In this edition:
Unforgettable books: A Single Man
Student contribution: Edelweiss
Student contribution: Steptoes and sons
Save the date!
By Monique Swennenhuis
Slowly but surely, spring is approaching. A time of growth, new life and new beginnings. A time of sowing and planting. So, let’s do some of that here too. Let’s grow by adding more and more alumni to our association. The more, the merrier, right? So, if you know any more people who may want to join us: let us know!
And let’s sow some seeds: we are going to organise a great lustrum party for the 405th anniversary of the university and our own 20th anniversary. Save the date: 15th June 2019!
And since our visit to the Shakespeare Theater in Diever was a success last year, we are organising it again this year. So be sure to be on the lookout for our mail in which we will invite you to register for the trip.
For now, enjoy our second digital newsletter, with some nice contributions by familiar and new writers. Let us know what you think; we always appreciate feedback.
Hope to see a lot of you all soon!
Throwback Saturday at the Academiegebouw
By Marjan Brouwers
Five years ago we celebrated that our university was founded 400 years ago and you were all invited to a lovely party. Although the age of 405 sounds a little less impressive, it is still a great reason to get together and celebrate. You are cordially invited to celebrate this anniversary on the 15th of June, dubbed Throwback Saturday. On that day we welcome you to spend the afternoon with us in the Academiegebouw.
The overall theme this year is ‘all inclusive’. This is what the organizing committee has to say about the choice of this theme:
“It is now 100 years since universal suffrage was introduced, but subjects such as diversity, inclusiveness and equality are still as topical as ever. In the words of the American expert on inclusiveness Verna Myers: ‘Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance’.
The programme of Throwback Saturday kicks off at lunchtime with lunch on the Grote Markt. Then it is time for our own party at the Academiegebouw. We are proud to announce that we have booked the Irish band The Doggy Few to play for us and to teach us to dance to their music. The afternoon ends with a relaxed afterparty on the Broerplein in the evening.
The official invitation will find its way to your in-box as soon as possible! We will send you a link to the official ‘lustrum’ page, where you can apply for this wonderful afternoon.
For now, please save the date!
More general information about this event: https://www.rug.nl/lustrum/all-inclusive/
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My writing journey
By Berendsje Westra
I’ve always loved writing, but I remember becoming a bit more serious about it around the age of twenty-three, which is when I decided to try and write a novel (in English) and began to craft scenes for one. Going through those early scenes again some years later, most of them made me cringe. Lots of telling, barely any showing, and they were rife with clichés and unnecessary variations of the word ‘said,’ because I thought that over-use ought to be avoided. Still, I kept at it, improving my artistic endeavours where I could, and just enjoying the creative processes I went through. As an outlet, writing suited my personality: retreat, be in your head, mull things over, form coherent sentences.
Even so, there were prolonged periods of time where I didn’t write much at all. I would get distracted, lose my writing flow, and did nothing but scribble down ideas for scenes and short stories which I intended to do more work on when…. I don’t know. Just when I got round to it.
My biggest writing lesson – by far – is this one: if you want to be a writer then for heaven’s sake, write. Even when you don’t feel like it, even when you’re tired, even when you only have fifteen minutes to spare. Write every day. It’s the only thing that will breathe air into your writing flow and keep it alive.
But I did always read; always had a book on the go. Reading is important when you want to write your own stories, as any seasoned author will tell you. Years went by, and I was still dipping in and out of my writing and I was still reading, but something began to change. I noticed that I was becoming a restless reader. Every time I picked up a novel, I shut it again after just a few pages, because all I wanted to do was crawl behind a computer and write my own stories. So many ideas floated around in my head, for plots and characters, and they demanded to be dealt with. My dipping in and out of writing approach didn’t feel right anymore. I wanted to give (creative) writing more priority in my life, and yet, bumping it up a few notches on my chock-full daily to-do lists proved difficult.
During my studies at Groningen University I asked Dr Irene Visser if I could submit my novel-in-progress (not the one I started when I was twenty-three) for the WEM dissertation, hoping that that way I could spend more time on it. She discussed it but told me that it wasn’t an option as there wasn’t a creative writing programme in Groningen.
Fair enough, so in the end I wrote my dissertation about Flannery O’Connor’s fiction in cultural context. I enjoyed reading her dark short stories and from a writer’s perspective her use of dialogue, setting and characterisation was informative and interesting.
One day, going through a writing manual, I came across a section on Creative Writing degrees. The author (the late Nigel Watts) mentioned he had done his course at Manchester Metropolitan University, as a part-time, distance learner. I’d never really considered distance learning, but now I did. I looked up the university online, but discovered there’d been some changes to the original programme. For the MA, students were no longer required to submit a full-length novel, but just 15,000 words. After this, students could continue their studies with an additional MFA programme, during which a novel, with a maximum of 60,000 words, would be submitted. It was a bit disappointing but there was still enough that attracted me to the Manchester Writing School’s programme, and the literary scene in Manchester, and I decided to apply for it.
I had to pick a route: place writing, children’s writing, short stories or novel. I hovered between place and novel, then opted for the latter, although the more I wrote, the more I realised that place was important in my writing and that maybe I should have gone for that. (In November last year I did participate in a place writing workshop at MMU which was interesting although a lot of what we were told I was applying already so maybe it doesn’t really matter).
I was delighted to learn my application was accepted (Dr Irene Visser very kindly provided my reference) and so, in September 2016, my two-year online creative writing adventure began. Every Monday and Tuesday evening, I logged in, picked a chat colour (always pink) and discussed literature and writing with students from the UK and someone from Greece. The twenty novels we read were discussed and dissected from a writer’s perspective and focussed on elements such as point of view, characterisation, setting, description, pace, dialogue, voice, flashbacks, structure and theme. There were also two creative modules in which we submitted our own writing for feedback. One of the most important things I learnt was to link setting to your characters so that setting becomes more meaningful. In order to do this it is paramount to know your characters thoroughly!
Then, in May 2017, I visited Manchester for a three-day elective module named Writing (Well) About Relationships, which was led by Dr Catherine Wilcox. On the evening of my arrival, a terrorist blew himself up before the Arena, killing twenty-two people. It cast a dark cloud over the days I spent in Manchester. Some changes were made to the original programme as a direct result of the attack. A two-day strike over the proposed closure of an MMU campus was cancelled, which meant that one member of staff who had wanted to join the picket line would be available for a lecture as originally planned, while a vicar who had been scheduled to talk about marriage was needed elsewhere in the community. At one point during the week our building was on lockdown for several hours while arrests were made in the city. Mancunians came together in Albert Square where they left flowers and sympathy cards. Amongst it was a printed copy of Carl Sagan’s powerful ‘Pale Blue Dot’ speech. Meanwhile, the worker bee, Manchester’s iconic symbol, popped up everywhere to signify solidarity.
But in Oxford Street, in the arts and culture hub, student life went on. We learnt about the conventions of the romance genre, which made me realise I wasn’t writing a romance novel, but women’s fiction instead (quite an important discovery!).
We discussed body part terminology and Dr Monique Roffey urged us to keep bedroom doors open in our writing and presented us with corresponding writing exercises, which, to our relief, she didn’t make us share.
I completed my studies a few months ago and I’m looking forward to visiting Manchester again for graduation day. My time at MMU has been very enjoyable and rewarding. You don’t have to embark on a creative writing degree when you want to write of course. Lots of writers haven’t, but then, lots of writers have. It has certainly made me a better writer, besides, immersing myself in writing for the past couple of years has turned it into a daily practice. I’ve loved meeting so many different writers and with some I still exchange work for feedback. I’ve also met an agent who expressed an interest in my novel-in-progress, which I found encouraging. All I have to do now is finish the bloody thing!
We want you!
By Nienke Castelein
We’re still trying to figure out the digital edition of Anglophile, but in whatever form it comes, we need content. And that’s where we need YOUR help. We’re looking for correspondents who want to contribute an article. This could be about anything, for example your fond memories of studying English, a book or film review, your job, a work of fiction, anything that might interest fellow anglophiles. We’d love to have some regular contributors, but if you have just one epic idea, we’d welcome that too. No need to attend any board or editorial meetings, we just need you to write and submit. Please let us know if you want to help us out. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you seen us on Facebook?
By Nienke Castelein
For a while now, the board has a page on Facebook. Via personal connections, some of you have managed to find us, but not everyone. We kindly ask you to like us on Facebook. We’ll provide updates about events and general every day trivia fitting for alumni of English Language & Culture studies. No worries, we won’t spam your timeline daily, but keep you posted every once in a while, of our doings. So as Sally Field put it: “You like me! Right now, you like me!” Find us at https://www.facebook.com/alumniclubengels
Unforgettable book: A Single Man
By Elke Maasbommel
A couple of years ago I watched the movie A Single Man, and I loved it. I loved how the colours in the movie symbolised the mood of the main character; bleak, dreary colours when feeling sad, and rich, full tones during the moments, however short, when something resembling happiness was felt. I also loved the actors (Colin Firth got his Oscar a year later, for The King’s Speech, but this was his first nomination), and the beautiful, heart-breaking dialogues.
I knew that this film, directed by Tom Ford, was based on the 1964 novel by Christopher Isherwood, an English-American author who mentored the famous poet W.H. Auden, but at the time I hadn’t read it yet. So when I saw a copy of the book, in an obscure English bookstore in Berlin, I just had to buy it. And the moment I started reading it, leaning against a tree in a park in the capital of Germany, I was sure that this book would be infinitely better than the movie, after reading the first two sentences:
“Waking up begins with saying am and now. That which has awoken then lies for a while staring up at the ceiling and down into itself until it has recognised I, and therefrom deduced I am, I am now. Here comes next, and is at least negatively reassuring; because here, this morning, is where it had expected to find itself; what’s called at home.”
It becomes clear straight from the beginning that we are dealing with someone who doesn’t quite belong. The narrator, George, a middle-aged Englishman teaching at a university in America, is alone. Not only is he a foreign man in a country he doesn’t quite understand, and an older man surrounded by younger students. Furthermore, he also struggles with the loss of his partner, Jim. It is the early sixties, and George is trying to recover from something which is definitely not accepted, while most people around himare concerned with the Cold War, and are afraid every day might be their last.
George, on the other hand, knows this will be his last day. He is fed up with life, which has no meaning for him ever since he lost his partner. He will do it after work, though, like a true Englishman. He isn’t panicked, and goes through the daily rituals calmly. After he’s finished his work, he puts his affairs in order, he writes some goodbye notes, and buys some more bullets for the gun he’s planning to commit suicide with. What happens then seems to be quite mundane, but it changes his life forever. He talks to his oldest friend and former lover, he goes to a pub and meets a handsome stranger, and eventually he has deep conversations with one of his students. These events make him realise he is not always as isolated from the rest of the world as he thought he was, and they make him see a different side of him.
The change from the sad, lonely, and finished-with-life George into the George who starts thinking of going back to work again after the weekend, is slow and subtle, and beautifully written by Isherwood. Especially striking is one of the scenes at the end of the book:
“For a moment, Kenny’s face is quite distinct. It grins, dazzlingly. Then his grin breaks up, is refracted, or whatever you call it, into rainbows of light. The rainbows blaze. He shuts his eyes. And now the buzzing in his ears is the roar of Niagara.”
George is capable of taking things in again, in full colour and surround sound. He has changed from the ‘it’ in the start of the book, back into himself, George, friend, teacher, and ex-partner, capable of living and loving in a world that seemed to have moved on without him. He wants to put the last part behind him, since that’s what’s been dragging him down for so long. When he is in his bed, trying to get some sleep after the exhausting day he’s had, he has decided, for sure, that he wants to move on, and move forward.
And at just that moment, when George is lying in his bed, once again optimistic about his life, something he hasn’t been since his partner died, fate interrupts. I won’t tell you what happens, but the ending of the book is both devastatingly cruel, and excruciatingly beautiful. Isherwood has managed to write a stunning story about a man devastated by loss and loneliness with such clarity and emotion, that it is quite hard not to be moved by it.
Creative writing: two student contributions
by SarahSophie Brouwer
‘What’s that?’ someone asks me, indicating my right fore-arm. I look down and see I still have Edelweiss wrapped around my wrist.
Edelweiss. I suppose it’s silly to give a name to a simple piece of fabric. Because that is what she – sorry, what it – is, a cylindrical piece of fabric, almost as long as my forearm, bright red, decorated with white flowers. I don’t know what kind of fabric she – I’m sorry, I’m doing it again, it – is made of, mostly cotton I think. To be honest, I don’t really care, all I care about is that she – I’m sorry, I really should stop doing this, it – is the most wonderfully soft. I like soft things. That’s where it all started. It’s pretty usual, as far as I can tell, for little kids to have a “blanky” that they carry around and cuddle with to feel secure. I was one of those kids; smart for my age, but shy, easily overwhelmed and in frequent need of comfort. Never really grew out of that, I guess. But it was a matter of need, you see, not simply want. We didn’t know yet, back then, that I have Autism, and because of that hypersensitivity. That latter one is what caused, still causes, me to become overwhelmed sometimes, and when that happens I need, always needed, something to calm me down, to anchor me. My parents realized this, even if they didn’t know the underlying reason. They bought a large stack of colorful, soft, cloth handkerchiefs, and I carried one with me pretty much wherever I went, so that in those instances where the world simply became too much, I could take hold of the soft fabric and stroke the stress away. When I was sent off to girl scout camps, my parents would make a note of it on those forms they had to fill out. You know, the ones on which the parent(s)/guardian(s) write down their emergency contact number, any allergies their child has, etcetera. In the “Is there anything else we need to know about your child?” box, my parents would write down: “Sometimes everything becomes a bit too much for her, and she has to go sit quietly in a corner with her hanky for a few minutes.” I don’t know if they thought (or hoped) I would grow out of it. Never did, not sure what they think of that. Maybe I would have, if what Happened (you’ll soon see why I capitalize) hadn’t happened. I suppose from my earlier description, you can already gather that Edelweiss is not a handkerchief. It – no, she, because that’s how important she is to me – is a headscarf. Well, used to be a headscarf. What Happened, is that my mom died, when I was ten. We knew it was going to happen. She’d had breast cancer before I was born, and as cancer has the nasty, dark, devastating habit to do, it returned years later. You probably know at least a bit of what lay ahead of her, most people have a vague idea of what fights against cancer are like these days. Radiation therapy. Chemo. Fatigue. Pain. Hair loss. That’s where the headscarves came in, she said wigs itched but leaving her head bare was too cold. So she wrapped colorful cylinders of fabric around her head, to match her colorful clothes that formed a contrast with her increasingly pale and wan face. Then came the bed in the living room. And the wheelchair. And then the Talk. Stars, how I cried, but I’m sure you’ll understand that. Shortly after mama died, I asked dad if I could have one of her old headscarves. I wanted something of hers to keep close. He gave me a bright red one with white flowers that to me, looked like Edelweiss. That was significant enough for me to attach the name of the flower to the scarf. The Sound of Music, you see – you do know The Sound of Music, right? – was something that my mother and I bonded over. She absolutely loved it, especially the movie with Julie Andrews, and I loved it too. Edelweiss was my favorite song from that movie. So there you have it. Something that belonged to mama, that reminded me of our treasured connection, and that was delightfully soft, she was simply perfect. And somehow, she has managed to survive to this day, still there when I need her. Sometimes it’s enough for me to just have her in my pocket, as an anchor, and sometimes I wrap her around my wrist when I need a little prolonged comfort.
‘What’s that?’ someone asks, indicating perhaps the most important object in my life. I smile vaguely, ‘Oh, just something.’
Steptoes and Sons
By Roos Kamies
The universe was expanding, and quite noticeably so. Not to the average galaxy inhabitant, but definitely to Stephen Steptoe, owner of Steptoe and Sons. Expansion didn’t mean that there were more planets or asteroids or stars or galaxies; just that the empty, boring space in-between them grew, making it harder and harder to travel between those nice planets and asteroids and stars and galaxies.
Steptoe’s sons, once clerks in his shop, had long left the planet, just like everybody else, deeply in need of living closer to other worlds. Steptoe did not share this need. He didn’t even really mind when he found out that his sons didn’t continue the family business elsewhere. He was content to live on the edge of the universe, even if it meant he wouldn’t see another living soul unless some poor adventurer got stranded on his way from galaxy to galaxy.
Steptoe and Sons was never the intended destination of its sporadic customers. Still, the shop expanded in much the same way that the universe grew: as Steptoe found himself bored, he would start building another wing to the side of his shop, though he had barely enough things to store in the original premises. It didn’t bother him in the slightest. In fact, he felt oddly satisfied with his ability to build and expand and grow without having to ask permission from the municipality, the government, the world. There was simply no-one left to care.
Right when Steptoe was contemplating rearranging the days of the week, the rusty bell above the door rung. A young woman stepped in. Although her hair was uncombed, her coat a horrid collection of patches, her face dark with filth, Steptoe still recognised her in an instant and when the initial shock of having a customer had passed, he felt an annoyance toward her, even before they had made eye contact. Her name was Clementine Honeysett and she was a fugitive from some Earth government, which had sent out countless of alerts and pop-up ads in order to let the expanding universe know that she shouldn’t be travelling it. Steptoe hated those alerts. He was forced to sit through them when he wanted to see the good tv-shows, which was practically always.
So he said: “You’re Clementine Honeysett.”
She didn’t answer, seemed not to have heard him over the sound of the bell.
“The sons are not in today,” Steptoe said matter-of-factly. “Listen here, young lady: I would turn you in, if only so those ads would stop. But the internet’s been dead for years here. All I got is just cable-tv now. And I got rid of my phone. So what can I do for you?”
Honeysett narrowed her eyes but didn’t react to that news either. “I need seven more of these.”
She placed a button on the counter, in the shape of a fish – or maybe a rocket ship. It was painted in a mat, midnight blue that had seen a better time. Steptoe studied it for a while, hesitant to pick it up. Symbols were dangerous, even on the edge of the universe. As Honeysett nervously hopped from one foot to the other, Steptoe decided that the shape must represent something. He hadn’t watched any news senders in decades, but he assumed it had something to do with communism, or capitalism. Or both. Steptoe picked up the button. The surface of the fishrocket was cold to the touch and the paint flaked a little when he touched it.
Perhaps it wasn’t a button at all, he thought. But what else could it be?
“Made of bone?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t know it,” said Honeysett. “My mum bought it here. You should know.”
“Not bone, then,” said Steptoe.
“Suppose not,” said Honeysett. “Seven more, please.”
Steptoe nodded nervously. Symbol of intergalactic rebellion or not, he was going to have to give her what she wanted. No-one would find his corpse all the way out here if he would refuse her. So he scurried away to search through his collection of oddly shaped blue buttons.
“So, what will you do with them?” he asked by way of conversation.
He didn’t ask: Are you going to hand them out to your gangster friends? Are you soaking them in poison and giving them to your enemies to wear? Was I not informed when I bought them, of a secret way in which they can be used as a weapon? Will you kill me for asking even this simple question of intention?
Honeysett looked up from the carrousel of novelty key chains. “Mum’s making me a coat.”