Wunderkind Syndrome: the bane of my life.

Now that I’ve finally got a name and a motive for my blog, I lay the first big brick of my Many-Storied Building by talking about something that irks me, and probably irks a few others too.

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That’s me!

I’ve finally graduated from university, achieving my Masters in English and giving me the green light to take on the world. It was a lovely day, (but absolutely freezing!) and I celebrated with my family and friends with a nice meal and plenty of wine.

Two months before that day, I wasn’t exactly beaming with smiles…

I was awaiting my results for my Creative Writing Portfolio, which was the first 15,000 words for my horror novel Revenant, and was expecting at least a mark of 57 to ensure that I’d leave uni with a Merit grade. From June to September, I worked my butt off to make sure that it was the best it could be. I read a lot of horror books for ideas when I was on holiday, even drafting it in the villa and staying out of the sun (I’d given up tanning at that point because I just burn without Factor 9,000 sunblock!). I submitted it believing that it was the best thing I’d ever done, and I wanted to show it off to everyone. My confidence was at an all time high.

But then I got my marks back. 54.

I missed my target and my confidence plummeted. When I told my mum about it, I tried to put on a brave face. I was so deflated that only one or two words came out at a time. She tried to life me up, saying: “Your certificate won’t say George Foster achieved an MA missed out on a merit by three marks, will it?”

As you could probably guess, she was right, but I was too down on myself to listen to her at the time, so she left me alone so I could brood in my room. I just opened my laptop, pulled up my marks and feedback and asked myself where it went wrong.

That’s when I realised that for most of my life, I’d been suffering from Wunderkind Syndrome. It doesn’t give you a tickle in your throat or a high fever, but it does give you a real headache.

I first came across the term when reading a blog post on Comet Party, and it was the perfect term to describe how I felt at that moment: inadequate, falling short, wasted potential, the list went on and on.

I define it through some symptoms:

  • Expecting too much out of yourself
  • Relying on talent over practice
  • Wanting to be your heroes instead of being yourself
  • Impatience
  • Beating yourself up whenever things don’t go your way.

When writing my portfolio, I wanted nothing more than to emulate my influences, pay homage to them and achieve similar qualities of writing as they had.  While that encouraged me to push myself to new heights, I was impatient. I wanted to be this otherworldly writer in a short space of time, and I lost my way from there. As long as I got something down on paper and had something to submit by the deadline, that’s all that mattered.

It’s much easier for people to envision the end result of the path they want to follow than the actual path itself. In my case, it’s because I was lazy in my university years, unwilling to put in the work but impatient about being successful. Whenever a seminar came up which required some reading beforehand, I didn’t bother with the reading; I just looked up the important quotes online and faked knowing everything about them. As for my assignments, they were usually done the day or night before. But none of it mattered as long as I at least looked like I knew what I was doing.

Such an attitude to work inevitably came back to bite me when I wrote Revenant. Despite the huge amounts of reading and writing I was mentally unprepared having coasted through university through talent alone. The feedback I got hit pretty close to home, saying that I needed to work more on building a story, and I brooded in my room in front of my laptop until my anger burned out.

But I was encouraged by one thing they said: “You have some very workable ideas here.” In other words: you have an imagination, George. Now practice.

As soon as I figured that out, I began to take more responsibility for myself. I took the feedback for Revenant on the chin and I’ve decided to hone my craft by writing short stories and book reviews in hopes that one day, I can produce a body of work of amazing quality. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll finally finish Revenant and get it published.

A thought occurred: You should be proud of yourself. You see, when you apply for student loans and you end up with quite an amount of debt, it’s not like your loans are the budget of your life. You’re not a business project that simply has to produce an unreal return on investment. You’re a human being who needs to grow, have fun, and learn a thing or two about the world.

So why put the world on your shoulders when it could just sit freely by itself? It’s a much more comfortable way to live.

Dont be hard on yourself

From that epiphany, the headache of Wunderkind Syndrome began to subside like a low tide on a beach. I may not be in a graduate role at some big company or earning bucketloads of money writing or working at my local retailer, but as long as I’m pushing myself doing what I love (this!), and having fun along the way, then I’m happy.

And thus, my blog is born.

To sum it all up, here are my tips to overcoming Wunderkind Syndrome:

  • Take criticism with grace and humility
  • Leave nothing to chance and work your butt off
  • Live your own life as opposed to your heroes’
  • Take every day as it comes
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself
  • Have fun!

I hope this little post made you feel a little easier about the challenges you face. If so, then the first brick of my Many-Storied Building has been laid finely!

Thank you all for reading! Be sure to follow, like, comment, share… You get the idea.

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Book Review: Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

Ahh, Philip K. Dick, the man behind some of the biggest sci-fi movies like Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, and Minority Report. When my friend told me about seeing the Blade Runner sequel, I happened to see the original book in a local Sainsbury’s one day, so I picked it up, cleared my schedule for the night and dived straight in.

And I sure as hell wasn’t disappointed.

img_2885Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? takes place in a dystopian Earth ruined by a nuclear war, where animals are dying, people are migrating to Mars, and androids are running amok on Earth. That’s where Rick Deckard comes in. He’s a bounty hunter whose been given the job of a lifetime, retiring six androids for a huge reward, huge enough to buy a real animal to replace his fake electric sheep and satisfy his wife. But there’s a catch: the androids that he’s hunting seem all too human, and not just on the outside.

I suppose that’s the best place for me to start with this book: how Dick treats humanity. He defines it through empathy which is something only humans can have (apparently), then puts it straight to the test. It just so happens that the androids that Deckard has been sent to kill are advanced Nexus-6 models, programmed with empathetic qualities. But does that make them, living, sentient beings? And thus, make Deckard’s killing of them murder?

The role of Rachel Rosen, the android femme fatale, might help us out here. Her motivations are hard to figure out: does she interfere with Deckard’s hunt because she really cares about her fellow androids, or is she simply programmed to be a nuisance? It’s kind of muddled and vague, but that’s the point; the reader is meant to fill in the gaps.

A secondary plot, secondary to Deckard’s in that respect, shows John Isidore’s interactions with fugitive androids who are being hunted by the main character. Prejudice is flipped from the androids to the humans, and John is mocked for being a ‘chickenhead’, a human with subpar intelligence. But his compassion in hiding the fugitives balances the more brutal side of humanity, personified by Deckard. This eventually culminates in an ending that, while unresolved and ambiguous, fits neatly into the narrative. A lot is left to imagination, and it works better that way.

The post-World War Terminus Earth is richly developed. Reality is replaced with virtual reality experiences, a sort-of religion called Mercerism, and androids stand in as chat show hosts without anyone noticing. The home of humanity is dying bit by bit, and it also shows that humanity itself may be dying, too.

Ambiguity remains for whether androids can feel emotions or not, but Dick makes one thing perfectly clear: human beings can be just as devoid of empathy as they are full of it. With complex relationships being all-present throughout the book, where humans and androids are, at times, mistaken for one another, the hunt pushes Deckard to his limits, and keeps you guessing what he’s gonna do next, and what schemes the characters have up their sleeves.

So if you want to see the inspiration behind Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, you won’t be spoiled too much if you’ve already seen the movie. You’ll see where Scott got the whole ‘Deckard is a replicant’ idea, but he takes it down different path to that of the book.

If you don’t, and just want a concise, dystopian, thought-provoking sci-fi classic, then I’ll say no more.

8/10

Book Review: Carrie

Have you ever experienced bullying in any way? Chances are that you have, and it’s a terrible thing. In my case, there’s plenty of moments that I wish I could forget about, but they’re so deeply burned into my memory that forgetting them is impossible.

Just like a certain blood stained girl with psychic powers and a whole lot of rage. As the first Stephen King novel to be published back in 1974, Carrie has endured as a tragic anti-Cinderella story with real human horrors at its core.

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A lot of you probably know Carrie, having watched Brian de Palma’s 1976 adaptation or the 2013 remake. If you have, then you’ll have this striking image at the back of your mind right now. It’s an image that channels a variety of responses, and for me, sympathy is one of them.

King expertly builds towards this by not just showing the cruel treatment Carrie White suffers, such as being pelted with tampons in the midst of her first period, but by going into the perspectives of her schoolmates, like the guilt-ridden Sue Snell, who tries to atone for bullying Carrie by asking her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the ill-fated prom. In what could be percieved as a tragicomedy of errors, Sue’s efforts trigger an unwanted chain of events, a grim punchline involving pig’s blood and disaster.

There’s also the grade-A bitch Chris Hargensen who orchestrates most of the abuse that Carrie suffers in school. She’s a real insight into how casually cruel children can be, and how a dog-eat-dog mentality causes nothing but pain. The sad thing is that there’s a Chris in every school, but you can’t quite go all Carrie on them, can you? So how do you properly deal with that. The answer is that there is no definitive answer, and not knowing something is what terrifies people the most.

Standing alongside Chris among the novel’s most despicable characters is the religious-fanatic mother Margaret White, who is my candidate for the Worst Mother in Literature award. Being a mother is second to her closeness to God, and she begins to view her own daughter as a satanic figure once she displays her powers. It’s not like she shows any compassion to begin with. In fact, she shows the opposite, and that fuels Carrie’s sadness and confusion towards the outside world, countering the compassion that Miss Desjardin shows the lonely Carrie.

There are also the many extracts from research into telekinesis and into Carrie’s life conducted by scholars, but they do no justice to the humanity behind her story. But that’s exactly the point for which King utilises them; they dissect her life and her powers as if she were a laboratory specimen, not the troubled human being she was. They also help to ground the Black Prom as one of the biggest disasters in American history, with a huge death toll and the entire town of Chamberlain, Maine burned to ashes in Carrie’s wake.

But I suppose the greatest disaster within Carrie is the triumph of evil over good, and how that can define a child as he or she grows up. In the eyes of the world, Carrie White is known as the monster who destroyed Chamberlain, but she’s anything but once the reader gets to know her. It’s amazing how people can judge a book by its cover (yes, the pun was intended, and no, I’m not ashamed of it.)

This is also why anyone who has heard of Carrie, who knows the events but haven’t read the book, should pick it up and give it a read. King described Carrie as a story with the power to ‘hurt and horrify,’ and it does exactly those things in equal, macabre measure.

9/10