The World According To Fred is my blog, although no, my name is not Fred - but don't worry, that's a common misconception... My posts are a compilation of all the things that pass through my mind - a running commentary of my view of the world. Please feel free to comment and please say if there are any subjects you would like Fred to take a view on - I really do want to know!!!! In the meanwhile enjoy:
The World According To Fred

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dragons and Magick and Scares - Oh My! The Power of What's Written

It is a rare occasion when I can find a book worth reviewing. This may sound strange, especially considering the fact that my job as a bookseller at Waterstones unavoidably entails me writing reviews, both in store and online; and for those who know me, you know it’s a rare occasion when someone can get me to shut up about books. However, it is seldom that I find a book so engrossing, so incredible that I find it necessary to write a proper review (i.e. here, on my blog), in order to share it with as many people as possible; yet, such was the case with Ben Galley’s The Written.

I first came across these books (indeed, The Written is only the first of the Emaneska series) when Ben Galley came into my Waterstones for a signing event – a self-published author with an apparent passion for the fantastical. Admittedly, he’s a relatively unknown writer (though not to our store – one of my colleagues used to talk of him and recommend his books on such a regular basis, Ben Galley’s name is as well known as the Queen of England) but that has never stopped him or his books from brimming with talent. Plus, he brought badges, and that just seals the deal on him being a great guy.

The book really is beautifully done. It took me a little while to get into it (though really I’m like this with all books, especially with a new writer), but despite this and the chunkiness, I sped through it. It had that pull of a book that meant I just couldn’t put it down, a pull that I haven’t felt for a long time. My love for Harry Potter isn’t exactly a hidden thing, but when it comes to fantasy books, I’m really picky – they have to be different, have to bring
a new twist to an area of literature that has been done a million times for every age – and a lot of the time, it’s the same story over and over again. But that’s not at all the case. I guess what really drew me in was that it was so fresh, so unlike anything I had ever read before. What I loved about the novel was the great wealth of history and background that exists behind the main plot line – Galley has created an entire world, not just one story, in a way that is distinctly reminiscent of Rowling and Tolkien. It’s not dumped on you at once either – admittedly at some points this can feel like you’re missing out on something you need to know, but it’s all revealed in due time, when it won’t detract from the main events or become too confusing.

Writing a review is always difficult, especially if you’re trying to avoid spoilers. One thing I will say, however, is nothing is as it seems - oh, and you don’t want to realise this in a public area. Should you feel that some revelation is coming, I suggest you remove yourself to a private, preferably sound proof area, or else risk finding yourself slamming fists upon the table and repeatedly yelling “NO!” inviting many shocked stares from those sitting silently around you. Still, such is the nature of my relationship with good books…

And they really are incredible. I think it stands testament to them that, having finished The Written, I moved straight onto the sequel, Pale Kings 
and this is considering that Dan Brown’s new book, Inferno, has just come out. Honestly, I didn’t even break a sweat in entirely ignoring the hardback, so engrossing is the tale that Galley has woven. Most of the time I will continue with a series from a sense of duty to finish it but I will readily put it on hold, in the event of a new book that I am desperate to read. Here, however, not only did I not want to leave, but I literally couldn’t, as if the magic that permeates the lives of the characters had reached out of the pages and bound me to them. That and the fact that I love showing off gorgeous books, and these cover designs are simply brilliant. I know, I know - you can’t judge a book by its cover, but if every cover were to reflect the story inside – well, actually, I think these illustrations do it justice.

Galley’s finale to the trilogy comes in two parts Dead Stars: Part One and Part Two at the end of the month. Whilst part of me is disappointed with myself for having waited so long to delve into the world of Emaneska, a very large part of me is grateful – at least this way I won’t have to wait too long for its conclusion!  Equally exciting is Galley’s project to turn The Written into a graphic novel; admittedly, it’s not normally my cup of tea, but I know this will just have to be an exception to my rule. For now however, I must return to Pale Kings – and send you all to find these books immediately!

 Check out Ben Galley’s website here:

And order your copy of The Written from Waterstones (of course) today!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Bus Off

One often wonders, amongst many things (such as why one has started using the pro-noun “one” and whether as a result one would be accepted into the royal family), why it is that buses have been allowed to continue to exist, and have not yet been replaced by a more efficient, appropriate and – frankly – friendlier substitute. I know that I have before written about the problems surrounding public transport (An Ode To A Cherry Bakewell), but that was more centred around the issue of trains, and it seemed due time to turn my attention to their four-wheeled friends.

I have never been a fan of buses – largely in part to the time I was unable to locate the right bus stop and time to get home for twenty minutes before realising I was looking at entirely the wrong route and it was a bank holiday Monday, and buses were not running. However, when one’s school and work place lies on a bus route and one has neither finished learning to drive nor can afford a car anyway thanks to extortionate insurance prices, one quickly becomes familiar with the local bus service. Not that this is an enviable acquaintance, particularly when one must join the masses on the bus home after school when one is unlucky enough to have no free period last thing. Rude, smelly and horrible children, who shove and poke you, swear at you without an ounce of respect for anyone. It’s like I’ve walked into some futuristic thriller, where the inmates of a juvenile prison have been let loose and allowed to rule the streets. Admittedly, I know I am only five or so years their senior, and my height immediately puts me at a disadvantage where most of them probably assume I’m  the same age as them. But what has happened? When I was their age, one look from a sixth form student had me running in terror for fear of what they might do, and that applied to even the toughest guys  in my year. Still, another rant for another time - the point being here that such arrogant, selfish, icky little toe rags serve only to enhance the already delightful experience.

Not that it is ever helped by supposedly grown adults – and that includes the bus drivers themselves. Now I’m not applying this to all bus drivers. Some of them, such as my regular “Sunday Bus Driver” as he shall be known here (mainly in part to the fact that I don’t actually know his name), are truly lovely and helpful. However others choose to be irrationally rude, such as driving off from the bus stop five minutes early, despite the fact you are clearly running to catch it, and refusing to accept £10 notes, when it’s all the cash machine gives out, you are disinclined to waste money on something just to get change and there is a large sign on the bus itself stating that they only have a problem with £20 notes or over. As a fellow worker of the public sector (retail counts, right?), I know that the general public can often be stressful and frustrating – but that doesn’t mean you have to be downright rude, especially when the customer has in no way done anything wrong.

My experience yesterday only served to emphasise my detestation for this mode of public transport. Having arranged to meet someone, I specifically woke up and left early in order to catch a bus - a task that anyone else on their Easter break knows is arduous enough. And yet I was rewarded for my good-natured efforts by having to wait an hour for one bus (by which time, there should’ve been three of them) in the freezing cold with a woman who insisted on standing upwind from everyone else waiting and smoking, forcing everyone out of the bus shelter (which incidentally, I’m pretty sure is illegal – the law prevents anyone from smoking in areas covered by three walls – if one counts the fence that met the bus shelter roof (which I do), that’s three walls and therefore illegal). If it weren’t for that fact that she looked a bit crazy and I feared for my safety, I would have said something; still I was forced to make do with muttering loudly, to much approval from those around me. Still the icing on the freezing cold, smoky cake was the bus driver’s response to me politely asking whether there was traffic on the roads this morning – a caveman like grunt, which only served to entirely concrete my opinion that buses are the metal hounds of hell.

And yet, surrounding us are encouragements to use said public transport! I am forced to contest the government’s reasoning for this: they are barely cheaper, and things such as passes and week tickets and inconsistent and hard to come by and I doubt that the huge, fuel guzzling monsters are better for the environment, especially with the development of green technology for private transportation. And, to a great extent, they are a complete waste of money. In some areas, buses run every twenty minutes, entirely empty. The fact is, they are completely unattractive to anyone trying to travel. They are entirely unreliable, unpleasant and unclean – and let’s not even start on the driving that has now caused me permanent whiplash. Those who hopefully put faith in them or, like me, are faced with no other option but their use are thought of as excellent examples to use in statistics, but realistically, we are just warnings to other potential users of the dangers of public transport.

Realistically if the government want the public to use the buses en masse, they will have to do an entire overhaul of the service. Personally, I suggest some futuristic tram system in the air – anything that is not subject to overly frequent break downs, operators that belong in solitary confinement and the horrors of morning traffic. Until then we are faced with the travesty that is the bus service; but to all transport ministers who are encouraging us to use them and yet have never placed one shiny polished shoe aboard a bus in their life – bus off.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Cramming Speed

Ah, revision! That hatred beast that seems entirely pointless once you sit down in an exam and all possible knowledge required leaves your head. It seems to drain energy from you and from the day, so that no amount of flashcards, notes or extremely elaborate spider diagrams will ever stick in your brain. Indeed, in my experience, revision has only provided me with some highly irregular results – at GCSE, I revised hardest for my History exam and came out with a grade lower that initially predicted, and at my Government and Politics exam in January of this year, my revision became less of looking at new stuff and more of learning brand new things that hadn't been covered.

Still, revision seems to bring out in all of us a certain knack for the art of procrastination. From a quick game on the Xbox that mysteriously turns into an all day marathon to discovering a sudden urge to clean one’s room, a chore long put off; or even to writing a long silent blog. Facebook especially seems to become a black hole of trivial nonsense which suddenly seems to become incredibly interesting and time consuming (oh Harry Potter memes, how fast you can make the hours go!). Whichever which way, it seems that revision is the one thing everyone wishes to avoid. But is it about to get worse? Should government proposals go ahead, it certainly will be, at least for those taking A Levels. Having already removed the possibility of January exams, cutting off the chance of modular tests, education ministers are now considering reducing the two separate years – AS and A2 – to one whole course.

Of course it means it’s harder (and means twice as much revising *groan*) but it also means a much better test of knowledge. With the exception of very few subjects, the whistle-stop one year courses mean that many can get away with last minute cramming and remembering a few facts that you will never think of again, just for the sake of the exam. In contrast, a two year course will much more test the depth of your knowledge than the depth of your memory bank – and although it may seem like a lot more work, it will be so much more beneficial in the long run. As a taker of four essay based subjects (seriously, nobody tried to stop me? Why?!), I can easily say that a two year course would be much better. Though knowledge is, of course, key, it is the application of it that really counts and that kind of skill can only be truly honed over a two year basis. Admittedly, I won’t look forward to the state of my hand at the end of the exam (likely to be twice as long) which already currently looks and feels like it’s been put in the washing machine with several sharp knives at the end of a two and a half hour English paper. The same cannot necessarily be said for subjects such as the maths and sciences, where it is nearly all facts and knowledge – and certainly not the same guarantee of crippling agony (though admittedly they do have the unenviable position of being the last exams on the timetable, so that they are confined to revision whilst others are free to enjoy the non-existent sunshine). However I know that I would rather have two years to practice my equations as opposed to just one – I would certainly find it much easier to f(x)! (To all maths students and others who understood that, I apologise for my sense of humour…)

For now though, at least, the endless cramming must continue. Whilst I may extol the virtues of an extended course, I know I will never reap the benefits of it and must instead prepare for an eternity of boredom. One request I would make of examining bodies though – please move the exams further away from the Easter holidays, so that I do not feel the need to revise in the presence of a mountain of chocolate. Needless to say it is the most comforting of procrastination and will inevitably lead to me rolling into my exam hall rather than walking. As for now, I must return myself to the dreaded revising – I wish luck to everyone taking exams this summer, at whatever age, and to all essay writers: good luck to your hands!