What’s so scary about Watership Down?

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Discussion on social media has been buzzing since parents issued complaints after Channel 5 screened Watership Down on Easter Sunday, calling it too scary and violent for children. Seriously, parents?

I’m a devoted fan of the book and the film, and despite a couple of somewhat bloody scenes, I don’t think it’s unsuitable for children. In fact, I think there should be more films like this one. It definitely wasn’t bouncing Easter bunnies, but children are tougher than we give them credit for. The vicious fighting between rabbits, or the blood covered field that appears when Fiver is predicting that death will come to the warren, is no different to many other widely accepted and well-loved films. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a child-catcher tempted children into a cage and locked them away in cave. Aslan was sacrificed by an evil queen and stabbed to death. Peter Pan falls out of his pram and never sees his family again and Peter Rabbit’s father was baked in a pie. This is all classic English storytelling, and in my opinion, it’s the best there is.

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Watership Down isn’t what we’re used to. The graphics are as detailed as a drawing, far from the simplistic shapes of a Peppa Pig cartoon. The settings are a feast for the eyes with rolling English hills, intricate cobwebs and rabbits that are fascinatingly unique in appearance. The soundtrack is beautiful, every piece of music bringing the mood of the scene to life. I think ‘Bright Eyes’ is the perfect overarching track for the whole film. The themes are real and universal: love, loyalty, sacrifice, death, survival and even religion feature in this film. It upholds the values of doing what’s right and putting other’s before yourself, and even alludes to man’s menacing footprint on the world: “They’ll never rest until they’ve spoiled the earth.” Children register this and they take it away with them.

Yes, there is a lot of death, as we see when sweet bunny Violet is ripped from the ground by a bird of prey and a badger emerges from the bushes with blood dripping from its mouth. But that is what nature is, and children should know this. Watership Down is an ode to nature, which we don’t see much of these days. The forest is dense and full of danger, the cat’s silky voice is blood-curdling, but fields of scented plants offer shelter from the elements and the currents of a river whisk the rabbits away from a lurking dog. The story is set entirely in an animal world, with very few human appearances, although the foreboding presence of man looms over them constantly. The seasons are told through the appearance and disappearance of primroses and nobody can count above the number four because a rabbit’s paw only has four claws.

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The afterlife is beautifully portrayed with the great Frith who created all things and the black rabbit who comes for the dying. To the living, the dark fur of the black rabbit and the slits of his eyes seem like an omen, something to flee. But at the end of the film we realise that he is just Frith in another form, inviting the dying to join his eternal Owsla. Richard Adams was successful in creating an entire fictional existence for rabbits, and goes into detail in his book about their social hierarchy, eating habits, and kits and mates. He even went as far as to invent the ‘lapine’ language, so that “badger” becomes a “lendri” and “silflay” means to go above ground to eat. None of this is dumbed down for children, and throughout the film the language becomes second nature to us. The complex ideas and beautiful story about how Frith created the animals and set them apart from each other is not lost on children either and there is something funny about how typically British these rabbits are- they sound like well-spoken Englishmen!

Perhaps the film should be given a PG rating, so that parents of sensitive or younger children will be forewarned when it is screened again. But as an article by Henry Barnes at the Guardian said, ratings aren’t there to act as childminders. Watership Down is a masterpiece, both as a book and as a film. I urge you to look for the beauty in it, even in some of the more gruesome scenes. We need to stop worrying about what might traumatise children and give them instead something rich and cultivating to watch, full of mythology and morals, goodness and eloquence.

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All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.” – Richard Adams

Have you read Watership Down? Do you think the film is too violent for children? I’d love to know your thoughts!

The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris

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This captivating book begins in October 1937 on the Island of Alcatraz, home to a prison for the most deadly criminals. A civilian child is missing, and only convicted bank robber Tommy Capello knows where she can be found.

We are then taken back to 1919 Ireland where we meet Shanley Keagan, an orphan with a gift for performing that will eventually become a means of survival in a dangerous world. Raised by his violent and alcoholic uncle, Shan is secretly desperate to find his long lost American father, and succeeds in convincing his uncle to move them to America in search of a better life. However, America is not the place of gold paved streets that Shan had heard about and after an unexpected turn of events, he finds himself indebted to a kind immigrant Italian family.

We follow Shan throughout his life as he becomes the third son of the Capello family, brother to Nick and Lina. His dream becomes a reality when he begins performing on stage with the actors he admires most, but Shan finds himself in trouble when he makes the choice to rescue his brother from a nasty situation.

The plot twists keep coming, and Shan must rely on his wit and courage to survive what comes next. I was hooked on the plot of this novel as it moved faster towards solving a mystery. The ending was so unexpected but so satisfying. This book is a journey, a story of friendship, secrets, duty and sorrow. I loved additional touches that made it all the more authentic, like the mix of Italian and American culture, Shan’s love for literature inherited from his mother and the scandalous aspects of a life on stage in the 20’s.

The humanity of McMorris’ characters is so real and raw, and their development through the story very clever. I loved her beautifully descriptive questioning of what it means to be human: “It’s fascinating, really, when you think about it. How a person can slip into a new life as one would a new pair of shoes. At first there’s a keen awareness of the fit: a stiffness at the heel, the binding of the width, the curve pressed to the arch. But with time and enough steps, the feel becomes so natural you almost forget you’re wearing them at all.”

This novel shows us the possibility of forming unbreakable bonds with strangers and that it’s never too late to change who you are.

How not to be a journalist in Paris- part 2

how not to be a journalist in paris


My experiences as an intern journalist in Paris.


Working in Paris doesn’t get any easier, apparently. The feeling of being like a rabbit caught in the headlights is still there, and it’s still as difficult to gain the trust of the Parisians, who wonder why I want to ask them so many questions.  As my internship progresses, and the workload piles on, I find myself writing in my sleep and walking through the streets of Paris in my dreams. Here’s some more of what I’ve learned about how not to be a journalist in Paris.

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Do not wait patiently at the traffic lights, looking for the green man as you do at home- you will get nowhere. In Paris, it is perfectly acceptable to run into moving traffic when trying to cross the road. Ignore everyone else, calculate the minute amount of seconds that exist between you and the tourist bus that is coming up ahead, and make a run for it. Nobody will bat an eyelid.

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Reveal your nationality to no-one. British people will talk about you loudly as they stand beside you, because they assume they are the only people in the whole of France who have the ability to understand a second language…Let them, and laugh about it unashamedly.

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Some people will refuse to have their photo taken despite the fact you have just crossed ten metro stations, spent seventy euros, two hours, and a perfectly good pair of heels (not to mention feet) getting there. No, Stephanie, not everyone is interested in your journalism. Note to self: ring before turning up and asking strangers to pose for the camera.

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Be prepared for people to stare at you as you take notes for your latest article- and then ask “is it for a school project, dear?” Nope, I’m writing for a magazine, believe it or not. Please let me at least pretend that I am a fully functioning and independent adult.They’ll then ask you who you’re writing for- and their faces fall when you don’t say Vogue.

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Be nice to everyone. You’ll need help when your phone runs out of battery, containing your booking reference for your ticket back home. (You know something’s wrong when you start travelling first class just so you can be guaranteed a plug socket…)

“Paris is a place in which we can forget ourselves, reinvent, expunge the dead weight of our past”- Michael Simkins


Image credits:
1. A Paris Street Scene via Wikipedia Commons
2-6. Images my own.  

Philip Pullman’s resignation & why writing needs to be treated as a profession

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Author of His Dark Materials trilogy Philip Pullman has resigned from his position as patron of the Oxford Literary Festival due to the fact that they do not pay the authors appearing as speakers at the festival. Pullman, who is also president of the Society of Authors, which campaigns for speakers at literary festivals to be properly paid, felt that his two roles contradicted each other. He has been praised by numerous fellow authors for his action.

Why aren’t literature festivals paying?

Oxford Literary Festival claims they cannot afford to pay authors because, as a charity event, they receive no government funding. A spokesperson said “”We are very sad that Philip Pullman has decided to resign as patron of the festival. We are grateful for the support he has given over the years, and for his many appearances at the festival. The Oxford Literary Festival is a registered charity which does not receive any government or public funding. Each year for the festival to take place, substantial sponsorship and donations have to be raised.”

Other literary festivals such as Manx LitFest or Hay Festival subsist entirely off sponsorship, yet still manage to pay their authors. Manx Litfest pays authors a flat daily rate, expecting none of them, not even new, unknown authors, to work for free.

Literature festivals charge a fee to their visitors, and it is only right that part of the money earned should be used to pay guest authors. Without the presence of authors, these festivals would not exist.

Walking in an author’s shoes

A recent survey commissioned by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society revealed that the average earnings of a full time author come to a meagre £11,000 per year. It comes as no surprise then that authors need to earn from their books in other ways too. Few authors can afford the travel and accommodation expenses that come with an unpaid appearance at a literature festival. And they shouldn’t have to. “Good exposure” is not a good enough reason for an author to find him/herself out of pocket.

Authors who take time out of their day to attend a literature festival (more often that not bringing crowds of paying visitors with them) and who give talks and workshops at said festival deserve to be paid for their efforts. Yes, it is a chance to promote their work and connect with readers, but is this enough when there are bills to pay? After all, this is time they could be spending writing the next book… This isn’t to say that authors should never appear at events for free if they want to- literature festivals are about sharing literature and encouraging people to read- but if the festival is earning money, the authors should be too. As best-selling author Joanne Harris so perfectly put it: “You wouldn’t dream of not paying your caterers, so why would you even consider not paying the headline act?”

Why writing needs to be treated as a profession

Since Pullman’s resignation, a letter written by author Amanda Craig has been published in The Bookseller magazine, calling for publishers and authors to boycott literary festivals that do not pay their guest authors. The letter has 30 author signatures. Outrage at the lack of author pay has been appearing in other areas, too. The New Society of Authors want authors to receive 50% of e-book revenue, instead of the current 25%. Philip Pullman has said that if authors are not paid more then they “will become an endangered species.”

Similarly, many magazines decline to pay their freelance writers, asking them to submit articles in exchange for an opportunity to build up their portfolios and showcase their writing skills. These writing skills should be paid for! While exposure is beneficial to new freelancers, writers cannot be expected to give their time for free. Crafting an impressive piece takes effort- it’s not as easy as stringing a few words together. Would you employ a carpenter to make you a garden seat for your guests to enjoy, only to ask him to leave it to you for free, because his talent will be showcased in your front garden? It’s an unlikely comparison, but I hope you can see my point! Writers are the storytellers of our society. They create fictional worlds to escape to, bring history back to life, impart knowledge and teach, create discussion on moral issues, challenge certain viewpoints and bring awareness to issues we hadn’t thought of before. JK Rowling created a love for reading in children across the globe.

Writing needs to be treated as a profession. And Philip Pullman knows this.


Image credits:
Writer’s Block by Drew Coffman via Flickr.

2016 Reading List

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Yes, I am a book nerd and have a reading list for the year.

While I am looking forward to reviewing more new fiction on the blog this year, I also want to concentrate on enjoying some of the books that I have been meaning to read for so long, particularly a few classics. On top of that, I have a mental list of non-fiction books I would like to get through, so it looks like I’ll be reading at least one book a week this year. I wish there were more hours in the day…

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs by Elaine Sciolino
The Lark by E.Nesbit
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe
Millie and Bird: Tales of Paradise by Avril Joy
I Capture The Castle  by Dodie Smith
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Sense and Sensibility  by Jane Austen
Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Shed That Fed a Million Children by Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow
Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit
Paris by Edward Rutherford
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Perfect by Nicola Davies
1984 by George Orwell
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Do you have any suggestions?

How not to be a journalist in Paris- Part 1

How not to be a journalist in paris 1


My experiences as an intern journalist in Paris.


This year finds me on my year abroad as part of the third year of my 4 year university degree. I am interning with My French Life™ magazine, an online publication for lovers of everything French. This means living in the Northern city of Lille in France, freelancing from home and travelling into Paris a couple of days a week. I don’t think I could have found a more perfect placement!

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I’m learning, albeit slowly, the do’s and dont’s of the world of online journalism, and how to survive the busy streets of Paris. And so an idea for a new blog series came to me- a documentation of my experience as a intern journalist in Paris, the successes, catastrophes and lessons I learn trying to be a journalist in the famous City of Light, where so many extraordinary writers have lived and worked in the past.

So far, so good for the writing side of things. I get to write about challenging subjects that interest me and create conversation on social media, and have a satisfying pile of free French literature on my desk for review, which I think makes an enlightening change from what I usually read.

I thought university work was stressful until I started this internship. I was told it would be challenging, and it is. I have so much work to do, writing, editing, interviewing and formatting- but all of it is teaching me so much and I wake up excited about starting every day.

How not to be a journalist in Paris? Don’t count on being anywhere on time, and don’t expect travel to be cheap. The French railway system is awful and there are constant delays. My train was an hour and 20 minutes late getting home a couple of weeks ago- it hit a deer. No, they won’t refund me.

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Don’t believe the cliché that all Parisians are un-friendly snobs. I have learned from a fellow Parisian My French Life™ writer Jacqueline that this is far from true (she invites me to her house for cake and we talk about books and France and feminism. What could be better?). That said, don’t expect them all to be nice, either. So far, I have been stood up by a designer after travelling 3 hours by coach to interview her, and have been told by the DELIGHTFUL secretary of a Very Important French Person that it is out of the question that I will EVER be able to speak with him.

Do not turn up to France’s prestigious Prix Goncourt with only your iPhone to take photos on. Seriously, you will be the only one. Note to self: buy a big, complicated looking camera with flashing lights and its own leather case.

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Do not leave said iPhone in full view when getting the metro. I discovered this the hard way when my hand met the hand of a pickpocket…in my coat-pocket! Thankfully, he ran away before I could karate chop him and iPhone number 3 is still with me. Thank God.

Don’t expect to love (or understand) Paris straight away. I still can’t find my way around, and my only geographical knowledge of the city is the metro route between Gare du Nord and Strasbourg Saint-Denis (where Jacqueline and all her books live.) I can say now though, that I am slowly falling in love with Paris. Every street is different and there is diversity in every neigbourhood. One time I turned a corner and found myself in Japan (the sushi was great).

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I recently met the owners of the new Shakespeare and Company Café, and as I sipped my (6.50 €!!!) fruit juice I found myself eavesdropping on a conversation between two women, one an expat in Paris living off her writing, and the other who had just got a job at American Vogue…living the dream, as My French Life™ would say.

Paris is definitely full of opportunties, especially for writers, and I can’t wait to get to know this city more. Stay tuned for the next post in ‘How not to be a journalist in Paris’.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” -Ernest Hemingway


Note: This post was written before the November terrorist attacks in Paris. I am going ahead with this series because I believe that it is important to continue visiting Paris, not only as an act of defiance and solidarity, but because it is a city of culture and history that should continue to be celebrated.


Image credits:
  1. Wikipedia Commons

Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

Beside Myself

Ellie and Helen are twins, and decide to play a game. They switch places, exchanging their clothes and hairstyles, to see if anyone can tell the difference. The game is going brilliantly, until Ellie refuses to switch back.

Helen finds herself in a waking nightmare- all her belongings, her friends, the special preference her mother has for her- they belong to Ellie now. And nobody will believe the truth. She is driven to delinquency, while Ellie becomes a star pupil and the most loved twin. 25 years later, Helen has lost sight of who she is and fallen into a deep depression. Until a phone call pulls her back into the past, and forces her to face Ellie, the sister who stole her identity.

This is a dark and ominous novel, appproaching an idea that I haven’t seen explored before. Can you imagine having your identity stolen by the person closest to you? Being unrecognisable to your own mother? The situation is unthinkable and this is what makes the book so gripping. Forced to be someone else, Helen begins to lose herself. Ann Morgan makes Helen real, forcing us into her world and into her mental illness. She writes so convincingly that parts of the book actually made me feel depressed, but please don’t let this put you off. The author places us in the minds of her characters- if that’s not a sign of a good writer, then I don’t know what is.

“Sometimes I think I have made it up. Days come where it feels like the whole thing is a story inside my head and there was never any swap and any game.”

Beside Myself is a phsycological thriller that has the reader following Helen’s story on tenterhooks. The way the author highlights the difference between what people see in a mentally ill person and who they really are was an eye-opener for me. Helen has so much emotion and inner torment, she is desperate for help, yet none of this can be seen from the outside. The books leads us through the events that have broken this person, that have led her to the deepest state of depression, and we see that it is the actions of others that have made her this way, not her own mistakes. It explores the stigma that goes with mental illness, the lack of empathy often shown towards people who suffer from it, and was truly heartbreaking.

The characters of this book come alive on the page, and we can observe how they grow, see what changes and influences them. Helen and Ellie are at once very different from and similar to each other- I have loved and hated both of them at different times.The strong point in this novel is definitely its characterization.

Beside Myself is a story about personal identity, relationships and mental illness. It reminds us of the powerlessness we feel in childhood, of what it is like to be patronised, to be treated like a liar. It’s about a child who feels unloved. But it is also a story of hope. It’s a story that says that your identity can never really be taken away, because the true you will shine through the mask. You will always be you and you cannot pretend to be somebody else, because the essence of who you are, the traits you were born with, the things you love, can never truly be hidden.

Beside Myself will be released on January 14 2016. You can pre-order a copy here.


Image Credits: Bloomsbury Publishing