Book Recipes

Book Recipes: How to Write Hard SF

Time for another book recipe! This one is on hard sci-fi so prepare to be extremely serious, we’re discussing science here!

 

Ingredients:

  • One super-capable extremely good scientist
  • The Real World
  • A metric tonne of research
  • One promising scientific discovery that you’re really going to have to run with
  • White coats
  • Technobabble
  • One very cool sci-fi thing which will be realistic, dammit
  • Notes, with diagrams
  • A suspicious man in a suit who wants to use the technology for eeeeeevil
  • One Big Lie which will make the plot work

 

Method:

  1. Crack open every single research book you have and study.
  2. No seriously, do it.
  3. Ta-dah! You now know everything there is to know about a very promising scientific discovery. Now to turn that into A Plot.
  4. Introduce your super-capable extremely good scientist! They have made a very promising scientific discovery, but like, turned up to eleven.
  5. Explain it, in detail, with diagrams.
  6. Take off your glasses and say, in a very serious voice, “Do you know what this means?”
  7. It means the plot is here!
  8. Deploy your Big Lie. This will draw an explicit link between the promising scientific discovery and a really cool sci-fi thing, like lasers or space travel or something.
  9. Do more research about your cool sci-fi thing. Explain it for a whole chapter.
  10. Introduce your suspicious besuited maybe-villain! They’re a businessman, probably.
  11. The besuited maybe-villain offers to fund your super-awesome sci-fi project. Woo, money!

giphy money
Seems legit. (image: giphy.com)

  1. Build your super-cool sci-fi thing, in detail, over three chapters. Test it, repeatedly, in a way that definitely isn’t boring.
  2. Hooray, your machine works!
  3. Have a wonderful time with your super-cool sci-fi thing. Oh boy, space/time travel/lasers/teleportation! Isn’t it wonderful?
  4. But uh-oh, here comes the businessman looking awfully suspicious!
  5. The businessman wants to use your sci-fi stuff to make money, because that’s what space/time travel/lasers/teleportation does, somehow! This is a total surprise to the main character, who had no idea that the person funding the project would maybe want to use it!
  6. Agonise about it.

Hermione-Granger-Hermione-Cry-Harry-Potter-Sad-Awww-Emma-Watson-Submission-GIF
#SmartGirlProblems. (image: gif sec.com)

  1. The scientist has a talk with a friend and/or family member who has definitely been an important part of the plot all along, guys. They remember the true meaning of friendship, science, and/or family.
  2. Confront the suspicious businessman. Tack on a fight scene, or a chase, because it’s step nineteen and it’s got to be exciting now.
  3. Thwart the suspicious businessman’s plans by destroying your super-cool sci-fi technology, and/or releasing it into the world for free! It’s a fifty-fifty chance but it’ll get you a sequel.

THE END. Serve in a white coat.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure to drown your novel in liberally applied technobabble. It is vitally important that you use all the science words that you can.
  • Set your story in the real world, but a few years into the future. For realism.
  • A solid forty per cent of your story should be just explaining how your theory means that this cool sci-fi technology could be totally real, you guys, I promise
  • Look I know that everyone in the story is a scientist who’s devoted their life to their work, but they’ve also got to be either a) smokin’ hot or b) have the best pickup lines this side of Alpha Centauri. I don’t make the rules.

giphy shrug js
Er…progress? (image: giphy.com)

  • Every single character must have a white coat and a clipboard.
  • If you’re using a group of scientists, make sure to give each one of them a quirky distinguishing habit, so you can tell them apart.
  • If in doubt, use the word ‘theoretical’.
  • Always, always remember that this is a very serious novel for very serious people. Absolutely no jokes are allowed when there’s science to be done!

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

Jonathan sat back in his chair, took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He stared at the microscope, hardly daring to believe what he was seeing. It couldn’t be real, surely.

“Steve?” he called, “you’re gonna want to take a look at this.”

Steve Proeton, his lab assistant, skateboarded into the room. Steve was a brilliant lab assistant with a shock of wiry blond hair. That, combined with his passion for skateboarding, made him seem oddly childish. Jonathan always felt too big standing next to him, but at six foot six, he would dwarf anyone. His biceps were the size of Steve’s thigh, from all the microscopes he had to lift all day.

“What is it, Dr. Quark?” he asked.

Jonathan pushed the microscope towards him. While Steve bent over it he did reps with a few Bunsen burners, just to calm himself down. If this was true…

“But this can’t be right,” said Steve. “Look at the neutrons.”

Jonathan nodded. He too had looked at the neutrons. They were very neutral. “I know.”

“But…but…”

“I know.”

Steve took off his glasses, polished them, and looked at the neutrons again, just to check. There sure were a lot of them.

“I’ve gotta get the team in here,” he said, skateboarding through the lab doors. From the next room, there came the sounds of trundling wheels, some crashes, and a cry of “The neutrons are what?”

Jonathan had never felt so hopeful in his life. This could really be it – this could be the discovery that finally made his reputation. At long last, he would live up to his great-grandfather’s legacy: Professor Horace Quark, discoverer of the quark, had left some big shoes to fill. He checked the neutrons again. They were all there. He counted them, just to make sure. Yup, those were neutrons.

Steve came back in with the rest of Jonathan’s lab team. There was Daphne, who dyed her hair a new colour every three and a half weeks and had some fun piercings. There was Selim, who Steve had evidently interrupted rehearsing; he was still holding his copy of Macbeth. Then Sarah, her hair still wet from the pool; Justine, taking off her cycling helmet; and Ed, holding his Easter egg. Jonathan’s heart swelled at the sight of them. They were a crazy bunch of misfits, but against all the odds, the team worked.

Somehow, they’d discovered something wonderful.

One by one, they passed the microscope around and looked into it. Daphne gasped. Selim dropped his copy of Macbeth. Sarah accidentally flicked water across the lab floor when she grabbed the microscope; Justine’s cycling helmet rolled across the floor; Ed clutched his Easter egg for emotional support. All the while, Jonathan bench-pressed a radiometer, to make himself feel better. He was consistently amazed at how this rag-tag bundle of personalities meshed together so well.

When the last person had looked into the microscope – Ed, who’d held on tight to his Easter egg, his eyes wide and staring – they all looked up at him. Jonathan took one more look at the neutrons, excitement welling up inside him.

They were blue.

He took off his glasses. “Do you know what this means?”

They all stared at him, hardly daring to believe it.

“Time travel is real.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

 

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

General

Ten Things I’ve Learned Working in Publishing

As some of you may already know, I am not a full-time blogger. I work in publishing as an editor, mainly for genre fiction. I’ve mentioned my work once or twice before but I haven’t really talked about it in detail, mainly because I’ve been too busy making fun of stuff. But not today! Whether you’re interested in becoming an author, an editor, or are just a bit curious about what working in publishing is actually like, here’s ten things I’ve learned from working as an editor.

 

  1. Books are a team effort

There are so many people involved in putting a book together. Aside from the author, you’ll also have an agent, an editor or two, a designer, a copyeditor, a typesetter, a proofreader, sales reps, marketing and publicity planners, rights salespeople, and production controllers working on the same book – and that’s all before it actually gets printed. It sounds daft saying it now but when I first started working in publishing I didn’t realise just how many people would be working on the same project. I guess that’s why acknowledgements get so long.

 

  1. The author has very little control over the process as a whole

When I first started working in publishing I had the idea that an author would have the final say on everything – they’d written the book, after all, so it seemed to make sense. In practice this isn’t really true unless you’re mega famous. An author might write the book but they have very little say on when the publication date will be, what the cover will look like, whether it’ll be hardback or paperback, whether it gets made into an audiobook or not – the list goes on.

This might seem unfair but most of the time this is because of the ‘team effort’ nature of publishing. When a designer draws up a cover, for instance, they do so with a cover brief written by the editor and with input from sales, marketing and publicity – this is to make sure that everyone working on the book has a rough idea of what other titles it’ll be competing against and to signal to readers what kind of book it’s going to be. The author has input at every stage of the process, but so does everyone else working on the book.

 

  1. Publishing houses run on tea

If you want to bring any given publisher to its knees, just steal their kettle. Editors must have constant access to hot drinks at all times and if we don’t, we turn into a gibbering mess.

giphy tea2
Shut up I NEED IT (image: giphy.com)

 

  1. Multiple rounds of edits are normal…

Any given manuscript will probably go through four or five rounds of editing before the book gets sent off to press. First, the agent will go through it, making suggestions before sending it on submission to editors. Once it’s been acquired there’ll be a couple of edits from the editor – a structural edit (which looks at the book as a wider whole, working out if the plot makes sense, your characters’ motivations are consistent etc.) and a line edit (which looks at sentence and paragraph-level stuff and focuses more on use of language). Then you have the copyedit, which looks for technical flaws – so spelling, grammar, syntax, consistency, and fact-checking – and after that, the proofread, which focuses more on typos, layout issues etc. The author gets to see these at every stage of the process, but it’s always important to bear in mind that once a publisher agrees to take your manuscript your work is a long way from done.

 

  1. …but the best edits are the ones you don’t notice

Don’t let the fact that your manuscript is going to go through multiple rounds of editing alarm you. A good editor isn’t going to change what you’ve written – it’s more about bringing out what’s already there. A huge part of the editing process is assessing the author’s style and making sure the editor’s involvement fits with that. It’s like with sewing – the best stitches are the ones that are the hardest to see.

giphy eh
So you’re all aware I’m using this comparison as someone who once sewed a cushion to her leg. (image: giphy.com)

 

  1. There is always cake

I have never worked in a snackier industry.

 

  1. Editors have the creepiest search history

A large part of editing is fact-checking. Every detail gets checked to make sure that it holds up – either according to the internal logic of the manuscript or according to real-world facts. The form this takes varies wildly according to genre – editing fantasy often requires a worldbuilding doc so you can make sure the magical elements make sense, whereas sci-fi requires a lot of calls to your science-iest friends. Crime editors are definitely the worst offenders here.

giphy villain
I’m going to make that pun and NONE OF YOU CAN STOP ME (image: giphy.com)

You have to check all the forensic stuff to make sure it’s accurate, as well as the parts of the actual crime, alongside checking the investigative stuff – which means that your search history can get frankly disgusting.

 

  1. It’s never a nine to five job

In theory most publishing houses keep office hours. In practice, what constitutes ‘work’ in publishing is often a weird grey area that almost never fits into a nine to five day. Editors often don’t have time to read submissions at their desks, so they have to take them home, and sometimes this can bleed over into actual editing work as well. Reading stuff that other publishers put out also kind of counts as work, because if you’re acquiring stuff you have to be aware of the competition, and going to events and ‘making connections’ can count as work too, as it’s a very social industry and you’re likely to do better if people know who you are.

The downside to all of this is that yes, while reading and going to parties can technically count as work, it’s usually not work you get paid for. You can find yourself in work mode for very long periods of time and it’s quite difficult to properly switch off. At every single one of my publishing jobs, I’ve known multiple editors who take their work on holiday with them, and that’s not good for anybody long-term.

 

  1. Your friends and family will get used to hearing some very unsettling questions

The following is a condensed version of a real conversation I had with my dad, who works in medicine:

 

Me: So Dad…

Dad: Yes, love?

Me: Hypothetically, if I wanted to keep a grown man unconscious for eighteen hours, how would I do it?

Dad: [very long pause]

Me: It’s for work.

 

I have lost track of the amount of times I have bombarded my friends and family with incredibly specific questions, most of which are invariably disgusting. But when you’re editing a manuscript and need to check a fact, the Internet doesn’t always have the answers. The best place to go is to people with practical experience, which is why everyone who knows me is constantly prepared to receive a barrage of weird texts at all times.

 

  1. No two days are the same 

Publishing is a very varied industry to work in. Some days you spend an entire eight hours on data entry, some days you spend working out if this murder makes sense, some days you try and get your head around the physics of space, and some days you will spend darting from one thing to the other like a literary butterfly. More than once I have had to fact-check a fight scene by going through the motions with a willing volunteer. You don’t really know what you’re going to get, but that’s all part of the fun.

giphy dance fight
Fun fact: it’s very easy for fight walkthroughs to turn into a dance party, or a game of Twister. (image: giphy.com)

 

And there you have it! That’s ten things I’ve learned from working in publishing. Hopefully that’ll give all you hopeful writers a peek behind the curtain and all you hopeful editors an idea of what you’re letting yourselves in for. Whichever one you are, make sure you bring tea. You’ll need it.

Strong Female Characters

Strong Female Characters: Hazel Grace Lancaster

For those of you that don’t know, Hazel Grace Lancaster is the main character of John Green’s wildly successful novel, The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel is a teenage girl with terminal cancer, and the story chronicles her budding relationship with another cancer patient, Augustus Waters, and the trip they make to Amsterdam. The story has been made into a very successful movie, described as ‘the love story of a generation’ and inspired swathes of merchandise with the word ‘okay’ on it. As for Hazel herself, she has been praised as a breath of fresh air in YA fiction, a relatable and realistic character, and a role model for young girls everywhere.

But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

This is actually a pretty tricky question in Hazel’s case. It’s established in the first few pages that she has a very serious form of thyroid cancer that almost killed her a few years before the story starts. Since then, she’s been given a drug that cleared up the worst of her symptoms, but there’s no cure; she relies on support machines to breathe properly and spends most of her life under some kind of supervision (either medical or parental). Obviously, this is seriously going to limit the amount of control she can have over her own life, as she is physically unable to do some of the things that a healthy person would be able to do.

However, Hazel hardly ever makes any decisions for herself throughout most of the novel, and this is a serious problem. Her actions have absolutely no effect on the major plot points: they happen completely independent of her influence and are simply presented to her as a fait accompli. She does not choose to go to the cancer survivors’ support group where she meets Augustus; her mum makes her go because she’s worried about her. She does not set up a meeting with Peter Van Houten, the author of her favourite book; it is arranged for her, and all she has to do is show up. She does not choose to go and tell Augustus her feelings for him when it is revealed his cancer has returned; he demands that she write him a eulogy and read it to him while he’s still alive. Most tellingly of all, Hazel doesn’t even choose to go to Amsterdam; Augustus arranges it all for her, with absolutely no effort on her part. While it’s pretty clear that Augustus wants the trip to be one of those ‘big romantic gestures’ that Cosmo keeps telling us about – and thus, making the boring arrangements is something he doesn’t want Hazel to worry about – she expresses absolutely no desire to go to Amsterdam at all until the trip is presented to her ready-made. What’s more, even after Augustus has told her all this, she doesn’t so much as crack open a guidebook, or even google something she might want to go and visit while she’s there; it’s all been taken care of for her.

The upshot of all of this is that Hazel doesn’t really feel like she has an impact on her own story. For someone who is so quick to dispense her opinions, her opinions and decisions have very little impact on the plot. It can be argued that Hazel’s passivity is a result of her illness, and the depression that stems from it, but there is very little evidence for this in the text. For the most part, she spends the novel making wry observations and philosophical statements; she comments on her emotions rather than letting the reader feel them. This really detracts from the emotional weight of the book’s subject, and its strongest moments are when this façade is dropped and we get a sense of the real emotional connections between the characters. But for the most part, Hazel spends her story being, rather than doing: she is a fundamentally passive character.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

Again, this is a difficult one to pin down. Hazel enjoys reading, but we only ever see her read books that are crucial to bringing her and Augustus together (such as An Imperial Affliction, and the totally-not-a-Duke-Nukem-ripoff series that Augustus recommends). She doesn’t really have any goals of her own, either. She’s finished high school early and is taking college classes (despite being pulled out of school at age thirteen and almost dying), but never says why she’s doing it, or works toward any qualifications. As far as her beliefs go she’s a little more independent: she doesn’t believe in an afterlife and spends a lot of her time philosophising, but most of her core beliefs are gleaned from An Imperial Affliction or interactions with the characters around her.

When you look at these character traits as a whole, it becomes pretty clear that Hazel’s goals, beliefs and hobbies only exist because the plot demands it – and that’s some pretty poor characterisation.

SCORE SO FAR: 0

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

When I was reading the book, I had real trouble pinning down Hazel’s character. She’s supposed to be very intelligent, particularly in regards to literature, but she frequently misuses literary terms – in particular, the word hamartia (which means a fatal personality flaw that leads to a character’s downfall – Hazel and Augustus use it to describe their cancer), as well as an assortment of medical terms that she claims to be familiar with. Other characters describe her as kind, yet she frequently snaps at people trying to reach out to her, ignores her friend Isaac’s breakdown after losing his sight in favour of talking to her boyfriend, and eggs Isaac’s ex-girlfriend’s car after she broke up with him because she found their relationship too difficult.

But she eggs her in such a CARING way. (image: teen.com)
But she eggs her in such a CARING way. (image: teen.com)

This is something I learned from the series I hate the most out of anything I’ve ever read: Twilight (and its doppelganger, Fifty Shades of Grey. They’re basically the same books). Hazel is exhibiting informed character traits. Instead of actually showing us her personality through her thoughts and actions, other characters (and sometimes, Hazel herself) simply tell the reader what she is like, and regardless of anything she says or does, people will always see her as the version of herself that is told to the other characters – and, by extension, to the reader.

However, I will give Hazel credit where it’s due. While she may be exhibiting one hell of an informed personality, her narration and internal thoughts are pretty consistent. She’s always snarky, glib, irreverent and completely focussed on herself (even going so far as to physically assault her favourite author, Peter Van Houten, when he will not answer her questions about his book). Her opinions and attitudes may be completely opposite to her informed personality, but they are at least consistently so, and that deserves a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A young cancer patient seeking meaning in her life and coming to terms with her own mortality.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

The strongest parts of the book are the ones where Hazel’s love life is mentioned as little as possible, particularly the scenes with her parents. Due to Hazel’s inherent passivity, not a lot of decisions actually get made in the whole book, let alone the ones which aren’t influenced by Augustus.

And his stupid, STUPID metaphor (image: pagetopremiere.com)
And his stupid, STUPID metaphor – which still requires him to pay the tobacco industries, by the way. (image: pagetopremiere.com)

This really leaves me able to talk about one decision she makes: the decision to try and distance herself from her friends and family for fear of hurting them when she eventually dies. This is handled pretty well (apart from Hazel’s deeply pretentious insistence that she’s “a grenade”) but due to the fact that this is really the only non-romantic decision she makes, I’m going to have to give it a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 2

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

The strongest part of Hazel’s character development takes place in her relationship with her parents. As the story progresses, she gets over her belief that she needs to push them away in order to stop them from getting hurt, becomes more comfortable with their need to celebrate still having her alive, and allows them to comfort her in a way that she would not have done at the beginning of the novel. She doesn’t really develop much in other aspects of her character, but given the significance of this particular character trait – which she spends most of the novel struggling with – I’m going to award her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

One of Hazel’s biggest weaknesses is the need to push people away to stop them from getting hurt. This has a huge effect on her relationships and is a serious obstacle for her throughout most of the story. Aside from that, she doesn’t have very many other weaknesses acknowledged by the rest of the characters: her tendency to make spiteful comments is frequently passed off as ‘quirky’ and has absolutely no effect on her actions, and her self-centredness is rarely addressed by the rest of the cast (even when she ignores other people’s distress to pursue her own ends). With that in mind, I’m giving her a half-point.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

I touched on this earlier, so apologies if this all sounds a little bit familiar.

Hazel does influence the plot, but not by doing anything under her own steam. Because she is a young cancer patient, a lot of the other characters change their behaviour in order to accommodate her needs, particularly her parents. While this is perfectly understandable, it means that much like Sansa Stark, it’s very easy for the plot to simply happen around her without her doing anything – which is exactly the trap that John Green falls into.

The plot is presented to Hazel ready-made; she does nothing to put it together herself. This is particularly ironic, because at one point in the book she says of Augustus’s ex-girlfriend (and I quote):

“…she seemed to be mostly a professional sick person, like me, which made me worry that when I died they’d have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I’d ever done was Have Cancer…”

The reality is that Hazel doesn’t actually do anything to stop this statement applying to her, too. She has no goals of her own and all the important plot developments are handled by other characters and presented for her approval: she has no impact on it. To be quite frank, you could replace Hazel with a lampshade and it would have no effect on the details of the plot.

Augustus 2.0? (image: giphy.com)
Augustus, is that you? (image: giphy.com)

This actually carries some really worrying implications. By getting rid of her agency so thoroughly, Green has effectively made Hazel’s illness the most important aspect of her character. This does a real disservice to living cancer patients by drastically overshadowing their agency and personality as people, rather than patients. Just look at Stephen Sutton, who raised £4 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. Hazel’s lack of agency and impact not only drags her character down, it also means that her illness eclipses everything she is – something that should never be applied to people with illnesses or disabilities and something that she herself does not want to happen.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Hazel doesn’t really interact with stereotypes about gender much, which is actually quite refreshing. She’s quite a healthy mix: she enjoys getting dressed up and worries about her appearance, but she also contemplates the nature of the universe, death and the afterlife and reads beat poetry without giggling.

Hazel’s illness often restricts her physical mobility and affects her appearance, which means that I’m also going to take a quick look at some of the stereotypes surrounding women with illnesses or disabilities and see how they affect her character. For the most part, they don’t have much impact on her character – apart from her lack of agency, which I touched on earlier – and the narrative does its best to steer clear of the most common stereotypes surrounding disability and illness. What’s particularly nice about this is that her illness doesn’t stop her from finding love, or from enjoying sex, and it doesn’t compromise her femininity. This is particularly relevant as a lot of fiction about people with illnesses or disabilities doesn’t see them as people with sexual needs – the cliché that keeps these characters as tragically pure as possible is utterly stifling. While this trope is often applied to women (just look at all the prettily frail tuberculosis sufferers in 19th century literature), it isn’t applied to Hazel, and that’s a real breath of fresh air.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Hazel only has a few significant relationships with female characters: her mother and her best friend, Kaitlyn. Throughout most of the book Hazel actively tries to distance herself from Kaitlyn, treating her with a mixture of disdain and bemusement. This is actually pretty worrying, as in many ways, Kaitlyn is held up as the stereotypical teenage girl – often shallow, obsessed with boys, parties and shopping, and completely incapable of understanding deeper concepts. She’s basically set up as a character foil: if Hazel’s “not like all those other girls”, then those other girls are effectively Kaitlyn, rolled into one.

Hazel’s relationship with her mother is much more realistic. They get frustrated with each other, try to care for each other and frequently misunderstand each other, but you see them interact on a regular basis and it’s very clear that their relationship is a loving one, albeit one under a lot of strain. Based on the strengths of this relationship, I’m going to give her a half-point.

FINAL SCORE: 5/10

 

And so we come to the first character to fail my test. While Hazel has a consistent internal voice, isn’t dominated by gender stereotypes and has a crucial weakness that she struggles against for most of the book, her credibility as a character is seriously undercut by her lack of agency and impact. She just doesn’t do anything – and while part of this can be chalked up to her cancer, a much more significant part of this can be chalked up to John Green’s desire to make Augustus the perfect boyfriend. This is particularly relevant because of the stereotypes surrounding illness and disability, which often minimise the agency of handicapped people when this simply isn’t true.

But does this mean that The Fault in Our Stars is not worth reading? I don’t think so. While I didn’t enjoy the majority of the book, there were some parts of it that I thought worked very well, particularly the passages where Hazel interacts with her family – which is actually pretty rare for YA fiction, which usually cuts family life out as much as possible. Some parts of it are definitely worth reading – but which parts is up to you.

Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my favourite Disney movies, Beauty and the Beast. Belle, I’m coming for you.

Adventures in Fundraising

Fancy Dress Week: Particularly Good Finders

The last costume in my week of fancy dress was definitely my favourite. On the last day I lived out my childhood dream and dressed as a student of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Image

I have been a die-hard fan of the Harry Potter series since I was a teenager, so much so that my sister’s friends frequently call me in to settle trivia-based arguments, so I put quite a lot of effort into this costume. A while ago I joined Pottermore and took the official Sorting test and was sorted into Hufflepuff.

I was crushed.

I eventually came to terms with the fact that I would never be a Ravenclaw and decided to raise money for charity in true Hufflepuff style. The bulk of the costume was pretty easy to put together. Because I knew there was no way I could afford a proper Hogwarts robe I worked from the movies’ version of the Hogwarts uniform. It’s very similar to most British school uniforms, and while I didn’t get an exact replica I certainly captured the uniform look. I wore a plain white shirt, a black skirt, black pumps and a grey jumper.

The accessories was what really made this outfit, and they were surprisingly easy to find. I found a very close replica of the Hufflepuff tie for under a fiver on Amazon, and I happened to find a Hufflepuff badge lurking in my bedroom – I think it came from a Christmas cracker when I was ten. The scarf was a little more difficult. I actually went to the Harry Potter shop at Kings’ Cross station (and saw Platform 9 and ¾ OMG) but once I had gotten over my initial bout of squealing I was extremely disappointed to find that the shop did not stock Hufflepuff scarves. I skulked away – secure in the knowledge that no-one wanted to be a Hufflepuff – and eventually found one on Amazon for a pretty reasonable price. The best part was my Hogwarts acceptance letter, which my friends gave me for my birthday, and allowed me to pretend that I really was magical.

I really enjoyed wearing this costume. It was perfect: it was comfortable, it was pretty clear who I was supposed to be, and it was sufficiently nerdy, so I felt like I was in on some secret inside joke all day long. The only problem I had – and it really was a minor one – was that it was extremely cold and my paper-thin tights didn’t really keep my legs warm. I solved that problem by buying an emergency pair of long, grey socks, which kept my legs warm and kept the overall look of the costume intact.

I was very happy with this costume. I will be wearing it again – as part of my fundraising plan I said I’d wear the most popular costume in my final exam. I’m very pleased that this one won, as it’s by far the one I feel most comfortable in. I know it’s not an exact replica of the Hogwarts uniforms, but to be honest, I’m just proud that I made something so convincing in such a short amount of time.

Thank you for reading my costume posts; I hope you like them. I’ll be announcing my next fundraising project very shortly, so keep your eyes peeled! If you’d like to donate – and I would be extremely grateful if you did – then you can do so here: https://www.myraising.com/jo-harwood/incatrek2013

Total so far: £1000 (yay!)
Projected final total: £2850
Amount left to raise: £1850

Adventures in Fundraising

Fancy Dress Week: Elementary

The fourth costume in my week of fancy dress was, I’m sorry to say, less than impressive. I was dressed as Sherlock Holmes, and overall I’m not really happy with this costume.

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When I first chose this costume I thought it would be relatively easy to put together. I’m more familiar with the recent BBC mini-series than with the original Conan Doyle books, so I chose to base my costume on the clothes Benedict Cumberbatch wore in the role of Sherlock. His style is quite formal, plain and dark – apart from the scene when he was wearing nothing but a blanket and I decided pretty early on that I wasn’t going to try and replicate that. This presented a challenge: while I had pretty much everything for the costume, because of its plainness it would be relatively difficult to convey who I was supposed to be. I did manage to get hold of a deerstalker hat – and from Baker Street, no less – and in the end I wore a black shirt, shoes and trousers to complete the ensemble.

Needless to say, this didn’t really work. Adding a hat is not the best way to make a costume, and without Sherlock’s iconic coat – either Cumberbatch’s grey one or the original tweed greatcoat – it just looked like I was wondering around in a silly hat. Oddly enough, when I had buttons taped to my glasses or was wearing a bright pink wig, I felt less embarrassed than I did in that costume. It was nice to be able to take off the hat and pass as a normal person for a few seconds, but ultimately, I would have preferred to have done this one properly. Unfortunately, time and money made this impossible.

I wasn’t really happy with this costume. I think if I was going to do it again I’d put a lot more effort in, and maybe splash out on a coat which would add to the costume (or perhaps a pipe, if my budget is going to remain this tight for the next few years). Strangely enough, going overboard on a costume actually makes it easier to wear in public; as I hadn’t really gone all-out with this one it was by far one of the most embarrassing days of the week. If I was to do the whole week again I’m not even sure if I’d include this costume, but that’s looking pretty unlikely.

Next time I’ll be looking at my last costume; my very own Hogwarts uniform. If you’d like to follow my progress – or better yet, to donate to my cause – you can do so here: https://www.myraising.com/jo-harwood/incatrek2013

Total so far: £960
Projected final total: £2850
Amount left to raise: £1890