Living in the Age of Coronavirus

by Marie-Teresa Hanna

As I write this from my bedroom, the sun is shining through the window, the birds are singing and I can hear a neighbour exercising to Andra Day’s song, ‘Rise Up’. My next-door neighbours are entertaining their toddler, and she is giggling at their duck noises while the neighbour across is washing dishes in her kitchen. Separated by windows, walls, and doors, we are all aware of each other and although our lives are different, we are collectively trying to get through this pandemic, each with our individual stories, worries and emotions.

As for many of us, this is the first time I have witnessed global fear and collective grief, not only for the uncertainty of the future, but most importantly, for the lives lost within the NHS, communities, family members and friends. With close friends working in pharmacies and Intensive Care Units, a vulnerable and high-risk parent, and elderly family members, I find myself taking precautions that seemed unimaginable before. In between essential bi-weekly hospital visits and once a week shopping trips, I am haunted by the fear in people’s eyes, floored by older members of the community who are unable to get groceries delivered, and the rising mortality rates where human lives are turned into numbers on the news. In contrast, staying safe at home and smelling of pure alcohol and disinfectant wipes is a small compromise.

Although I limit watching the news and social media, the impact of the Coronavirus is constantly on my mind and I have to remind myself that productivity is not the be-all and end-all. Some days I get on with university work, attend Zoom meditation and yoga classes, read, write a few lines of poetry or exercise. Most of the time, I watch Netflix, funny animal videos on YouTube, or end up daydreaming, aware that my mind is processing this current climate and forcing anything would be counterproductive. As I connect remotely with friends and call members of my book club, I hear stories of struggle, change and resilience. Talking to these members brings intergenerational connectedness centred around individuals who tell me their narratives of surviving wars, migration and several losses. Or my father, who recalls stories of waiting in six-hour queues for essentials such as bread and petrol, while growing up in Sudan. In these moments I am reminded that we are hardwired for survival.

In the future, this will be our story to tell. For now, all we can do is connect with each other, give ourselves time to feel, grieve, and remember, because like the sun that sets, we too will rise.

dav

Marie-Teresa Hanna is a British Egyptian-Sudanese writer, interested in BAME, Middle Eastern and North African women’s fiction. She is currently completing an MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University London. In her spare time, she runs a monthly hospice book club and always enjoys listening to podcasts, and long river walks while contemplating life. If you would like to follow her thoughts and ramblings, find her on Twitter @MarieTeresaHan3.

 

Brunel Creative Writing MA Students Write, Record and Mix an Album in a Week

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By Alex and Simone Ayling-Moores

The coronavirus pandemic has affected everyone. Whether it’s our collective isolation and restrictions leaving home comforts, or those fears and concerns for both loved ones, and those we’ll never meet: it is a uniquely uncertain time for almost all of us around the globe.

As both musicians and music teachers (and aspiring writers too!) we had the prospect of losing  a big chunk of our income so, instead of twiddling our thumbs, we decided to try and make something positive from all of this.

Thus the challenge to write, record and mix an album, all in one week, was something we set ourselves… and WE DID IT! Pushing through early mornings and very late evenings, the compositions were crafted and recorded with passion (and a lot of persistence!).

It wasn’t easy. But that’s not to say that it wasn’t fun too!

The album, entitled ‘Escapism’, was started on Monday (March 23rd) and was released Sunday (March 29th). It’s an eclectic album, which presents listeners with a smorgasbord of musicality. From dark harmonies, and electronic distortions, to offbeat lyrics and exotic rhythms, the album blends styles and genres to surprise, entertain and delight.

Like its title suggests, we want it to be a space you can escape into for forty minutes or so, and catch a little novelty and intrigue in moments of dismay and doubt.

‘Escapism’ is available for download through the link below for merely a fiver.

Any download or share really is massively appreciated – if we can make up even an hour’s worth of lost earning from this, it will all have been worth it!

https://alexandsim.bandcamp.com

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Surviving The Horror That is Final Year Dissertation – by Amena Begum

‘What do you mean, I have to write a DISSERTATION?’

‘Well, I’m afraid that’s the only way you’ll be able to get your degree’, said the professor with a grin.

Dissertation…that’s a pretty big word and a rather terrifying concept, but as someone who’s gradually approaching the end of this experience, I can share some of the things I did to make it slightly more manageable. These tips and tricks certainly won’t make writing a dissertation a piece of cake, nor will it take away the stress, but it can certainly make life that tiny bit easier amidst the hundreds of other things that you’ll be required to do in final year.

You’ve got your topic, but you just don’t know where to begin. Completing a ‘disso’ can be a daunting task, since for many students this is the first time that they’ll have produced something on such a large scale. But fear not, I got you.

Firstly, plan, plan, plan! For something as big as this, it’s crucial to plan out your reading and chapter outlines early on. Start off by reading around your topic to get a general flavour of what you’re actually trying to nail down. Find books and articles which will enable you to see the bigger picture, and then slowly home in on the finer, crisper details specific to your chapters and research arguments. Shout out to Brunel Library, JStor, Academic Search Complete and many more for having my back! Make sure you have enough knowledge on your primary reading, so that way the extra secondary material will become much easier to apply. That’s the initial ‘gathering your materials’ phase tackled, now you’re probably thinking, ‛how do I go about starting?’ This is always a difficult question when it comes to a complex piece of work, but if you have planned sufficiently it should not be too taxing.

Many people, including some of my friends, prefer to write their introduction last because it allows them to piece all the threads together and outline what exactly they’re going to cover throughout the project. If the idea of writing a long introduction puts you on edge, then don’t worry, you can always come back to it later. It’s natural to feel most comfortable about writing your chapters on your chosen areas, since that’s what you’ll have spent the most time reading up on. In that case, start writing about your first chosen issue, combining all the relevant juicy secondary material that you’ve read. Continue to do this for each of your chapters, ensuring that there are links between the sections where applicable.

Next, let’s talk about making effective use of your supervisor. Now for some people, they just like to be left to their own devices and prefer not to be overshadowed. But personally, I would highly recommend keeping in regular contact with your dissertation supervisor. They are literally a godsend at a time like this! They’re the ones who have extensive knowledge in the area that you’ll be examining. As for me, I like to meet with my supervisor each time I complete a section as a good progress checker, and to gain feedback on how to sharpen my work even further. Often, we are subjective to our own work and are reluctant to find room for improvement since we’ve had our eyes glued to it for such a prolonged period of time. Use your supervisor’s help and expertise – that’s what they’re there for!

Finally, I want to address some general study habits that can make writing a dissertation simpler. Create a study group where you and your friends can work on the disso on a weekly basis. It’s unrealistic to say, ‘I’m gonna write a thousand words each day’, that ain’t gonna happen, so don’t be one of those people. It’s important to work on it over time so that it remains fresh and concise. Instead, plan out small chunks to work on at least twice a week in your study groups, bearing in mind that it won’t be possible to work on it daily, since you’ll have other assignments and commitments too. For a disso, study groups are a fantastic way of collaborating and providing each other with support. Dissertations can be exhausting both physically and mentally, so working alongside the right people can help put your mind and work at ease. You’re all in the same position and can help each other with constructive peer reviewing.

Those are my tips on how to survive the demon that will inevitably take over your life, aka disso. Hopefully they’ll be of good use and help you on your path to success. So, what are you waiting for? Get typing away on that keyboard!

 

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Amena is a third year English Literature student who can speak English, Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. Despite the stereotype associated to Shakespeare as being the epitome of literature, he is actually her least favourite literary figure. Her aspiration is to one day become a university lecturer.

Brunel Writers Series 2020

Hosted by Bernardine Evaristo

Be sure not to miss this year’s Writers Series at Brunel! Starting this Wednesday January 29th, our very own Emma Filtness will be interviewing author Christy Lefteri in an event around her bestselling novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Attendance is free, with refreshments provided! You just need to book your spot here.

All of the events in the series will take place on Wednesdays at 5.30pm, in the Antonin Artaud building room 101 (except for the final session with Frazer Lee on March 4th, which will be hosted in Gaskell 012). Check out the full line-up of writers in the poster below, or click here for more details on each event.

We hope to see you there!

The Importance of Building an Online Presence as a Writer – by Amena Begum

Gone are the days when an author would publish their work and that was that. No engagement with their readership, public appearances or glossy interviews explaining the rationale behind their produced masterpiece. That, of course, was then. The stone ages, the ancient time, call it what you will. Now, we have progressed into a modern age in which a writer’s interaction with his or her audience and the public eye is of utmost significance. Think about it. How many times a day do you scroll through social media feeds aimlessly, networking with others, and most notably updating your own social media portals for them to see? The very same principle applies to writers. They too have to make a conscious effort to create and maintain their online profiles in order to attract readership and gain public demand.

Each writer’s virtual world acts as a mechanism to depict what they are like as an individual and what their works entail and carry. When crafting your online presence, you are not just showcasing yourself as a person, but rather, you are meticulously constructing your brand. This shows your active connection with your audience and displays your key values and ideologies, which helps gain the trust and loyalty of fans. Once that has been established, your community of fans/readers can wait for your upcoming works. This reflects anticipation and shows that they are keen to commemorate and enjoy what you have written. It is vital to note that your online presence must be in action prior to your first publication so that the appropriate recognition can be built, therefore creating a greater fan following.

Above all, the craftsmanship of a successful online presence feeds into the digital world’s dynamic of strategic marketing. It is all about promotion and advertising in a nifty way to make your mark. These days, with it being so easy to track down a writer’s profile as they are only one click away from a quick Google search, it is imperative to have a lively and impactful online presence. Having sound knowledge on how to present yourself as a writer in the fast-paced online world puts your work in good stead of attaining optimum success and enables your writing career to flourish. Internet-based mediums are a fresh and candid way to gain loyalty from your desired readership and it gives them a glimpse into your world of producing publications. The ease and accessibility that it has in today’s modernity makes individuals more willing to engross themselves into the writer’s world, and keeps them wanting more. What’s not to love about that? So, online presence making is a real game-changer for any budding writer or artist. For the upcoming writers out there, now is the time to start making a name for yourselves.

 

Amena is a third year English Literature student who can speak English, Bengali, Hindi, and Urdu. Despite the stereotype associated to Shakespeare as being the epitome of literature, he is actually her least favourite literary figure. Her aspiration is to one day become a university lecturer.

Featured Student Blog: Travelling the World in 360

My name is Becca Arlington and in September 2018, at the age of 24, I quit my job to go travelling for six months.

I had always wanted to travel the world and, although I had initial fears about being a solo female traveller, I knew this would be the experience of a lifetime.

I was excited to see varying landscapes, encounter wild animals in their natural habitats, meet people of many other cultures, from various walks of life, and open my eyes to all the beauty, and unfortunately destruction, that this world has to offer. Cliché as it sounds, perhaps I would even find myself on a path of self-discovery.

The beautiful Lake Malawi

So, after months of planning, thirteen jabs, countless flights booked, bags on all sides to balance me out and many a visa later, I was finally ready to say my teary goodbyes to family and friends and set off on my own.

Along the way, I wrote numerous notes (as my fellow travellers can vouch for!) took 360° photos galore and snapped a mere 16,000 pictures on my camera and phone combined.

And now I am excited to be blogging about my travels. Along with the 360° pictures and interesting information, my blog posts contain breathtaking safaris, at least a million sunset pics, an abundance of culture, plenty of disasters, small triumphs, activities I won’t forget in a hurry, new friendships across the globe, beautiful sunshine, the occasional downpour, and much, much more!

View my travel blog here and follow me on my journey: https://travellingtheworldin360.blog

So I hope you enjoy reading my ramblings and seeing my snaps as I take you with me on my travels through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Dubai, India, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

View my first 360° virtual tour of the Serengeti National Park here!

If you would like to see your blog featured on Brunel Writer, email us at brunelwriter@gmail.com with a brief introduction about yourself and your content.

How I Made my Debut Short Film ‘Black Fish’ for the BBC – by Simi Abe

A still from Black Fish, written and directed by Brunel Creative Writing graduate, Simi Abe.

On September 16th 2019, I was fortunate enough to have my short film ‘Black Fish’ added to BBC iPlayer and shared across the BBC Arts social media pages. It all came about because I applied to the BBC New Creatives development scheme. And I only came across the scheme by chance while scrolling through Facebook. 

The Application 

When I saw the post on Facebook about BBC New Creatives, I was most interested in the fact it was open to both emerging filmmakers and those without prior experience.  I fell into the latter category; I’d only decided I wanted to direct films the year before, just after completing a degree in Creative Writing. So coming across this opportunity to have a short film funded by the BBC and Arts Council England, that could be shared on one of the BBC platforms, seemed like a great learning experience. And fortunately, I had a script for a short film that fit the brief: under 5 minutes. 

Although it looked like the perfect opportunity for me at the time, I almost didn’t apply. I was worried that my script was too ambitious (it was) and that I wasn’t up for the task of directing it. Thankfully, I went out on a limb and sent in my application. 

To apply, I had to send my application to one of the five media organisations assigned to different parts of the country. They functioned as support to the New Creatives, our production partners and they bridged the gap between us and the BBC. These media organisations cover: London, South East, South West, Midlands and the North. Living in the East, I sent my application to Screen South.

The Interview 

I knew the process of making the film would have to be completed within three months, yet I was still surprised to get a response to my application so quickly and was asked to come in for an interview in five days. Naturally, I was nervous; I had little interview experience and this one was conducted by three people. Fortunately, it went well and three days later I heard that I had been a successful applicant. 

The Training 

Three training days were held over two consecutive weekends led by the team from Screen South. The training was held in London and we had talks and exercises about the script: how to approach the story, how to edit it, storyboarding, distribution, working with a crew and the logistics of the scheme. It was a useful three days in which I also got to meet the other New Creatives and heard them talk about the stories they were hoping to tell. We all had varying backgrounds and levels of experience and although I was one of two people that had never made a film, most of us hadn’t been a part of a development scheme. Knowing I wasn’t alone in that sense was encouraging.

Pre-Production to Post

I applied for the scheme in March, the training days took place in April and the films needed to be completed by June. It was a tight deadline and quick turnover but it was necessary to keep momentum. So the Monday after the last training day, I shouldn’t have been surprised (and yet I was) that work would begin at full steam. 

Screen South had set me up with two producers and they had planned for a two-week pre-production period and the filming would be done in one day. Naturally, there was a lot to work out in such a short space of time – the script had to be edited to accommodate the budget and time we had (edited six times, to be exact), the storyboard, the shot list, wardrobe, actors, props, location, etc… all had to be sorted and signed off by Screen South in time for the shoot. 

Filming was a little hectic because we had a number of tight deadlines and time restrictions. The script, although short, had a fair amount of action and would have been more conveniently shot across two days. Yes, it was a stressful day and I went into it a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I was on my feet all day except for the brief minutes I spent having lunch, but in spite of this, I enjoyed the experience of being on location and seeing something I had written slowly come together. It was a long but valuable day for my development as a filmmaker. I learnt a lot from my shortcomings and mistakes, all of which will be informative going forward. Not only that, but it also served as a lesson in trusting my ideas and being sure about how to communicate them.

Post-production began at the start of May and ended at the end of June. It was surprisingly the longest part of the process. It took twelve versions of the edit and many revisions of the score. It was enjoyable working with the editor and composer to rework the film and share ideas. I felt confident in my choices even when they had to be revised after receiving notes from the executive producers at Screen South. It took a lot of back and forth to get the film ready for the colour grade and sound mix at the Post House. At times it didn’t seem like it would come together but eventually, it did and it was a huge relief seeing the film completed.

Post Post-Production

When the film was sent to the BBC at the end of June, I didn’t anticipate that I’d hear from Screen South in September congratulating me that my film had been selected as one of the first to be on BBC iPlayer. And better than that, it was the first to be shared on social media. It has had 46,000 views across Facebook and Twitter to date, which I didn’t anticipate. It’s been humbling and encouraging having seen the response of friends, family and strangers online. It’s motivated me to keep pushing towards my goal of being a filmmaker which feels all the more possible now.

My short film, Black Fish is available to watch online now and you can find out more about the BBC New Creatives here.

Simi Abe