I’m back from a road trip and ready to rock!

I disappeared for a few weeks to go on a road trip around Sweden. I meant to tell you before that I would be off for a while, and I also meant to schedule some blog posts to go up. But the blog posts remain unfinished (mostly finished though, so expect them soon), and I never told you all I was going anywhere until it was too late. So sorry about that.

Anyway, I’ve taken a lot of photos and anybody who follows me on Instagram or Twitter will have noticed me attempting to weave some sort of narrative of my journey to Stockholm, up to the High Coast, across Norrland and back down to my home in Halmstad. Truth be told though, I only put up a tiny snippet of my journey, and a lot of the places I visited have a lot more stories and pictures that I decided to cover in more detail on my blog. So basically what I’m saying is I have probably between eight and ten blog posts to write purely on my roadtrip, all of which will be equal parts words and pictures. Even if you follow me on Instagram, I’ll be sharing different pictures and some places I didn’t even show on there at all. I promise.

I also have a blog hop post coming up very soon, as well as some book reviews and music reviews, so watch this space because the next month or two there will be a lot happening.

Oh, and also despite being most of the month behind schedule, yes I am still trying to beat Camp NaNoWriMo. Because why not?

Anyway, for now, here’s a nice picture I took (from my Insta, I’ll admit) which sums up Sweden pretty well – trees and lakes!

Sweden in a nutshell

Music Review: Sia’s “1000 Forms Of Fear” is simply amazing

Aussie girl turned international superstar, Sia is best known for solo hits such as “Breathe Me” and more recently “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart”, working with Zero 7 for the better part of the decade and penning a bunch of songs for artists such as Christina Aguilera, David Guetta and Rihanna’s hit “Diamonds”. Both her incredible creative songwriting capacity and her huge soaring voice have gained her a huge following all around the world.

Sia 1000 Forms Of FearBut the faceless cover of her latest album, 1000 Forms of Fear, suggests some of the pain she has been through in recent years. After her last album in 2010, she began to struggle with the fame which conflicted with her shy personality, becoming unable to tour and taking to drugs and alcohol. After almost committing suicide, she laid low for a few years writing songs for other artists until she felt ready to re-emerge with this stunning album – an emotionally raw and powerful comeback. She’s put her past behind her, put a paper bag over her face when posing (which is an interesting message in itself), and achieved something quite extraordinary.

The album is so different to anything she’s ever done before, but then Sia has been known for reinventing herself. But even within the album the music jumps up and down, from the booming album-opener and lead single “Chandelier” (which has already gathered 25 million listens on Spotify and 49 million on Youtube, before the album is even released in most of the world), to the slow and almost meditative “Eye of the Needle”, the fast-paced and upbeat “Hostage” and the dramatic but beautiful ballad “Straight For The Knife”. The album will be classified under Pop, but it’s so much harder to categorize than that – it is almost flawless pop, sounding very contemporary but still classy with her raspy and croaky voice bringing out the full emotion on every track. I think sometimes there just needs to be a genre called “Good Music” for albums like this.

Recently she performed on the Ellen DeGeneres Show with her back to the audience, her first live performance in quite a long time. But even more amazingly, she has signed a contract with RCA that says she will not have to tour or do any press regarding the album – quite possibly a world first, and a decision she has made to help avoid another breakdown.

But with an album this good, I’m pretty sure she’s not going to lose any fans over her lack of touring. I’m happy I got to see her perform live twice, quite some years ago now back in Australia, but this album proves that success does not have to control a songwriter’s life and I’m happy to see her getting the recognition and help from the industry that she needs – maybe it’ll help other struggling musicians to find the courage to make similar decisions with their careers.

Listen to this album. Listen to it fully, from start to finish, in one go, and try to tell me it’s not amazing. You won’t be able to do it. You probably won’t be able to talk for a little while.

1000 Forms Of Fear is available worldwide from July 8, 2014 (and in some places as of today – it’s up on Spotify for those who use that).

Who signed me up to Camp NaNoWriMo again? Oh, me.

2014 Camp Nano-Participant-Vertical-BannerI really enjoyed Camp NaNoWriMo in April, as I wrote 30 000 words across 6 short stories and finally created a collection of humorous stories which were actually vaguely funny. It was exhausting but I thoroughly enjoyed writing them and I promised myself if time permitted I would continue them in July, or at least write more short stories of some kind (that might not be connected to the April ones).

It’s the last week of June now. I’ve committed myself to several things that are going to keep me quite busy these next couple of months. I am also going on a road trip for a couple of weeks across Sweden in the middle of July. All signs are pointing toward the fact that July is really quite booked up, and I definitely don’t have time for another 30 000 words of frantic short story writing.

So anyway I signed up this afternoon and I feel like I should be suffering from some kind of pre-apocalyptic fear of “what have I done”-itis but here I am feeling remarkably calm, as I always am before undergoing some intense writing challenge. I think I had so much fun last time that I just want to experience that again, though I know I am swimming in dangerous waters here and having an expectation like that might lead to disappointment. But it might not. And I want to find out, I guess.

So the only thing I have left to decide is this – do I continue with the stories I was really enjoying writing (where each story had new characters but the setting and general premise was the same, and all were connected by a few specific characters) or do I just try something entirely new to see where my mind takes me?

Did any of you participate in the April Camp and are also taking part in the July one? What is your approach this time around?

Oh, and if you’re interested in participating in this crazy challenge (you can choose the word goal and type of writing yourself), go visit the Camp NaNoWriMo site here for more information! If you love writing and have never tried this kind of challenge before, this might just be for you!

Teaching myself Swedish – my toughest student is myself

As many of you know, I moved to Sweden earlier this year. As a lot of you also know, the last three years I spent in Australia I was a high school teacher, teaching English, History, and a little bit of Maths from time to time. But despite teaching probably over a thousand students, I don’t think I have ever faced one as challenging as myself.

The bureaucracy behind me migrating to Sweden from Australia as a British (and therefore European) Citizen is complicated – I am allowed to be here, but to get access to all parts of Swedish society I need the person number. In my unusual situation, the only real way to get this number is by having a job (there are other ways but they involve obtaining papers that would be too hard and take too long to get). But to get a job at most places I need to know Swedish, and to do any of the proper Swedish courses, I need the person number, and to get the…well you can see this goes round and round to no avail.

Here comes the part where I teach myself. I’ve spent a few months looking online at difference websites to help learn Swedish. There’s a lot of, well, very average ones, to be honest. I can’t afford anything I need to pay for, as I need my money to live on until I have a job. But then my girlfriend came across a playlist on Spotify (normally a music streaming service, if you’re not familiar – it’s the main way people listen to music here in Sweden) that featured various Swedish lessons. We listened to the first one together, on the pronunciations of vowels, found it was pretty useful, and have decided to use these alongside a couple of resources I have to try and teach myself the language as best as possible.

Swedish alphabet highlight vowelsThere are some drawbacks. The first one is that it seems some of these lessons are conducted by people from Stockholm. The capital city of Sweden has a quite unique accent that is very different from the Halland accent (where I’m currently living), or any of the Northern and Southern accents of the country really. As a result, the lessons could almost be teaching me things wrong because the accent disguises what I’m supposed to be hearing, especially when it comes to vowels. It’s not that the Stockholm accent is wrong, but it sounds different and only someone well versed in the Swedish language could see how the correct word is just accented, if I’m making any sense at all.

The vowels themselves are another issue. There’s nine of them, for a start. The five in English, plus y is a vowel, and also all three letters unique to Swedish are vowels -  å, ä and ö, pronounced roughly as orr, ehh and err (there’s a bit more to it than that though). But whether or not the pronunciation of the vowel is long or short completely changes the meaning of the vowel, and in the case of two of them the following consonant also can affect the word and pronunciation. So, in total, 9 vowels and 22 pronunciations of those vowels, each of which can and do dramatically change the word you are saying. For example, tack and tak could be pronounced similarly, but one of these words is thanks and one is ceiling. So the different sounding a is what varies the word in speech.

It’s one thing to know these rules, but another challenge entirely to follow them when talking in Swedish. Apparently I’m doing okay, though, despite my serious issues rolling my r’s which often distorts the entire word I’m trying to say. I also need to slow myself down – I like to talk a lot and fast, and right now I just can’t do that while learning Swedish. I also have to be patient – I can be very impatient when learning new things, but I must ensure I don’t become frustrated with this whole process as I need to keep it up.

I’m going to invest a lot of time over the next couple of months pushing myself through the language as fast as I can, to increase my chances of getting a job so I can finally sort everything out and get on with living in my new home. I suspect as I learn more there’ll be funny things for me to tell back here, and I will try and blog as much as possible (although I am going travelling around the country next month so I may go quiet for a week or two).

If you’ve ever gone through anything like this, whether moving to a new country with a new language or just learning a language for the fun of it, I’d love to hear from you and hear about your experiences! Or you can just laugh at me about mine. It’s all good.

What music do you listen to when writing?

I have written while listening to a lot of different kinds of music, but lately my writing music is steering towards the highly emotive but often lyricless – if it does have lyrics it has to build up a lot of atmosphere. Whether or not this affects the stories I write I’m not entirely sure, but I suspect it does on some level.

One artist in particular I’ve been listening to is Nils Frahm. Rather than tell you about him, just listen to him – I think you’ll see why I like writing to this music. The first song is called Re, the second is called Ambre:

Another band I have discovered recently is Midlake, who have a very folky sound with a slightly prog rock feel too – almost Celtic in places. But while they do sing, they build up a very distinct atmosphere which is nice to write to, as well. This song is called Winter Dies:

So, with Camp NaNoWriMo around the corner (again!), and with so many of my awesome readers writing stories all the time, I ask again what I asked in my title – what music do you listen to when writing? What qualities in the music do you look for?

A tribute to Rik Mayall

There isn’t much I can say about the passing of Rik Mayall yesterday that hasn’t already been said. It is a huge loss – his unique brand of anarchic comedy, from The Young Ones through to Bottom, Blackadder and movies like Drop Dead Fred, inspired a whole generation of comedians. At 56 it feels he was taken far too early, and as many other comedians have noted on social media (especially Twitter), he was a whirlwind of creative energy that has left a bit of a void all of a sudden.

So, rather than ramble on any more, I’m going to include some of my favourite clips of his here. In order, there is the shop keeping scene from Bottom, then his first appearance as Lord Flashheart in Blackadder, then a scene from Drop Dead Fred (where he plays an invisible friend) and finally a compilation of some of his funniest moments from The Young Ones because it was too hard to pick one scene.

Just a word of warning, some of this stuff might be offensive. Otherwise, enjoy!

R.I.P. Rik Mayall! You’ll be missed.

My New Misquoted Twitter Account

quotation marksI don’t mean that I have been misquoting my new Twitter account. What I mean is that my new Twitter account is about misquotes – real quotes twisted into something slightly different.

I’ve been enjoying being silly while I write on my second blog, A Listophile’s Haven, which if you haven’t visited yet feel free to go visit it and tell me how funny I’m not. But I have been planning for about as long to start a second Twitter account, also for the sake of some silliness, and now it’s finally here and I have it up and running.

So if you want to see me ruin a bunch of famous quotes (of course you do), check it out by clicking here, or if you’re a Twitter user you can find me at @Misquotationed – feel free to follow me too, and of course send requests for quotes for me to ruin if you like.

Many of the quotes I’ll be misquoting are about things I’m interesting in, such as books, music, coffee and so on. A lot of the quotes will be authors and comedians but also some actors, philosophers and other people will be thrown in for good measure. The point is, there might be some interest in it for you if you already follow my blog, so give it a go!

And if you haven’t added me on my normal Twitter account feel free to do that too, by finding me at @abritishperson or by using the Twitter widget on the side of this page! I normally follow back and I only tweet about rubbish some of the time.