Austen, Bookshops and Roman Baths in… Bath!

A few weeks ago I had a late celebratory weekend for my birthday in Bath with my family and boyfriend. Bath is certainly a beautiful city, especially with its Georgian architecture throughout the centre. (As Alex pointed out, its unusual to see such consistency of architecture in such an old city.) The Georgian style is definitely one of my favourites, and Bath did not disappoint!

We were only visiting for a few days (I would love to have stayed for longer), but we still managed to get a lot done in the time we had. Along with the well-known and touristy areas, we also discovered some bookshops (obviously!), went to the theatre and had lots of cake and tea and coffee at various shops across the city.

Roman Baths
The Roman Baths have got to be the most famous landmark of this city, and a “must go” place while here – and to be honest, I agree! They were fascinating, and the museum complex was really interesting, with lots of information available (both to read and with the audio-guide – provided in the price of entrance).

I thought it was incredible being able to see the natural spring, and see how the Roman’s had cleverly created the architecture, the hidden pumps and tunnels to use the resources to its potential (and it all still works!).

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The Abbey, which sits behind the Roman Baths

Jane Austen Centre
This is another of the main attractions of Bath, which I felt like I just had to go to while I was here (as a bookworm and lover of Austen). I loved learning some new things about Austen (although I knew quite a lot from a biography project I did in school aged 12!), such as Jane’s attachment to the city of Bath, both in her novels and when she loved there. However, I did also feel like there should have been more to see and learn about (especially considering the price). I still enjoyed it though.

Circus and Royal Crescent
These two areas are the pinnacle of the high society Georgian architecture in the city. This was mostly a self-indulgent visit to marvel at the grandeur of these houses – which looked so much better in person than my camera could ever capture.

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Royal Crescent

Bookshops: Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights and Topping & Company Booksellers
If you want independent bookshops in Bath, these two are always the first anyone who has visited Bath will recommend (myself included now). They were both gorgeous in a way that only a bookstore can be (and it might be a thing in Bath, but both of them offered us tea and coffee while we browsed!?). Personally, Mr B’s was my favourite; it’s tied with Shakespeare & Co. in Paris as my favourite store I’ve ever visited. It had a reading room with a working electric fire, (perfect for me on a cold November day), a bibliotherapy room and its own publishing house! Can I work here please?

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Needless to say, we interspersed visits to tourist sites and bookstores with lots of food and drink – mostly in the form of cute cafes and coffee shops, of which we visited many! (I would recommend Chapel Arts Cafe for veggies and vegans; I think my dad would recommend Boston Tea Party for its great range, and size, of cakes on offer.)

We were also lucky to get tickets to see Austentatious, who were on their UK tour. I laughed so much, and loved it just as much as when we saw them at Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer.

I had a great weekend, and I just know that I will return to Bath in the (hopefully) not to distant future!

 


 

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Oxford – SYP Conference 2017

Last weekend I travelled to Oxford Brookes University for the day to attend a conference about the publishing industry, held by the Society of Young Publishers (SYP). Publishing is where I hope to work following my studies, so it was a great opportunity to talk with like-minded people (who were either looking to work in publishing, like me, or already worked in publishing), gain some very good advice, and obviously an opportunity for some networking.

The conference was titled Publishing: A Brave New World? (because no-one can resist a literary reference!), and the whole day was based on the idea of innovation and disruption. The keynote at the start, given by Katie Espiner from Orion publishers, and the closing panel, both featured heavily on this theme, but there were also smaller panels throughout the day (with lots of choice about which to go to!) which discussed various issues within this larger scope.

It was a really great day, with some useful insights into the publishing industry that I’m sure will be invaluable for such a competitive area for careers. It was especially fun to be involved in discussions about the industry with other people who were also interested in its future (and I’m sure will one day be running and shaping it too).

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Third Year Feelings – The Start of First Term

I’ve been back at university for over a month now, and so far, third year has been a mixture of emotions and experiences already. Most prominently, this year started off the usual excitement and apprehension, but also a feeling of fear and being overwhelmed. Speaking to my friends, I know I’m not alone in this, and it all stems from the thought of life after we graduate. (More specifically, having no idea what is going to happen, despite the various talks we’ve been given about our opportunities after uni – which right now only seemed to have increased this worry rather than cured it!) But, also alongside these concerns, for me is a great deal of excitement too; I’m really enjoying the work I’m doing, and I’m looking forward to the opportunities that I know I’ll discover throughout this final year.

Yet, as much as I am enjoying my work this year, there has been an awful lot of it! It may be that the workload is in fact more than last year, but it could also be that I just forgot how busy university can be – after all, we’ve just been thrown completely into the deep end this year! It really has full speed from the first week.

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The Bookshop, Penelope Fitzgerald

I picked up this book to read because it was a short novel – I’ve been wanting to read more short novels recently. (Not only is it a resolution to myself, but it also makes me feel better about the number of books I’ve read, and helps with my ambitious Goodreads reading challenge!) I’m not completely naive though; I had looked up what short novels are recommended, and this one particularly caught my eye. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, it depicts the life of Florence Green who lives in her small East Anglian town, and decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop. For me, anything about working in a bookshop or with books will always persuade me to want to give it a chance and read it, and this novel was no exception.

This wasn’t a bad book – certainly there was nothing specific that made me react negatively to it. Yet, when I was asked how I felt about this book, all I could think of was “pleasant”. It’s an easy read for sure: the writing is good, there’s no denying her ability to create interesting and realistic characters – which is so central to this novel. Her writing captures a sense of place to the story, specifically the close community that is so opposed to the establishing of a bookshop, against the stubbornness and strong-will of the protagonist, Florence.

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MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood

Maddaddam is the final novel in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian trilogy of the same name. Having enjoyed the first two novels – Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood – I was looking forward to starting the final novel, particularly to see how it would all end, and like the previous novels, I wasn’t at all disappointed.

Whereas the trilogy’s two previous novel’s plots run within the same period of time, along parallel timelines, Maddaddam continues on from their endings, providing a completely new and unknown plot. This was great for establishing the novel as both a continuation of the story, and its inevitable conclusion too, while also bringing something different from the rest of the trilogy.

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When Creativity Takes the Stage: Edinburgh Fringe Festival, 2017

Last week I travelled up to Edinburgh in Scotland, to the famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’ve wanted to go for a few years now, and finally I got around to it! (Well, it was my birthday present to my boyfriend, who wanted to go too, so I thought that was as good an excuse as any!).

During my time at the Fringe I kept being taken aback my just how it completely takes over the entire city: it’s not just a few places all in one small area, as I had expected, but venues spread across the city centre – all of which were remarkably well signposted. The venues themselves were all fitted to accommodate the various types of performances at the Fringe, both big and small. Not only was it well-organised, including the many bars and food stalls, but the number of  posters covering the city was astonishing – on the sides of buses, on lamp-posts, and on the walls of buildings all the way into Leith (where we stayed), in addition to all the flyers that were being constantly handed out. Given that this year marked the 70th anniversary of the Fringe I suppose I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the level of organisation, but I really was impressed.

As expected, we saw some brilliant shows – we booked all of them in advance (as is often recommended), which although makes it easier once you get to Edinburgh, also has the potential to be a risky strategy as we didn’t know how good they would actually be. We stuck mostly to what we knew, particularly with the short amount of time we were there, but still packed 12 shows into three days – with our fourth day spent exploring the city itself before we caught our train.

The Shows

Improvised Comedy:
‘Austentatious‘ was by far my favourite show we saw; it’s relatively well-known, having sold-out at the Fringe for the last 2 years, and for good reason! It takes a ‘lost Austen’ book title, suggested by an audience member at random, and performs the story in the style of Austen, but completely improvised. It’s hilarious!

‘Folie à Deux‘ ran along a similar idea (although not Austen-themed), improvising small scenes all related to one word, chosen by the audience (ours was ‘civilian’) – performed by only two actors, who both also perform in Austentatious: Andrew Hunter Murray and Charlotte Gittins.

‘Murder She Didn’t Write’ was also very impressive; an improvised murder-mystery which uses the audience’s ideas to create the title of a case, before setting about a humorous enactment of a murder – a cross between Agatha Christie and Cluedo, where at the start even the actors don’t know who the victim or murderer will be! (And no, I didn’t correctly guess ‘whodunit’!)

Stand-Up:
Ed Byrne was the most well-known of all the comedians we saw, and definitely stood up to my expectations. We also went to some smaller venues to see comedians I hadn’t heard of before: Kai Humphries, Gary Delaney and Edd Hedges. I feel like I’ve never laughed so much in only a few days, they were all so funny in such different ways.

Theatre:
We also went to a couple of more serious theatrical shows, which I really enjoyed. I would love to see some more if (when) I come again. They seem to be nearly always forgotten among the big names of all the comedy.

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Inside the National Museum

Typical Tourists

We also spent some time going around the city, seeing what it had to offer separate from the Fringe. We went to some of the more typical tourist areas, including the National Museum (which was in a gorgeous building), the National Gallery, and the Royal Mile. However, out of everywhere I definitely enjoyed our visit to Victoria Street the most. Edinburgh seemed to be rather proud of its literary heritage, particularly its roots to the author JK Rowling and her creations. Just off Royal Mile, Victoria Street is a two-levelled street – the perfect example of an incredible triumph of Victorian design. However, its literary connection is what makes it so interesting: this impressive architecture was the inspiration for ‘Diagon Alley’ in the Harry Potter series. It really is quite striking!

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I had the best time in Edinburgh, and especially at the Fringe Festival – I laughed so much that I don’t think it was possible not to enjoy myself! I have no doubt that I will return to the Festival one day.


The Power, Naomi Alderman

I first found this novel in a bookshop about a month or so ago, just days before it won the ‘Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction‘. Following this it seemed to be advertised in every bookstore I went into; it had suddenly become a hugely important novel in the literary community. And thus, when I finally bought myself a copy, I was really looking forward to reading it!

The story really caught my attention from the moment I started reading – hence why I finished it in three days while on holiday! However, I guess it’s not surprising that I enjoyed it, with my love for the dystopian and the obvious feminist aspect to the story’s premise: a world where teenage girls develop an immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death, with electricity that now flows through their bodies.

The novel itself is written partly like a historical novel, including illustrations of ‘archaeological findings’ between chapters, which juxtaposed the multiple perspectives of the characters, each telling their separate stories – males and females, with varying ages, race, class and places of origin. This mixture of ‘historical non-fiction’ that the novel masquerades as, and the four characters’ stories, could have really confused a reader trying to follow the plot, but in my opinion it worked – although mostly because I only really was aware of the ‘historical’ side of the novel when I saw the illustrations, as the novel tells the different characters’ stories without a historical perspective. I liked how the separate stories enabled the reader to see multiple events occurring at once, and the way they were related before the characters themselves had even met. Additionally, the historical element made me more aware of the inherent bias that is present in each individuals’ accounts of their lives.

The topics explored within this novel are (at least in my opinion) important ideas that need to be discussed. Although not explicit, the women’s abuse of their supernatural powers  is an obvious allusion to the opposite manipulation of power by men – and consequences of this such as rape culture – that is present in current society. Furthermore, the reactions in cultures of other countries and religion, are also considered in relation to the inversion of gender and social positions of power, even if we don’t always realise the gender positions we conform to – resulting in phenomenons such as ‘everyday sexism’. I don’t want to make this review all about gender equality, however the idea of women having a power that provokes fear among men is certainly an interesting and provocative concept, with clear connotations to gender and social positions.

However, I did find it difficult to find a cultural or time perspective to read the story from. I was often confused as to whether it was set in our future, or the present day, or even an alternate universe. The nature of the ‘historical text’ idea made it especially difficult to decipher this (although the questions I had to do with the ‘historical’ writing was mostly solved by the very end). In addition, the novel seemed to have a central ‘western’ view: not only that it is mostly set in America with only Western’ perspectives, but also some of the reactions of other characters (such as women from Muslim cultures) seemed rather unbelievable. (Although, in all fairness, I didn’t think of this until a few days after I had finished reading it.)

Nevertheless, this was still an absolutely brilliant book; it had some strong and clever ideas which were brought together in an innovative way.

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