Miss Alexandrina

The thinking-space of a not-quite novelist


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It’s a Month Until I Finish my BA

Actually, that title is a lie. I didn’t have time to write this last week and then I forgot about it. But, yes, after three years, I am on the last legs of my degree. It’s bizarre! A weird feeling to think that in less than a month (it’s under three weeks now), I will have finished my final final (or final exam, or whatever term one ought to use for mass communication) and officially no longer be a BA student.

I guess I still fall under that term until I graduate in July, but once my exams are done, I exist in that limbo of doing nothing.

And, to be honest, I don’t know what I will do. Not in a bad way, just in an I’m-undecided-and-I-have-a-ton-of-things way. Life is rife with opportunity and it’s not always a good thing in that one cannot do everything or achieve all of the plans. Quelle domage.

I had always planned to do several posts about university (particularly for those of you who don’t know what it’s like a British university, which can be something different of an experience from other countries), for instance about what I’ve learnt away from the academia, and I can’t say if I’ll get them done over the coming weeks—unlikely, as I’m normally shattered once I’ve finished revision for the day—or instead once I am done for…well, for all.

That’s weird.

Anyway, I hope to get a few of my ideas onto paper and write them up into blog posts; and I am happy to take requests for specific topics, though, as I say, I have a few in mind already. My blog could also do with a redesign and my creativity has been dipping into the visuals recently, so I feel capable that I could somehow choose a nice theme to outline this blog. And I am in the midst of thinking about my new About page. It’s where I go when I find a new blog, and I’m finding that mine no longer fits my requirements of a writer’s blog. Not to mention that the style is about two years out of date.

Other than that, I plan to spend most of the summer working, as I feel like it is time I stepped up to the plate and did something responsible.

I haven’t forgotten about writing, and I haven’t stopped altogether. I’m just not mentally healthy enough to try and deal with massive rewrites and concentrated draft edits that need time and peace and quiet set aside. I don’t have the energy or the motivation, and I can’t tell when I actually will. Probably in those last weeks of May after my exams, when my mind has been given some time to settle, but not enough that it starts to screech crazy.

Uh, yeah. That’s why I’ll have things to do when I’m not working.

In other news, it’s raining again as I type this. Oh April.


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Why a Writing Hiatus Is So Painful

I’m taking a writing hiatus. This would be due to the importance of my studies for my final year of my undergraduate anyway – but it’s also due to another reason. I’ve hit a massive writing slump.

I should have expected it, what with my dissertation taking up most of my non-contact time; but where I’d planned to query in January February, I know WTCB has instead to go through a massive upheaval, and I don’t know where to start.

I’m afraid. Afraid of tearing it to pieces and gluing those pieces onto a new board. Afraid of the emotional and mental work I’ll have to do to recover it. Afraid of the time I’ll lose, and afraid of being back at square one.

Yet, I am back at square one with most of my novels. Let me count them – five. I think. Five I like in need of editing beyond a first or second draft. It took me so long to get to a queryable stage with one novel (and that turned out to be false hope), how long will it take with a second novel?

So, for now, before I drive myself crazy, I’m taking a writing break.

The thing is, I don’t want to have to stop writing. I find it incredibly therapeutic, even when characters and scenes frustrate me. However, I want to be able to look back on my work and feel proud, the way I would having finished a first draft.

But I’m not. Each book I read and the more research I do, the less confident I feel in my own work and my own style. I’ll never be as good as these, says one voice in my mind. Another chimes in, You call this tension? Your characters resolve debates as readily as infants change moods. The chances of me ever being successful are so slim, and part of me would give up were it not for the fact that I don’t want to throw away all the effort and characters and ideas I’ve had for so long. What a waste that would be.

I love Phillip and Aidelle’s world, and I definitely want to at least self-publish the almanac that I have detailing the timeframe of the three epochs featured in the Time, Stopped Trilogy, but I can’t deal with having poor writing at the moment. I think, were it not for my endlessly encouraging CP, Lillian M Woodall, I would’ve trunked the novel by now. Even the Steampunk world of Alexander and Cathy inspires me, but it’s not viable for me to meet them every night. By the time I’ve finished revising for the day, rested my mind, had dinner and settled in for the evening, I’ve been far too tired to concentrate on my editing.

Yes, it hurts. A writer should never have to abandon their families and their stories pressing through their mind – but then, I wonder if the resulting craft will even be worth it. I give so much to my writing, and sometimes I wonder if that’s too much…even though it’s not been enough.

That’s why a writing hiatus is so painful. It is is full of possibilities whilst drowning them with the silence. It’s putting the writer first at the expense of the characters. It’s breaking from the daily visits into the centre of one’s mind.

And, yet, I always wonder if it’s worth it.


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7 Quick Takes – 6 Types of Assessment

Since it’s been a hectic couple of weeks for me in my third year of uni (at the fabulous University of Reading in the UK), what with this being my dissertation* term and having deadlines Friday, Monday, and Thursday, I thought I’d take the opportunity of the Quick Takes list to describe a bit about the types of assessments I’ve had to do, particularly over this year**.

seven quick takes friday 2

7 Quick Takes is hosted at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

~1~

The straight-up essay

This is the assessment I get the most – it covers both Psychology and Philosophy modules, and I suppose, is a good way to tell if someone has done the required reading. There is a difference between Psychology and Philosophy essays – namely, the amount of research reading one does for the essay. Because Psychology encourages the scientific use of background studies, we are required to at least provide one original source.

~2~

The presentation

Leading a seminar and teaching one topic of the module is a type of assessment. Some may think that this is one of the hardest types of assessment to do, but, actually, I’m a big fan of presentations – I seem to have a knack for them, at least. They’re less stressful than essays, and take less time, though still involve the same level of research and interpretation of facts. I enjoy educating others, so this style of assessment helps me do just that.

~3~

The alternative assignment

This is a tricky one to describe, as it depends on the seminar leader or lecturer themselves as to what we end up doing. Most are of working on developing independent research ideas. For instance, the most recent alternative assignment I did required me to raise a project proposal/report – just like that of my dissertation, though with less stress! – on one of the many topics we went through during the term.

~4~

The lab practicals

Psychology all the way! Practicals can range from white-lab-coat conical flask awesomeness (!) to puzzling over statistics for hours on computerised systems. (This has happened to me.) University is a prime for the ‘real world’ – apparently, in some eyes – and practicals help students to expand from the theoretical side of what they’re learning to the working side side.

~5~

The Online Quizzes

These are marked, too, often as a first- and second-year assessment level to encourage background reading for modules that cannot be fully explained in lectures. They consolidate knowledge and prime for exams.

~6~

The non-marked

Often, these are essay plans or little one-page to test for writing skills. Practise, so to speak. So, technically, I’m cheating with this being a type of assessment, but these types of work, called by some ‘formative’, are as crucial to build skills and knowledge towards other assessments. Not as often given out, but as necessary as any other assessment.

~7~

I pray for those with work to or who feel overwhelmed, particularly students. May God’s light guide them to knowledge.

*Of which there is only four weeks left.

**This also counts as a type of assessment, but is ongoing and far more complicated and layered than a simple paragraph will do justice.


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How Do I Become A Writer?

Great advice for those thinking of writing as an income by Katie Teller.

Aussie Writers

I get asked this question a lot, especially by my “non” writer friends. I think it’s interesting because I know it secretly means How do they become a writer? I’m also fairly certain most of the people who ask me haven’t read my books, but that’s another issue at this point.

So I’ll begin with one thing: a burning need to write a story. Then another, then another. This need needs to be more than just an idea. You need to write it down, hash out the plot, the twists and turns, develop the characters.

No time? Congrats, I don’t have time either. I’m a mother and wife, which in themselves are crazy busy gigs, I have a baby and almost five year old, have church and family commitments, and work. Yes, my work is mostly edits, but that leaves very little time for actually writing, and before I received…

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7 Quick Takes – Are Faces Innate? (The Psychology Edition)

Another busy week, though I’m hoping it will calm down a little. What have I been up to? Uni work, mostly. Read on for Psychology in bulk. Catch up with Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.

seven quick takes friday 2

~1~

If you’re interested in Psychology, I did a seminar presentation today for my Science of Emotion module, entitled Are Faces and the Emotions They Convey Innate? My conclusion, for simplicity and time-saving, was that we might have a critical period in the development of emotion processing neurology, in which the neural pathways develop—which can be influenced to be ‘abnormal’ by external factors like more frequent exposure to certain facial expression stimuli in the environment.

However, this topic is actually one in constant debate. Since, if you’d consider it, Darwin’s lesser-well-known (compared to On the Origin of Species) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, psychologists have been interested in whether facial expressions of emotion are innate or learned. Or indeed a combination of the two.

~2~

A snippet of my notes to illustrate how difficult it is in science to give a straight conclusion. After all, there are so many possible confounding variables and human differences that one cannot possibly generalise.

reeb-sutherland

~3~

Reeb-Sutherland et al’s paper came to the conclusion that facial expressions of emotions are not innate, as their results showed differences in preference for seeing fearful faces in a continuum of Anger—Fear (where preference is seeing a fearful face sooner than the average) between Behaviourally-Inhibited adolescents with a history of anxiety. This means, more or less, that something about their past exposure and tendency for anxiety has ‘rewired’ their brain to be more aware of threat.

~4~

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 3.40.08 PMOn the other hand, studies like that of Gendron et al looked at how ‘basic’ emotions (a la Paul Ekman, 1984*) are prevalent across cultures, even in Patagonian tribes, who will not have had as much exposure to media and the stress Western culture can evoke (and therefore they may be less prone to anxiety and worry emotions). One might argue from results like these that facial expressions of emotion, at their simplest, are innately ‘tailored’ in the human mind already.

*The article I’ve linked is only a preliminary in discussion of Darwinian tradition of facial processing. It does, however, include reference to some important recent articles and papers in the research. If you’re interested in facial expression of emotion, I’d recommend Google scholar-ing Paul Ekman’s original work and its updates.

~5~

Of course, there are many other ways to express one’s emotion, especially for humans. Next week, for instance, we’ll be looking at expressing emotion through the body. However, you can see how much material and hypotheses there are to go on from just one three-hour seminar…

Yup, I have three-hour seminars this year. They don’t call Reading University research-intensive for nothing!

~6~

Amongst all this Psychology, as much as I love it, I hurry about and do have those stressful moments. I know I talk about the felt intangibility of God a lot, but it’s something that keeps me going; sometimes, when I’m close to giving up on a piece of work, I close my eyes and give consideration to what He might be saying by putting me in this particular place and position. Trust is a difficult thing, and it takes practise like that to carry on. Living in the Chapter House community group has especially helped this.

~7~

This issue is that I’ve still got loads to catch up on – including several reblogging that I was unable to do during the working week – and do before/for this evening, so I’ll leave it at that for today.

How has your week been? Been up to anything unusual? Tell me, what do you think of the question of expression innateness?


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Quick Takes Friday about Etiquette, Chilli Chicken, and Alex Being Promotional

Is it really already Friday? Phew. Time to catch up with our weeks in 7 Quick Takes.

seven-quick-takes-friday-2-1024x727

~1~

This week, at least for me, has been one of promotional work for Reading Uni. Wednesday and Thursday were photo and film promotional shoots which will end up on the website and possibly the prospectus; whereas today and tomorrow are the official open day, so I’ve been helping out and working for those.

~2~

I’m still here, in old castle Wantage. Every day, another person moves out of the hall, and it’s a sharp reminder of how close we are to our contracts expiring completely. I have to make the most of my last two weeks as a student-in-hall. But I’m also madly excited to be moving into a house with other Christians, where we’ll have the opportunity for group prayer and spiritual activity.

 ~3~

I’m still catching up with editing/polishing – have been good these last couple of days with two chapters per day, and hopefully, I can work on querying early next week before I move out and the end of June. I didn’t anticipate it would take me this long, to be honest, but exam break aside, I’m coming back to chapters I’ve not seen in months and they have been unacceptable. So, the editing side has been stronger than the polishing in some places.

~4~

Nevertheless, I am still enjoying the story, and the world baits me with more to add to characters, including a under-2K-words vignette from Andrew Costello’s point of view.

~5~

I’ve been doing some research for my Steampunk fictions, and there were a lot of etiquette rules in the day that now seem barmy. For instance:

“It is customary, according to the codes of etiquette, to call all hours of daylight morning and after nightfall evening.”

As found, along with multiple pieces of etiquette points about who calls when, how to behave, and what to leave, on avictorian.com. Victorian dance etiquette is also fascinating for me as a modern/vintage/swing dancer.

~6~

I’ve also been doing more cooking, now that my catering contract has run out. I enjoy cooking for myself – trying out different styles and flavours that are useful for my time-constraints, tastes, and health.

~7~

Like so: chicken on a bed on leeks and celery. The seasoning was a sweet chilli ready-pack from Colman’s. And really yummy, too.

AlexB_ColmanChicken


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Bear With Me…

So, not only have my studies lead to an almost brain-deadness that has affected my holidays, but I spilt tea on my laptop, and as such have had no response from it. This leaves me without my materials and with no aim towards progress or blogging.

Give it a few days. I need to lock back into sense. I need to rework and rewire myself, even with the promise of a new device.

I don’t need a break, but I am being given one, and I must suck it up and switch plans, projects, and systems, until my life is some semblence of normality once more.

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