Tuesday, 31 March 2009

A Night of Dracula - Huddersfield Student - April 09 Edition

A Night of Dracula – ‘Vlad – The Last Confession’ by C.C.Humphreys:

It was a dark Friday the 13th (rather fittingly) when I and many others were sat in the small space that is Dogma’s Cellar Bar, all holding our breath for the author of the latest historical fiction to arrive from the shadows.

When he did he was certainly the type of guy you would not expect to devout a good two years to the research and study of history surrounding the man who inspired the legend of Dracula the vampire. My original image of C.C.Humphreys was a small man, grey hair, grey goatee beard, glasses and a man you can see lingering down library corridors. What I saw in real life was a man who was young, tall, who had a strong interest in history, who loved “swashbuckling adventures” and a man who came up with the idea about writing a historic novel around the REAL Dracula one night when he got drunk with his Editor, he revealed.

We’d gone through every great figure in history that an author had wrote a historic fictional account of and just as he [his editor] was going to the toilets he rushed back saying ‘Yes. I’ve got it. Let’s do it on Dracula!’ So that’s how it all began.”

Humphreys went on to narrate anecdotes about his travels when he was researching into the history of the true origins of Dracula. He had travelled to Romania, where the myths and the true Dracula lived, visited the castle Dracula had actually built, not in Transylvania, called Poenari which sadly is in ruins. He went on to describe what the people were living like in the area of Romania he stayed in.

The people in that region still live like they did more or less five hundred years ago. The roads were that narrow, rocky and steep that my car actually died once I arrived in the village. I remember stepping out of the house I was staying at and looking down across the land, spotting my Landlady coming out of the back of her house with a chicken in one hand, an axe in the other and going WHACK upon a stump with it right before my eyes. That chicken turned out to be my tea. Cooked on a fire although the house did have one gas ring but that was about the only modern convenience in the entire village.

Listening to Humphreys reveal so many interesting and quite horrific facts about the true Dracula otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia, now present day southern Romania, was like having the best history lesson ever. I learnt that ‘Dracula’ was actually his surname, ‘Dracul’ meaning dragon and the ‘a’ meaning ‘son of’ as Vlad’s father was known as the dragon. So he became known as Vlad Dracul-a. And he certainly wasn’t known for biting any fair maidens and sleeping in a coffin, it was more his use of impaling people on spikes and other bloody torture methods that he perhaps picked up during his long stay in a Turkish prison when he was young. He ended up in Turkey although Wallachia born, because Wallachia was between a rock and hard place during the 15th century, the rock being the Ottoman Empire of Turkey and the hard place being the growing strength of Hungarian forces. Vlad’s father sent him and his brother to Turkey as “well treated hostages” as a sign of Turkish alliance. However at some point Vlad’s father changed sides so Vlad was immediately taken away from a luxury life style and put into a Turkish prison which was renowned for its use of torture.

Many historians would say that Vlad’s experience in that prison, of the torture used there, is perhaps what made him use such methods alike during his brief reign when he re-claimed the throne, kind of like the abused child abusing his own in later life theory. But I think it’s more likely that Vlad actually studied the torture methods in practise there and always intended to use them.”

Humphreys has written his fictional account of Vlad’s rise and fall from power in what he terms as a “framing device” in that he hasn’t just chosen to do it in third or first person narrative but rather a mixture as the points of view in this great and gory tale are from Vlad’s best friend, Ion who ultimately betrayed him in the end, his only true love, Ilona, whom he had to sacrifice and his final and only confessor. This is one the key things that makes Humphreys novel so unique in that he uses his position as an author not to inform what the reader should feel about his protagonist but gives them enough events and details to allow them to make their own minds on whether Vlad was a destroyer or a hero.

I never wanted to be one of those writers that portrayed their character in a certain way so the reader would instinctively make a judgement on that character. I wanted the reader to judge him for themselves not because I made him out to be in a certain way. This is why I have written a message at the start of the book to the reader.”

Humphreys goes on to read a chapter from his book and it was truly captivating. It felt like watching your favourite horror movie, knowing that the good person is going to be killed or sliced apart any moment except this time you’re rooting for the murderer and you somehow reach an understanding of why they are going to do such an awful act.

Afterwards he was able to sign books provided by Borders from Birnstall where you could buy them for three pound off the recommended price and the books were limited hard back editions with blood red edged pages. As a young writer myself and one who is a keen fan of historical fiction although dominantly about the Viking Age, I never thought I would become at all interested in the true history, events and life of the man behind Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ but the fantastic use of viewpoints, description, the blend of fiction and fact make it a truly magnificent tale. A good read for any of those that like blood, gore and the understanding that a man can be as much a monster as a hero.

Grist Awards and Stewart Interview - Huddersfield Student - April 09 Edition

Grist Awards Ceremony and Michael Stewart Interview:

Not many I’m sure would associate chilled wine, bowls of crisps, glitzy gowns and smart suits with the complex world of literature but this is what occurs when the winners of poetry and short fiction is announced. Those three winners will be published alongside other fresh writing talent as well as famous authors and poets to create the eagerly anticipated Grist Anthology.

This award ceremony also coincided as the Huddersfield Festival Launch party so even more enthusiasts of writing of all sorts turned up looking their best to participate for their love of the written and spoken word. Other famous poets and authors attended the event as well such as Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and her latest book The Lollipop Shoes, who was also the short fiction judge and will announce the winners in that section. Local poets of this University Gaia Holmes and David Gill were all there socialising. Gaia was selling and signing copies of her first debut poetry collection Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed which received very good reviews. I myself was taught by Gaia during my first year in my poetry seminars and she rather pleasingly remembered me from that time, so long ago now. Michael Stewart, the genius behind the Grist Anthology, my own creative writing tutor and a key figure behind some of the Literature Festival events was of course surrounded by keen writers and acquaintances.

The winners of the Grist short fiction awards are:

1. Indigo Runaway - Jess Richards (absent at the event sadly)
2. Martin in a Hole - Brindley Hallam Dennis
3. Stinky - Ben Cheetham

Grist poetry awards:

The winner is Jonathan Asser for his poem The Birdbath's Saying Dive (sadly absent from the event)
In second place is: Hilary J Murray for her poem Fishing Trip
In third place is Gareth Durasow for his Poem for the Love Lane Crow

Not long after the event had past I managed corner and ask Michael a few questions about Grist, how it came about and how much of a success it has been so far.

How many entries did you receive for the Grist competition?

‘Over 3000’

Did you receive more than you thought you would?


How many short stories and poems will be published in the Anthology?

‘16 short stories and 20 poems plus work from established writers.’

When will the Anthology be published, where can you buy it and how much will it be?

‘Not sure yet.’

Was it difficult to create the short list for Joanne Harris and Simon Armitage to select the winners from?

‘Very hard work.’

Were there many you wished to put through to the short list but were outshine by brighter talent?

‘Oh yes.’

Which other established authors and poets have you got to contribute to the Anthology or is it based on all the successful entrants?

‘So far Ian McMillan, John Boyne, Simon Armitage... Waiting responses from a lot of people at the moment but I'm not telling you who!’

Are you pleased with the final out come of the competition? Are you as proud of it as if it was your own work published?

‘Yes, I'm delighted, although it's not really comparable with having your own work published. When it is your own work there is always a sense of trepidation - you are, on some level, exposing yourself. Not so much with the work of others’.

Will you be running it again next year and any hints for when it's open again?

‘To be confirmed soon’.

It was a real boost of awareness to the Anthology to have Joanne Harris and Simon Armitage support it by being judges, are they interested in being judges next year if you run it again? Or will you have a new pair of judges?

‘To be confirmed soon.’

How would you best describe the book to entice people to read it?

‘It is simply, the best new writing.’

So there you have it folks, ‘simple the best new writing’ so do keep your eyes peeled in any Waterstones or Borders bookshop this summer as it may just be released in a town near you! Buy a copy, get a flavour of the brightest talented authors and poets selected and perhaps even you may be inspired to enter next years Grist Anthology competition. The latest showcase of writing talent developed here from our own beloved University and the genius that is Michael Stewart.

Learn more about when the next competition is open at www.hud.ac.uk/grist.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Huddersfield Literature Festival 2009 - Pictures

2nd Prize Grist Fiction Winner: Brindley Dennis for his story 'Marin in a Hole'.

2nd Prize Grist Poetry Winner: Hillary Murray for her poem 'Fishing Trip'.

3rd Prize Grist Poetry Winner: Gareth Durasow for his Poem 'Poem for the Love Lane Crow'.
Joanne Harris announcing the Grist Fiction winners.

Gaia Holmes and Michael Stewart annoucing the Grist Poetry Winners

Poet, Gaia Holmes holding her book 'Dr James Graham's Celestial Bed'

Joanne Harris, author of 'Chocolat' and 'Runemarks' my favourite book.
Michael Stewart, script writer for radio and TV, my short fiction tutor.
David Gill, yorkshire poet, my poetry tutor.

Historical fiction author C.E Humphreys and me at his author session. 'Vlad- The last confession' is his latest and most brilliant novel set around the genuine man who inspired the legend of Dracula.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Opposing Shield Wall - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Viking Sheild Wall - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Vikings Practise Battle - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Jorvik Vikings against St Mary's Abbey Ruins, Museum Gardens, York - Viking Festival 2009

Golden Eagle - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Jerr Falcon Glance - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Jerr Falcon - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Long Eared Eagle Owl Stare - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

A European Long Eared Eagle Owl - Jorvik Viking Festival 2009

Golden Eagle Gaze - Viking Festival Bird Display February 2009

Bald Eagle Glare - Viking Festival Bird Display February 2009

Uni Library Survey - Huddersfield Student - January 09 Edition

Verdict on Library Floor Five:

Now for many of you who are all first years at Huddersfield University and happen to use floor 5 in the university Library it will seem all new and shiny simply because it is all new and shiny quite literally. I myself am a third year English degree student, second years included and any student that’s been here for at least one year already and uses that same floor will overwhelmingly agree that there has been a massive change of floor layout and design there.

Originally it used be quite dull and honestly had an air of boredom about it. The bookshelves were quite close together making it feel more like the maze it actually was, something akin to a rabbit warren and the computers were all bunched up together in this one room at the far end where it was either too cold or too hot but always busy. Unless you happened to be there before eight o clock in the morning. Often you would go in, spot a free computer but curse when yet again someone had decided to use your chair to bunch up with their mates around one computer to chat or sometimes do work, disabling your chance of getting your own course work done.

The quiet desks for private study, at least when I used them and I mean the ones with wooden boards boxing you into a small space, felt like a cage. And those desks in particular were placed between the central stairway, bookcases and computer room, so if someone spotted a mate there it was inevitable that a conversation would occur and the silent area rule would be flaunted yet again. The chairs placed with them weren’t that comfortable either. So it would be your bum as well as your brain falling into a deep coma in such a dim and dark environment.

As for the ‘Discussion area’, well it was pretty much a culmination of the environments of both the quiet areas and the large, cramped computer room. In there again you would be lucky to grab a computer to do some work on and a seat with it and often when I’ve been in there a librarian would storm in telling us all to keep the noise down which in my view defeats the whole purpose of a ‘Discussion area’ and if it was that irritating then maybe they should have thought to install some sound proof glass in the doors as that is what they mainly made of. I am aware that it might have prevented us hearing a fire alarm if it ever went off but I for one know there were fire alarms installed in that room anyway so regardless we would have heard it.

Anyway, that has all been thrown out of the window with new design and furniture. So all those previous problems should now be corrected, shouldn’t it? Well there is no true way of finding out without asking those that use it, you, the students that is those who are studying in Education, Humanities, Music and Media.

I decided to investigate further by setting up a little questionnaire with a few key questions and positioned myself outside the entrance to floor five and asked a total of forty students ranging from first to third year their genuine opinion and comments on the new refurbishment. The questions concerned the new layout, how easy it is to navigate around floor five and not get lost, the finding of books, amount of study space, access to helpful librarians and a key factor to nearly all of us, the amount of computers available for use.

As you can see the answers range quite well on all six questions but to truly see student’s verdict on the services on floor five it is best to show these results in a nice colourful graph.

From this graph it is clear that the most approvable feature of the new floor five is its layout and that I believe is totally agreeable because now there is plenty of properly allocated space for groups to chat and hopefully discuss work as well and the silent study areas are better positioned now then ever with partitioning protecting them from all the hustle and bustle of the bookshelves and very spacious computer desks. Which is a brilliant improvement compared to the very cramped mass of computers in one room the previous year as we now all have space to place books and notes without having it balanced on our lap. Yet there may be a draw back to all this lovely open space around desks and seating which is demonstrated by the also overwhelming answers concerning access to computers. Slightly over half of the forty I questioned agreed on a ‘Poor’ rating for computer access despite the better working conditions around them.

I admit more computers have appeared all over the place since September, like the ones set against walls with the bar-type stools which are a bit uncomfortable to sit on and someone on the student board has assured me that there are concrete intentions to put another hundred computers into the library (not agreed where though) so there have been improvements on that score. Somehow though I feel the constant student demand for computers always readily available and vacant for use is a demand that will never be totally met by library services. There are more than twenty two thousand students at university and to have a computer for each single pupil, discounting the influx of additional students each year despite the number that do go on to graduate without taking on another course, would literally fill up the libraries six floors and leave no space for books, book shelves, printers and desk space needed for study without computers.

I know some may blame the library for creating this fault due to replacing two other large computer rooms on floor four into offices and so reducing the computer count by at least another hundred or so. This became apparent as a few I asked don’t actually use floor five for its books but simply because they could not find a free computer on floor four and so tried their luck up a level.

But let’s not think badly of floor five too much as it has over all improved in great leaps and bounds compared to its status last year. At least that’s what I’m interpreting from the twenty three students, a mix of second and third years who knew what it used to be like, who said they prefer it to the way it is now far more than the way it used to be.

As for possible further improvements to floor five students gave another wide range of answers, most did ask for more computers, others more group presentation rooms and even a few asked for the silent area to be strictly silent.

So the over all, the verdict from students is full of approval for the newly renovated floor five despite the criticism on computers. The library is working on that from what I’m told but all I can suggest to those students is have some patience, there is never a period of time when a hundred per cent of computers are used, there will be one free, eventually. The library isn’t perfect but the quality of services of floor five is at least near to it due to the great amount of money and time poured into updating it into the modern world.

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