Review: The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

The Futures cover

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak (Michael Joseph, 2017)

On the surface, everything about this appealed to me: the beautiful cover, the blurb, the themes. I still love of all of these, and the setting was brilliant, but unfortunately I didn’t find the novel quite as compelling as I’d hoped.

Part of the blurb reminded me of 500 Days of Summer, one of my favourite films:

This is Evan and Julia’s story.

This is a love story.

But no one says it ends happily.

This is a good start as far as I’m concerned. Most of my favourite novels have broken my heart!

Evan and Julia meet at Yale and fall in love. The couple move to New York City after graduating, where Evan has lined up a top job at a hedge fund. However, the financial crisis is beginning, Julia isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, and as Evan dedicates more and more time to his career, we see the strain it puts on their relationship.

The temporal setting really appealed to me, since I also graduated during the recession. It was the first novel I’d read that dealt with the crisis from the perspective of a new graduate. The author did a great job of capturing the feeling of being completely lost after finishing university – at least for those of us who get to the end of however many years of study without knowing what we’d like to do.

There was a blend of the familiar and the fascinating, because although I could relate to this part of the novel, the world of hedge funds and bankers in New York City is a million miles away from what I know. I found this interesting, despite the detrimental affect on the characters. The series of events – and even the everyday niggles – that upset their relationship are carefully orchestrated by the author, so that we understand how the characters are led to the choices they make.

The main problem was that I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I needed to in order to really feel sorry for them when their relationship started to fall apart. There needed to be more build-up of their relationship during university, more evidence that it had once been good, in order to feel the loss when things went wrong.

Another aspect of the structure that added to the feeling of disconnect was that for the first half of the book, it didn’t feel like there was a main narrative holding the story together. It read like a series of vignettes, rather than interspersing flashbacks and anecdotes to illuminate aspects of the present storyline. I would also have been tempted to delete the prologue entirely: although parts of it are beautifully written, it made me question why they ever move in in the first place.

I am sure that there are fans of character-driven fiction that will enjoy The Futures, but, for me, the pacing meant that it didn’t quite have the emotional impact I had expected.

Thank you to NetGalley and Michael Joseph for the proof in exchange for a review.

Writing about not writing

I’ve been getting genuinely quite concerned about my brain recently. It doesn’t seem to produce any thought, it just receives information (and a barrage of negativity) from the Internet. Sometimes I can practically feel it frying.

I really want to get back into writing again, but the truth is I have written nothing creative – not one single line – since moving to London over two and a half years ago. For a person who always considered writing part of who I was, this has left me floundering a little. The one goal I’ve had since I was a child was to write a book; now, I can barely write a blog post.

Of course, the six-year-old me just went and did it – fourteen pages, handwritten and illustrated by yours truly, stapled together. As a kid I could sit down and rattle off a poem every time I sat down to write. And sure, 99% of what I wrote was absolute rubbish, but I certainly miss the freedom that simply being a child afforded me when expressing myself creatively. Becoming self-conscious about writing as an adult is exactly what will make sure it never improves.

Maybe creativity really can disappear, but I know that if someone said this to me I’d tell them that’s daft, and they just have to find it again. If a good way to help ourselves is to imagine we’re helping someone else, then what would I say to someone who wanted to write more?

Read a lot. To quote Stephen King: ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.’ (This is one I can check off quite confidently at least…)

Allocate regular time to writing. We more readily associate creativity with spontaneous bursts of inspiration, but we can also encourage it. Whether it’s twenty minutes per day or an hour twice a week, I need to make time for it. Blog posts won’t appear from thin air if I’ve decided to catch up on Pretty Little Liars.

See it as a peaceful or meditative exercise. I don’t have much energy left when I come home from work, but it’s hardly aerobic exercise. And rather than turn it into a mental workout, I could just jot down some thoughts about the day that could spark ideas later.

Carry a notebook. I already do this, I’ve just never had the guts to write in it on a commuter train yet.

Don’t delete. Write first, edit later. And maybe don’t re-read too often. (If I didn’t re-read so much, this would have been posted weeks ago, and it really doesn’t look much different than the first draft.)

Talk to people. Or, more importantly, listen. I think other people’s stories are really interesting, often simply because they aren’t mine. A different perspective could be the beginnings of a character; a throwaway remark from someone could become a novel.

Go out and do something else. OK, I do an awful lot of this already, but as long as you are going out, seeing new places, trying new things AND also making time to write about them, then it can be good material.

What do you like (or want) to read? Try writing it.

That great first line that’s been stuck in your mind for the past few months? What happens next? Try writing it.

And if at first you don’t succeed? Try, try again!

London Bridge

In the past fortnight, I’ve cried for hundreds of strangers who have lost children and loved ones, including in a despicable attack at a funeral.

Last night, things were closer to home. This time meant checking that friends were OK. It meant a sleepless night waiting for my boyfriend, working for the emergency services, to come home. My heart breaks for the people whose loved ones did not.

I’m running out of words in response to these attacks that keep happening all over the world. I have read a lot of other people’s words since last night – lovely words about our emergency services, even funny words, as Brits react with the dark humour that is part of how we deal with difficult situations.

There have also been comments that have made me want to keep away from social media for the rest of the day, as some people don’t realise that they are creating divisions among those who actually want the same things. There is no simple solution, no matter how much people wish that there were, or how much I would like to be wrong on this.

It is scary. There are moments when I think that if I thought about it too much, I might never leave the house. Yet if this fear stops you from living as you want to, isn’t this another life lost?

I wish this didn’t have to be said, but I hope you have a safe week. I hope you see kindness, and show it. And I hope you spend time with your loved ones, and don’t take it for granted.

Excuses for Not Blogging

I don’t have time. (Because I just spent an hour going from one form of social media to the other. Not even interacting, just seeing posts other people have liked and comments that make me despair.)

I don’t have the energy. (OK, this is often true, but some people seem to manage to hold down full-time jobs, look after kids and elderly relatives, keep a – presumably – clean house, maintain some semblance of a social life, read all the newest releases, see all the TV shows everyone is talking AND blog weekly.)

The flat is too messy and I must tidy it. (Or at least I should sit and think about how much it needs tidied without getting distracted by blogging.)

I accidentally started watching another show on Netflix and I need to know what happens. Only 107 episodes to go.

I’ll listen to three songs from Beauty of the Beast, then I’ll be in a good mood for blogging. (The entire soundtrack later: I am torn between my good mood and guilt for not blogging.)

I need to bake! I still haven’t mastered the chocolate chip cookie yet. And that will provide some material for a post, so it still counts. (90 minutes later: Well, these cookies suck, so…)

I’ll finish this book and review it. (I will never review it.)

My words aren’t working. (Maybe some practice will help?)

My nails need filed/my fringe is in my eyes/it’s too sunny/it’s not bright enough/I’m hungry, etc.

I have no ideas! (All those things I’ve done and places I’ve been? How about a list of excuses instead?)

Holiday at Home: Photo Diary

I got home from my trip home over a week ago, but at the moment it seems like if I manage to check something off my to-do list within a month then it’s good going.

I always take lots of photos and never post half of them, so I decided to record my trip with a photo diary:

Outside Copper Blossom

Thursday: After a dinner out on Wednesday evening, and coffee and a cake with a friend on Thursday morning, I met another friend at Copper Blossom just off George Street in Edinburgh. It was so lovely it is going to have its own post soon.

Edinburgh Castle and blossom

Edinburgh Castle and blossom

I had some time before my night out, so I had a wander around Princes Street, the Gardens and up to the Castle.

St Giles cloud and sun

St Giles’ Cathedral in the sun and cloud.

Home photo diary 4

From the Castle Esplanade, looking down the Royal Mile. Camera Obscura is the building on the left and the Hub is the tall building on the right.

Friday: On Friday I got my hair done – finally! I tried a new hairdresser for the first time in about 20 years in January, and it was definitely a mistake. Luckily my old hairdresser put it right! I then went for cream tea with my mum:

Scones with cream and jam

Scones! Mannerstons, Linlithgow

Saturday: I met another two friends for lunch at The Printing Press in Edinburgh. I hadn’t been in before because the food menu is quite pricey, but the bar was brilliant.

Printing Press cocktails

They have a great drinks option called Bespoke Bubbles, where you get a bottle of Prosecco along with various fruit purées to create Bellinis, as well as Crème de Cassis and Aperol to mix. I would definitely recommend this – it means you can create a couple of different drinks in one order.

Printing Press Bespoke Bubbles 2

Sunday: My dad drove us up to Loch Earn for a wee change from London! It was a good drive past Gleneagles and with a stop in Comrie for coffee. This is either the best or worst street sign ever:

Home photo diary 15

Is that Comic Sans?!

Loch Earn was lovely! I could post several photos, but I’ve narrowed it down:

Loch Earn

Home photo diary 20

From where I stand

On Sunday evening we had an amazing dinner at an Italian restaurant (where else?) with my parents, sister and her boyfriend, then on the Monday we spent some time with my boyfriend’s family, as he has an auntie and uncle in Scotland. (She made a brilliant lasagne.) Then it was all over already! Just enough time for a quick breakfast in Glasgow before getting the train back.

Home photo diary 23

His horse was not to be left out this time.

I think I managed to see almost everyone I know on one trip home, so it was busy, but a brilliant week. Now to plan another trip back for the Edinburgh Festival…

2017 Goals

I was at the Bologna Book Fair last week, which means being collected at 4.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Presumably as a result of sleep deprivation, I always seem to end up having profound conversations with the taxi driver, and this time it was about how ‘the one thing given to all of us equally is time’. While this isn’t true in terms of lifetimes, his point was that, no matter our circumstances, we don’t get any more than 24 hours in a day.

Dali clock

Dalí – Danza del Tempo II at Bologna Airport

It reminded me of an assembly in high school, which offered up one of the lessons I actually remember after fifteen years. The woman said, ‘If I gave each of you £1440 right now, how would you spend it?’ Everyone had an idea of course – Disneyland, loads of pizza, or optimistic 13-year-olds thinking they’d get a car. She then revealed that she had picked the number 1440 because that is how many minutes we have in a day – how were we going to spend them?

In the interest of trying to make the most of each 24 hours, I thought it might be a good idea to set some goals for 2017 after all. They might help me to recognise how I use my time and how I might spend it better (not to mention help me to focus on the blog). Here are some of the things I would like to achieve:

Do something good. With all the awful stories on the news every day, it would be nice to do a little bit of good. I’ve thought for years about contacting Age UK to volunteer – maybe now’s the time.

Read 25 books. I’ve read some great books so far, including The Sun is Also a Star.

Illustrated Philosopher's Stone

And reread this beauty.

Work on my languages. It is sad how quickly language skills can fade, even after spending years on them! I want to make more effort to surround myself with French, Spanish and Italian whether through reading, films, music or holidays to try to maintain or improve them. Next up, Cinema Paradiso!

Try eight new recipes. I have started cooking and I actually quite enjoy it. I even signed up for an online cookbook subscription (Cooked), and even if I did this largely for the free crate of wine, it is a good resource that I’d like to use. Plus I’d like to make breakfast muffins. Batch cooking! Batch cooking is the goal.

Brie and tomato pasta

Ah, double carbs.

Do more on days off. I definitely need time to do nothing each week, but I can still make better use of my days off. When I first moved here I did so much – and, OK, spent too much money – but there’s a balance to be found. I’d like to plan at least one interesting activity a month, even if it’s just visiting a restaurant I’ve been desperate to try.

Visit eight new restaurants/cafes/bars. There, I’ve made it its own goal.

Visit a new city/country. I’ve spent hours researching holidays to Santorini, and have to conclude that it’s sadly out of my budget for now. I will visit somewhere new though.

Visit two places I haven’t yet been in the UK. I went to Canterbury in February, so this is an extra incentive to write about it. I’m also keen on Winchester, Oxford and Cornwall.

Lovely day out in Canterbury. #CanterburyCathedral #canterburytales #tourist #lbloggers

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See three new shows. I’ve seen The Girls so far.

Make a scrapbook. This is on my list basically every year and I still haven’t done it. I go to see quite a lot of theatre, and I have a few concerts this year, so I need somewhere to keep all my tickets, as well as some of the many photos I take!

Build the blog. I neglected the blog a little last year, but I don’t want to give it up. Posts could be shorter – reviews, an observation or a photo. There is so much to write about. If anything, I would love to increase the time I spend writing, not just blogging but more creatively too. We’ll see!

Miss EU Already

Today was the day that Theresa May triggered Article 50 and gave notice we were leaving the EU. To be frank, I can’t be bothered going into all the reasons I thought, and still think, we should have stayed. It’s too late, I don’t have the energy to argue with anyone, and we’re going to have to make the best of it now.

As a little tribute today though, here’s a list of things I love(d) about the EU or the various countries in it. (Or, ‘A list of things that are going to be more expensive/difficult now and for what?!’ Ahem. Only outburst, I swear.)

  • Taking part in the Erasmus programme was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Salamanca

  • Salamanca, where I did my exchange, is one of the most beautiful cities in the whole word. I had some of my best nights out at the Irish Rover (of course there was an Irish pub) and you would meet people of different nationalities every time. On the academic side, there were some standout lecturers whose classes were among the most interesting I attended over five years of uni!
  • This programme has since been replaced by Erasmus+, but allowed me to teach in France. The confidence I gained during this experience was invaluable.

DSCF6881

  • Paris is also one of the best cities in the world – so much so that I couldn’t resist going back to work there again. Notre-Dame, Rive Gauche, éclairs with chocolate cream inside, climbing the Eiffel Tower, practically living on the Métro, Carrefour, chocolate with smarties from Leader Price, fresh baguettes, cheap wine, dinner parties with friends, trying to find a job and flat and sort out taxes… it was the most wonderful and difficult time of my life.
  • The ability to up and move to 27 countries on a whim.
  • The fact that our thirteen-strong team at work includes nine women from abroad, six from countries in the EU, because we need mad skillz that not all Brits are interested in.
  • All the languages.
  • French brie. No offence, Somerset; it’s just not the same.
  • Chorizo. (Well, at least I might no longer be able to afford a heart attack.)
  • Belgian chocolate. (This list has become very centred around food. Like me.)
  • Basically all of Italy’s food. (With a soft spot for Bologna.)

cheeseandbacon

  • The Dragon Khan in PortAventura, the best rollercoaster I’ve ever been on.
  • San Miguel market in Madrid.
  • Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille, and the view from the top of the hill.
  • Drinking in Dublin.

Forum 4

  • The ruins of Rome.

And now this has made me realise I’ve only visited eight of the countries! At least there’s still time to check off a few more before we possibly have to think about visas. Good thing too, because on my list of places I’d love to visit are:

  • Budapest. This city looks absolutely stunning, and I’ve wanted to visit for years now. The Danube is lined by some of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and I’d love to see them in real life.
  • Salzburg. I want to do the Sound of Music tour.
  • Venice, Florence, Verona (all of Italy, really).
  • Copenhagen, then the train to Stockholm.
  • Prague, Vienna, Kraków, Berlin, Santorini, Athens…