Saturday, 30 October 2010

2 Golds and a Silver

I won!!!!

We had Cuppers last weekend, which is the selection meet for those who will represent Oxford in next weekend's Fresher's Varsity match verus Cambridge. I won shot put and discus and came in second place for javelin. My disctances were far from what I wanted them to be, but I've done a great deal of technical training in the last week, so I'm hoping to get back to my old self again sometime soon.

We saw Hamlet this week at the National Theater in London. It was beautifully done. The staging was incredibly modern sort, of like CIA meets Shakespeare. The modern staging definitely made it fun for a younger audience. Maybe the director read my Shakespeare post. Just kidding.

Big news on the writing front...

I had my creative writing tutorial this week, during which I presented a chapter of a book I am currently working on. My tutor loved it. I'll spare the recantation of his praises in fear that it will be misconstrued as bragging; however, I will say that I'm grateful to be working with someone who acknowledges my potential and feels that YA writing is the right path for me.

I received some other big news on the writing front this week. One of the agents who was very eager to read my manuscript wrote me an email saying that she gave the manuscript to her daughter and her daughter couldn't put it down. Regrettably, she was unable to offer me representation at this time, but she gave me some wonderful suggestions and agreed to give it another look after I make the changes. No pressure or anything. I fully intend to start working on the revisions as soon as possible. The manuscript itself has already made some significant changes for the better since I self-published it in 2008, so I'm really excited to be one baby step closer to my goal of getting an agent.

It was such a crazy week that I'm sure I've probably left out something, so if I think of anything more, I'll post it early next week along with a recap of my Halloween adventures. I'll be dressing up as a nerd tomorrow night, suspenders, thick black framed glasses with tape across the bridge and all. I'll have to send Danny pictures. I'm sure he'll think I look like Steve Urkel and will probably laugh about it for a good five minutes or more. My brother had 2 main heroes during his teenage years: Urkel and Richard Simmons. Seeing me look like Urkel will probably be the highlight of his day.

Well, that's all for now, but I promise to blog again soon. Sorry about the long wait. This week was crazy busy.

Happy Halloween everybody! (And happy daylight savings time. We get to turn the clocks back tonight.)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

If only the British Isles were tropical...

I can only think of a few things that would make Oxford better and right now tropical weather has moved up to number one on the list. It's been about 50 degrees all week, which the Connecticut native in me says is really not that cold, but when you've lived in a place that gets to be 100 plus degrees in the summer, anything less than 60 seems like you're in the Arctic. Worse yet is the realization that it will only get colder. Nevertheless, I still plan to travel to the various Scandinavian capital cities after terms ends. Under Armour should do the trick.

The other thing that would make Oxford better would be if they actually sold long sleeve t-shirts that said Oxford on them. You can buy Oxford tees or sweatshirts, but no long sleeve shirts. I've only seen one so far and it was ugly. I really want a long sleeve t-shirt though because, as anyone who has seen the inside of my closet can attest to, I have plenty of t-shirts and hoodies, but very few long sleeve shirts. I asked one of my teammates here about it and her response was that people don't wear them here, which is why she stocked up on them the last time she visited the States. If I can't find one soon, I guess I'll go back and buy the ugly one. Maybe it will keep me warm when I go to Sweden.

It's been a pretty full week this week. I had my first French tutorial on Friday night. Basically every Friday night for the rest of term while most people my age are getting ready to go to the pub or go clubbing, I'll be walking to French class. It went well. My essay was well recieved, so on the way home I treated myself to a "Texican Sweet Chili Wrap" from Burger King. Yes, you read that correctly "Texican." I'm not sure whether or not that is the British term for Tex-Mex, but it sounds kind of catchy and it tasted really good.

I went to Robert Muchamore's presentation at the Cheltenham Literary Fesitval on Saturday. I've never actually been to a literary festival before, but it was a really fun atmosphere and I'd love to be invited to speak at one someday. For those who don't know, Robert Muchamore is a famous British YA author. His Cherub series is incredibly popular with teen boys. I think the part of his speech I enjoyed the most was that he saw a need--books that would appeal to teen boys--and he tried to fill it. Though I have not yet reached his level of fame, I understand the senitment. He explained that he once offered to buy his nephew a book and his nephew informed him that there were no good books out there. In an attempt to prove his nephew wrong, they went to the bookstore, but as it turned out, all the books were either for a younger audience, for girls, or fantasy based. This inspired the creation of the Cherub series, which to put it very simply is about orphan spies. I can kind of relate to this because growing up I always wrote books that I thought kids like me would want to read. I was bored with what was out there, so I wrote my own stories. I think that's why Picking up the Pieces is so special to me. I was a sporty girl growing up and there really weren't any books about sporty girls. It seemed like all YA sports fiction was for boys, so I'm my own way, I saw a need and tried to fill it.

No other major plans for the week ahead. The Cuppers track meet is next Sunday. Hopefully everything will go smoothly with that. I also really want to go to the movie theater this week to see Life As We Now It. It's funny because some of the movies come out here the same week they do in America, like Life As We Know It, but others are a couple months behind. I'm pretty sure Dispicable Me premiered here sometime within the past couple weeks here and I'm pretty sure it came out a couple months ago in the States.

Also, if anyone wants a glimpse of British television, I'd recommend 8 out of 10 Cats. Karina and I first watched it at the B&B last weekend in Scotland and it was really funny. We looked it up on Youtube tonight and watched some more episodes. It's hard to explain the premise because I can't think of any American shows like it other than the The Soup or Chelsea Lately, but even those don't fit it exactly. It's a late night program with two teams, the captains are the same each episode, but the other panel members are guests and change each time. They basically guess the most talked about topics in the UK for that week, but the commentary is usually pretty funny. I think Jay Leno would make a good guest.

I think that's about it for now. I'll check back in later in the week. Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, 13 October 2010

I went to Hogwarts today!

Tonight our group went to see a production of T.S. Eliot's play "Murder in the Cathedral". It was quite good. Not to give anything away, but the play itself is about the murder of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury and is meant to be authentic to the time. However, there's a twist at the end. The knights who killed the Archbishop come out in modern-day suits and plead their case to the audience that it was not murder, but rather suicide, because Beckett let them in--a comedic twist to an otherwise very serious play. As I'm sure you can imagine, watching "Murder in the Cathedral" in an actual cathedral was very impressive. The architecture of Christ Church is simply astounding, and for all you Harry Potter fans, Christ Church was the original filming location for the Hogwarts scenes, but they later moved it, as it was imposing on the learning process for the Christ Church University students. Long story short, I went to Hogwarts tonight and the creepy part about it was that as we were walking to the play there was an ambulance pulled up by the curb and quite an extensive blood trail on the sidewalk. We're still not sure what happened. No one appeared to be badly hurt, but it certainly set the tone for the play.

I had my meeting with my creative writing tutor and we agreed that I should continue work on my ghost story piece. I've had the idea for a long time and had some inspiration about make a unique narrative style while here. I'm not sure when I will finish it, but I'm glad to start putting pen to paper, well, okay, fingers to keys. Same difference. The idea I mentioned having in my last post was to write a nonfiction piece centered around my brother Danny, who is autistic. I still intend to write this piece, but in order to give it its due diligence, I need to finish two YA fiction pieces I've started, one of them being the ghost story piece. (It's not a scary story, but there is a ghost, and a murder, oh yeah and cheerleading.)

Other exciting news on the writing front is that my short story "Far From Home" is now available on Amazon Kindle UK. In order to have it sold in the UK Kindle store, I had to raise the price a tad, but it is still reasonable. If you have a kindle or kindle for PC, check it out. I wrote orginally wrote it junior year of high school and it probably remains one of my best works.

I had two track practices this week. I had to miss tonight's because of the play. I've been able to keep up well, but as far as I can tell I'm the only female "fresher" thrower. We haven't really started specific throwing drills yet. I've mostly been with the runners and jumpers, but I'm looking forward to getting back in the circle. My first meet will be Sunday October 24th. This meet is Oxford only and is open to all Oxford students, I believe. The meet on November 7th is Oxford freshers versus Cambridge freshers. In order to compete in that one you must be selected by the captain.

Well that's all for now. I intend to post again on Sunday after I have time to recover from the literary festival I'm going to on Saturday. There's also plans in the works for me to try Indian food for the first time. I had my first Thai food experience a couple weeks ago and loved it.

No cool new British phrases to report other than while walking to the track a man rode past me on a bicycle (with a beer can in his hand) and as he passed he yelled "You're all spies." On the same day, also on the way to track practice, I saw a very small dog carrying a very large tree branch in its mouth. The branch took up nearly the whole sidewalk. So as there are really no new phrases to report, I'll stick to my usual...


Sunday, 10 October 2010

There's a shot put thrower on this box of "Porage" and he's wearing a kilt!

I'll start by explaining the title of this post. For those who don't know, I have thrown shot put competitively since freshman year of high school. It's not exactly a common sport. They make keychains and stickers for baseball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis, even bowling, but never shot put, not even track and field really, so needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find a box of "Scotts Porage Oats" with a picture of a guy throwing a shot put and oh yeah, by the way, since it was it Scotland, he was wearing a kilt. (At least his kilt covered more than my Hendrix throwing shorts do, but that's another story, let's just say under armour leggings are a throwers best friend.)

Sorry, it's been awhile since I posted last. There are two reasons for this, the first being that my computer inexplicably lost internet connection for over 24 hours (painful experience, but I survived thanks to my iphone. Oh technology.) The second reason I couldn't update was because I was busy spending two days circling the Edinburgh Castle.

Karina and I took a train to Edinburgh on Friday morning. It was about six hours total, so we got there by mid-afternoon, and after a rather scenic tour of the heart of Edinburgh, we found our bed and breakfast. (For those of you who know me and see the word scenic, I know what you're thinking, but I swear I was not the one leading the way.) We were there only a short time, but had loads of fun before returning to Oxford on Saturday night.

We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called the Armadillo House. I actually had a traditional Scottish breakfast on Saturday, not haggus; it was baked beans on toast. Definitely an interesting start to my day. Don't get me wrong, it tasted fine. It was just a little unique being that it was a slice of toast with beans poured on top. I couldn't help but laugh when I saw it because I'm pretty sure they were the same type of  beans we serve at the daycare where I work. They're kind of orange looking, not the kind you bring to a BBQ :)

As for the Travel Woes and Travel Pros, well I'll start with the Pros, because I can't think of any major woes at the moment. That's how good Scotland was, I guess.

Travel Pros:

1. Edinburgh Castle: the funny thing about having a giant castle on top of a very large hill is that you can see it from all over town. If you're a poor college student, this is great because you don't have to pay for a tour. You also don't have to walk up the giant hill to get to the castle. Regular Edinburgh was hilly enough. I'm pretty sure Karina and I walked around town enough that we saw every angle of the castle at least twice. Not only that, but we saw it at day and night. See Edinburgh Castle? Mission accomplished.

2. Cemeteries that lead to playgrounds that lead to long conversations with Scottish middle schoolers: now that's something you can't get on a paid tour. I should probably explain. In hopes to see the castle, we started walking around town. We came across this 1800s cemetery and being Beth and Karina, we decided to poke around inside with little to no hesitation. I'm pretty sure the conversation went something like this. "Oh look, a cemetery. Let's go in." "Okay." Anyway, they graves were obviously very old, most were covered in moss. There was a church in the middle, St. Cuthbert's, I believe. Yeah, we got a kick out of the name. As it turns out, if you walk around the church, you will find a small, but very fun playground and if you look up, you'll see the castle. Yes, you read that correctly, the two college-aged American tourists found Edinburgh Castle by deciding to explore the native playground equipment. It was about six at night, so the playground was relatively empty. Karina and I started playing on this spinning jungle gym thing and ended up meeting 3 thirteen-year-old boys, who had lots of questions about America, like do you really call it a trash can, do you really call them diapers, and have you ever said, dude, put that diaper in the trash can? They loved hearing about life in the States and all the different words we have for things.

3. Scottish Clotted Cream Fudge: DELICIOUS!

4. Kilts, bagpipes,  and mountainous green pastures with more cows and sheep than I'd ever care to keep track of.

5. Irn Bru: It's this brand of soda made only in Scotland and the recipe has apparently been a secret for the past 100 years. It's orange in color and tastes a bit like orange soda with a hint of bubble gum. It's really good, so if you're ever in Scotland buy a bottle. Better yet buy Irn Bru and clotted cream fudge.

While in Edinburgh, we saw The Elephant House, which is where J.K. Rowling wrote part of Harry Potter. We also saw lots of guys in kilts and a little girl playing the bagpipes. If you want to hear some cool bagpipe music, look up the Red Hot Chilli Pipers on itunes. They cover songs like Eye of the Tiger, only with bagpipes. All the souvenir shops had RHCP music playing and it was really sort of catchy.

The train ride itself was pretty cool. I'd never been on a real train before. It's actually quite an effective mode of travel. We spent the first part of our journey in the Quiet Zone car, not by choice, we were just really eager to get on the train and we just so happened to end up in the car where you can't talk at all. I got a good deal of reading done, but it's funny how not being able to talk, even if you have nothing important to say, is an oppressive experience.

In other news...

I think I have an idea for what I want to write for my project for the Creative Writing tutorial. I have my second meeting tomorrow, so once I get the okay for the idea, I'll post more. Let's just say it is something I've wanted to do for a long time and it's nonfiction, not my usual genre.

I turned in my Shakespeare and Sport essay. (I was actually the first one out of the 18 students to turn it in.)

I met my French tutor, the one who speaks 27 languages. For my first essay, I have to read Trois Contes by Flaubert and write an essay about how the author incorpoates religion, exoticism, and morality. The stories are very interesting so far. The main difference I have noticed though is that the textbooks we use back home have footnotes that translate some of the rarer words and this text is in the original French without footnotes, which makes reading it a bit more of a challenge. I am scheduled to present my first essay to her on Friday, so I will keep everyone posted on how it goes.

I joined a creative writing society called The Failed Novelists. We had the first meeting today and I really enjoyed listening to some of the pieces that were presented. I think I will read something of mine next week. The meeting was done in workshop style, namely one person reads something and the other people in the room offer feedback. We do this at Hendrix, so it's nothing new to me, however, I think I fit in better with this crowd than I do with the creative writing community at Hendrix. Some of the writers who presented today were very talented, but the refreshing thing about it was they didn't really realize how good they were. I'm a big fan of humility and so often these types of writers' workshops are filled with college co-eds trying to be edgy. That's not really my style, so I was pleased to find that this group was so welcoming and relaxed. There was no pressure to read anything, or even talk, if you didn't want to, and yet it was one of the most productive writers' workshops I've been to. I'm not sure how I feel about the title Failed Novelists though, but I suppose that really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.

I start track practices this week (I think...still a little vague on the details.) I'll keep everyone posted on that as well. Right now it looks like my first meet will be October 24th. It's a freshers meet against Cambridge, so basically freshmen and people like me who are new to the club, get to compete. I'm personally really excited to be part of an Oxford versus Cambridge endeavor. Now if I could only win an event...don't want to jinx myself, but if I did, even if there are only two or three other people in the event, dare I say I'll make a t-shirt to commenorate my achievement.

Next Saturday, I'm planning on taking the train to the Cheltenham Literary Festival. There's a British YA author named Robert Muchamore who will be giving a reading and it's his last one this fall, so I figured I might as well go. The only down side is that it will mean taking a very early morning train. I read the first book in his Cherub series a few years ago, so I'm really looking forward to hearing what he has to say. Who knows maybe I'll even get an autograph.

Well, that's all for now. I anticipate posting again next Sunday, so please check back in. By then I should have had track practice, my first French tutorial, and hopefully will have met one of my favorite authors, so there should be plenty to blog about. As always, if you a not an official follower yet please click the little box on the upper right side of the screen that says "follow." I'd really love some more followers and I promise you won't be bombarded with emails or anything annoying like that.

Friday, 1 October 2010

How many Americans does it take to work a British heater?

Answer: 3 and it's the blond who figures it out, but we'll get to that a little bit later.

We had our last lectures of the introductory course today. I get to meet my tutors for my regular classes next week. Apparently I will be meeting them at their respective houses each week, or every other week in the case of my minor tutorial, to present and discuss my essay. (I'll have one due each meeting.) Our introductory essays are due next week, so in other words, that's almost one down and twelve more to go. I'm looking forward to it though. I expect my French and creative writing tutorials will be very interesting.

Fun fact: The woman who will be my French tutor speaks 27 languages. Apparently she wants to learn Mandarin next.

My introductory course essay is coming along well. It's just over 3,000 words and it needs to be between 4,000-5,000. Some kids haven't even started theirs yet. I was hoping to get enough of a head start to be able to go to Scotland this weekend, but I have my first meeting Monday morning, so I opted to wait until a weekend when I have more time. I'd probably have the whole essay done by now if I hadn't tweaked my topic at least twice. Both times I ended up deleting whole paragraphs. Hopefully by the time I'm done it will all have been for the better.

Travel Pros...

Going to the Theater: This week we went to see the play Birdsong at the London Comedy Theater. It is based on a novel by Sebastian Faulks, which I believe was published in 1994. It was quite good, but I think the book is probably better. Birdsong is part love story, part war drama, and I think the war parts were much better and more convincing than the love plot. The love story was a bit rushed at times, drawn out at others, and all together something that could have been referenced through dialogue at the beginning of the play. That would have cut it from 3 hours down to 2 and let me tell you, with the balcony seats we had, sitting there for 2 hours is plenty. Most people didn't like the height. To be truthful, the angle to the stage wasn't a very good one, but my main problem was the seats. They were really low and there was absolutely no leg room, which meant my knees were practically at chest level the whole time. Not comfortable! Overall, the play was worth seeing and I am certainly curious to read the book, especially because in the book, there is a subplot that takes place in the 1970s involving the main character's granddaughter and her search for information about the war. The play itself was set in the years of 1910 to about 1917, deleting the granddaughter entirely. One of the most powerful parts of the play didn't come from any actors at all, but rather during one of the brief intermissions. During the five minute long break between Act Two and Act Three, they showed a list of all the names of those who died during the Battle of the Somme. They only got halfway through the alphabet by the time the curtain rose again. You see statistics all the time of how many soldiers died in various battles, but it really hits home when you see all the names listed in alphabetical order.

Travel woes...

British appliances: On the home front, our oven is now fixed, which means all our appliances are in working order. Actually, apparently the oven was never really broken, we just didn't know that to work it you have to hold two buttons down at the same time to take it off automatic and switch it on to the manual setting. Once you've done that it works just fine. We also figured out how to work the heater. After a couple rather amusing episodes of trial and error, we have it to where it is a pretty comfortable temperature all the time. You wouldn't think learning how to operate British appliances would be that hard, but after a bunch of turning knobs and flipping switches, we now have heat. The showers at the gym are also a little strange. The one in our house works just like the ones do back home, but at the gym, you hit a button, the water turns on, it stays on for about 20 seconds and then it shuts off and you have to hit the button again. Let me tell you, when you're sweaty and all you want to do is shower, the inconsistent water gets old really fast. At first I just kept hitting the button harder as if force would somehow make it stay on longer. It didn't work, but hey, I might have burned a couple extra calories while doing it. I then discovered that the only way to keep the water on is to lean against the button, not very comfortable, but it is the best solution I have found thus far. Again, you'd think that after 20 years of dealing with American appliances, I'd know how to operate an oven, a heating system, and a shower, but apparently not. 

Other than that nothing new and exciting has really happened. I've fallen into a routine of studying, socializing with the other American students, and working out. I'm still the only female who lifts weights with the guys by the way. My housemate and I are thinking of attending a "buns, tums, and thighs" class sometime just to see what it's like. (Working out is more fun when everybody else in the room has a British accent.) Also, my track practices with the OUAC should be starting up next week. I've already met a few of my teammates, but I'm looking forward to really getting down to business and meeting everyone.

Check back in sometime next week for another update. I promise to be back to my usual witty blogging self by then. If you're not already a follower, please do sign up. I promise you won't be bombarded with emails or anything, but it would be nice to know who is reading.

Oh and my new favorite British phrase..."Well done." People use it in odd situations here. For example, I was buying groceries and after I signed the receipt, the cashier said "Well done." Apparently, the usuage is for the phrase is slightly different here, especially because I'm pretty sure the last time I was told "well done" for writing my name was when I was about four.