Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Do Authors Reflect Themselves In Their Protagonists?

by Poppy Goad

When writing fiction, most writers draw upon the clichéd but sage advice to ‘write what you know’. 
Some simply explore their native milieu and insert a fictional plot, while others write a roman à clef, skirting the border of fiction and reality.  But how far does that statement transcend the setting of the story and diffuse into the characters? It is usually by coincidence that little idiosyncrasies of people the author knows end up becoming part of the characters they write, allowing them to create more vivid depictions of the world around us. It is also common for authors to base characters entirely on someone they know, perhaps as a tribute or merely because they fit into the story being told. However how much of the time do authors reflect themselves in their characters?

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

It is widely known that classic authors like Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde reflected themselves in their characters. Hemingway explored his own life through fiction with the aid of his parallel self, called Nick Adams. He wrote 24 pieces of fiction on this character, later collected into a book called ‘The Nick Adams Stories’. Oscar Wilde was also speculated to have used himself as a basis for the character of Basil Hallward in ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’. Basil’s obsession with Dorian was seen as an allusion to Wilde’s homosexuality and relationship with ‘Bosie’( Lord Alfred Douglas). Later in his life, ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ was actually used as a piece of evidence to prove his homosexuality in the trail to punish him for his sexual preference.  It is no wonder that authors are reluctant to mirror themselves in characters, or to reveal that they have, as doing so can show so much of who they are. Hopes, dreams and insecurities and fears can be voiced through paper and if a keen and meticulous reader is able to see it then the whole façade of the characters fictional origin is broken.

George Orwell and HG Wells
This being said, not all authors reflect themselves in such a vivid and vulnerable way. It is often common for science fiction writers to live vicariously through their characters through their fiction. This allows them to be the hero in their own story, writing their own future to escape from the constant uncertainty that reality can hold. Orwell, Wells and Huxley can all be seen using characters of similar depiction that mirror some of their own attributes. Middle aged men of unremarkable beauty and little to no talent or resounding importance, brought up to be the unlikely protagonists with idealistic and futile dreams of social change and revolution. However, in most of the fore mentioned author’s works these dreams rarely become a reality. In Orwell’s 1984 Winston becomes broken by room 101 into submission to find love for Big Brother, accepting the growing control over every life. Huxley’s protagonist Bernard Marx in ‘Brave New World’ is sent off to an island full of individuals with controversial ideas like himself so is isolated and secluded from the society he once hoped to understand, and Huxley’s second protagonist John (the savage) becomes a recluse on the outskirts of the city, eventually driven to madness and hanging himself. While Wells’s protagonist does seem to begin to change the society of social repression that he has found himself in, the protagonist, Graham is then suddenly killed at the end of the novel, leaving the story uncertain and unfinished, the reader never truly knowing whether the revolution succeeded – although we are led to believe that it did. 

These bleak endings do not seem to correlate with the idea that the protagonists were a reflection of the author’s own dreams of social revolution, although perhaps that they all ended without the exultant hero triumph was to attempt to reflect the harsh brutality of reality further through their text. Although this is all speculation it is interesting to see how a lot of the times the supposed ‘heroes’ do not come out victorious at the end of these story. This could further be a reflection of the insecurities of the authors that they are not able to see themselves flourish in this new colour and are vulnerable to the pessimism brought on by the fin de siècle(for H.G. Wells) and in the mid-1900s(for Orwell and Huxley).

Poem: Who's for the War?

by Jamie Bradshaw

A parody of Who's For the Game by Jessie Pope (see Pope's poem below the break) which was written during the First World War. Pope was criticised by soldier-poets such as Wilfred Owen for her jingoistic poems (published in the Daily Mail) that glamourised and trivialised war.   

Who's for the war, the giant bloodbath,
The screams of the dying young men?
Who's going to march down the nightmare path,
Knowing death beckons time and again?
Who will watch their friend be flung from their feet,
A bullet smashed straight through their skull?
Who'll watch their pal's face be covered by a sheet,
A victim of the everlasting cull?
Who'll look into the eyes of a petrified foe,
Ending them with a singe trigger pull?
Will you in a struggle strike the fatal blow,
Like a matador slaughters a bull?
So go, fight the war-
You may be alright,
But you may come back in a box
Is the war really worth your life's final fight,
Or are you all placing your heads on the blocks?

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Doubtful Double

by Thomas Cracknell

On the 10th September 2017 Chris Froome won the Vuelta a España for the first time, meanwhile launching himself in the to the cycling history books as he became only the third man to win consecutively the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España and the previous double was 19 years ago. In completing this feet of history Chris Froome cycled 4264 miles over the course of the summer which to put it in to perspective is equivalent to riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats 5 times as he spent a total of 165 hours on the bike in one summer. Moreover, he is estimated to have burned 252,000 calories the equivalent of 5,600 chicken nuggets.

So how did he do it? One speculation was the limited number of racing days leading up to the Tour de France. Froome’s mere 26 racing days do suggest perhaps he was more rested, prepared and ultimately focused on the Tour-Vuelta double with is comparatively low number of racing days on the run up to these two grand tours. However, on investigation its shows that although 26 is low it is only one day less than 2016 and 2015. On the other hand, there is the suggestion that it is purely Froome’s and tem sky’s focus and goal setting on achieving this with this season being the first ever time they have declared openly this as their ultimate goal. In addition, it could be speculated with the Vuelta occurring after the Tour de France and as the final grand tour it comes as an afterthought to the world tour teams and the focus of team sky on this tour bucked that trend and allowed them to achieve the double. Finally, Chris Froome’s success is, without a doubt, a cause of his killer competitive instinct. Froome’s competitive nature and drive to win and succeed is best shown on the final day of the Vuelta which was set to be a procession for Froome however to deny his closet rivals the green jersey as well (points classification leaders jersey) fans saw Froome sprinting to the line where he ultimately claimed the green jersey as well.

However, his summer of success and riding in the yellow and red of the leader’s jersey has come to an end with a controversy casting his historic achievement in the doom and ‘froome’ of doping allegations.

It began on the 7th September which coincided with the 18th stage of the Vuelta a España where a urine sample was taking by the UCI’s anti-doping body was found to be “adverse” with high readings of Salbutamol. But what is salbutamol and why has Froome taken it? It is a common asthma medication often found in inhalers, to reduce symptoms of asthma, and it can also be ingested orally. More importantly, it is not on WADS’s (world anti-doping agency) banned list of substances and therefore, does not require a TUE (therapeutic use exemption) to use however is monitored in urine tests and is only permitted up to and not exceeding a certain level, 1000 ng/ml. However, Froome’s sample from the 7th September was around double WADA’s legal limit.

So … on the face of it this saga is very clear cut. Froome produced a urine sample over the legal limit on a drug which is strictly controlled. However, it is not a simple as it seems. Due to salbutamol, not being an out and out banned substance by WADA it did not have to be publically disclosed when this sample was found. It was only due to an investigation by Le Monde and The Guardian which made this public knowledge.

So, what does this mean right now? 

The New Tourism: Space and the Deep Ocean

by Katie O'Flaherty

Mars and the Deep Ocean. Poles apart, yet both overwhelmingly unexplored domains with so many unknowns. It is estimated that over 95% of the oceans of Earth are unexplored, going up to nearly 100% for the deepest regions of the ocean, yet the ocean makes up 95% of Earth’s living space. Pressure in the ocean increases by around 1 atm for every 10 meters descended (the pressure in the Earth’s atmosphere is 1 atm), with the deepest ‘layer’ of the sea being the ‘Hadalpelagic Zone’, which is only found in the deepest sea trenches, as it only exists below 6000 meters.

Mars is around 142 million miles from the sun, and when Earth and Mars are closest together in their orbits, they are 33.9 million miles apart. Travel from Earth to Mars would take around 9 months in transit, and after landing there would be a window to return 3 months after, with another 9 months for a return trip, thus the round trip to Mars would take 21 months. Not only this, but there are only windows to launch to Mars every 26 months, which makes planning exploratory trips to Mars a very long term, logistics-intensive task.

Yet the expense and difficulty of exploring space, and more specifically Mars, has not deterred humankind from attempts to explore and understand, as proven by the 6 current exploration missions being run just by NASA to Mars, the most recent being the ‘Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN’ (MAVEN), which left Earth on the 18th November 2013, and arrived on Mars on the 21st September 2014. NASA has a further 2 more missions planned for the near future: InSight, and the Mars 2020 Rover.

For undersea exploration, a mixture of ROVs (Remotely operated vehicles), HOVs (Human occupied vehicles), and AUVs (Autonomous underwater vehicles) are used. ROVs have to be constantly attached to a cable, operated from the ship, while AUVs have no cable, but instead have to be pre-programmed before descent. HROVs (a new breed of hybrid vehicles) can have either a surface operator, or drop the cable and be unmanned. Funding for deep sea exploration, however, is minuscule compared to that for space travel, with $32 million each year put towards ocean exploration, compared to the annual budget for NASA alone being $19 billion.

The reduced focus towards sea exploration has led to a far slower rate of improvement of understanding. The vikings started to explore the ocean in the 1st century, and many other races had begun to explore the surface of the seas before that, whereas the first human-made object to orbit the Earth was the Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 in 1957, with the first human space flight being in 1961 with Yuri Gagarin. In 1934, ‘The Bathysphere’ reached a record distance of 3,028 ft, piloted by a well-known adventurer called Charles Beebe, and to date the deepest a modern submersible can reach is 20,000 ft below the surface, thus showing how the rate of exploration and advancement is drastically slower than that for space travel.

The risks involved, on the other hand, would suggest the pattern would be very much the other way, with no serious human injury due to deep sea exploration in the past 35 year, whereas there have been innumerable deaths in the field of space exploration, particularly during the rush to space during the Cold War, but also in more recent projects, such when Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity broke apart during a rocket powered test in 2014, and the co-pilot was tragically killed, and the pilot injured.

This did not deter any further attempts, though it naturally has caused a refinement on the safety and testing procedures in the field, with the aims of many companies, including Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, towards space tourism in the near future remaining as ambitious as ever. Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity (their second SpaceShipTwo vehicle) works by being carried aloft by a specialised aeroplane, dropped at an altitude of 15,000 meters, then boosting itself into sub-orbital space using its own motors. It is able to carry 6 passengers, each ticket costing around $250,000 USD, with over 600 people reportedly already putting down deposits for seats. Blue Orbit have their own plans for space exploration, with ambitious time frames of the company being a predicted year away from human manned flights, and a year and a half to two years away from tendered payloads, with the correct safety and licenses.

Deep-sea tourism is already a present industry, with companies having been taking customers to sunken ships and underwater oases since 2009. Oceangate already offer plenty of excursions for tourists, using their submersibles such as ‘Antipodes’ and ‘Cyclops 1’, but as of yet none can dive below 6,500 feet. They have plans to the ‘Cyclops 2’ to be able to take customers as deep as 15,000 feet, and this year have a planned expedition to take passengers to the wreck of the Titanic, 12,500 feet below the sea surface. Their craft are able to be used as transport and instruments for scientific analysis, as well as transport for tourists, which is a great advantage to the research community, as at present only 4 active submersibles can reach those depths, but are all government owned, thus cannot be used openly by the public. The design of the Cyclops 2, in order to withstand temperatures and pressures of the immense magnitudes at that depth, is exceptionally well thought out and advanced, with the cylinder being made up of 800 layers of carbon fibre, and being approximately 5” thick.

The potentials for the future in both fields of exploration and research are almost limitless, with ambitions of various people to inhabit both the deep regions of the ocean, and to colonise the far-off regions of space helping to motivate some truly astonishing advances, which could never have even been imagined a couple of hundred years ago.

New Year, New You

by Emily Stone

Starting off the new year with a resolution is a time-honoured tradition. More often than not, these resolutions fizzle out by the time February arrives. Fortunately Lent is just around the corner with added incentive to pick it up again. However, these changes towards the better rarely last the entire year.

Obesity is the modern day epidemic, sweeping worldwide. The World Health Organisation has presented statistics demonstrating the astronomical scale of the problem. Worldwide, over 1.9 billion adults were overweight in 2016. Even worse, 41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese. We live in a world where the majority of the world’s population live in countries where problems resulting from being overweight and obese kills more people than problems presented by being underweight.

There are many root causes of this problem. Readily available fast food and ready-made food, may be easy and quick to cook or cheap to buy, but they contain high levels of fat and sugar in order to satisfy taste buds. Additionally, the obesity problem is only helped by more physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization. This new way of life is growing in the future, as work becomes less and less hands-on as technological advances makes it so. On top of this, no more is there a compulsory domestic science or cookery course in schools. Ignorance of how to eat a healthy and balanced diet is prevalent everywhere and this only exacerbates the problems.

That is not to say the Government is not trying. Last year a sugar tax was announced that will be implemented this Spring. Tax on drinks that contain more than 5 grams of sugar per 100ml will be levied by 18p per litre, while those with over 8 grams of sugar per 100ml will have an extra tax of 24p per litre. The Government claim the money raised from this extra tax will go towards the Department of Education for school sports. In addition to this, there is, in the works, an aim to ban all sugary drinks from hospitals, leading the way by example so to speak.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Review: 'The Last Jedi'

by Alex Gibson

Generating more than $450-million worth of global ticket sales in its first weekend alone, the Star Wars franchise was back with a bang with the eight episode of the main saga, The Last Jedi. Considering the film has been out in cinemas for approximately a month, I thought it would be an ideal time to give my review. It goes without saying, but spoilers ahead.

When Luke Skywalker announced in the trailer, ‘this is not going to go the way you think’, he was absolutely right and I must confess I left the cinema in a world a conflict - a theme that is ironically explored throughout the franchise. I didn’t know if it was a huge success or a downright failure, but one thing to note, it was most certainly different.

Let’s start with the positives as there were several.

As with many modern-day films, The Last Jedi was visually stunning, from Luke Skywalker’s residence off the coast of Ireland, to the vivid detail of Crait - it was wonderful. Combined with an unsurprisingly magnificent musical score by John Williams, one could not help but feel truly immersed in the Star Wars ‘universe’ once more.

Not only this, but some of the characters were also very good, showing that the new breed of actors are positive replacements for those in the original trilogy who we have some anticipation of letting go. For example, the acting of Oscar Isaac playing lovable rogue Poe Dameron was a definite standout for me, especially as we perhaps did not see as much of him in The Force Awakens as we might have liked. John Boyega was another who gave a promising performance, once again proving that he has a bright future ahead of him. And, of course, appearances by Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher (who both carried a considerable presence on-screen I must add) were moments that really encapsulated the transition between old and new.

In addition to this, certain scenes brought a thrill to the latest instalment of the saga, such as the moments when Rey and Kylo Ren appeared to communicate using the Force and when these two characters fought side-by-side against Snoke’s guards. The latter made up for the fact that there were no lightsabre duelling for the first time in the main story’s history.

Similarly with episode seven, this new film drew parallels with the original trilogy, namely the use of large, intimidating walkers marching towards a base. However, the fact that the film was different was refreshing and is a definite reason as to why some enjoyed it. It was also a reason as to why some detested it.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Comparing the Broadway and West End productions of 'Hamilton'

by Eleanor Williams-Brown

(source: Daily Telegraph)
In case you have lived under a rock and never heard of Hamilton, it is a musical based on the life and times of Alexander Hamilton. It has been the hottest ticket for the past two years - and is now getting rave reviews in London.

I have loved this show for nearly three years, since it was in the Public Theatre before its move to Broadway, and in conjunction to listening to the album innumerable times, I felt some trepidation and did not want to set my expectations too high. Moreover, several summers ago I saw In the Heights, Miranda’s first original musical, and was blown away by the life energy, joy and a free drink of piragua, all showcasing how beautiful Miranda’s productions could be. So, with the immense love I have for this musical,and the original Broadway cast’s presentation of the characters, the West End production had to hit a very high bar. But, luckily, this show did not disappoint.

At two and a half hours, it covers Hamilton’s life in the Caribbean where his father left him and his mother died, meaning at 11 he had to become a shipping clerk. At 15, his ‘Hurricane Letter’, detailing one which had hit the island, was published in a local newspaper and was so spectacular the residents of St. Croix raised enough money to get him passage to America.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Hamilton rose to become aide-de-camp to George Washington during the War of Independence. Constantly outshining everyone in each field he encountered, Washington appointed him as first Secretary of the Treasury. In his 15 year long political career, Hamilton had the first American political sex scandal, founded America’s entire financial system, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, founded the New York Post and the Coastguard, decided the third president, and annoyed Jefferson so much a two-party system developed with him founding the Federalists. His life was cut short after being killed in a duel by his friend turned rival Aaron Burr in 1804, which isn’t much of a spoiler as it features in the first song.

After a series of delays, the London production of Hamilton opened on the West End on the 6th December, and I had the joy to go see it on the 8th;

Whilst no-one can stand up to Leslie Odom Junior’s spectacular vocals, Giles Terara held his own, shining most especially in The Room Where it Happens. The same can be said for the main female protagonist Eliza Schuyler (later Hamilton), whose portrayal by Rachel Anne Go was good, but nowhere near comparable to the incredible Phillipa Soo, who originated the role.

But, for me, it was Angelica (Rachel John), Washington (Obioma Ugoala), and Hamilton who shone. Already my three favourite characters, I knew I would be watching them closely to see how they could live up to Renee Elise-Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson and the shows creator Lin Manuel Miranda’s performances, they had tough shoes to fill. However, they all certainly stood out in the own right; it’s almost incomprehensible how Jamael Westman could portray Hamilton’s emotional journey from hopeful, over-excited, loudmouth to a slightly more beaten-down man, tinged with sadness. Westman only had two theatre credits to his name before this show, which is shocking given his talent, tthere’s, no doubt after Hamilton he will accumulate many more.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Review: The Greatest Showman

by Daniel Hill

I have never reviewed a film, but after seeing The Greatest Showman I felt I could give it a go. It is based on the life story of Phineus Taylor Barnum who is possibly the founder of showmanship. It is directed by Michael Gracey and is his debut as a director. He is complemented with new music by Pasek and Paul who have recently come to fame since writing the music for the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen and lyrics in La La Land. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams.

The cinematography is amazing, with visual effects that dazzle the audience. Michael Gracey cements his place in film direction with this stunning debut. The large scale musical numbers were paired with amazing choreography and energised the film. I was originally sceptical as the film opened with a huge performance of the song 'The Greatest Show'. I thought that this was possibly too ambitious due to the high standard and energy provided at the beginning of the film, possibly leaving no space for the film to grow. I was proved wrong as the film had perfect nuances and provided a brilliant viewing.

Pasek and Paul are two relatively unknown writers in the UK but prove to the British audience that we should be looking out for them in the future as they manage to write a great score to complement the story. Having to write music to a story which has previously been seen in some way on stage is hard, especially when the stage musical had music written by the legendary Cy Coleman. The film successfully steers away from this musical with a completely original score which keeps the movie going. The musical is juxtaposed with the period in which the film is set, which I think adds a slight modern twist on the man who arguably invented show business.

The cast is faultless. It is headed by Hugh  Jackman in the tile role who previously wowed audiences in Les Miserables as he proved he could sing. In this film he does it again with some music which is just as challenging as in his previous singing role. He plays Barnum with huge energy and presence which is perfect for this role. Zac Efron also plays a great part in the film as he comes back to his familiar ground of movie musicals. He plays Phillip Carlyle who becomes Barnum’s partner and Efron makes it clear as to why he was cast in this role. The partnership between Efron and Jackman is wonderful throughout the movie. Efron’s other partnership is more amazing as he begins to fly around the set with Zendaya as Anne Wheeler. Michelle Williams as Charity Barnum has some really heartfelt moments which include her song “Tightrope”. Keara Settle amazes audiences as she sings the song “This is Me” which has now won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Photography: Storm Eleanor and Its Aftermath

by Tony Hicks

Storm Eleanor, 3rd January 2018:

Memories of the Flood

by Anne Stephenson

The garage floor is standing in water. For several months the overflow pipe has been sending a cascade over the old desk that used to stand in my father's dispensary. On the desk are two substantial sodden cardboard boxes. These have been here since the move from the chemist shop to the bungalow over twenty years ago. I open the first box to reveal damp old magazines, holiday brochures, a framed picture or two which bring smiles of remembrance. Then, the first of the photograph albums. The first aren't so bad. Slightly damp, but the coloured snaps of American holidays my parents enjoyed are in albums with plastic covers and the photos are slotted into protective sleeves. They are a little damp but nothing to worry about. I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I discover towards the bottom of the box the wet saturated mass of the old albums belonging to my parents in the first years of marriage and to both sets of grandparents. There are also lots of individual black and white photographs; my dad captured in a series of passport style poses in his RAF uniform, my uncles inspecting a box of apples before they are loaded on a lorry and others of people I don't recognise. Then a thick piece of paper, wet, folded, some kind of certificate? I carefully peel the folds apart to reveal my Dad's certificate of registration as a pharmacist, I carefully fold it back up.  Things too wet or of little interest go straight in to the dustbin but I carefully  load what I think I can salvage into bin bags and put them in the boot of my car. I will dry things out at home away from the anxious gaze of my mother who is now in her nineties. I feel it will make her too nostalgic and be too much of an upset to her routine to have them around her. Before I drive away I tell her the boxes had old magazines and papers in and I've thrown them away. I head south with a precious cargo.j

Once I arrive home I begin to prop up the less damaged books with their pages open to allow them to dry. I peel apart the random pieces of paper and lay them out to dry. There is a receipt from a department  store in Bridlington, long since closed. AA routes individually planned for various car journeys made before the advent of the motorway and the sat nav. A brochure for the Kilbirnie Hotel in Newquay, several Newquay brochures from the sixties with bikini and trunk clad surfers of the era in classic poses which now look slightly camp. All bring back memories of happy family holidays. There are photos from the same era too, coloured snaps and slides. Then there are the old, old albums. The pages are so sodden the albums can't be saved except for an odd page or two. I photograph the front of the albums and peel away the photographs. On some the images have been completely washed away. Others are still partially intact; the wedding group with hopeful smiling faces still look out despite the loss of feet or the edges where one or two guests are no longer visible. Others have only a ghostly image left, sometimes with blurry streaks running vertically across the page. They remind me of Francis Bacon's portraits of the 'screaming popes' which I recently saw at Ferens gallery. His portraits still had a trace of the splendour of the original by Velasquez; these photos still bear the trace of the happy times they once captured.