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My most popular post of all time…?!

This is so weird. My most popular post EVER– viewed more times than the homepage– is ‘Fun Things to Do in The Sims 3‘. It is pretty much the most viewed post per day, and definitely the most viewed post per week, month, quarter, year, and of all time. Over 1600 views! I made that post in 2012, so I must have done something right with it. Actually, if you Google “fun things to do in the sims 3” my post comes up as the sixth result down on the second page. Pretty darned rad. That’s just something I noticed today.

Your rather surprised blogger, Jaz

EDIT, June 19 2015: this post still stands. What on earth? Most of the views of my blog per day are because of that post. It is the sixth result on the first page now if you google “fun things to do in the sims 3”. This isn’t even a Sims blog! However, I am glad that my three-year-old post is still going strong. I am weirdly proud of that.

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On being a teen author

Now that I am very close to submitting my novel to an agent (or several), I thought that it would be a good time to think about my status as a teen writer. I have read a lot of different things on teen authors, making me unsure whether or not to disclose my age when submitting Tacita. Some things I have read were very critical of teen authors, and claim things to the effect of ‘I would NEVER read anything written by a teenager’. But why do we have such a bad rep? It is probably partly due to the rise of fanfiction, which is largely written by teens and can be notoriously terrible. A quick Google search can dig up all sorts of awful fanfiction, even lists compiled of the truly worst. Bad fanfictions are littered with spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes, and the stories can be simply laughable. After reading a bit of bad fanfiction, it’s easy to see how someone could get the impression that teen authors are not great.

However, I beg to differ! I’ve read stuff by teen authors that is amazing, and one novel written by this girl I once knew when she was around 16/17 was actually accepted by a publisher. Good writing by teenagers is not rare, and many famous authors started young and those works are still considered great. Despite this, I am still not sure whether to mention my age when submitting my novel to a publisher or agent. There are a few pros and cons of doing so, and a few pros and cons of not doing so. Let’s go over some of them.

One thing that is arguably a good thing, if disclosing your age to a publisher, is that they can market it and really use it to sell your novel. It’s a common thing to see people praising a book, saying things like ‘this book is stunning– I can’t believe the author is only 16!’. If you want that sort of publicity, revealing your age would be beneficial. Personally, I wouldn’t want this, because the other side of doing this is that people may judge your book as some half-hearted teenage effort, and say ‘well… it was good, for a teenager’. I want Tacita to be recognised for actually having a good storyline, characters, whatever; not that I was 13 when I started to write it. In some people’s eyes, a book having been written by a teenager is not going to be anywhere near in the league of ‘proper’ books written by adults. So an upside to not revealing your age is that your book won’t be judged purely by that, but by the quality of the writing, as books should be.

Another good thing that I can think of about disclosing your age is that everyone will know that you have far to go. By saying how old you are, prospective publishers and readers will see that you are still young, and you have far to go. Your novel may not be a masterpiece, but if it’s good, they will know that you’re only going to improve. So playing upon your young age can be to your advantage.

However, one downside to revealing your age is that the content of your novel will be automatically assumed to be middle grade or YA (that is, aimed at teens or young people). Of course, I’m not condoning teenagers writing explicit novels including tons of violence, swearing and sex, but you don’t want to be tied into a box of political correctness and kid-friendly material. I am not going to lie: Tacita is a pretty violent book. There’s blood, guts and gore, which was unavoidable because hello, it’s a novel about gladiators. If I tell my age to a publisher or agent, I don’t want them assuming that Tacita is aimed for people my age or younger. I personally don’t really care who reads it, as long as they won’t be scarred or anything by the content, and I am certainly not saying this is an adult book (something that is impossible, because I am not an adult), but I don’t exactly want it put in the middle grade section of the bookshop (as far as I’m aware, that’s for 10-11-12 years of age, not exactly my target audience). What I’m trying to say, in my long-winded little way, is that by disclosing your age, you might be tied down to only writing very kiddy material. Also, readers may be pretty judgmental or disturbed that, for example, a book written by a 15-year-old contains sex scenes (which would be a little weird, IMO).

So overall, I don’t know whether I want to reveal my age to the publisher or agent. If I do, I really don’t want that used as the USP of my novel. I don’t want to be forever known as the ‘teen author of Tacita’, because if writing becomes a thing I do for many years to come, it will be hard to shake that off. You’ve seen how well actors and singers try and get rid of their child-star image… Obviously the world of writing isn’t as controversial or glamorous as the world of celebrity, but I don’t want to have to pen XXX novels in order to get rid of the ‘teen author’ label. That won’t work, and come on. That is not my style.

Now time for the obligatory questions. What do you think are the pros and cons of revealing (or not revealing) your age to publishers? Should I mention my age when submitting Tacita? Thanks for reading!

Your questioning blogger, Jaz

PS. I think I am going to categorize all my posts, and put a little widget in the sidebar, so it’s easier to access posts about a certain topic.

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Description vs. Action

I know, I know, I have not written a post for about two months. It is terrible. But now it’s the summer holidays, and things are actually going to be happening– in real life, and to do with Tacita (I’m hoping to get on and send it to an agent soon)– so I actually have something to write about. I found this post in my drafts, so I figured I might as well write it!

One of the points that was raised when my family and friends were editing Tacita was that there was not quite enough description to really feel immersed in the settings. So, I got to work on adding some more. But it was difficult, because there was a lot of action in there that would have been slowed down by description. I thought, then, what are the best circumstances for writing description and action?

First of all, I should define what I mean by these two words. Description is easy: a passage about how something or someone looks, and in this case I will widen it to extended passages about, for example, a character’s feelings. Action is pretty much the opposite of this: it could be dialogue, but most notably it is where things actually happen, like a fight.

Let’s now talk about the pros of including a lot of action in a novel. First of all, action means that the story can race along at a fast pace, and you can really focus on writing an exciting plot. With action, you can really raise the tension and evoke all sorts of emotions in the readers, something that cannot be done as easily with description. Another pro is that you can get across the character’s personality in an effective way through what they say and do. You can, of course, tell the readers about the character’s personality in a description of them, but that is pretty boring. The readers would probably rather learn about the character through their actions, rather than a huge paragraph telling them. It comes across as that the author doesn’t think the reader is intelligent enough to work it out for themselves.

There are some pros, though, to having a lot of description. Mainly, it means that the reader can visualise what a character or setting looks like, and in the case of passages about a character’s feelings, it gives an insight into exactly what’s in their head at that time. You can also evoke some emotions in the readers, or at least provide a precursor to some emotions being evoked– for example, by describing a creepy setting in a horror novel. Having a lot of description is also good if your novel is not overly focused on an action-packed plot. If there is a lot of character development, including lots of description shows the readers in what ways the characters have developed over time and how they are at that moment, as opposed to what plot points made them develop and how they got there (which is closer to how it is for action-packed novels). Ya get what I mean?

However, there are some cons to having too much description. It can slow the story down a lot, especially when put in the wrong place (I’ll get to when and where action/description is appropriate a little later). It can also be difficult to write an interesting description, and if it’s boring, it will really put the readers off. If your novel is more focused on action, but you feel like you have to include description, you could fall into the trap of tacking on an incredibly cliché passage that adds nothing. For example, you could just quickly pop in something like “She had short brown hair and blue eyes, and she was not too tall”. That is a primary-school type of description. It’s better to cut out the description than have a bad one.

There are cons to having a lot of action, too. Most notably, the readers may not feel immersed in the novel because they can’t imagine what everything and everyone looks like. If there is a quiet moment in the story (ie. nothing huge happens), the flaws in having little description will be shown– if you rely too heavily on action, and don’t include much, or any, description, points where nothing big happens will drag on and seem slow. There might not be as much character development, since it is more focused on stuff happening. For that reason, some readers might feel that the novel isn’t ‘clever’ enough, or that it’s more of an airport read, or a book that you just read and then forget about. If you are going for that, then great, it’s not a con, but if you’re not going for that, then it’s not brilliant.

There are certain situations in which either action or description is more appropriate. Obviously, in a fight scene, there is not going to be a huge passage on the surrounding environment, and including that will make it seem unrealistic. If you’re in a fight, it’s unlikely you will observe your surroundings in too much detail. In that situation, action is more appropriate. But, in a moment where it is more contemplative or reflective, description is quite apt. For example, the aftermath of a huge battle might be a good time to describe one of the character’s thoughts and feelings on the death and destruction they have just witnessed, or describe the devastation on the battlefield itself, with bodies piled high, soil churned up, all that lovely stuff. It slows the pace down a little, but in a good way.

But overall, how much action or description do you include? It really depends on the type of novel you are writing. For example, Tacita is a novel about gladiators, obviously meaning that there needs to be a lot of action. That is mainly what the novel includes, but there are also a few reflective moments, since the novel is in the first person, lending itself rather well to extended passages on Tacita’s emotions. Other types of novels that will need a lot of action are, let’s say, a military-themed one, or something to do with spies and crime. I’m not saying that in these types of novels, there will be no description, but there will be plenty of action and it fits. On the other side, if your novel is more about characters and how they change, having less action would be more prudent. In general, genres like fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk and all of that are more actiony. But, I would totally read a more descriptivey or contemplative fantasy/sci-fi/whatever novel. If pulled off well, it could be stunning.

I thought, since this is my blog, I might as well pop in some of my own opinion. What is my favourite sort of action, and my favourite sort of description, to write? Well, fight scenes are definitely my favourite in terms of action. There are a lot in Tacita, so it would kind of suck if I didn’t like writing them. There is just so much variety you can include in fight scenes: which weapons they are using, how many combatants, the place in which they are fighting (and how it affects the fight), the skill of everyone involved, everything. It’s just so much fun. My favourite type of description to write is probably describing a character’s emotions. I am not a great fan of writing lots about what a setting or person looks like, since it normally ends up sounding awful (I’m working on it!), and since I actually know about emotions, being a hormonal teenager and all, I can go on for a while. It’s fun to really get into a character’s head and really unpick how they feel, and it’s even more intriguing if they are feeling something that you don’t feel, or don’t agree with. The challenge of trying to make it sound realistic is great.

So, time for some questions for you all. Do you prefer a more action-packed or descriptive novel? What is your favourite type of action and description to write or read?

Your action-packed blogger, Jaz

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Appreciating drawing

It is appalling how little I have updated in the past few months, and I feel like I should really stop saying that, but it’s true. I am in the middle of exams, but today I finally came to realise and appreciate something that I fancied sharing.

And that is drawing. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, from when I was tiny doing cute little doodles like most kids, to when I was 9/10/11 and started drawing “properly” as a hobby and an interest. I’ve been doing it since then, pretty much steadily (although I have at times gone for a while without picking up a pencil), and obviously I have improved quite a lot. I haven’t yet compared my first drawing efforts to my latest, but I’d say there is probably quite a big difference. It has been about five or so years, after all.

You are probably thinking why I just told you all of that. So am I. It was just a little backstory, to show you how long I’ve been drawing for (which is a long time in comparison to my short life so far). For that whole time, I guess I took for granted the whole drawing thing– I know that sounds weird, but basically I never really appreciated how good it made me feel, and only now do I realise it properly. Whenever I draw, no matter how I am feeling before, I go into this calm, zen world, and it is wonderful. I end up feeling relaxed and calm, and I’m not even sure why.

I was actually thinking that it could be to do with the imagination part of it. If I have an idea for a drawing, there is nothing stopping me drawing it. I can create characters that look however I like, and if they don’t look right, I can just have another go. I can think up new settings and themes, and just have a go at making them come to life. I can capture some cool thing or another that I may have seen somewhere else, in my own little way. It’s great. There are an endless amount of ideas in the world, and with just a pencil and some paper I can make something pretty.

It could also be the actual act of drawing itself, and the act of finishing the piece, that is so relaxing. Just the pencil smoothly running across the paper, making satisfying lines, then when you look at what you’ve done so far you’re like ‘gosh, it actually looks like something’. Then you can ink it, and colour it in (which to me is quite annoying at the time, but I secretly love it). And then, when you’re done, you can just admire and be proud of the thing that you’ve created. It is still amazing to me that a stick of graphite, and someone with enough skill, are able to capture real life things so accurately and perfectly. Even with me, and I do not admit to having any great skill– I finish a drawing, and I am often able to say ‘wow, that looks like how I imagined it in my head’ and ‘you know what, that actually does look like quite a realistic human’. Even writing this, I am appreciating it more.

Another great thing about drawing is when you are inspired. DeviantArt is my number one place for inspiration, since it is full of amazing art, and going on there for a short time makes me want to draw and improve. I could see some interesting pose, lighting or angle, and get inspired to have a go. It is great when you try something out that you’ve never done before, and it turns out good. For example, up until literally a couple of months ago, I NEVER drew guys, because I thought that I couldn’t draw them. That is about five years, only drawing girls. Then I pushed the boat out, drew a guy, and it turned out good. Recently, I’ve only been drawing guys, to make up for the years that I have missed! One day I will draw a guy and a girl in the same drawing, and they will a) actually look like they are different genders and b) look like they were drawn with the same skill. I cannot wait for that day.

So now I know exactly what to do if I’m ever not in a good mood. Oftentimes, I find myself with an urge to draw (and ‘oftentimes’, what a brilliant word, if it’s even a real word), but I don’t act on it because I am too busy on the computer or doing something else. If I’m not in a good mood, my first thought is to go on the computer and find something that cheers me up– WRONG! There is a lot of bad/annoying/stupid stuff on the internet, and it is sometimes a gamble whether I am cheered up or find something else that puts me in a worse mood. But with drawing, when I have the urge, everything just turns out great. Even if the drawing is not perfect, I still feel happy and accomplished with what I’ve done. And when I don’t have the urge but I do draw anyway, I can be pleasantly surprised by the results, or go ‘hey, it didn’t work out this time, but it will be better the next time’. Either way, I end up feeling good, and the feeling lasts for a long time. If I’m in a bad mood and I go on the computer, it’s only a temporary distraction, I find. So, I vow that if I’m ever not in the best of moods, instead of going on the computer and Tumblring it away, I will pick up a pen and draw. If I’m on DeviantArt and I am inspired to draw, I will not keep scrolling, I WILL DRAW. If I get the urge to draw at any time, I will not ignore it, I WILL DRAW. It’s like an opportunity for guaranteed happiness, and I won’t pass that up! I can’t believe I didn’t realise the benefits of drawing for me until now, but you can be sure I am going to draw more. Then, that will make me improve, making me even happier, so it’s like a super-happy cycle of happiness. A win-win. Bliss.

Your artistic blogger, Jaz

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So I went to Russia…

I have to admit, I did come back last Sunday (as in over a week ago), but I’ve been so lazy and procrastinatey that I haven’t quite got round it. But now I am here and ready to write about Russia. Before I start, let me say that I went for one week, and it was with school.

So, what were my general impressions? I feel like giving my real opinions would be somewhat controversial, seeing as there is STILL all that Ukraine stuff going on, but I’ll just say it. Russia was great. I’d heard from people beforehand that no one ever smiles at you, they’re a very different sort of people, there’s loads of poor people and only a few totally OTT rich people, and I got the implication that it was going to be depressing, grey and sad. But when I went there, I found it somewhat different. True, the people didn’t smile at you too much (but not NEVER), but it wasn’t like I never saw a single Russian smile. I mean, we were walking to Red Square next to this line of policemen, and one of them jumped out at one of us (us being the people from school that went on the trip)– only to go like ‘I was only joking’. Russian humour right there. Also, I noticed that the vast majority of people out and about were VERY well-dressed. It could have just been their beautiful coats– and I have a soft spot for coats– but they didn’t seem to look poor (if that’s possible). So basically, I think the whole grumpy, dull, Soviet image of Russia is slightly untrue. At least, that’s what I saw.

Continuing with my general impressions, when I was there, I started thinking about how Russia is portrayed in the news: doing military stuff in Ukraine, passing those homosexual propaganda laws (no offence, but I am tired of those words), all that stuff that Russia does. I’ve heard it described as a bit of an oppressive place, but when I was there I didn’t feel that. It wasn’t like Big Brother was always watching me, and I didn’t feel like there was some sort of weight on my shoulders preventing me from doing everything, because, as you’ve probably heard, Russians dislike foreigners and are quite racist. Maybe they do dislike foreigners, but I can get where they’re coming from with English foreigners– as tourists we can be slightly annoying– but I didn’t get any racist vibes (although my Russian teacher did say that if they’d be racist to anyone it would be the white, blonde, blue-eyed members of my class and NOT me, because I look like I come from the Black Sea region, apparently) and I certainly didn’t feel oppressed. It got me thinking about living in this country, actually. Our government probably does things that are, in other countries’ points of view, oppressive or stupid. Their media reports it, making England seem less good, but living in England we don’t always feel that. Of course, living in a country as opposed to going there on holiday is different, but it was just a thought.

Anyway, on with what I actually did. First of all, we took a plane to Amsterdam, and from there another one to St. Petersburg. That took most of the day (thanks to the time difference), so the most we did that day was mess about in the hotel and then fall asleep. We kept a diary all through our time in Russia, and obviously that day’s entry was rather boring. The most exciting thing was a very sweet waiter that we came across. I didn’t know then that this waiter would be making more appearances, both in my diary and in my thoughts… Oh dear.

The next day we went for a little tour of St. Petersburg. We saw loads of the sights, and I was surprised to find how European and historical it looked. Our tour guide said that Peter the Great, the founder of the city, said that he wanted to make it look very European, since he’d visited places like Venice and been inspired. All the buildings were historical, most of them built in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they were just so pretty. If they were in England, they’d probably be protected or something, but they were just there like ‘oh, here is a former palace, which is now a hotel/library/academy/anything’. Even the McDonalds looked good.

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We made a few stops on the tour (which was by coach), to see more interesting places like…

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Not St. Basil's, but it looks kind of similar.

Not St. Basil’s, but it looks kind of similar.

After the coach tour, we went to St. Peter and Paul Fortress, where many of the old Emperors and Tsars and whatnot are buried. Outside, it looked like an average St. Petersburg building (which is impressive as it is), but inside we got our first taste of what historical Russian bling looked like. It was really ornate. Almost everything was gold, and the bits that weren’t gold were either painted in bright colours, or made of some expensive stuff like marble. It was mental.

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By the way, the first picture is of the room dedicated to Tsar Nicholas II and his family, who were famously all killed in 1918. So, as you can see from the photos, it was altogether a very expensive-looking, and some might say gaudy (although not me, I love that stuff), interior. I didn’t know it then, but that was pretty much the standard of decoration in just about every historical place we visited.

In the evening, we went to the theatre and watched a ballet. The Mariinsky Theatre, to watch Swan Lake. If you’re not acquainted with ballet (which I really am not), let me just say that the Mariinsky is almost the best in the entire world, and we were actually there, in the actual theatre, watching an actual production. It was absolutely spectacular. I used to think that ballet was boring and the male ballet dancers were just lame, but seriously. It was breathtaking. Those people have some serious skill.

The next day, we visited this palace, which I believe is called Pushkin Palace. Anyway, I think it was built for Catherine the Great (one of two Catherine the Greats, confusingly), and it had that same Baroque/Classical/BEAUTIFUL exterior as other St. Petersburg buildings, but better.

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Inside, it was even better. It feels like I’m putting too many pictures in here, but I don’t want to waste time describing. Just have a look.

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Those Russians really knew how to live.

So, the next morning, we visited a Russian school. Oddly, it was probably one of the best parts of the trip. The people we met were about my age or a year older, and it was fascinating to find out what Russian schools are like. We had a tour guide called Peter, who spoke excellent English (as in, almost fluent, and WAY better than my Russian), and told us all about the school. It seemed like a really, really, REALLY good school, both from his tour-guiding and from just simply walking around. Everything was so modern and big, and it made me think how small my school actually is. My headteacher should probably take a visit there one day and take some notes…

After we were toured around the school, we went into an English lesson and got to speak to some of the students. They asked us all the classic questions about what English school is like, what we like to do, what our hobbies are, all that sort of stuff. One of them then asked me what I thought about the situation in Ukraine. That was a little awkward, since I don’t really know what I think about the situation in Ukraine, and I didn’t want to offend them or provoke any political argument by saying anything ‘wrong’. I said I didn’t know, and she said “I guess it doesn’t really matter in England, does it?”, which seemed like the best answer, so I agreed. She said that it didn’t really matter to them either, and that quite surprised me. From the news, it seemed like everyone had fierce and strong views about it, but I guess that isn’t exactly true. Those students, at least, didn’t really care.

In the afternoon, we went to the Hermitage. It’s said that you need 19 years to see everything, spending five seconds on each exhibit, breaks for sleeping and eating included, so a few hours definitely weren’t enough. There was just so much in there, from an unfinished Michelangelo sculpture (the Crouching Boy) to Leonardo da Vinci paintings. And it wasn’t just the exhibits that were impressive; the actual interior design was wonderful too. It looked quite like the palace I wrote about way up there, but in my opinion, it was even prettier. Photo time…

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There was so much art in there, and although I know almost nothing about it, I was still awestruck! I also saw a bust of Antinous (Emperor Hadrian’s boyfriend/lover back in the 2nd century AD), which I fleetingly thought violated those oft-spoken-about laws. You know which laws I’m on about.

That night, we were going to take an overnight train to Moscow. It left at 00:20, a horrible time, so we had to keep ourselves occupied until then. One of the things we did to occupy ourselves was a night-time river cruise. The city looked totally and utterly beautiful at night, and there was even a firework display that happened while we were cruising along. My Russian teacher suggested that that waiter had put it on for me, a statement I did not much like, seeing as I may or may not have developed a slight(ly huge) crush on him, and we were obviously never going to see him again after we left St. Petersburg. I was sad to be leaving (and not just cos of that waiter! The city is one of the best– if not the best– I’ve ever visited).

My night’s sleep on the overnight train was surprisingly one of the loveliest night’s sleeps I’ve ever had. The movement of the train was very soothing and relaxing, and I dropped off almost instantly. The next thing I knew, we were in Moscow!

You know, Moscow had a very different vibe from St. Petersburg, and at first I didn’t know if I liked it better or not. I still don’t know, but hey. Immediately, we went on a coach tour of the city, stopping obviously at the very famous Red Square. We looked around and I got really excited at the fact that we were there. I’ve seen many, many photos and things before, but I was actually there. In the actual place where they had all those Soviet parades, in the place where people have been standing and hanging around for SO many years. It was unreal. Seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral was just as wild.

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The next day, we went to the Kremlin and Armoury. The Armoury was one of the best museums ever, and it was filled with old carriages, dresses, historical clothing, jewellery, religious things and general bling. I wanted to go and see everything, but there just wasn’t enough time, so we only saw the best stuff. Photos weren’t allowed (or they were, and I didn’t take any), but I got inspired by some of the stuff I saw, and started thinking about drawings and things that I could do when I had time. (That normally happens when I go and see something so beautiful!)

We walked around the Kremlin, and went really near the building where actual Putin works. People were quite excited by that fact, and kept discussing what they’d do if they saw him. I’d probably try and take a selfie with him, fyi. We also saw a really large cannon, and a really large bell (the biggest bell in the world, which doesn’t work).

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In the Kremlin, there were also loads of churches and things, which for some reason I didn’t take many pictures of. While we were there, we got to watch a little bit of a military parade, which was incredibly cool. I took quite a long video of it.

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After the Kremlin, we went on a tour of the Moscow Metro. In St. Petersburg, we had used their metro extensively, and it was one of the most fun things I did. I don’t even know why, but in the metro I was in my element. We need one like that where I live. So anyway, in Moscow, the metro stations were unreal. Some of them were literally as nice as some stately homes in England. From the photos it is actually hard to see that they’re metro stations, because they look that fancy.

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That night was our last night in Russia, and the next day was mostly going to be travelling. In the morning, however, we visited the Tretyakov Art Gallery, which had absolutely tons of (obviously) art in it. On the way, we stopped at this bridge which was a little like that one in Paris– you know, the one where you put a padlock on the railing and chuck the key into the river? It was like that, except there was like a long line of fake metal tree things all the way along the bridge, covered in padlocks. Our tour guide said that when people got married, they’d go and put a padlock on one of the tree things and chuck the key into the river, showing how much their love would last. I recalled her mentioning the day before how high the divorce rate was, though. Make of that what you will.

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Still, it was a very cute idea.

So, the Tretyakov Art Gallery. You had to pay 200 roubles for a photo permit, so I didn’t take any photos of the inside. I took one of the outside…

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…and that was it. Now, this gallery was dedicated to Russian art, and can I just say, they really can paint. There were loads of very interesting and wonderful pieces, illustrating everything from Jesus to bears to fairytales. There was a totally crazy one, which was painted quite a long time ago (as in centuries), but looked very different from just about every other old painting ever. I forgot what it was called, but it was of a landscape with a river, at night, and the moon was there shining on everything. It almost looked like an alien planet.

I bought a mini version of a painting of a Russian fairytale (which is a REALLY weird fairytale about a prince and a wolf and a firebird and all sorts), then off we went to travel back home.

So overall, Russia was probably one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. Everything was so beautiful, the weather was surprisingly nice, the food was also surprisingly nice, and I don’t know, it was just really fun for me. I’m probably going to sound like a complete idiot, but I actually missed Russia when I got back home. It really is like Mother Russia! I definitely want to go back, and it has changed my view on Russia as a country. As I said in the beginning, it’s not like an oppressive Soviet regime where everything is grey and sad; it’s actually (perhaps surprisingly to some people) a NORMAL place! In fact, it seems to be even better than a normal place!

And before you ask, I purchased a lot of souvenirs. I got shot glasses (not for my own use, of course), Soviet hats, a Soviet camera and even a tiny balalaika. Which is why you never trust me with money.

I feel like I’ve missed a lot of stuff out here, but you get the idea of what it was like. If you fancy going, then you should. I recommend it. Thanks for reading such a ridiculously long post, and I’ll see you later!

Your travelling blogger, Jaz

 

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Solving humankind’s problems?!

When I was a kid, I drifted along very blissfully, unaware of and indifferent to the world around me. I did not care about the news– in fact I loathed it– and I had no interest in contemplating anything more than my next snack. I didn’t know just how privileged a life I led. I had heard of that time, when you’re sometime in your teens, when you begin to get interested in current affairs, politics, news, all the things that adults seemed to spend so much of their time discussing– but I never really dwelled on it. I just lived my life as a normal little kid, doing all the things that normal little kids do.

And now, in my teens, I believe that time has arrived. Of course, I have been passably interested in newsy things for quite a while now, but I think that at this moment I have finally realised that I’ve had that epiphany about the world. Maybe an epiphany isn’t the right word, but that’s kind of what it seems like. I’ve been reading the news– not that often, to be honest, but it’s something– and thinking a lot about all the things that are happening around me. It’s been an odd and interesting experience, one that has made me consider many things.

First of all, I will share with you my thoughts on the news. Not extensively on what is going on at the moment (I’m afraid), but just the news in general. Going to the front page of any legitimate news website brings up stories on tons of different things, and to my dismay, most of them are negative. We have the missing plane, sanctions on Russia because of Ukraine, some sort of controversies about a budget (although I have to admit I have no idea what that really is, since I’m not interested)– all of it seems to be quite depressing. And that is just today. I’m not even mentioning all the stories about people dying in some way or another, horrible scandals, controversy after controversy… Looking at the news even for a bit can really put a damper on your mood. Sometimes I wonder why on earth people read it, if most of the stories are so bad and terrible and awful and shocking and any of those things. I mean, I know there is not really any other way to find out what is happening in the world, but I would like to see more happy news stories taking the top of the front page once in a while!

That got me thinking, though. Why IS there so much depressing stuff in the news? Is there ever going to be a time when all news is good? It’s not like we’ve had a decrease in bad stuff happening– no way, there is always some other thing going on that isn’t good, even after the current controversy is over. I just don’t know why. It makes me think of those huge questions that I really don’t want to think about, because to be honest it isn’t a very happy thing to do. All this reflecting and contemplating isn’t exactly a cheery and joyful thing, but I can’t help doing it. I read something in the news, I start analysing it and thinking about it, reading more, considering what I would do, reading more, getting kind of down because I get annoyed at how humans can’t stop messing up. All in all, not fun. But necessary for growing up, I suppose.

Thinking about bad stuff in the news also got me thinking about other things, like racism, sexism, homophobia, any of those sorts of topics that Tumblr (a website I have mixed feelings on) seems to be on about all the time. I was like, is there any sort of problem that we as humans have totally eradicated? I decided to go about it logically. Racism– no. Many places are still racist; I mean HELLO, there is still a KKK in the US. Sexism– nope. Some Middle Eastern countries give CONSIDERABLY less privileges to women compared to men. Homophobia– no way. I mean, we’ve got Russia, we’ve got all those countries where it’s still illegal, we’ve still got people in the US and the like that find it wrong. So after these rather depressing revelations, I thought I’d widen my search. Do we still have a problem of people being a different religion, or no religion? Well, yes, we do. All those crazy fundamentalists speak for themselves. What about people with disabilites or disorders? Yeah, there’s still prejudice against them. So is there ANY problem we have completely got over? Annoyingly, I don’t think so. Of course, way back hundreds of years ago, the problems were worse, but even now we’ve still got people who hold archaic (and, excuse my opinions, wrong) views. We still use vaguely sexist language in everyday speech. We still have slurs against people of some minority or another. It is going to take a LOT to get rid of that.

Then I thought of something alarming. A lot of these problems are still rather prolific in the US. There’s racism, homophobia, sexism (hello, the media), many other isms that I haven’t thought of yet. America is meant to be THE country, the country that other countries compare themselves to when talking about things like the economy, standard of living or their military. Isn’t it a little hypocritical of the US to make themselves out to be the pinnacle of a developed nation, when they still have those issues? I mean, I thought about that for a while, but then I considered the fact that NO country is without problems. England probably has some crazy intolerant people lurking around (although less than in America, it seems). Basically every country in the entire world has something wrong with some aspect of it. So I was like, can we really be pointing fingers at countries like Russia, claiming they have done wrong, when we still have our own problems? The answer to that is probably yes. There is probably no way that any country will get rid of all their issues, so we might as well work on improving the countries that have even worse ones than us.

But are we ever going to get rid of the world’s issues? Are we ever going to live in a world without war, without discrimination, without prejudice? Are we ever going to live in a completely peaceful and equal society? Are our problems going to one day disappear? Well, I’m not going to be depressing and say no, but looking at history, it seems like it is unlikely. As I pointed out above, there isn’t one huge problem we’ve totally got over, so applying the same logic to the future, we’re probably going to continue to have problems. There may even be more problems that surface with the advent of new technologies. We have at least one example of that from history. Back in the Greek/Roman times, they had no problem with a husband ditching their wife for a moment and going off with some younger man. (Yes, there were a few rules about that sort of thing, but the main thing was they didn’t care that it was two guys getting together.) And then, as Christianity spread around, people started to think that it was wrong. (Not bashing Christianity, just saying that some people thought that and interpreted the Bible in that way and whatever.) There, a problem created with the advent of something else. If we had continued to live like the Greeks and Romans, homophobia probably wouldn’t have been a thing. That IS the only example I can think of, but still. They lived thousands of years ago, and they had more liberal views than some people in the world today. Sort of awkward.

All these things keep my mind racing, occupied, whirring on overdrive as I think of solutions to everything. With my passionate teenage mind, I can’t just let all these problems stick around and continue to, well, be a problem. I accept the fact that we’ll never be able to get rid of everything bad in the world, but I still stick by the theory that every little helps (thanks, Tesco). I can’t single-handedly solve all of humankind’s problems, but I can sure try, contribute at least something to the effort. Maybe a bit of tragedy is unavoidable, even necessary, for progress, and I am surprisingly okay with that. Maybe wars aren’t always bad– what if we hadn’t fought against Hitler? What would have happened then? Maybe a few people have to die for us to work out how to do things without that happening (as annoying as that is). Maybe, as humans, we are just incapable of being a totally selfless and utopian society, but you never know. We’ve been around for a while, and we still have a while left. I can’t predict the future, I can’t say that one day we’ll be a flawless species, but there is no harm in trying. And if you make a mistake, that’s fine, because you can advance and learn not to make that mistake in the future. Maybe all this bad stuff happens in the news, but there are a lot of good things in the world. Having this epiphany, I have to learn not to always think global– I have to learn not to worry myself about the world’s problems (not forget about them, no, but not get overly distressed about them), and get back to my kid mindset somewhat, appreciate the things I have around me, and the luxurious life I live that allows me to help to solve our problems.

It’s quite crazy stuff for my little mind to handle. I bet you’ve read all this stuff before, but I’m just spilling out all my thoughts. I find it actually helps a lot in organising my mind, which at the moment is engaged with thoughts of all those current affairsy newsy deep thoughtsy topics. It’s probably come across sort of depressing and downbeat, but I assure you that I’m not trying to be negative. I’m just saying what I have observed! Yeah, it’s been long, but I hopefully held your attention for that time. If not, sorry! So, now, I would like to know what your thoughts are. Am I just being a crazy hormonal teenager? Will I make peace with all these realisations about humankind? Did you ever experience/are experiencing this ‘epiphany’? Comment!

Your contemplative blogger, Jaz

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Ready to take the next step?

Well, I just finished editing Tacita for the second time. It was an alarmingly fast process, but that may have been because I had specific things to change and after I’d done them, it was just a question of reading it again and changing minor things. Now, I hope, Tacita is the best that I can make it, and I think I am ready to take the next step in terms of this novel. And that next step is trying to get an agent. 

Wow. It’s a scary thought. My little novel, that’s taken me close to two years to plan, write and perfect, could be out there in the world, read by the actual people that get actual authors actual publishing deals. I’m not even going to think about what would happen if I did get an agent and then get Tacita sent off to a publisher or two. That’s just TOO crazy.

But now, finally, I can put my Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to good use, and get in contact with the agents I’ve furiously highlighted the names of. I won’t be doing this alone, of course– I’m only a teenager, and I pretty much have no idea what to do, and certainly not enough of a formal letter/email-writing style to get people to take me seriously. Hopefully, my parents will chip in and lend a hand in getting Tacita on the next level of real-novel-ness. 

Because yes, I really want to get it published. I can’t even imagine how brilliant it would be to have Tacita as a real book, with real pages, a real cover, on the shelves of a real bookstore. And people would see it! I wouldn’t be that weird kid that’s like “oh yeah, I’m writing a novel”– I’d be that weird published kid that could say “oh yeah, I wrote a novel, go look for it in Waterstone’s”. And that is a pretty wild thought.

Literally, it is one of the only dreams in my life, to get Tacita published. It’s the only big project I’ve ever finished, and I have worked harder on it than on everything else combined. I’ve put my all into it, and I am incredibly passionate about all things Tacita, and I would absolutely love to have other people read it, and maybe even enjoy it. So getting an agent is just the first step in realising this dream– the dream that, once, seemed so outlandish and ridiculous, but now could almost be reachable. 

And hey, if no agents want me, I can always go the Amazon route and publish it through Kindle. And hey, if no one likes the book, at least I can say that I have a self-published book out there. And hey, if I don’t self-publish, and I don’t get traditionally published, at least I can say I tried.

Your ecstatic blogger, Jaz

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