed web developer who also does projects for non-profits in the evening.’ Neat right?

Got that from THIS website btw – https://benrmatthews.com/definition-freelancing-changed-meet-new-5-types-freelancers/

Anyways, I’m going to paste this again JUST IN CASE you did not bother to click and visit the page the first time round. THIS IS MY OWN PAGE – PLEASE FOLLOW! https://www.facebook.com/MelisandeMoonsong1/

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Cheers!!

 

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 National Book Fair Sucks… sorry. This is my opinion.

People I hardly know tag me on book-related stuff on Facebook (and I love it). Friends have ceased to ask me why I always have books in my handbag. People who hardly know me identify me because unless I’m talking to someone, there’s always an open book in front of me.

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Let’s face it, everyone knows that I’m a Book-addict/Bookaholic/Bibliophile/Nerd/Bookworm/etc. I think books, breathe books and live in books in my mind most of the time. For me, the characters I’m reading about at that moment in time are more real than ‘real life’, and even though I try to rein it in to ‘appear like a normal human being’ on the surface, it just seeps through.

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So, I’m guessing with the opening of the National Malta Book Fair this afternoon, I am ‘expected’ to go into an orgiastic frenzy and tear everything in my path until I’m standing right there buying everything in sight. I admit, that was the case once. But unfortunately, things change.

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I’m going to come out and say it, and I don’t care who takes offence, because it is my right as a person to say what I think. THIS YEAR I AM NOT GOING TO THE BOOKFAIR BECAUSE IT SUCKS!

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It wasn’t always like this. Up until around four/five years ago, it was great. One of the most anticipated weeks of the year (for me), but all that slowly ground to a halt as I realised that the fair was becoming more and more crappy each year. What happened?

Well, first of all people go to a fair to find bargains. It’s the truth. We rush there hoping we’ll ‘find’ something we couldn’t normally purchase, or that we find something cheaper than usual, which is why we’d be especially waiting for the fair to buy it. In the past, this applied to the bookfair as there were many bargains depending on the different stalls. Many of them offered a ‘buy two books, get one free’ deal, while others offered paperbacks for very cheap and worthwhile prices.

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Nowadays, the prices are the same as those found within regular stores, and sometimes more expensive than the prices of books bought online – so in that case, why bother?

In relation to the books themselves, I used to go ‘hunting’ for books which one does not normally find in stores too. Like old editions of fairytales for example, or novels written by obscure authors I had never heard of, but which were brilliant nonetheless. Today this is no longer possible, simply because ADULT NOVELS in ENGLISH are only a very small portion of the books on offer during the fair. This is because the fair has mostly become a publicity stunt to show how our society is trying to promote reading for children. This is not a mistake at all per se, as it is obviously important for the powers that be to provide opportunities for new readers, however the bad thing is that by doing so, they are NEGLECTING already developed readers. By focusing only on children’s books, the bookfair is neglecting adults who like to read!!

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Another thing is the overly obvious promotion of books in the Maltese language. Personally I do not like to read in Maltese, preferring English as this complements my state of mind more. This does not mean that other people don’t love to read in Maltese, obviously. I also understand the importance of promoting and creating opportunities for writers of Maltese, as well as books about Malta, to take a prominent role within the National BookFair. It is a matter of course. What I DO NOT get is why lately, the bookfair is offering only:

  1. Books for children
  2. Novels and other books in Maltese
  3. Historical books about Malta

WHERE are the novels/books in the English language for adults??

I don’t mean to say there aren’t any, but there are VERY FEW on offer, and these are quite mainstream and found in shops all year round, not to mention online. So, why on earth should I need to go to the bookfair to get a hold of them?

Considering that in Malta, both the Maltese and the English language are ‘official languages’, one should be as important as the other!

Last year, I asked the relevant Facebook page pertaining to the bookfair whether there would be a good assortment of literature in English. The answer I got was that there would be books in English, just as there would be books in Italian and French. For shame! English is one of the two official languages of Malta, why is it being relegated to a ‘third language’ status?
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I’m sure many will not agree with me and that is not a problem. However, these are the reasons why I personally, will not be going to the National Bookfair this year. I simply know I will not find anything that will interest me there. As I didn’t find anything (except boredom and wasted time that is) last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Thank you very much for nothing, I will continue buying my non-mainstream and new, yet inexpensive books online.

End of rant. You may like to start kindling your fires and sharpening your pitchforks now.

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