Malta: Forts, Cathedrals & the Silent City

Admittedly, the island of Malta has never been at the top of my bucket list for travel destinations, and I knew next to nothing about its history, people or culture. This made it evermore exciting to visit however, as I got to travel there with little to no expectations of what to expect. Sometimes this can be a refreshing alternative to planning an itinerary or checklist of what you want to do or explore.

As it’s quite a small island, although not as small as its sister island Gozo, it’s very easy to get around Malta and visit several cities on the island. For just €2 on the bus, you can get around on a budget, whilst taking in the beautiful scenery of the harbours, coastlines and vineyards. However, these buses can get very cramped and do not always show up on time!

St paul’s bay / Buġibba

We stayed in St Paul’s Bay, which is a short walk away from the city centre of Buġibba, one of the most popular tourist towns on the island. I’m really happy we stayed here, as you’ve got ample choice of restaurants, bars and cafés to choose from, yet it’s a quieter area for when you want a good night’s sleep. If you’re wanting somewhere more lively, then St Julians/Paceville seems to be the most popular choice. We got the bus to Paceville for a night out on one of the nights, and although it was fun for a night of dancing, I probably wouldn’t choose to stop there!

There’s a nice coast line and rocky beach in Buġibba, which in the evening, looks very beautiful alongside the lit-up restaurants and bars along the seafront. We were told that the best beaches in Malta were in the north, a bit further up from where we were staying, and in particular, the best beaches were Paradise Bay and Golden Bay. So we opted to visit Golden Bay for the day, and I was thrilled to be back in the sea at last! With it being mid-August, the beach was very busy as you’d expect, so I imagine it would be much nicer to visit these beaches during the quieter months.

I was hesitant about finding vegan eating options in Malta, but I was pleasantly surprised to find many restaurants not only having dishes that were accidentally vegan, but actually having vegan listed on the menu. Personal favourites for me in St Paul’s Bay/Buġibba have to be The Chef’s Table, Mezzaluna Pizzeria and SALT Kitchen & Lounge.

Valletta

No trip to Malta would be complete without visiting the capital city of Valletta, where most of the historical tourist attractions are found. Upon arrival, it was clear to see why Valletta gets compared to Italy, with its stunning architecture and narrow streets.

We visited Fort Saint Elmo and the National War Museum, which is a fantastic way to learn about Maltese history, including the Order of St John and Malta’s Independence. You can walk around the fort which still has cannons and giant anchors intact.

If you really want to see some stunning architecture, St John’s Co-Cathedral is an absolute must. We ended up visiting here an hour before closing so it was very busy inside, however, it was worth it to see the beautiful baroque art and architecture inside, including paintings from acclaimed artists such as Caravaggio. I don’t think my picture below does the cathedral justice! With your entry ticket, you’re given a free audio guide which gives you very detailed information about the history behind the paintings and features.

We finished our sightseeing with a trip to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which overlook the Grand Harbour. The garden itself is quite small, centred around a beautiful fountain, and features a café/bar and some war rooms, which we didn’t pay to visit in the end. The panoramic views from the gardens are breathtaking; you can practically see the whole of Valletta from up there. I’m surprised how quiet the garden was, and it was nice to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while taking in the views of the city.

Valletta is also a great choice for an evening out; there are plenty of restaurants to choose from and lots of bars and cafés offering happy hours. Although the city appeared to quieten down later on,  there are still some great options for evening entertainment, although we didn’t stay late enough to explore these fully.

MDINA

Known as the Silent City, Mdina is a medieval walled city with many of its historical buildings and features still intact. On quieter days, I imagine it feels as though you’ve stepped completely back in time. The city is quite small, and doesn’t take long to look around, and as it’s up on a hilltop, you can enjoy lovely views from various tearooms within the city. It features a few museums, two of which we looked around; the Museum of Torture, which informs you of the many grisly forms of torture that took place throughout history, and the Cathedral Museum, which connects to St Paul’s Cathedral and displays artifacts such as coins, paintings and religious relics. Like St John’s Co-Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral features baroque architecture, but I found this cathedral to be much quieter and more pleasant to look round.

My highlight in Mdina has to be the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum. The house looks as though it has been frozen in time, with all the rooms and artifacts displayed in their original form. The most recent owner of the Palazzo was Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher, who was a proud collector of art and antiques. The visit includes an audio guide which is very interesting and informative as you explore each room in the large house. The house has been restored and maintained very well, and I particularly liked the pretty outside courtyard pictured below.

There really is something for everyone to do in Malta, whether you’re looking for sandy beaches to lie on, or historic towns to look around, it’s an ideal location for a combined cultural and relaxation holiday. I love how the size of the island allows you to visit so many cities, and I’m definitely keen to come back and explore the even smaller island of Gozo.

 

 

Advertisements

Amsterdam: Bicycles, Coffee Shops & Brass Bands

I’d heard so much about Amsterdam that I felt as though I’d already been there and could already picture the bike-cladded streets winding around the canals. For years I’d been desperate to see the city for myself, so me and a few friends decided to head there for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday.

Amsterdam has an amazing transport system – car, bike, boat, tram, train or bus – you can take your pick! Even though we were staying a while out of the city centre, our weekend public transport passes were a fantastic way of getting around the city.

As we arrived quite late on the Thursday night, we grabbed some food for breakfast and a couple of beers and relaxed in our hotel apartment.

FRIday

In the morning we headed off to the the museum quarter with pre-booked tickets for the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Having studied art at school, I was really keen to see his work in person and learn a bit more about his back story. One thing to note with attractions like this and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is that most places require you to book tickets and a time slot in advance.

Having a time slot worked well with the Van Gogh museum and the floors feel very spacious, giving you lots of time to explore each section and read the information about each piece. I’ve been to a few big art galleries in the past, but this is the first gallery I’ve been to which focuses entirely on one artist’s work. And you can truly see why Van Gogh holds such fascination for many people. I was already familiar with his post-impressionist style of painting, but it was interesting to see the other art styles he experimented with over the years, such as pencil drawings and peasant character studies. I also particularly enjoyed the self-portrait section, as I feel as though it’s unusual for an artist, who you’d usually expect to distance themselves from the subject of study, become that study themselves.

We spent the afternoon exploring the city by foot, which I could honestly spend hours doing! The architecture is so beautiful in Amsterdam (reminding me very much of Paris at times) and there are so many cute cafés and shops to look around. We ended up venturing into one of Amsterdam’s infamous ‘coffee shops’, where you can enjoy legal marijuana. We picked one with a cat called Bowie who is pretty popular with tourists!

In the evening, we ventured out to De Pijp, a popular strip full of bars. As it struck midnight, we celebrated my birthday with some shots and sparklers before heading to a Jazz Bar called Bourbon Street Music Club. This is a fantastic venue if you want to get away from the busy, touristy bars and we joined a few locals dancing to an awesome Blues band.

Saturday

Despite being a bit hungover from the night before, we left the apartment bright and early to visit the Anne Frank House, as we’d already booked an early time slot. I knew that this visit would be tough, but I’d heard very good things about it. The museum didn’t look how I expected to from the outside, as I didn’t realise that they had built it around the original annex. The tour takes about an hour and you are provided with a free audio guide, which I found very informative and moving. There is no furniture left in the annex, but you do get a feel for the enclosed space that the Frank family shared with the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer during their two years in hiding. At the end, you hear some accounts from Otto Frank and others survivors who had been close with Anne. It’s a sad but very moving experience, so I’d definitely recommend it. Upon recommendation of a friend, we then stopped by the pancake house outside the Anne Frank house to enjoy some traditional dutch pancakes, which were really delicious!

Then it was time to head home for a quick nap, before heading back out into the city centre. We took a little ferry from the train station to the A’DAM Lookout, a tall building with a panoramic view of the city. The cost to go up the  tower is quite expensive and you do have to pay extra to go on the swing. I didn’t realise that the swing slots also book up in advance, and as there was a two-hour wait, I decided not to do it. However, the view from the tower is stunning, and we enjoyed the rooftop bar and music in the sunshine.

Me and two other friends bought a bundle ticket for the tower and a canal boat ride afterwards. However, we spent 45 minutes queuing in the heat and as it was getting on a bit in the evening, we decided to head back to the apartment instead. It was a shame to waste the money, but I think you’re better off paying for a smaller, independent boat company, rather than going for one of the big ones. The smaller boats themselves also looked much nicer to ride on when it’s sunny, as the big ones we were waiting for all had roofs on.

In the evening we headed back to De Pijp for a Mastino Pizza, which we had read rave reviews about. I had a really tasty vegan pizza with vegan-style brie! As it was a lovely day and the restaurant is quite small, we took our pizzas to a nearby park and enjoyed them with a few bottles of wine. Later on, we explored the infamous red light district. I’d heard lots of stories about it, yet I still found myself feeling surprised and disturbed. We had a few drinks in one of the bars around there, but soon decided to head out of the district! We finished the night in a really fun club called Club NYX, which had a drag queen show on. The music and atmosphere was great in this club, but don’t be put off by people dancing right next to urinals on the second floor!

SUNDAY

On Sunday we decided to explore the city by bicycle and make the most of the hot weather. We cycled to Vondelpark, which has beautiful lakes and fountains. In the park, we also stumbled upon a Dutch brass band called Gallowstreet. They were so much fun and really got the crowd dancing. As well as being extremely skilled with their instruments, one member even used four different seashells to play music! The atmosphere was amazing and this was easily the highlight of my trip.

We enjoyed a pleasant cycle home before getting ready to head back out for the evening. After a few drinks in the flat, we got an Uber straight to a club that sounded like it had a good night on. However, once we paid loads to get inside, we found it to be completely dead and playing terrible music. I think that’s the quickest I’ve ever gone in and out of a club! We headed back to the apartment instead to take some ‘magic’ truffles, which you can buy from various shops in Amsterdam. I think they truly rounded off the Amsterdam experience!

I was sad to leave Amsterdam on Monday morning but I definitely intend to return in the future. While it’s close enough to travel to just for a weekend, there’s so much to do there that I think you’ll end up wanting to stay longer!

Arctic Monkeys: Embracing Change

Like many Arctic Monkeys fans, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a new album since album number five, AM, exploded into our lives five years ago. I remember that I had just moved into my student house, ready to start my second year of university, and we would be ecstatic every time our favourite Sheffield nightclub, Leadmill, blasted out ‘R U Mine?’ or ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ on a night out.

Since then, I’ve enjoyed seeing Arctic Monkeys perform at Leeds festival the following summer, before seeing Alex Turner back up on stage at Glastonbury in 2016 with fellow musician Miles Kane as part of their band The Last Shadow Puppets. Having first seen Arctic Monkeys at Leeds Festival all the way back in 2005 after the release of their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, I am no stranger to Alex Turner’s transformations.

And that’s why this transformation into Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino feels like no surprise at all, especially to fans who are familiar with Humbug, Last Shadow Puppet’s Everything You’ve Come To Expect and Turner’s  solo EP Submarine. You only had to glimpse at the teaser artwork for Tranquility and the band promo photos to know that we were about to be invited into a new chapter in Arctic Monkeys’ lives.

While I’m not surprised that the new album has divided fans, I am always baffled when fans declare how they feel personally ‘betrayed’. Something that always frustrates me about the relationship between fans and bands is how some fans believe that music is made for them. Indeed, some musicians in the industry (with the push of their producers I’m sure), churn out music that they know will sell. But for bands like Arctic Monkeys, it’s never been about this. Bands who are passionate about their music never began writing and recording music with the intention of selling millions. Hell, the majority of them didn’t even expect to sell tickets at their local venue. For them, music is their creative outlet, it’s how they express themselves, and it’s what they truly live for.  Therefore they do not owe us fans anything.

Sure Arctic Monkeys could have chosen to create a sequel to AM knowing it would satisfy their long-awaiting fans, but I’m glad they chose not to. Otherwise, I would be worried that they had lost their musical direction entirely.  In his recent interview with Annie Mac on BBC Radio 1, Turner admits that  “The guitar had lost its ability to give me ideas. Every time I sat with a guitar I was suspicious of where it was gonna go. I had a pretty good idea of what I might be which is completely contrary to what I felt when I sat at the piano.” (NME).   

I absolutely loved Alex Turner’s interview with Annie Mac. It was fascinating to hear his thought process behind Tranquility and reassuring to hear that he still has so much creative energy and passion to put into his music. After listening to the new album a few times, I’ve been able to appreciate Turner’s poetic lyrics all over again. If anything, these songs are his most sophisticated yet.

I’m happy that Arctic Monkeys are passionate enough about their music to take this new direction and I’m so excited to see them live once more in September!

Knowing when to say ‘no’

Today I woke up from the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. If you’ve ever experienced sleep problems, you’ll understand how you can enter into an endless cycle of bad sleep, which can last for weeks or even months sometimes.

It’s got me thinking again about just how important it is to look after your mental wellbeing. I focus all my time into eating healthily and going to the gym several days a week to keep in good physical shape, yet I’m terrible at remembering to focus on my mental health. When my body is desperate for a rest and a good night’s sleep, I guilt trip myself into another gym session so I hit my target number of days for the week. I’ve become so used to channeling my stress through exercise, I forget that sometimes a good rest is just what my body needs.

I recently found out that I was going to be losing my job and it was really difficult knowing I was going to have to go through the whole job hunting process again after having so many job rejections over the summer. It then came to no surprise that it took a toll on my mental health and sleep, as I was so anxious about finding work again. And with stress and a lack of sleep, of course I then ended up running myself down with a cold. After feeling ill now for just under two months, I’ve since found out from the doctors that I’ve got CMV virus, caused by a weakened immune system. So now I’m beating myself up for obsessing over staying in shape and being sociable, instead of looking after myself when I first starting to feel ill.

I’ve always gone through life choosing to saying ‘yes’ rather than ‘no’ to things, which during my school and university years was partly due to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). My dad always encouraged me to enjoy travelling, festivals and experiences, even if it meant being in my overdraft for all of university. While I’m now grateful to be out my overdraft, I’m pleased that I filled my university and graduate years with so many wonderful experiences, rather than worrying about saving money all the time.

Yet this week I’ve enjoyed saying ‘no’ to things and indulging in some guilty pleasures. I’ve had a week off the gym, binged-watched a lot of Netflix, eaten heaps of pasta, had a a fresh hair cut and colour, bookmarked a load of clothes I want to treat myself to on payday, and even booked a flight to Amsterdam for my birthday weekend. While it’s great to eat healthily and exercise regularly, sometimes indulging in a little ‘me’ time is just what the doctor ordered!

Saying Goodbye

What started off as an exciting and promising 2018 soon took a turn for the worse, as we sadly lost my grandfather, Bill Todd. While we all knew grandad was no longer his young and vibrant self, nothing ever quite prepares you for another loss, no matter how old or sick an individual might be.

I’m lucky in the sense that it’s now been nearly 12 years since I last lost a family member, and while it still struck me hard, I know I’m much better equipped to handle a loss than my 11 year old self. I also take comfort in the fact that my grandad was a lucky man, having met my grandma when he was just 15, celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary and met his first great grandchild, Alexandra, just less than a year ago. And at the grand old age of 92, I think he would agree that it was a life well lived.

I was nervous to attend the funeral, after recalling painful memories from the two I attended as a child. But we all shared wonderful memories of grandad and I actually learnt a lot about his life that I did not know before. For me, it’s hard to imagine a young Bill Todd when I hold such fond memories of hiding his slippers with my sister and cousin and the feeling of his bristly beard when he kissed us on the cheek. Yet at the funeral, I heard stories about an adventurous sailor, a practical and passionate father and a liberal man and husband, who chose to look after his children so my grandma could pursue her dream of being a social worker.

I’m so grateful that I got to spend so many years with my grandad and share such special memories with him. It’s also been so wonderful hearing from other family and friends who had been so touched by him. I’d like to end this post with grandad’s favourite toast, which he used to give at every family get together:

Here’s to us, to all of us, may we never want owt, noan of us, me neither!

                        

 

 

Another year gone

Every year it seems that almost everyone I know is ready to leave behind the year and begin the new one. They start reeling off the usual resolutions and promises to themselves to eat healthier, join a gym and stop drinking so much. While I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to bring, for the first time ever, I don’t feel quite ready to let go of 2017.

It feels strange thinking that this time last year I was getting ready to embark on what was to be the best four months of my life, backpacking around South East Asia with my friends. And while I feel sad that I’ve got nothing as exciting planned for 2018, it’s fantastic to look back at the year I’ve had. It’s unbelievable how fast the year has gone, but as it turns out, time really does fly when you’re having fun!

As well as it being a fun year, I also feel as though I’ve learnt a lot in 2017, so I thought I’d round up a few.

The unfamiliar world really isn’t as scary as you think

Before getting on that plane, I was absolutely terrified of flying by myself to an unfamiliar country where not everyone speaks my language, and I remember worrying that everyone around me was going to try and mug me. Of course, a few days in I soon realised that this was not the case at all and that in general, most people are good and want to help! This goes for lots of countries of course, and it’s sad that the news is constantly making us feel as though the world is out to get us. And while there is still a lot of bad in this world, there’s always a lot more good outweighing it.

But you still need to be careful

When I first got back to England, I felt pretty confident and safe being back in familiar territory, surrounded by friends and family. Yet it’s easy to become naive and forget that danger is still out there. I recently moved back to Sheffield, where I hold fond memories of university life and the city has always felt like a second home to me. However, I recently experienced a pretty scary incident with a strange man, who catcalled and chased me through one of the underpasses. I’ve never ran so fast in my life and it’s safe to say that the incident left me pretty shook up after. Luckily, I happened to run past a van full of police right around the corner, who were so helpful in helping me to file a report. They even drove me around the area to try and find the man, before dropping me off all the way to the door of the pub where I was meeting my friends. It upsets me how much this has knocked my newly gained confidence and has made me realise how vulnerable I still am. However, it’s really reassuring to know that the police force are really understanding and keen to help.

No one’s life compares to yours, so you shouldn’t compare yours to theirs

I feel like this is something I have to continually tell myself every year, yet it’s something many of us are often guilty of. With apps like Instagram constantly showing us pictures of our tanned friends travelling the world, it’s easy to wish your life was like theirs. Even when I had the privilege of travelling for a few months, I ended up being envious of my friends who were travelling for a over a year. It was hard to come back to reality and know that they were still out there experiencing incredible places. Yet I’ve also had friends tell me how jealous they’ve been of my travels, and so I keep stopping myself to think about how lucky I’ve been to experience a few months.

You will always find a job, even if it feels as though no company wants you

As expected, I had some pretty bad holiday blues once I was back in England and I soon got pretty down when I was job hunting and struggling to find work. Eventually I secured a temp job at Nottingham Trent University, which I really enjoyed. Sadly it came to an end though, and I was back to job hunting. At first I felt quite positive, as I secured several interviews after months of applying. When I didn’t get job offers after the interviews however, it really knocked my confidence. As anyone who’s been in that situation can tell you, every rejection really hits you hard, especially after you’ve put so much effort into an application and interview. You start to wonder if you’re really good enough and you take it very personally. However, as I was down to my last two interviews, one of them offered me a job back in Sheffield where I was keen to move back to. Suddenly I had a hectic couple of weeks finding somewhere to live and  getting ready for the new job, but that just made it ever more exciting! Now, I’ve moved in with some lovely housemates and have found a job I really enjoy going to each day, so it’s important to remember that you will get there in the end.

Setting goals for 2018

So after an awesome year (despite a few lows), I’m welcoming 2018 with open arms. I think I’ve learnt to like myself more throughout 2017, so I won’t be adopting the ethos of ‘new year, new me’. Instead, I’ve just set a few personal resolutions, which I fully intend on achieving!

  1. Complete Veganuary (and see where it takes me) – As you may have seen in one of my previous posts, I went vegan for a week in summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy I found it and so I’ve decided to try a bit longer this time and go vegan for the whole of January.
  2. Learn to do 1-5 pull-ups – I’ve been a regular gym-goer with a keen interest in weight training for a couple of years now, yet I’ve still never been able to do a single pull-up without the help of an assisted machine. So I’ve set myself this goal to see if I can finally achieve one.
  3. Be on my phone less – This one is slightly harder to measure objectively like the other two, but it’s something I’m keen to try and keep up. When I was travelling, I enjoyed the freedom of not being on my phone all the time and when I came back, I continued to not be on it very much. Yet after a few weeks of settling back into my old lifestyle, I found myself on my phone more and more. So I’d like to try and take this back a notch.
  4. Visit two countries – Of course the temptation of further travel is constantly niggling away at me, yet I want to stick with a job for a little while yet and save up some money. However, I’m keen to plan two trips away in 2018, whether it’s a long weekend or an action-packed two weeks.

Happy New Year!

 

King: The Month of Horror

With the recent film adaptations of Stephen King’s IT and Gerald’s Game being released in the run-up to Halloween, I’ve been getting so excited for the spooky season.

Despite being an avid reader with a keen interest in the horror genre, I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not read as many Stephen King novels as I would have liked. I’ve seen numerous adaptations of his films over the years – Secret Window, The Green Mile and The Shining just to name a few and the only books I’ve read are Carrie and On Writing. So I figured what better way to get into the Halloween spirit than to honour the king of horror himself, and embark on a Stephen King reading month throughout October!

I didn’t have any particular novel choices in mind before I started this, but I was keen to pick a few that I knew next to nothing about. My choices were also limited to those my sister already had in her bedroom (as I decided to start this challenge a few days into October). Anyway, here’s how I got on…

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 

I decided to start the month with one of King’s shorter novels, and opted for one I’d never heard of before: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The novel reads like a stream of consciousness; told from the perspective of young baseball fan Trisha McFarland, who becomes lost in the woods after separating from her mother and brother.

I found this novel to be quite different from my experience with Stephen King so far, and going by the final line of the blurb: ‘There’s something else in the woods – watching. Waiting…’ I expected some more supernatural elements to the story. Instead however, I found myself enjoying how realistic the story line is. Although there were no scary characters attempting to kill or abduct Trisha, King manages to tap into the primal fear of one being left utterly and entirely alone in the wilderness, having to rely on your wits and instincts in order to survive.

The woods feel noisy and claustrophobic, and despite Trisha’s bravery, King unsurprisingly still manages to build the tension and fear of the ‘not even remotely human’ thing that’s following her, which she continuously refers to as ‘it’ (sound familiar?)

At times, I forgot that Trisha is nine years old, as she is ballsy, practical and swears more than your average nine year old! My nine year old self certainly wouldn’t have been able to survive that ordeal, that’s for sure. I found it interesting how Trisha often seemed to adopt voices that mimic adults, like when she tells herself “Don’t start that.” Of course, this becomes a more regular occurrence as she starts hallucinating and engaging in imaginary conversations with her baseball idol Tom Gordon.

While it may not be the most Halloweeny of King’s works, I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I thought that it was different to other King stories I’m already familiar with. One quote in particular which stood out for me and summed up the story nicely has to be, “There is a point at which people who are cast upon their own resources stop living and begin merely surviving.”

Misery 

For my second choice, I opted for a more traditionally scary novel, which I’d heard of before but didn’t know much about. And I absolutely loved it!

Misery follows famous author Paul Sheldon, who after suffering through a car crash, wakes up a captive in obsessed fan Annie Wilkes’s house. After finding out he’s killed off her favourite character in his book, Annie forces Paul to write a new book, bringing the character back to life as he lays bed-bound.

I can just imagine how painful parts of this novel would have been for King to write, as he imagines being forced to burn his greatest work of writing to date in exchange for painkillers. And yet by the end, you feel so satisfied by the destruction of Misery’s Return. 

Paul makes several attempts in the novel to escape his room when Annie leaves, and I found myself feeling so tense during these moments that Annie was going to return any minute. King really masters the art of suspense building, particularly when Paul experiences a hint of freedom as a policeman shows up at Annie’s door. The gory scenes were so visual in my mind, I found myself wanting to squint away from the pages, and the terrifying character of Annie Wilkes is one that will continue to haunt me I’m sure!

In true King fashion, we’re left with a tense uncertainty about whether or not Annie is truly gone, as like Misery Chastain, she continues to haunt Paul’s psyche: ‘”You can’t kill the goddess. The goddess is immortal. Now I must rinse.” 

‘Salem’s Lot

I found it a bit harder to get into ‘Salem’s Lot, however this may have been due to being rundown with a cold when I started reading it! Once I did get stuck in, I enjoyed King’s take on the classic vampire/’living dead’.

The novel is told from a series of perspectives, particularly focusing on character Ben Mears, who is returning to the town Jerusalem’s Lot where he grew up. There are a few instances of residents going missing and suddenly dying, before Ben and a few others discover that they’re turning into vampires.

With so many different interpretations of vampires nowadays, I enjoyed how King’s vampires followed a more traditional form; they’re allergic to garlic, they fear sacred water and the holy cross and they can be destroyed through a stake to the heart.

Yet this doesn’t make them any less terrifying, as King of course doesn’t spare us any of the gory details: “She felt his teeth and he was biting her, sucking and biting, drawing  blood”, “Danny Glick slipped through his bedroom window and plucked the baby from his crib and sank his teeth into a neck still bruised from a mother’s blows.”

Like many other traditional and modern vampire storiesthere’s a sexual element to the vampires in ‘Salem’s Lot, and this only adds further to the disturbing nature of the novel, for example when Jimmy tells Ben “And when she was doing it, I liked it, Ben. That’s the hellish part. I actually had an erection.”

Overall, I really started to enjoy this classic vampire tale as I continued to read it, and it’s exciting to still find creatures like vampires scary.

Dreamcatcher 

After a busy month of reading, I finished Dreamcatcher just in time to celebrate Halloween! Dreamcatcher tells the story of four friends who have reunited for their annual hunting trip, only to find themselves caught up in an alien abduction. Known as the Ripley or byrus, the alien acts as a parasite; possessing whichever human is unlucky enough to become its victim.

When it possesses character Jonesy, it goes by the name of Mr Gray, and it’s interesting to read the perspectives from both characters, living inside the same body in Jekyll and Hyde fashion. As Jonesy still has some control, he’s able to work with his friends and the military to fight the Ripley.

Like many of King’s novels, Dreamcatcher is very bodily and grotesque, as the byrus causes its victims to produce gas and excrement which smell “something like mine-gas trapped a million years and finally let free,” and “something contaminated and dying badly.” As a reader, you find yourself scrunching up your nose in disgust!

After reading the novel’s blurb and finding out it was set in Derry, Maine, I was straight away reminded of It, especially when I knew the novel was centred around a group of friends. And sure enough, I was pleased to see that King references It when Mr Gray/Jonesy discover a plaque honouring “THOSE LOST IN THE STORM…LOVE FROM THE LOSERS CLUB,” above the chillingly red letters “PENNYWISE LIVES.”

I felt overall that Dreamcatcher was an interesting take on the alien parasite, and King really forces us to draw on the grotesque, physical aspects of horror, rather than the terror.

Final Thoughts

I think I chose a good selection of Stephen King’s novels, with The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Misery featuring more realistic scary situations, while ‘Salem’s Lot and Dreamcatcher delved into the realm of the supernatural. With some of the novels being years apart from each other, I also found it interesting to see how King’s writing has changed over the years.

All in all, I’ve really enjoyed my month of horror, and I’m certainly keen to delve into a few more Stephen King books I’ve got lying around!