Internships, Podcasts and a Shiny New Website

I’m just going to throw it right out there and say that I can’t think of an interesting intro to this month’s update. So, continuing the trend from my last monthly update, here’s a Harry Potter-related picture of the most recent global holiday/occasion.

Valentine's DayHappy Valentine’s <3 Gilderoy. Image via Pottermore.

So festive. Anyway, here’s what’s been happening for me throughout January and the first half of February.

What I’m doing

Freelancing

In all the excitement of putting together a 2015 reading recap in my last post, I forgot to announce that I finally have my very own professional website! Yay! You can find it at www.clairebradshaw.com.au.

It’s full of info about the freelance writing and editing services I offer, as well as the work I’m currently doing and have done in the past. There’s also a link to a little portfolio of my writing, and a handy contact form you can use if you want to work with me. :)

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(Side note: I also got some very cute business cards in January. I feel like such a fancy business lady.)

Internships

Ahh, that word: ‘internship’. It comes with all sorts of confusing connotations, especially when you’ve got a head full of worries about making/saving money and being a Real Adult With A Proper Career.

It’s been almost a year since I was flung into the wide open world on my own, and in that time I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I want to – and can, and should – call myself a writer. I’ve learned that working with words is truly what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve learned that I have the most wonderful, supportive partner in the world, who’ll encourage me when I’m floundering, and who’ll stick by me even when I’m earning next to nothing.

And I’ve learned that if an opportunity through which you’ll gain valuable experience presents itself, you should be brave and consider it – even if it means going out of your way, or making no money from it.

Late last year, two such opportunities did present themselves, in the form of two different internships. I dove right in without a second thought. It couldn’t hurt to apply, I thought; if I never heard back it was no big deal, and if I did – well, I’d work that out when I came to it.

As it turned out, it did come to it, because I was offered both internship positions. After some consideration, I accepted both of them… And so far, I’m really glad I did.

NSW Writers’ Centre

Until the end of June, I’m a one-day-a-week intern at the wonderful New South Wales Writers’ Centre, which offers an amazing range of courses, resources and services to NSW writers.

I’ve been there for almost a month now, and I’ve completely fallen in love with the place. It’s such an amazing atmosphere to work in. I’m surrounded by lovely people who are as passionate about writing and publishing as I am, all within a vibrant hub brimming with opportunities for emerging professionals and creatives. Working there makes me feel like a real part of the Australian writing community, and it’s a very nice feeling indeed.

There is a slight downside to this internship, though, in that the Writers’ Centre is in Lilyfield, Sydney… and I’m in Newcastle, about 170 kilometres away. This means I’m up at 4:30 every Wednesday morning, jumping on a train at 5:30 and arriving in Sydney by 8:00, then catching a bus that just makes it to the Centre before 9:00… And doing it all again come the end of the day.

I stagger in the door around 8:30–9:00 every Wednesday night, my appreciation for Nate reaching an all-time high every time as he welcomes me with a home-cooked dinner and a glass of wine. (Told you he was amazing.) But despite the vague feeling of dread that accompanies setting my alarm on Tuesday nights, despite the long, long days and the travel-weary state I’m in at the end of them, I’ve enjoyed every day I’ve worked at the Centre so far.

It also helps that it’s situated in a lovely historic building in the beautiful, jacaranda-shaded grounds of Callan Park. Nothing like blooms and a breeze to foster creativity…

NSWWCImage via NSWWC.

white magazine

My second internship takes place every Friday at the lovely white magazine. Apart from the fact that it’s an amazingly beautiful publication, perhaps the best thing about white for me is that it’s local – the office is smack in the middle of Newcastle! It’s an absolute dream to have a (now worldwide) publication based so close to home, let alone to be able to work with them myself.

To call white a wedding magazine would be to do it a disservice, because it’s much more than that. Unlike many other bridal magazines, white focuses not only on the big day, but all the days that come after it. The mag and its online component are full of all the usual beautiful real wedding galleries and styled shoots, but white also makes a point of delving into the love story behind each couple they feature. It makes for really beautiful, meaningful, moving reading alongside all the gorgeous imagery.

As the mag’s mission statement itself says:

We are a catalyst for positive change in the culture of marriage and relationships… We bring together stories of love and life – personal narratives of laughter, romance, oftentimes tragedy, but always hope. We hold marriage up to the light, and use our pages to venture into honest, clever and meaningful conversations about all the unglamorous parts of marital (mis)adventure.”

I’m loving the people and the work at white so far, and I’m looking forward to getting as involved as I can with the upcoming production of their next issue.

White MagazineImage via white mag.

What I’m writing

Writer’s Edit

My latest article for Writer’s Edit, 9 Simple Ways to Sharpen Your Manuscript, pretty much does what it says on the label.  If you’ve finished your manuscript, firstly, I bow down to you, because since NaNoWriMo I’ve added a total of 700 words to mine (BLAH); and secondly… I hate to tell you, but the work’s not over yet.

There’s more to be done before you think about sending out your book, even if you’ve perfected the plot and tidied the writing (and bewitched the mind and ensnared the senses…). I’ve done a stack of research and put together a checklist of nine little things you can do to make your manuscript at least 900 times better.

(While you’re over at Writer’s Edit, have a think about submitting to our third and final Kindling anthology, Kindling Volume III! We’re looking for short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and writing advice, and submissions are open ’til March 1st, so get on it.)

Writer's EditImage via Writer’s Edit.

Fiction

I recently spent a lovely Sunday writing all day to finish an entry for the Newcastle Short Story Award. One of my writing goals for this year is to try to get more work out there, whether by submitting to publications or entering competitions (or both). Run by my local Hunter Writers’ Centre, the Newcastle Short Story Award seemed the perfect choice for my first submission of the year.

I’m not sure if my piece will do well (that’s what you get for leaving things to the last minute), but I’m really pleased to have entered, and to be honest, writing the story was a joy.

On the topic of fiction… Remember how I mentioned above that I’ve done basically nothing on my fantasy WIP since NaNoWriMo concluded? Well, I thought it was high time I kicked myself back into gear and really got back into this project.

To that end, the lovely Helen Scheuerer and I have agreed to do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo next month! We’ve dubbed it NaNoWriMarch, and we’re both spending the rest of February plotting and planning and preparing. I’m hoping to go into this one feeling a LOT more ready than I did before November’s NaNoWriMo – stay tuned to see how that goes…

To doThe poor To Do list is getting a workout as March approaches… Image via Kaboompics.

What I’m reading/listening to

Books

I recently signed up to Goodreads, where I’ll be tracking all the books I read this year.

So far this year, I’ve read six books:

  • The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Patrick Rothfuss’ and Sarah J. Maas’ books have had me fangirling pretty hard. I love fantasy fiction SO much. Burial Rites was great too, my first Australian read of the year; and I read The Girl on the Train in a single day, over two train trips, so that was pretty cool. (Another good thing about my NSWWC internship: five hours of uninterrupted reading time on the train every week.)

At the moment I have multiple books on the go, which is something I rarely do, but THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO READ AND I WANT IT ALL. I’ve set myself a modest 40 books in the Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, but my ‘Want to Read’ list long surpasses that…

Goodreads

Podcasts

How did it take me so long to get into podcasts?!

Nate’s been a fan of them for a long time, but since he mainly listens to sports podcasts, I automatically dismissed them as boring and irrelevant to me. It wasn’t until he showed me the non-sports program he listens to that I became interested, then completely hooked.

The most wondrous thing about podcasts is that they make boring activities WAY less boring! Doing the dishes, cleaning the house, driving 40 minutes to my parents’ house – these are all humdrum activities that I now actually look forward to, because I can listen to podcasts while I do them. (‘Looking forward’ to cleaning the house might be an overstatement, but you get what I mean.)

The coveted title of Claire’s Favourite Podcast has to be split between two shows: Stuff You Should Know, from HowStuffWorks.com, and So You Want To Be A Writer, from the Australian Writers’ Centre.

SYSK is amazing. The hosts, Chuck and Josh, are so easy to listen to – they’re funny and genuine and a little bit daggy, which I love. They cover this ridiculously wide range of topics, from the broad to the obscure, and the way they deliver the show makes for interesting listening, even on the most dull-sounding subjects.

One of the best things about SYSK is their regular scheduling: you know you’ll get a new episode every Wednesday and Friday (Australian time). I’m particularly grateful for the Wednesday eps – they really brighten up the last leg of my long morning commute! Plus, Nate and I listen to episodes together when we can, whenever we have a long drive or want to drift off to sleep listening to something. It’s great.

So You Want To Be A Writer is equally wonderful. Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait are two go-getting Australian writing ladies who I really admire, and the amount of advice, insight and industry info their podcast offers is incredible. Every week they cover news, trending topics and writing tips, as well as conducting an interview with a successful writer.

Just listening to this podcast makes me feel more like a ‘real writer’, and I feel myself learning and absorbing and growing more passionate with every episode. I especially love hearing about established writers’ routines and experiences, both via the interviews and from Allison and Valerie themselves. And, of course, the plethora of writing tips and advice is truly invaluable!

An honourable mention must go to another podcast I subscribe to: Serial, from This American Life. The first season, which covers the infamous Adnan Syed/Hae Min Lee murder case, was such addictive listening that I smashed out the second half all in one day.

The current season isn’t quite as mysterious and gripping – it tells the story of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier who walked off his base and was held captive for five years by the Taliban – but I still find myself fascinated by it. Military stories definitely aren’t one of my foremost points of interest, but the way this story is delivered has me really invested, always curious about what the next episode will bring.

Podcasts

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Well, this was a way longer post than I originally anticipated! It’s made me realise that I do have a lot going on at the moment, but also that that’s exactly the way I like it.

Hopefully next month’s update will be centred around the amazing leaps and bounds of progress I’ve made with my book… ‘Hopefully’ is definitely the operative word there. But at the moment I’m feeling motivated and optimistic, and that alone makes me really happy.

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DIY Christmas Gifts

Happy third-day-after-Christmas to anybody out there! I hope everyone had a beautiful Christmas week full of festivities, food comas and family time – I know I did.

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Looking back on my last post, I realise I haven’t quite lived up to my word. While I did indeed embark on my crafty, Pinterest-y DIY Christmas projects, I did not faithfully document them here as planned. The weeks leading up to Christmas were busy – so busy that come Christmas Eve, I found myself spending eight frantic hours doing last-minute baking, making and gift-basket-assembling, with only enough time to snap a few quick blog photos in between!

That being said, I really did enjoy the few days I spent at home preparing for Christmas, decked out in a cute apron, Ol’ Blue Eyes and The Boob crooning carols in the background.

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Anyway, due to all the Christmas craziness, I’ll only be talking about a few of my homemade gifts here, but I hope they give you some DIY inspiration – even if you don’t put it to use until next Christmas!

So first up: bath salts. They’re about the easiest thing ever to make, so I did two varieties for my and Nathan’s mums: lavender & bergamot and rose, geranium & lavender.

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Following this recipe from hellonatural.co, I used a cup of Epsom salts, a cup of sea salt (substituting for kosher salt), half a cup of bi-carb soda, and some essential oils and food colouring to make them look and smell pretty.

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I got some cute little glass jars from a two-dollar shop, made labels with some free banner graphics and fonts found online, and tied it all together with coloured twine (also from the two-dollar shop – a true place of wonder for DIY gift-makers).

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Lip balms are another cute and simple gift. I found this recipe on overthrowmartha.com and bought a block of beeswax from Bunnings; some Vitamin E capsules from Chemist Warehouse; a little set of lip balm pots from eBay; and a $2 grater and mini saucepan from Kmart. (The latter accessories are highly recommended if you’re going to try this out – the wax will most likely ruin your grater and leave a gross residue on your saucepan!)

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Grabbing some coconut oil from my pantry and the essential oils I used for my bath salts, it was then as simple as boiling it all up together and pouring into pots to cool.

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Making good use of the pretty stickers at the end of my 2014 Frankie diary, I decorated the lids of the pots, and the lip balms were good to go!

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I made lots of other things that I forgot or didn’t have time to photograph – mainly food gifts, including cookies, muffins and little jars of pesto and jam. One that I did manage to record was a very simple rosemary-infused olive oil I made for my grandma.

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All it involved was drying some rosemary sprigs in the oven for a couple of hours (which made the kitchen smell AMAZING, by the way), then combining them with some oil over low heat for 5-10 minutes. Strain the mixture into a cute pourer (again, from the two-dollar shop – amazing) and you have another lovely, easy gift.

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So even though I didn’t get to document my progress the way I wanted to, my homemade Christmas gifts all turned out wonderfully – and were very much appreciated by their recipients, which, after all, is what it was all about.

Merry belated Christmas and an early Happy New Year!

C x

How Very Pinteresting.

It’s happened.

I’ve become a PINTEREST PERSON.

It all started when I finished my postgrad certificate a couple of weeks ago (YAY!). Freedom from uni couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s November, which means the shops are getting ahead of themselves, draping everything with tinsel and obnoxiously playing carols…and I love it.

Christmas is my favourite time of year. As soon as the weather gets warmer, and my calendar fills up with parties and family gatherings, and that beautiful holiday feeling starts to permeate the air…ahhh, it’s heavenly.

FotorCreatedImages via Pinterest

Yep, I’m a Yuletide fiend. So you won’t be surprised to learn that I also love Christmas shopping! But I thought that this year, with all my magical free time, I’d make some little things to fill gift hampers for Nate’s and my families, rather than buying everything. I won’t be going so far as to make ALL my presents – I think I need a few more XP before I unlock that level of DIY goddess-ness – but I’ll be stocking each of my hampers with at least two or three little handmade pressies.

Now, this is where Pinterest comes in. I’d always regarded Pinterest as one of those things I’ve tried but couldn’t really get into, like quinoa or American Horror Story. But it’s obviously the best place to go for all things crafty, so I gave it another try – and hello, new obsession! I found a whole heap of ideas and tutorials for Christmas gifts, but also discovered countless sources of inspiration and imagery that I’ll definitely be using a lot more in the future.

FotorCreated2Images via Pinterest

So in the lead-up to Christmas I’ll be documenting all my creative endeavours here. It may end up becoming more of a how-NOT-to guide…but I’m going to give it a go at least! Stay tuned for adventures in bath salts, lip balm, cupcake kits and festive foods. :)

Ten Life-Changing Albums

This afternoon I was challenged via Facebook to create a list of ‘15 albums that changed me in 15 minutes’. Despite the slight vagueness of the instructions (do I write the list in 15 minutes? Do I choose albums that took a mere 15 minutes to change my life?!), I decided to complete the challenge and, in the name of procrastination, turn it into an entire blog post!

I’ve altered the rules somewhat. To knock out a list as quickly and intuitively as I could, it was strangely easier to stick to 10 rather than 15. There is obviously so much music left out that is also hugely important to me, but the 10 albums I’ve listed all have a particular and immediate significance – whether it be that they introduced me to a future favourite band or represent a certain time, place or concept in my life. (As an interesting sidenote, I have been lucky enough to see all of these artists live as well. [Apart from the last two, but you’ll see why when you reach them.])

So, in no particular order, here we go!

AROBTTH

1. A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay

This is the first ever album I recall buying with my own money, and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I know everyone thinks Coldplay are a bit daggy, but I don’t care! I love them SO much and I always will. This is one of those albums where every song is so different and amazing in its own right. It’s definitely the record I would name if I had to choose an all-time favourite.

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2. In Rainbows – Radiohead

Oh, Radiohead. My favourite band in the universe. I’ve chosen In Rainbows because it was actually the first Radiohead album I ever bought! (Yes, I know Radiohead had been around for about 15 years before Rainbows came out. I’m always unfashionably late to the party – see here for further evidence.) This is such a compelling and masterful record from beginning to end, and I have it to thank for sparking my undying love for Radiohead!

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3. Takk… – Sigur Rós

If you’ve never heard this Icelandic band, you are truly missing out. Their music is absolutely something else – ethereal, soaring, atmospheric soundscapes that completely envelope you. To say this album is pure magic sounds like an exaggeration, but listen to a song like ‘Glósóli’ or ‘Sæglópur’ and you’ll know that it’s not!

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4. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver

Another truly beautiful album. I can’t explain how much I love Bon Iver – everything Justin Vernon does just mesmerises me. I think that even if you didn’t know the backstory to this album, you’d get a sense of it just by listening: it transports you immediately to that lonely log cabin in the woods, where every song aches like the long winter. It’s just amazing.

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5. Neon Ballroom – Silverchair

Ahhh, now this is an early one. I went through a MASSIVE Silverchair obsession at the age of about 14 (as you do). I remember coming home from school every afternoon, putting this album on repeat and doing my maths homework while passionately singing along with all the angst of a teen with nothing real to complain about. It was a close call between this album and the orchestral rainbow that is Diorama, but in the end, I think songs like ‘Emotion Sickness’ and ‘Miss You Love’ had the most influence on me at the time.

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6. Sunrise Over Sea – John Butler Trio

This is another album I became addicted to at the age of 14 or 15, when I was first starting to get into ‘real’ music. Strangely enough, as I type this, Nate and a couple of friends have randomly chosen Sunrise Over Sea for background music, and I’m really remembering why I loved it so much. I don’t really listen to this sort of rootsy music anymore, but this album was such a wonderful introduction to the world of real music that it will always have a special place in my life.

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7. High Violet – The National

I’ve written about The National previously, so it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for Matt Berninger’s melancholic crooning. This is an astonishing album, and (we’re about to get sentimental here, folks, be warned) it always reminds me of the beautiful time at the very start of my and Nathan’s relationship. We used to listen to it a lot, and for good reason: every song is just so ridiculously, richly emotive.

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8. You Are All I See – Active Child

It’s widely acknowledged that music can be a powerful transporter, and that we often associate certain songs or albums with particular locations or time periods. This gorgeous harp-laden record takes me straight back to a family holiday through Europe in 2011. Staring out the window of trains, cars and planes as we travelled around, this album played constantly through my headphones and formed the perfect soundtrack to a wonderful trip.

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9. Inception: Music from the Motion Picture – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of soundtracks… As a film score fanatic, I couldn’t help but include a couple of soundtracks in this list! Hans Zimmer is one of my favourite composers, and Inception is one of my favourite movies. For me, the soundtrack is SUCH a huge part of the movie’s success. It’s really hard to pick a top song, but you can’t go past ‘Time’ – so simple yet so, so perfect. The emotional punch it packs is incredible and just goes to show how fundamentally important soundtracks are.

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10. Pride and Prejudice: Music from the Motion Picture – Dario Marianelli, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the English Chamber Orchestra

Again, a favourite soundtrack from a favourite movie, this time based on a favourite book! The combination of the period-perfect chamber orchestra and Thibaudet’s piano – swirling, delicate and powerful by turns – is stunning. I love listening to this album while I work or just when I want to chill out. I also bought the sheet music many years ago and had so much fun learning to play all the beautiful songs. (You can see me playing one in the clip at the end of this post, but it’s very dodgy and I would recommend listening to the real thing.)

 

Well, that was fun and wasted an appropriate amount of time! So, which 10 (or 15) albums would make your list?

Dymocks Literary Luncheon with George R. R. Martin

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to meet the man who inspired this very blog: George R. R. Martin, creator of one of the most sweeping, elaborate and engaging sagas in modern high fantasy.

On Tuesday, my sister Liv and I visited the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney to attend the Dymocks Literary Luncheon, which encompassed a talk, Q&A and book signing with the acclaimed American author. Delicious food, diligently topped-up wine glasses and the chance to get a glimpse inside such a prolifically creative mind – what more could you want from a Tuesday?!

We were just finishing our tiramisu when George R. R. Martin appeared onstage (how’s that for an envy-inducing sentence?). His conversation with interviewer Giles Hardie ranged from the initial inspiration behind A Song of Ice and Fire (a lone image of orphaned direwolf pups in a drift of summer snow) to George’s lifelong love of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work (and his sheer disappointment as a child when the last 50 pages of Return of the King turned out to be appendices).

George sure loves to talk! He spoke in detail and would often follow tangents further and further away from the original question, which led to some memorable and amusing anecdotes. A discussion I found particularly interesting was one involving a ‘deleted scene’ from ASOIAF: a mysterious, lavishly descriptive sequence from Tyrion Lannister’s point of view, which was removed, reinserted, rewritten, relocated and removed again. George lamented at length the exclusion of the sequence, stating that while he was particularly proud of the writing, it created paths the narrative couldn’t realistically follow. Curiouser and curiouser … what I wouldn’t give to find out what’s in that chapter!

After the interview and Q&A, everybody formed an enormous queue, clutching careworn copies of A Game of Thrones and maps of Westeros for George to bestow a signature upon. When it was my turn, I stepped forward with an overly enthusiastic ‘Hi!’ and proceeded to exclaim ‘You’re-amazing-thank-you-so-much-for-your-work’ in one breath – to which the One True God of Westeros and Essos politely replied, ‘I’m sorry, what was that?’ (‘Have a favourite author ask me nicely WTF I just said’ is now checked off my bucket list.) When I repeated myself in a less garbled manner, he replied very graciously, expressing his appreciation and thanking me sincerely for attending. What a nice guy! I take back every rude name I called him while reading the Red Wedding for the first time.

All in all, the luncheon was a unique and wonderful event that I’m really grateful to have experienced. The world of books isn’t as easily accessible as the world of, say, music – while live music presents you with the opportunity to immerse yourself in an immediate expression of the art, a book is something that is essentially experienced on an individual level, always one step removed from its creation. An event like the Literary Luncheon offers a rare and fascinating insight into the books we love and the people who create them; it’s a chance to personalise the reading experience and share in its enjoyment with other book lovers. If you’re interested (and you live in Australia), here is a list of upcoming Dymocks literary events. I hope to attend many more luncheons and make a bumbling fool of myself in front of many more authors!

Late To The Party

Back in the day, I used to pride myself on my ability to stay up-to-date on the best new music releases. I listened to the radio 24/7 and constantly trawled the Internet for undiscovered gems and up-and-coming artists. My favourite job was making mix CDs for birthdays and house parties – I always chose the best new songs and soon attracted a wide cult following under the moniker ‘DJ Paste-E-White’ (not really).

Lately, though, I seem to have become increasingly out of the loop – not quite ‘hip with the kids’, one might say. And not just in regards to music! Below, I’ve listed a few examples of cultural phenomena that I’ve only recently become obsessed with (but really should have discovered a long time ago). I’ve also suggested a good place to start investigating each one if you, too, want to become hip with the kids once more.

Alt-J

I always knew Alt-J were cool. I’d heard ‘Breezeblocks’ on the radio and was aware of the widespread hype surrounding their debut album, ‘An Awesome Wave’. But it never occurred to me to actively go check them out, so I didn’t realise until a couple of months ago just how cool they are. (For those wondering, it’s the kind of cool that emanates from them in an effortless mist, whilst they walk around unaware of/unfazed by how goddamn cool they are.)

Nathan and I bought their album for $10 from JB Hi-Fi one day, and it was possibly the greatest $10 either of us has ever spent. We had it on repeat for weeks! I still keep it in my car – it’s a failsafe way to make long commutes and stupid drivers bearable.

‘An Awesome Wave’ is a weird and wonderful thing. It’s angular, percussive, melodic and surprising; it’s so diverse that it’s hard to properly describe or fit into a genre. I’d strongly recommend that you have a listen for yourself if you haven’t already done so. You’ll be hosting your own belated dance party in no time.

Best place to start: Track 10, ‘Fitzpleasure’. It’s a good showcase of their unique sound.

Fun fact: if you type the keyboard shortcut ‘alt+j’ on a Mac, a little delta symbol appears.

Chuck Palahniuk

Can you believe I hadn’t seen Fight Club until this year? Can you also believe that, a few days before I watched it, I managed to have the ending spoiled for me? (People. What a bunch of bastards.) Anyway, I loved the movie, of course, and have very recently started working my way through books by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of the original novel.

I’ve read Survivor and Invisible Monsters so far. They’ve both had an addictive effect on me, to the point where I’ve sat down to read for fifteen minutes or so and ended up spending four hours powering through to the end of the story. In both books, his prose is a strange combination of razor-sharpness and blunt force, barbed with snap-sentences and verbal punches to the face; his particular brand of satire is some of the most biting and truly funny I’ve read. I’m partway through Choke now and can’t wait to read all his other works. And if, as I suspect, they’re each more messed up than the last – I’m ready. Bring on more simultaneous laughing, cringing, marvelling at the writing and fighting the urge to throw up!

Doing a little research on Chuck himself, I discovered that he’s had some awful things happen in his past; this provided some interesting (and slightly disturbing) insight into his writing style and choice of subject matter. He also recently took part in a Reddit AMA, which made for another fascinating glimpse into the way his mind works – I definitely recommend reading it if you’re a fan (actually, I’d recommend it even if you’re not; it might just intrigue you too, and you can join me in arriving unfashionably late to the Palahniuk party).

As a final note, I have recently learned to pronounce his surname ‘Paula-nick’ (not ‘Pah-lah-nee-yuk’ … heh), which I think counts as an official induction into the ranks of his die-hard fans.

Best place to start: Having only just started his stack of thirteen novels, this is a tricky one for me to recommend. I actually started reading them in chronological order by complete accident. Fight Club is the oldest and obviously a logical place to begin, so maybe go from there.

Matching book covers are the best.

Breaking Bad

Although it definitely doesn’t feel like it, I only started watching BrBa a few short months ago – and only become up-to-date about five episodes away from the very end! Yes, it’s all over now, unfortunately. The series finale aired on September 29th, generating 10.3 million viewers, over half a million illegal downloads, a well-deserved 9.9/10 rating on IMDb and its own special cake made by yours truly.

I don’t know what I can say about Breaking Bad, other than that it’s just phenomenal. Beautifully written, masterfully executed and outstandingly original, it is, quite simply, the best television show I’ve ever seen. From the moment you hear about its premise – a terminally ill high-school chemistry teacher making meth – you’re intrigued, and so you should be. The show’s five seasons grow and develop in ways you could never see coming.

It’s made all the more unique by the fact that it’s an entirely original production. Adaptations are great, but BrBa is a breath of fresh air in that you have absolutely no way of knowing what’s going to happen next – not only because of the show’s unpredictable nature, but because it’s not based on any source material other than the original script. Every episode is a brand-new experience for every viewer (provided they’ve worn their spoiler helmet correctly).

As you can probably guess, I could go on for days about this show. If I don’t shut up right now I’ll start waxing lyrical about the quality of the writing (99.1% pure) and declaring my vote for Bryan Cranston as king of the world. So please – if you haven’t already seen Breaking Bad, get your hands on seasons one through five, quit your job, and hop to it.

Best place to start: If I was cruel and you were stupid, I’d tell you to watch ‘Ozymandias’ first, because it’s the most intense and impressive 45 minutes of TV I’ve ever seen. Since we are neither of those things, you will of course begin at the beginning and watch Walter White’s life go batshit crazy right from day one.

The one and only Heisenberg. Image credit: lucyfubuki.deviantart.com

Chess

OK, I’ve saved my biggest failure until last… I’m about 1,500 years late getting on board with this trend. After ages thinking it was just some weirdly over-complicated variant of checkers, I finally learned how to play this year, and I’m so glad I did. I really enjoy the process of thinking so far in advance and trying to predict your opponent’s moves; you have to be a bit cheeky and sneaky to get ahead, and I love that!

A couple of months ago, Nathan had a beautiful big wooden chessboard, complete with hand-carved pieces, handed down to him by his dad (who’d had it handed down by his dad). It’s such a great addition to our place – lying on the floor playing a lazy game on a Sunday afternoon is the best. (I WILL beat Nathan soon; stay tuned for victory pics.)

Best place to start: Research or get somebody to teach you the basics, and write a little reminder summary of the type of move each piece is allowed to make. Playing against an actual human is the best way to learn, because playing against a computer (even on the easy setting) will pretty much guarantee that you’re continually dominated and made to feel kind of stupid.

Nathan’s beautiful old chess set.

So there you have it – some things I’ve been watching, reading, listening to and playing that other people have been watching, reading, listening to and playing for years (or even centuries). I suppose the moral of the story is that it’s not about when you arrive at the party; it’s about arriving with a novelty hat on, armed with sparklers, an ice-cream cake and a vuvuzela, ready to have the best time ever.