Graduate Life: Interviews and Beyond! (Part 2)

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There is no excuse for how vacant I have been with this blog, I’m really sorry guys! But I have been insanely busy for the last couple of weeks. In a previous post I spoke about my recent excursions, and last Friday I had the pleasure of travelling to London and meeting a whole host of executives from HarperCollins. My experience as a whole has been a positive one, and I’m happy to have met them all.

So for the past few weeks I’ve had to prepare for the big interview with HarperCollins, and I was tasked with not only preparing for my interview, but making a presentation to show to a panel of the CEO, and other head executives of the publishing group. During these last few weeks I had been given a timeline of HarperCollins’ fall line, and I knew I would be asked about certain elements of the booklet in itself.

After leaving Kent in the deathly hours of the morning, I was filled with a nervous excitement. During this time I was thinking ‘if I get this it’ll be a huge step for me. What matters is that I absolutely shine in this interview.’ And that was the only pep talk I had given as I inched closer and closer to the News Building. I was the first one to arrive, and that gave me plenty of time to reassess my situation. As a graduate of English Literature, this opportunity to be placed in one of the biggest publishing houses in the world was too big of a concept for me, a 20-something year old person hailing from a town of the mere population of 3,500 people to wrap my mind around. But yet, there I was, going behind the scenes to see and talk to these larger-than-life characters.

Before I journeyed to London, I did some research on the HarperCollins Executive Board, and to my surprise, I realised I had met them all. If you don’t connect themselves to their jobs and the scale of what they do, I found it was much easier to approach them and strike up conversation. Or, at least that’s what I thought. During the final stage of the process, I met CEO and head of HarperCollins, Charlie Redmayne.

If I were forced to describe Charlie Redmayne in a word, I wholeheartedly believe I would use the word ‘baffling’ to describe him. He is both a man who commands attention, but easily is able to simply be so still, listening to your every word, it’s as if you had known him for a longer period of just a day. His reputation proceeds him, as many of the other candidates spoke of him in hushed, reverential tones, as if they were nervous to incur his attention. It is very interesting too look back at my interactions with the executive board. I had met so many people there who are in love with their jobs, so passionate and understanding it was so easy to talk to them. I think one of the most baffling facts that I still haven’t wrapped my mind around is that Charlie Redmayne, head of one of the biggest publishing houses in the world sat and listened to me and my presentation for ten minutes. Looking back, it’s just an eye-opening experience.

Now, for all my friends and family who have been reading my mere ramblings on here asking, “So when do you find out about the results of your interview?” I must admit I don’t know just yet. But, considering HarperCollins want the two successful candidates to start later next month, it is safe to assume I’ll be hearing back from them very soon. Regardless of the outcome, I want to thank everyone who has supported me and given me words of encouragement for the past few months. From close friends keeping my spirits up, to the kind souls in London who didn’t know me, but gave me a push in the right place anyway, you’re the real people who I should thank. I’ll update this post when I hear back from them, you’ll be the first to know!

So long,

Ben

Repeating the Past: Great Gatsby Review!

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‘”I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”‘

Want. #Gatsby #literature #books #amazing

A photo posted by Ben Odero (@benodero) on

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s crowning work, The Great Gatsby follows the viewpoint of narrator and newcomer Nick Carraway into the fictional town of West Egg, located in the edge of Long Island in the year of 1922. He writes of his ambitions to make something for himself in the ever expanding world of finance. During this period, both West Egg and its genuine counterpart were part of an age of many names were applicable: The Roaring Twenties, The Jazz Age, or even the “Crazy Years.” This was a time of innovation and productivity – more people were spending money, more products were produced, and it was a cycle of prosperity and consumerism. Within the events of The Great Gatsby, we begin to notice how true this is in both novel and real life.

When I first read this novel, I honestly put it down – this was during my A-levels, and I simply couldn’t get past Fitzgerald’s writing style. It was confounding and beautiful to read, I just couldn’t get into it. It was through Baz Luhrmann’s film interpretation with a friend of mine. I think it was then I was truly able to appreciate the magnitude of change that 1920s America was going through. 

We follow Carraway’s account of an expanding America, but one man stands out above all within Carraway’s narrative: Jay Gatsby. A self-made man of sorts, Gatsby is shrouded in mystery. Rumours fly from one end of his lavish parties to another as men and women alike try to crack the enigma that is Jay Gatsby. Was he a mercenary? A relative to the Kaiser himself? No one knew, besides Gatsby and eventually Carraway himself. 

Through Nick’s first person narrative we begin to handle the turbulent times of the Roaring Twenties, and how each and every moment was punctuated by hedonism and the need to cut loose. Sadly, Fitzgerald died before he could see the success of his novel, but after the events of the Second World War, Gatsby received huge favour, and promptly was noted as the “Great American Novel.” I would agree, as I know that it certainly left me with an amazing feeling after I finished it, as Fitzgerald encapsulated the wonder and madness of the Roaring Twenties.

Why Do I Write?

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One thing I know: this subject has been broached by every creative mind who has had the bravery to put pen to paper. But ultimately, in this post I’ll be talking about my experience of writing, and what drew me to it.

I wish there was some profound moment when I realised I enjoyed writing as a hobby. Instead of being a gradual realisation that I loved writing, it was more of a catastrophic tumble down the writing world. Being a huge lover of books, from a young age I had always consoled myself with the written word – the sheer beauty of becoming a part of the author’s vision was a feeling that I had become addicted to. But at some point, I began to feel the need to create myself.

I would suddenly picture a scene of the most mundane interaction, and keep on wading through the mire until I had found something worth writing. The process of planning and creating a setting is an addictive one, a habit I would never want to give up. It would be apt to say I’m an addict in most respects, I suppose. There’s something remarkably gratifying about a story coming together.

When it comes to writing for acclaim and commercial success, as enjoyable as that would be, I have a very long way before reaching that stage. As of right now, I just want to give my readers the same sense of wonder and awe that I had received when I read.

Why do you write?

The Secret River by Kate Grenville: A Review

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Note: First off, before I kick things off with today’s review I want to say a massive thank you to all with the supportive comments after my HarperCollins post! I’ve had nothing but the best support from the best of people, and it truly means a lot to me, I’ll make sure to make you all proud! Anyway, here’s my review of The Secret River – hope you enjoy!

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Truth be told, I have always lived a relatively sheltered life. It’s always been myself, my family, and a close-knit group of friends. I was often blind to the things happening around me, and only concerned about the immediacy of my family and my friendship group. Thankfully, my time at university did actually change that. One of the first modules I took for my literature class was ‘Issues in Contemporary World Literature.’ And of course, in the duration of the module we were branching on subjects such as apartheid, the aborigine culture, and one’s own sense of identity. This began with Grenville’s The Secret River.

We are introduced to the character of William Thornhill. Convict, Englishman, and banished from England, he is then relocated to the seemingly desolate land of Australia. In his former residence of England, he was seen as a convict. A man plagued with poverty and no hope for the future, his fate was all but determined. However, Thornhill spots his own opportunity to make something for himself in the seemingly empty grounds of Australia – with his wife and children, he can finally have a place he could call home. Unbeknownst to Thornhill, however, is that he isn’t the only resident of the land…

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Three years on, and the novel still stands as an eye opener for me.

Grenville’s novel focuses initially on Thornhill’s own sense of identity. At first, everything he had as an Englishman was lost due to his follies, and in consequence, he had to reinvent himself in Australia. However, while the readers may root on for him as he is the protagonist of the novel, I however felt bad supporting him and his interests – purely because his very presence was in contest with the aborigine people. I felt that Thornhill’s actions to grow and make something for himself in a new land was at the cost of the people originally belonging to the land.

Grenville’s novel touches on some very hard-hitting themes, as we’re given an insight into the dichotomy between the new party of the convicts versus the original holders of the land, the aborigines. Personally, when I first read the novel a lot of these themes escaped me. I had hardly even considered how the indigenous people of Australia had felt during the course of this novel. Of course, Grenville uses her dedication to the Aboriginal people, as a combined apology, acknowledgement and testament to their very being.

I think ultimately, Grenville writes a tale of loss and identity, and what one man will do to find his again. With retrospect this book is even more powerful, as it refuses to let you idly stand by and be spectator to Thornhill’s actions. You’re there every single moment of the novel, and that’s something every author should strive for, and something Kate Grenville does brilliantly in this novel. I know for a fact this novel will stick with me for a very long time.

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Until next time,

Ben

Graduate Life: Interviews and Beyond!

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Now for the people who have the pleasure of knowing me/following my antics in real life, you’ll have known that recently due to a friend of mine’s recommendation, I should apply to a traineeship that was hosted by HarperCollins. Now originally, this was during the  late July period, and it was only by some miraculous design (and a very good spot by my friend) that I didn’t miss the application process at all. So on the final day of the online application I decided to apply. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, right?

So lo and behold two weeks later I find myself in the depths of London. Normally I would ecstatic, over the moon even. But after a 6AM trip and an hour of being lost, I turned up dishevelled, discouraged, and distraught 1 hour after the program had started, at the beautiful hour of halfpast 10. By this point, I thought the opportunity for my dream job had been totalled before it even had a chance to blossom. Unbelievably, I hadn’t missed my interview. Only the introductory speech by the main staff. Grinning with relief,  was then notified I had two  minutes until my interview. All good, I’ve got this.

me being hilarious

The self deprecation is strong in this one.

So after my somewhat hilarious interview, I was then advised to network with current executives and my fellow applicants. Whilst conversing with the former was legitimately easy and fun (they now know about my blog, my rise to fame starts here!) the latter was more difficult as while the applicants were beyond lovely and  nice, I couldn’t help but consider them as rivals to my dream job. Admittedly, I’m sure they thought the exact same thing about me.

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Afterwards, we were given a tour of HarperCollins, and it was beyond beautiful. If anything, it made me want to work there even more. I saw the rich history HarperCollins had to offer, and the future the successful applicants could have with the company. I knew I wanted more than anything to work here.

Alas, the day ended and after having the most amazing interview experience I was reassured that each and every individual applicant (all 50 of us) would know the outcome of our interview and if we would be invited back for another series of assessments and interviews in September. It is my pleasure to announce that I was one of the special 15 who made it into the final stage! I’m both nervous and excited, as this process will entail meeting some very important people. I don’t know what the future holds just yet, but more than anything I’m excited to face it head on.

This turned out to be a longer post than I thought, but I couldn’t help but share the news with you all! Have a good one guys, and I’ll be back soon.

Until next time,

Ben

Looking For Alaska by John Green: A Review

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If there’s one thing I’ve learned about personal relationships and perceptions of yourself, is that you’re constantly adapting – one period of time that your sense of identity is challenged and forged is in the latter years of education: in particularly high school and university.

When I first picked up Looking For Alaska, I was at a stage of my life where I was craving for the ‘deeper’ meaning in books. Something that would make me feel like the prodigal son of enlightened literature – I had left to explore the world of books, and unfortunately, I had not kept an opened mind. (Coincidentally, the very opposite of being open to suggestion.) I had scoffed at John Green’s novel, the very ignored its acclaim and popularity, purely because it was of the Young Adult genre.

Thankfully, I was proved thoroughly wrong by John Green. We follow the role of new student and most idealistic character, Miles Halter. Hailing from Florida, he seeks to find his own ‘Great Perhaps.’ in a boarding school in the Deep South. For the uninformed, Miles is entranced with the last words of famous people before they die. In this circumstance, Miles’ words stem from French Renaissance writer and humorist, Francois Rabelais. I believe in the events of Looking for Alaska, that Miles’ Great beyond is explored and exemplified by the relationship he shares with the titular character, Alaska.

While Alaska herself is an emotionally troubled girl, the relationship between the two characters is found to be remarkably strong. However, as with all first-person narratives as readers we must express caution – we are only provided with the thoughts of of Miles – and every event that happens is recorded through Miles perspective.

I believe that within Looking for Alaska, that Miles embodies the idealistic and naive views of young adults growing up. Miles romanticises the time he spends with Alaska, which further helps the reader understand the Romantic notion of The Great Perhaps. As a whole, none of us want to live a life full of ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs.’ John Green’s novel  completely turned the tables on my perceptions of YA literature. Instead of meeting a novel with shallow characters and forced situations, I was given a rare input into the process of an identity being made.

What are your thoughts on Looking For Alaska, or YA Lit as a whole? Let me know!

Ben

House of Mirrors: A Short Story

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Drink. This was how my days started, and how they ended. Of course, the days of looking eye to eye with the bottle were never my proudest, but of course, who was to blame? Myself? Circumstances that were outside of my control? Who knew? I sat upon the leather chair, feeling the grooves of the handle with a shaking hand, slowly but steadily reassuring that what I felt was in fact, real.

It called to me. The blood-red swill swirling in circles inside the glass, a mesmerising whirlpool of ruby nectar whispering my name. Dionysus, Bacchus, it whispered. Lose yourself, come to me. I tried to resist, to break free of the soft whisper – the evil snake that invaded and perused the very fibre of my being, but to no avail. Her face would always prove to be at the forefront of my mind. Blue eyes that sparkled with a fire that superseded St. Elmo’s, a voice soft-spoken, yet spoke with the authority and clarity that could rival a general. And her lips! Twin fruits, redder than the reddest pomegranate-

No more.

I silenced the liquid siren’s call and drank the wine. It scalded my throat, the fire trickling slowly, ever so slowly down like liquid magma, before settling warm within my stomach. I sighed, content. Perhaps, tonight my demons would flee, and the horrors would fade. Staring into the roaring fireplace, I watched the flames flicker and dance wildly, an exotic tango of shadows and fire being performed before me.

I sighed, and with a flourish downed the remainder of my wine. I savoured the warmth it gave me, craving the blissful blanket of dullness that covered my senses. I sauntered from the chair towards the window and helped myself to another glass of wine. Frowning, I looked out towards the courtyard, watching how the garden seemed to pulse in the moonlight. Perhaps with such a sight the nightmares would end.

Frowning, I squinted at the distance beyond the courtyard. Standing upon the hill of the land behind me stood a small, decrypt tree. The leaves had long withered from the branches, and yet it still stood. Perhaps it was just the alcohol, but I could have sworn that there was a flicker of movement near the trunk. With a hiccup and a pull of my coat, I set myself for the hill.

The walk to the tree was an excruciating one – as I struggled for breath, I noticed the finger my wedding ring was on had turned a slight blue. Swearing profusely, I took the final steps up the hill to face the intruder. Up close it was grotesque. The bark stank of damp and rot, the branches gnarled and twisted. Heaving, I realised that the tree would have to be removed, and soon. Turning away to leave, I paused to see a crow flutter to a halt on the tree. Darker than the night itself, the only way the crow was detected by my eyes was by the pale reflection of the moon within its eye, and the sharp clack of its beak. The very air around the bird seemed to be heavy, and the where it perched seemed to darker than the rest of the tree.

“Don’t get too comfortable there, my friend,” I said. “That thing is going down as soon as I get the chance to cut it.”

Caw! The bird answered sharply, and dived from the branch, claws extended towards my face. I swore, and lashed out at the crow. Its claws raked my skin, leaving deep bloody furrows in my forearm.

“You bloody nuisance, wait until I get the-” my words cut short as I lost my balance and the world spun. My head cracked against the ground, and spots danced in front of my eyes. I gasped as the pain in my arm throbbed, once, twice, thrice, as the crow began to peck at the trails it had left in my arm. The pain was simply too much, and I succumbed to the darkness.

 

Pain. My arm throbbed, and my chest ached. I groaned, opening my eyes to find myself surrounded by trees. Thin moonbeams peeked through the thick tangle of branches – thin enough to let me see through the darkness, and yet they were of no help. With my heart pounding and sweat trickling slowly down my brow, I inspected my surroundings even closer. Above the pounding of my heart a faint rustling could be heard within the trees.

“Hello?” I called out, mouth dry. There had to be someone nearby to explain this madness. The rustling continued, and the sharp crack of twigs snapping, as the sound got closer and closer. “Show yourself, this isn’t funny anymore.” My breath was laboured, arm still throbbing in time with my heart.

This was when a girl, no older than ten, stepped out from behind the trees. Dressed in a simple white gown, feet bare and caked with mud, she stopped and regarded me with a curious – yet cautionary interest. Her green eyes shone like a cat’s in the low light, showing nothing but wariness as she slowly circled around me. She never moved closer, but watched me as a lion may stalk its prey.

“Hello little girl,” I said. Trying to smile, I made my voice as soothing as possible. There had to be some explanation to this madness. “Can you help me find my way back home?”

She giggled, a high pitched eruption that seemed to bubble from deep down within her chest. She nodded, and held out her hand. Perhaps I would be saved from this nightmare after all. I took her hand and gasped. Her hand was like ice! It would not do to have her in the cold. As soon as we found our way out I would have words with her parents.

“Why are you out so late? Won’t your parents be worried?” I asked, baffled at her actions. Instead, she simply regarded me with a cool look, and tilted her head as we continued to walk through the forest. Ahead, I could see the light beaming through the forest, and I knew that she had found the exit. Curiously, I found that my arm ached no longer, although the wounds were deep trails in my arm. I felt a tug on the sleeve of my coat, and looked down. The girl looked at me with huge, expectant eyes and pointed to the distance. I followed her gaze and saw a beaten down house, an exhausted shack that paint was peeled and the stench of rotting wood could be smelled from where I was standing.

“Is that where you live?” I said, lip curling at the sorry-looking carcass of a house.

She nodded.

“Well, let’s get going.” And with that declaration, we set off towards the house.

Inside. The house was a sea of cobwebs and dust, and the wooden floorboards creaked with my every step. I took the child’s hand closely into mine, and held tighter. The air of the house was thick with musk, and it seemed harder to breathe with each step I took. The child squeezed my hand, and pointed. A flight of wooden stairs curled upwards to the next floor.

“Are your parents up there?” I said, eyeing the rickety stairs. My hair had stood up on my arms, my stomach churning. Something wasn’t right. A sense of unease crept through me as I stalked up the stairs, hearing the groan of the steps. The girl was right behind me, a tiny creak to the huge groan of my step. The room was empty, no doors but simply a cluster of mirrors placed upon the walls. I could see myself from one, two, three different angles and yet-

Within the mirror I beheld a horrible vision! The child I was with was no longer a child, but a creature in white tattered rags and covered in dirt. Its eyes were swarming with maggots and hair was teeming with spiders. I yelled, and looked at the child. She furrowed her brow, confused. Heart pounding, I grabbed her hand and ran towards the stairs – until a hand grabbed my coat, jerking me to a stop. I looked back, and saw that the hand protruded from the mirror and was dragging me closer. The girl giggled softly, and pointed above. I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Lutesse?” My heart pounded. With hair darker than the crow’s feathers and eyes as red as blood lay my wife, spread-eagled on the ceiling, a picture of demonic grace. She stared at me with blank, sightless eyes as slowly she raised her hand and pointed to her wedding ring.

“To death do us part” she rasped. She spoke with a tenderness that stilled my beating heart.

I felt the sharp tug of my coat again, and saw the girl giggle. The creature in the mirror pulled and pulled, the girl giggled and pointed, Lutesse whispered. My limbs were like ice, my blood frozen in my veins as I beheld the horror unfolding. The little girl prised my jaw open, and as she did I saw her throat convulse, and a spider crawled out of her maw. Taking it in a delicate hand, she pushed it towards my open jaw. I thrashed and screamed, but the creature in the mirror and the girl had a grip of iron. She pushed the spider into my jaw and-

I started, spilling my wine in the process. I was back in my study, the fire had died down. Heart pounding, I pulled my sleeve and ran my fingers along my arm. No claw marks, no wounds. Collapsing back into my chair, I sighed. No more drinking – at least for a while. It was only when my eyes closed, I felt my throat pulse.

Blog Update: Be Back Soon!

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Hey, everyone! This is just a quick blog update to tell you that due to a huuuge number of bits and pieces that need to be done in the normal non-blogosphere world I’ll be taking a very short break. All the posts for this week (Writing Wednesdays, Review Fridays) are already done and will be out at 12:30pm and 12pm on the respective day!

I will, however, be tweeting my exploits when I can, so be sure to check me out on Twitter, and I’ll be sure to update you all with a special post on Saturday!

Your fave bibliophile,

Ben

The Yellow Wallpaper: A Review

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User Pandora-inthesky’s beautiful interpretation of Charlotte Perkins’ story, The Yellow Wallpaper. Check out more masterpieces here!

Now previously, I had been spoilt for choice when it came to reading short stories. Dabbling in the creeping horrors of H.P. Lovecraft and his works, I was a bit reluctant to return to the world of the weird and normal. Thankfully, Charlotte Perkins’ story was anything but dull.

The Yellow Wallpaper illustrates one young woman’s decline into madness. We never learn the woman’s name, but the story is told within the first-person narrative. We also learn that the unnamed narrator had just given birth to a child, and her husband believes that for her safety that resting in a colonial mansion is the best way for her to recover. However, the room that the narrator stays in is damaged with torn wallpaper and the floorboards holding visible scratch marks. This leaves the narrator in a state of caution as she has no clue what had caused the damage of the room.

With every passing day the woman describes the room (in particular, the wallpaper) with more and more detail. Readers can note that through this not only is the woman entrapped in a single area, but her powers of patience and observation are being tested to the utmost limits. Eventually, she begins to see a figure in the design of the wallpaper…

I believe Charlotte Perkins’ The Yellow Wallpaper was made as a statement towards the social position of American women during the 19th century. During this period women themselves had very little standing socially, and in the presence of a patriarchal society, barely had an identity outside of the their home. Furthermore, I believe that the story is another way for women (in particular Perkins) to protest the oppression women had felt during this time – especially in the field of medical and psychological wellbeing. As the narrator of the story had just given birth, it was decided that bed rest was the most optimum cure. While the men had the best interests of women in mind, women during the 19th century were portrayed often as weak and of fragile minds. Perkins reverses this idea by illustrating what happens to a person if they’re not given the freedom they deserve.

In conclusion, I believe that The Yellow Wallpaper is a cautionary tale of what the lack of freedom can do to a person.

What do you think? Let me know!

Ben