Welcome to Nightvale: A Novel

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A copy of this turned up in our new books delivery at the library, and I turned into one of those seagulls from Finding Nemo in about two seconds flat.

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I’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale since its early days.  For the uninitiated, Night Vale first appeared as an online podcast, each episode following Cecil Palmer, local radio host, and his descriptions of the events in the spooky desert town of Night Vale – where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and every night strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.

After following five years’ worth of episodes about Night Vale, when the creators announced a book, I was actually pretty sceptical.  Welcome to Night Vale has a very specific tone, its language carefully crafted to give just enough detail to keep you intrigued, and yet remain vague enough to be deeply unsettling.  A lot of this is carried across by Cecil Palmer’s low, melodious voice – zipping quickly from a dread-inspiring near-monotone for the spooky moments to upbeat chipperness for Night Vale’s weird sense of humour.  (Kudos to the actor, Cecil Baldwin, for that.  Yes, they are both called Cecil.  That’s only the start of the oddness of Night Vale.)

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Vasheren

(Artwork by Vasheren on DeviantArt.)

No way, I thought, can they pull that off in a book.

Man, I was wrong.  The Welcome to Night Vale book pulls off the exact tone of the Night Vale podcasts, expanding massively on the world of Night Vale and giving us a chance to see from the perspective of people that, until now, really only existed as secondary characters in Cecil’s stories (and man, Cecil can be a really unreliable narrator).  Plenty of favourites show up in the series, from Old Woman Josie to The Man In the Tan Jacket to Carlos the Scientist, without feeling like they’re awkwardly crammed in place for fanservice.

I was stunned at how fast the plot seemed to go in Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel, ripping me through one chapter after another and keeping me questioning the whole time.  This is especially impressive since the plot of Welcome to Night Vale: the Podcast is often … well, glacial.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating, but in comparison the novel felt like a mile-a-minute thriller.

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If I could find one flaw in the Welcome to Night Vale novel, it’s this: it’s not meant for new fans.  It’s packaged and advertised and presented as a way to get into the series for the first time, but I really, strongly recommend you don’t start with this book.

When Carlos appeared, a massive grin hit my face.  But to someone unfamiliar with the series, Carlos is a nonentity.  There are references to the forbidden dog park; the old woman who secretly lives in your home; the vast dark planet of thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans – which seem utterly random and pointless without the context of the podcast.

My advice?  Listen to the podcast first.  It can take a few episodes to get the hang of its bizarre tone and content, but it’s worth it.  The whole series is on Youtube for free, so you don’t need to spend a penny giving it a try, and it’s great background noise for doing the washing up / ironing / cleaning out the hamsters.  When you’re caught up – or at least coming to the end of the 2015 season, which is when the book was released – then read the book.  You’ll get so much more out of it.

But if you are a fan of Welcome to Night Vale and you haven’t touched this book yet … for the love of the Glow Cloud, get yourself a copy.  You won’t regret it.

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Focus and Forest Spirits

I just read an article that says if you want to run a successful blog you need to stay focused. As in, all your posts should be about travelling or geeky stuff or (in my case) writing, since then your posts pop up quicker on a search engine.

A shame, really, that I have the attention span of a golden retriever in a room full of squeaky toys. I just want to play with everything.

So here’s a picture I took last summer and never got around to sharing.

It’s a forest spirit from Princess Mononoke! Geeky graffiti is the best kind of graffiti.

I haven’t been up that hill since the summer, so I don’t know if he’s still there. I like to think he is, watching all the dog walkers with a confused, slightly shocked expression.

RSI Sucks

Right now, I am typing this blog post left-handed.  I ate breakfast today with my spoon in my left hand, brushed my teeth with my left hand, and painstakingly wrote a note in my diary with my left hand.

But like Inigo Montoya, I know something you don’t know.

I am not left-handed.

RSI sucks.  It really,  seriously, totally and absolutely sucks and it can just go and jump off and cliff and die for all I care.  Heck, I’ll push it.  I will straight-up take the responsibility for murdering RSI.

In case you hadn’t guessed, my right hand?  Hurts.

Right now, it doesn’t hurt enough to stop me typing.  This is because a) I’m resting it on my desk beside the disconnected ergonomic mouse I cannot use left-handed and b) I’m keeping it strapped up in this monstrosity.

(Except I wear a bandage under my splint for extra support, and a cut-up sock over the top to stop the velcro attaching itself to literally everything.  So it looks less like that and more like a total mess.)

After years of struggling and swearing at my hand (‘How dare you fall apart like this, when all I’ve done is force you to spend hours typing, writing, playing the piano, sketching, painting …’) I’m hoping some x-rays and actual, y’know, medical attention will fix it.  I have tried Google, and Google is mostly unhelpful.  The people that don’t give contradicting advice (‘Only wear your splint at night!’  ‘No, no, only wear it in the day!’) tend to shrug and say ‘IDK man, hand cancer?’

This is a weird post for a weird day, because I haven’t finished reading A Court of Thorns and Roses yet so I can’t really do a review.  If anyone actually has a miracle cure for RSI, do let me know.  Assuming, of course, my x-ray doesn’t come back to tell me I’ve been powering through a broken bone all this time.  Man, wouldn’t that be awkward?

Blogging is Like Looking at Other People’s Clothes

When I walk down the high street, I spend a good chunk of my time admiring what other people are wearing (the other chunk is currently taken up by Pokémon GO).

A goth walks past in magenta dreadlocks and knee high platforms? Awesome, I’ve got to wear that tomorrow! A girl floats past in a flowery dress? Oh man, no, I’m definitely wearing that! A boho hippy goes by in a comfy cardy and harem pants? Oh hell, I’d rather wear that, it looks so cosy!

And blogging is the same. When I first read Hyperbole and a Half, I wasted good hours scribbling on MS Paint, before I realised Allie isn’t kidding when she says her cartoons are more carefully crafted than they appear. Then I read a travel blog and desperately searched for plane tickets before remembering I am a poor graduate who’s never travelled alone before. Then I read some high-brow, literary blog and I go, ‘Yes, that’s better. I am a writer* and editor** so this is what I should be blogging!’ Then I read some classic literature and try to write a snobby, clever review, but it all falls apart because I am not a classy book reviewer. I am the girl who cried a little bit because she was so excited about Cyborg showing up in the Justice League trailer.

The thing about clothes and blogging is they’re both ways to display yourself to the world. I don’t know what it says about me that I want to change both of mine constantly, like some shambling polymorph monstrosity, but hey. There you go.

I also don’t know if there’s a point to this post, besides ‘it just popped into my head’ and ‘I’ve been reading Jenny Lawson recently and she’s temporarily taken over my brain/writing style’. Maybe someday I’ll actually find my niche. Who knows? Until then, I suppose I’ll remain Amelia Mackenzie, Polymorph Extraordinaire.

*Technically

**Actually

Amelia Recommends: SEED

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Read if you like: stories about cults, suspense, mystery

SEED is Lisa Heathfield’s debut novel; an eerie story about a naïve young girl trapped in a cult.  Fifteen-year-old Pearl believes that Seed, the compound where she’s lived all her life, is a paradise, and that Nature will care for her every need.  Her only desires are to know which of the women at Seed is her true mother–knowledge forbidden to the children there–and to someday be companion to Papa S, Seed’s mysterious and charismatic leader.

However, when newcomers are allowed to join Seed from the Outside, Pearl’s worldview is shattered.  Ellis, teenage boy from Outside,  shows Pearl that not everything in Seed is as it seems, and not everyone she loves can be trusted.

I raced through SEED in just a couple of days.  The story is compelling, the suspense sometimes agonising.  Mature themes creep through in places, so it’s definitely a teen novel and not for children.  However, they are kept mostly vague and only implied, so it’s never too disturbing.

Red Flags:
(This book may not be for you if you avoid the following)

  • Dramatic Irony: you will know what’s going on in Seed way ahead of Pearl.  In fact, you’re likely to be ten steps ahead of her for the entire book.  For this reason, some people on Amazon have lamented Pearl being the protagonist, when other characters are more clued-in (and sometimes appear more interesting for it).
  • Loose Ends: the end of the book runs a mile-a-minute, and then just … stops.  A few plot threads are simply left hanging, and I admit I was disappointed by a final chapter that seemed rushed.
  • Shying from the Dark Stuff: other cult books for teenagers (Forbidden by Judy Waite, for example) are more willing to tackle mature themes, where SEED keeps them in the shadows.  Some reviewers have found this irritating, as they’d rather see the writer face themes of abuse, rape and manipulation head-on.

Winchester Writer’s Festival 2016: Scholarship!

I’m going to Winchester Writer’s Festival!  Yippee!
Every year, authors, agents, publishers and all sorts of other writerly people gather in one of my favourite places in the UK — beautiful Winchester.  Over 17th-19th June, the University of Winchester hosts a variety of talks, lectures, master classes and one-to-one advice sessions all about books, writing, and publishing.
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Last year, I was lucky enough to attend as a bookseller with P&G Wells Bookshop, and I had a brilliant time meeting people like Ali Sparkes, Jasper Fforde.
This year, I decided to apply for the WWF scholarship, which lets young writers attend the festival for free, since going to all three days can be a bit pricey (although much of the Friday stuff is free, so I recommend checking that out!).  Plus, it’s worth going just for that beautiful Winchester campus.
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(I miss you, Winchester!)
A few weeks of nail-biting later, I’ve been accepted!  Cue fanfare, confetti, and exploding bottles of champagne, etc.  I can’t wait to see Winchester again, and to talk writing with professionals in the field.  Better get on with editing that manuscript of mine … eep!