Spring Catchup Post

Once again this blog was seemingly abandoned for a while, but I actually have been blogging bookish things at my travel blog Wandering Mee, so here are some links:

When in Spring, Go See Plays: After my last post about “We are Proud to Present..” play, I went to another two. One was particularly bookish.

Reading the World: I am renewing my Reading the World project, in which I attempt to read at least one book from each country from the UN list. In particular, I’d like to concentrate on the countries I have visited, but yet to read, and at the moment they are: Spain, Austria, Turkey, and Morocco. (I also need to fill in Greece and Switzerland, but am finding these two to be difficult. I can only think of Heidi for Swiss author/setting.)

84 Charing Cross Plaque: in which I finally found the plaque, three years after I arrived in London.

Apart from those, I have also “recently” (if your definition of recent could be, say, 2 months ago) went to two bookish events.

The first was Penguin Bloggers Night 2014 in March at Foyles bookshop. Apparently this was the 4th time Penguin held such event, and it was my first time joining (or being invited). I met a couple of bloggy friends (Jackie, Sakura) and we were all treated to a night of reading by authors like: Will Self, Rebecca Hunt, Nina Stibbe. There was a promise of Ali Smith but she was held off by last minute thing.

One of the most exciting thing was how there were two tableful of books for us to take any that we fancied, and they even provided a tote bag. I went a bit berserk and got meeself a proper haul.

Penguin Bloggers Night books


The second one was more properly recent. I went to European Literature Night at British Library on 14 May for the European Graphic Novelists. There was talk, reading (yes, reading from graphic novels, complete with drawings on the projector), and even a bit of drawing. I absolutely loved it. European graphic novels are such a breath of fresh air, everything from the subject matter and the style is completely different to the dark brooding super-heroic American style.

The graphic novelists for that night were Belgian Judith Vanistendael (Dance by the Light of the Moon, When David Lost His Voice), German Line Hoven (Love Looks Away), Spanish Max (Bardin the Superrealist), and Czech Lucie Lomová (The Savages). Some of them have yet to be translated to English, and hope they will be soon. It didn’t miss my observation too that three out of four graphic novelists were women! <3

During Q&A session, all of them agreed that comic is really a labour of love, as it really does not make much money, and most of them, if not all, have to do illustration or design jobs, for the main income I assume. Oh I also need to mention that the host Paul Gravett was absolutely entertaining – which made me want to go look for his books (about comics, graphic novels, and manga).

The ticket included the highly advertised Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK exhibition (a good deal!) so I went straight for it downstairs. It featured works by various artists across different eras (including Neil Gaiman and lots of Alan Moore, but  I thought they weren’t the most interesting parts of the exhibition). Lots of the works were quite old, and some of them could be quite shocking seen from our modern lens (think racism, sexism, and violence). The V (as in V for Vendetta) manequins scattered all around the exihibition added to the creepiness of it all. I found the exhibition to be highly informative and entertaining, and recommend you to go for it (open until 19 August 2014).

I have also been reading, and the blog needs to catch up. Stay tune!


Hay-on-Wye – The Town of Books and Pictures of People Reading Books

Hay-on-Wye, town of books

Today I’d like to refer you to my post on Hay-on-Wye, Wales – the town of books on my travel blog Wandering Mee. I’m going to write in more details about the author events I went to, just for y’all bookish people, but for now, enjoy the story and the pictures of this lovely town :)

Another awesome thing that I found today was the series of pictures of people reading book around the world by the renown photographer Steve McCurry, the person who took picture of the Afghan Girl. Such a fantastic idea – which I would probably try to do too in my next travels. Below are a few of my favorites. Head to his blog to see more.

Afghanistan, 06/1992. A boy reads to his class.
Afghanistan, 06/1992. A boy reads to his class. Credit: Steve McCurry


A woman reads in the light coming through a window. Credit: Steve McCurry
Thailand. A woman reads in the light coming through a window. Credit: Steve McCurry


Russia. A woman reads under a purple umbrella. Credit: Steve McCurry
Russia. A woman reads under a purple umbrella. Credit: Steve McCurry

And the last one from yours truly :)

Wales, UK. Woman reading while waiting for her phone charging. Credit: Wandering Mee
Wales, UK. A woman reads while waiting for her phone charging. Credit: Dioni Zhong

At one magical instant  the page of a book –
that string of confused, alien ciphers–shivered into meaning. 

Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment,
whole universes opened. 

You became, irrevocably, a reader.
– Alberto Manguel


Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh

When you go to Edinburgh, you might pass by this seemingly ordinary little cafe called the elephant house and not even bat an eye.

the elephant house, Edinburgh

But upon further inspection, you’d see that there’s a rather obnoxious sign on its front glass:

the elephant house, Edinburgh
The Elephant House: Birthplace of Harry Potter

Yes, when J.K. Rowling was writing her first and second Harry Potter books, she was so poor that she found it cheaper to buy a cup of coffee and wrote in this cafe the whole day, rather than paying for her heating bill at home.

the elephant house back window
The backside of the elephant house cafe

Every day J.K. Rowling would sit on that third floor and stare out of the window. (I did not have time to go in, but I heard the cafe made a little sanctuary for her – after the books got giganormously famous of course.)

What did she see from that window?

First there’s a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. And further in the distance, the towers of George Heriot’s School:

Greyfriars Kirkyard and George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School is prestigious private school in Edinburgh, with four houses and four towers – a clear inspiration for Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:

George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School was built in 1628 with the funding from George Heriot, who left his estate to build a school for orphaned children. Thus it is an irony that the school became so prestigious that presently only the richest can afford to go to this large private school. Unless you’re a rich orphan I guess. (The school ground is all locked up, so I couldn’t get a better picture. Above picture was taken from a closed gate in the Greyfriars cemetery.)

So when J.K. Rowling was taking a break and trying to find inspiration, she would roam around the cemetery just behind the elephant house cafe.

She would read the names on the tombstones one by one — as you do when you need name inspiration for the books you’re writing. (click to enlarge pictures)

Moodie, Greyfriars cemetery, Edinburgh
Elizabeth Moodie – Mad-Eye Moody anyone?
William McGonagall, Greyfriars cemetery
William McGonagall – for Professor McGonagall (this is just next to the gate of George Heriot’s School). I like how he is known as “Tragedian”.
Thomas Riddle, Greyfriars cemetery
And the scariest of them all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Thomas Riddle – Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort)

I would say the experience of seeing the tomb of Tom Riddle was rather creepy.

On a lighter note, there’s this pub in Edinburgh called Maggie Dickson’s Pub:

Maggie Dickson's Pub, Edinburgh
Maggie Dickson’s Pub, Edinburgh

Maggie Dickson lived in the early 18th century and was subjected to public hanging for concealing pregnancy outside of marriage – which is pretty much the worst law breaking act you could do as a woman at the time! So she was hung at the public square and her body was taken away in a cart. Not very far away yet, the cart man heard knocking and banging from inside the coffin. Maggie Dickson was still alive! They rushed back to the square – where the crowd hadn’t even quite dispersed yet. Some people thought that Maggie should be hung again, and some people thought technically she had, and if she survived the execution she should be allowed to live.

At the end she did live for many more years. Maggie Dickson became a local celebrity and she is known as Half Hangit’ Maggie.

If that sounds familiar at all, that is because Half Hangit’ Maggie was the inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick :)

Wandering around Edinburgh, you could see how J.K. Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter – what a fantastic city full of stories and storytellers. All the pubs based on some quirky characters, like Maggie Dickson, Burke and Hare, and Deacon Brodie (the inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Edinburgh is also known as the most haunted city in Europe!

Anyway I think if there’s a moral to the story, it is:

Be nice to customers who hang out at your cafe all day long though they only buy a cup of coffee. You never know if later she becomes the person who writes Harry Potter and turns to be the richest woman in the UK. (yes, more than the Queen)

Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh is cross-posted at my travel blog Wandering Mee.

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