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Expectations of Paris

I have become the stereotype of the single woman, and the sad thing is I didn’t even set out to find a feline companion. She hunted me down.

This is the cat who has moved in to my bedroom. She has so far covered my bedsheets in fur, possibly given me an eye infection (did I mention I’m allergic?), and made leaving the window open an invitation to nap on my pillow.

Sometimes she arrives at strange hours, like 2am, but there isn’t a day which goes by without me receiving at least one visit from my furry friend. I have been chosen, and it seems I have little say in the matter.

I call her Mon Ami.

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I like to think of my having been adopted by a Parisian (albeit a four-legged one) as a metaphor for my being accepted by Paris as a whole.

This has come as a surprise, which brings me to the first expectation I had of this city before I moved here.

1. I thought the Parisians would be unfriendly. 

Maybe it was the old British stereotype of the contrary Frenchman, or perhaps it had something to do with my expectations of city life compared to the quiet old village in which I grew up, but I didn’t come here expecting a warm welcome.

With my French still at the level of ‘où sont les toilettes?‘, I arrived in Paris with a suitcase, expecting to be jostled about on the metro, ridiculed for my excessive luggage, and generally looked down upon for my lack of French style.

None of these things happened. The Parisians are, in my experience so far, among the most chilled people in the world, and generous, with open arms.

2. I thought it would be easier to find love here.

Ah, French lovers and their reputation. Ah, naïve young women and their dreams. The sad truth is that men are men, and French men aren’t much different to their British counterparts. It’s just that some of them have more of a tan, and dress in better clothes.

Also, despite this city having a reputation for romance, nightclubbing is the same experience as it is the UK – most of the men there, regardless of their nationality, are only looking for one thing. Although it’s worth noting that the French either drink less, or handle it better.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

3. I thought learning French would be easy.

Okay, so this was wishful thinking. Granted, French is easier than Russian, but it’s still bloody hard. I’ve been hovering on a 59% fluency estimate on Duolingo for ages, but I don’t think I’m even that good. Writing isn’t so bad, but spontaneous conversation is still enough to break me out in a sweat!

Give me another few months, maybe.

4. I thought I would be lonely.

One of the most profound things I have discovered during my time here so far is that there’s a world of difference between being alone and being lonely.

I think we are so often encouraged to find happiness through other people, but actually, being alone can be the greatest kind of freedom. Although I’ve made one or two friends here, I have also really learnt to love my own company.

5. I thought Paris would be a little warmer than England.

Underestimation of the century. I’m writing this after having taken a cold shower in the 37ºC heat which is threatening to consume me like a twig in flames. It’s so hot that wearing clothes is an issue, and every time I open the door I am greeted by the same waft of heat I get when I open the oven.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

And finally, 6. I thought coming here would change me, for the better.

With this one, I was on the money. Coming to live in Paris has given me the opportunity to do so many new things, meet new people, and be the person I think I was always trying to be.

I feel, at last, I have become a ‘proper’ traveler, and even when I have bad days (childcare work provides plenty of challenges!) I never doubt that coming here was a good decision. Vive la liberté!

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Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

Top Five TV Series (Animated)

I didn’t plan for this list to contain nothing but anime, but I couldn’t actually think of a western animated series I’ve watched which beats those featured on this list. I guess I’m just a sucker for subtitles. Please note that I can’t voice an opinion on the dubbed versions – I haven’t watched them.

1. Berserk (Golden Age Arc I-III)

This pseudo-Medieval anime is an adaption of Kentaro Miura’s manga of the same name. There are several versions, including one which is ongoing. I think that the Golden Age trilogy is the best in terms of quality and loyalty to the source material, however.

Berserk is essentially the violent story of a titanic struggle between good and evil, and features one of the biggest, gut-wrenching, you-stabbed-my-heart betrayals of all time. For an animated show it is gritty in the extreme, barring no holds on blood and suffering. In places it is truly disturbing, but the depth is fantastic.

Essentially, what I love about Berserk is its daring, and interesting characters (Griffith and Casca are my favourites). It goes to some really dark places, and rather than just shining a light on them it gets down in the dirt. In places Berserk is a little OTT (especially the fight scenes), but in terms of boldness this is probably my all-time favourite.

2. Claymore

Another highly violent, testosterone-charged pseudo-Medieval bloodfest, but wait! This series features a pretty much all-female cast. A brief summary would be: blonde half-monster women fight full-on monsters. Some of them go too far and become monsters themselves. There’s also some philosophy about revenge, and again the old good/evil dynamic is heavily featured.

Claymore is less full-on than Berserk, but it is a good story, and its portrayal of sisterhood, sacrifice, and the price of power is excellent.

The protagonist, Clare, is a quiet character, but her determination is the galvanising force of the series. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for something to make you weep, since Clare is rather stoic, but it is full of action, and I think the plot is strong.

3. Elfen Lied

If you don’t like things which are intense, this one isn’t for you. Elfen Lied is also highly violent, and in places very explicit. It is the primary tearjerker on this list.

The protagonist, Lucy, is a diclonius, an almost-human species with red hair and two horns. She is depicted as extremely dangerous, with the ability to slice flesh apart using her invisible extra limbs. In the anime the diclonii are an all-female species who reproduce by means of ‘infecting’ human males.

Lucy is essentially a woman who has been through hell, and takes things into her own hands by escaping the containment facility in which she is imprisoned. The anime follows her interactions with a young human she knew as a child, as well as the lives of several others of her kind. I’m warning you, bring tissues.

4. Tokyo Ghoul

Another dark anime, Tokyo Ghoul is set in alternate world inhabited by human beings and vampiric creatures, ghouls, who must feed on human flesh in order to survive. The protagonist is a teenager who gets his DNA melded with that of a ghoul, turning him into hybrid. Shy and bookish, he isn’t really cut out for the challenges of his new existence, which puts him with one foot in each world.

This series excels on the character development front. It also asks some deep philosophical questions about conflict and the right to life.

There is only one season at the moment, but a second is in the wings. I am really looking forward to seeing where the story will go next.

5. (Shingeki no Kyojin) Attack on Titan 

A friend recommended me this one with a vague description that went something like ‘kids in a walled city. Outside there are giants who eat everyone. The kids fight the giants. The giants usually win.’

The weird thing is they weren’t even lying.

Simple though the premise may be, AoT has a fantastic overarching plot. I must warn you that the manga on which it is based has a peculiar art style, but the anime is well-animated, and has hands down the best anime soundtrack I’ve ever heard.

And that’s the list, but before I go, here are some honorable mentions:

Death Note – everyone knows it, and it deserves its success.

Free! – swimming anime which is gay but never 100% admits that. Very different to everything above, but very enjoyable.

Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress) – a sort-of-steampunk love child between AoT and Tokyo Ghoul. It’s not quite as exceptional as either, in my opinion, but still good, and if you like those two and want more of the same, this is the place to go.

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Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (2016)

A Cheap Summer

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I’m not the ideal travelling partner when it comes to going by car. For one thing, I can’t drive, and seeing as I’m partially sighted, I’m not exactly gifted as a navigator. I can, however, put up a tent, and I will exchange a bleached toilet for a secluded hedge without complaint.

My best friend, Georgina, is a much firmer believer in the principle that there is no decent life without hot running water, so I don’t deny it’s odd that we agreed to go on a camping roadtrip. The explanation is simple, however. We were both in dire financial straits.

We purchased a bright blue tent, online, for £20, which advertised itself as a festival kit, including polyester sleeping bags and the worst groundsheets of all time. For transport, we found a dubious car rental which overlooked the fact that Georgina had written off her first car. Our supplies were from Tesco, and we started our journey thoroughly impressed by our budgeting skills.

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There are days when I truly wonder how we survived. I am no believer, but I’m certain that there must have been some higher power looking out for us as we rattled our way out of Glasgow. Armed with two sat navs and a large map – the sort that unfolds, and can never again be folded back into its original sleeve – we were unsure to say the least.

Hands white on the wheel, and in constant need of reassurance that we were not about to die, Georgina got us out of the city, and we set off towards our start point on the North Coast 500 route, which would take us in a circle around the Scottish Highlands.

Given how terrifying our experience of inner-city driving had been, we elected to skip Inverness, and instead spent our first night in the village of Contin, which can accurately be described as a place no one has ever heard of.

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The campsite was actually a field by a river. Not exactly luxury, but a sight better than another mile on the road. We set up the tent, and spent the evening with a Chinese takeaway, pondering how far we were from anything, and anyone, we knew.

There’s something to be said for the wilderness. True, there is little comfort in the feeling of a rock pressing against your hip, or in the sound of insects scuttling along the tent walls, but there is a kind of freedom in being away from everything. With a friend for company, the dark night and its sublime mysteries hold little fear. All the world seems alive and waiting to be discovered, and the possibility of getting lost is an exciting one.

Complete with a starry sky and delicate breeze, it was perfect, at least after the rain stopped, and before Georgina started snoring.

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We set off the next day with no fixed plans other than survival, and the road took us west to the coast. The sky was full of blanketing cloud, and it was grey. We listened to Frank Turner, and the radio when we could catch a signal.

Most of the time, we were alone on the road. There was something dystopian about it, the picture of us in our little silver car chugging through the empty landscape. The only sign of human presence was the winding ribbon of the road, but I remember we were happy, delighted by our own daring in being there, on the rugged west coast.

The harsh wind there was endured only by scattered flocks of hardy sheep, and the hills were peopled by grey rocks and gurgling streams. The handful of houses we saw were mostly abandoned cottages, defiantly begging their right to exist, even as the landscape threatened to swallow them whole.

It was elemental, and beautiful.

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I will be honest and tell you that Georgina and I were not good campers. We spent our trip leapfrogging from one supermarket to the next, and lacked the expertise to keep the tent from dampening the back of the car. Thanks to a dodgy handbrake, we had more than one heart-stopping parking incident, and we were poor planners. The more vexing results were a twenty-three mile drive to find an ATM, and an extremely frustrating hunt for the most disappointing castle of all time.

We even argued, and it was awful, but the Highlands felt, in places, like being on the edge of the world. We saw the sea at dusk from John-O-Groats, drank ‘the best hot chocolate in the world’ (I beg to differ), and through rain and wind and wild places, we found our way.

I don’t think either of us will ever say that the Highlands roadtrip was our best holiday, but it was an adventure we undertook together, and I still smile, whenever I think of it.

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Note: The route Georgina and I followed is the North Coast 500, which is described as ‘Scotland’s answer to Route 66’. If you’re interested, you can find more details about it on the official site here.

 

Top Five Inspiring TV Series

Sometimes it takes more than a single movie to get the creative juices flowing, and I confess, I do like a good series to look forward to on Saturday nights (please ignore what that says about my social life…).

For this list I have left out series which are mainly comedic, as I don’t usually find they help me with my own writing – my characters are far too miserable. Also, this list excludes animated series, as I think they merit their own list in the future.

1. Poldark (2015-ongoing)

Ah, this one is a guilty pleasure, which I usually watch with my mother (my father just falls asleep), but the acting is strong, and I think this modern reworking, so far, has been true to the books. Aidan Turner does well as the eponymous protagonist, but my favourite character is Demelza. The more complex antagonist, George, is also fantastically portrayed, and this series benefits from a mesmerising setting.

2. War & Peace (2016)

You know something is good when it has the power to change your mind. After reading Tolstoy’s masterpiece, I was a devout Andrei fangirl, because who doesn’t love a brooding soldier?

This lavish adaption boasts a collection of stellar performances, but the best by far is Paul Dano’s portrayal of Count Pierre Bezukhov, who is now my favourite character.

In the Francophile fashion of the Russian court, c’est vraiment incroyable!

3. The X Files (Original Series 1993-2002)

I love, love, love the chemistry between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. This show is actually the origin of the term ‘shipping’ and I’m just as guilty as anyone. But it’s not just the chemistry which makes this show engaging (its romantic elements are actually a very minor subplot), but the characters in their own right.

Mulder and Scully are FBI agents, a UFO believer and a scientific sceptic, thrown together with the task of solving unsolvable, mystery cases. Digging through troves of mythology and urban legends, they solve conspiracies, and experience many a close encounter with extraterrestrial and supernatural anomalies.

I’m not such a fan of the reboot, but there are plenty of episodes in the original series (literally about 200). Many are stand alone, making this an ideal series to dip in and out of.

4. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994)

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Another massive series (178 episodes!) with a cult following, I’m going to be controversial and put my honest opinion out there, which is that Next Gen. is better than the original Star Trek series.

With consistently amazing acting from Sir Patrick Stewart, and with appearances from Whoopi Goldberg, this series is, I think, a little more intelligent than its predecessor. I am also a huge fan of Brent Spiner in his role as Lieutenant Commander Data, an android striving to become more human.

5. Being Human (UK Version) Seasons 1-3 (2009-2011)

At the risk of looking like an Aidan Turner fangirl, I conclude my list with a series starring the same actor as my number one.

Being Human follows the lives (or afterlives) of a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost as they navigate the various challenges of their existence, living halfway between two worlds.

I was in two minds about including this one, because this series unfortunately went downhill after the third season (and not just because Aidan Turner left). However, in its early days, it was one of my favourites.

By turns funny, poignant and tragic, this series is ideal if you don’t want too many human characters pushing the supernatural to one side with their mundane issues. An acquired taste, perhaps, but when it was good, I loved it.

Top Five Inspiring Films

I’m always on the lookout for new sources of inspiration. Music is my favourite go-to, but I’m a firm believer that visual storytelling can be just as inspiring as words on the ear.

Script-writing was something I never enjoyed during university. The intensive formatting rules were far too bureaucratic, and, in my opinion, had far too much sway on overall grades.

There is also one other small detail, which is that I was particularly awful at writing scripts.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the work of others, and as different as scripts and novels are, it’s hard to deny that films can serve to inspire writers in other formats.

I find few things get me more in the mood for a night’s penmanship than a good film, so without further ado, my top five, at this moment, off the top of my head. Here we go, with trailers…

1. Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), starring Sigourney Weaver

It’s an old one, but as much as I love Star Wars and Star Trek I think in terms of sci-fi Alien is hard to beat. If you haven’t seen it you’ve missed out on one of the best movies out there. Bizarrely unique thanks to the designs of H.R. Giger, this film plays on the subconscious to create a truly creepy film-going experience. It also has one of the most badass protagonists, and a cat you’ll really be rooting for.

2. Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas (2012), starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry (among others)

I swear I have never cried at a film like I cried at the end of this one. Masterful and moving, Cloud Atlas is a thought-provoking adaptation of the novel by David Mitchell. I do think this is a rare instance in which the movie beats the book. I certainly found it had far more emotional impact in a visual portrayal. The main themes of this complicated film are reincarnation, love, and fate. It also boasts what I think is one of the best soundtracks in modern cinema.

3. Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai (2003), starring Tom Cruise

A based-on-a-true-story historical epic, The Last Samurai is not without its problems (for one thing, Tom Cruise’s American character is fictitious. His real-life inspiration was a Frenchman, fighting in a different war). Cultural ethics aside, however, in terms of drama and the quality of acting, this film deserves an Oscar. A classic tale of the conflict between the old world and the new, this film is a powerful critique of western interference in the traditions of eastern culture. Its soundtrack is also very impressive (and has the power to make me well up!)

4. The Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix (1999) starring Keanu Reeves

If you haven’t seen this film it does beg the question ‘where have you been?’ Some of the CGI is starting to date, and Keanu Reeves’ remains a divisive actor (personally I think he’s pretty good in this one), but The Matrix remains the ultimate sci-fi action movie, and it is that thing which I think all good movies should be – a gripping story. With an excellent supporting performance from Hugo Weaving, this is a classic you shouldn’t skip over.

5. Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (2012), starring Hugh Jackman (among others)

Last but not least, a musical. This is the film of the stage musical, of the book by Victor Hugo (a 1400 page monster I have yet to finish!). I do think this one has been something of a victim to over-exposure, which has detracted from its success. Seriously, this is an amazing film, and it makes my list for its pure artistry, and bravery. Who knew Hugh Jackman had a voice like that?!

And that’s the end of my list. I’m always on the lookout for new films to watch, so if you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

I’ll probably do another top five soon, but for now, ta-ta.

Another Month Goes By…

Another sizable absence (though I think it’s shorter than the last!), and I’m back to blogging.

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Here is a list of things which have happened during my unannounced, and unintended, hiatus:

1. Outrageous sunburn. As you can see in the photo above, Paris is sizzling. I, naïve Britisher of low expectations when it comes to summer weather, arrived here woefully unprepared for the delight that is French sunshine, and have paid for my ignorance with a ridiculous set of tan lines which make many of my outfits aesthetically nonviable.

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2. Men have also happened, in the loosest terms, which is to say I have actually conversed with some. My French is still terrible, but I am now at a level of being able to hold a very simple conversation.

Add a dash of alcohol and a loud environment in which it’s difficult to talk anyway, and I’m away. No progress onto an actual date so far, but several brief encounters, including a kind Mexican who called six times whilst I was at work (ruthless as I am, I ruled him too eager), and a handsome but sloppy Serbian who lacked subtlety, and came in pursuit of just one thing.

Dating here is different to how it is in the UK. Things are refreshingly casual, with few rules or set expectations, but this also makes for additional challenges. I am gauche, to a great extent, and also very aware of it. Maybe things will change, but I don’t think a picture-perfect Parisian romance is going to spring upon me anytime soon, and I confess, I don’t think I want it to, not yet.

In a weird twist of fate, I have moved to the City of Love, and become only more content with the unconditional freedom of being single. It’s unexpected, but I think this is what happens when you let go, in the real world. Rather than being happy enough waiting, you become happy because you are waiting.

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3. And speaking of interests, I have been writing. For the first time in a long time, my novel has a latest draft with a word count over 30,000. I have been beetling away editing it, and yesterday I ploughed on with new scenes, reintroducing an old face who has changed a great deal since his first conception. Finally, I’ve pinched back enough confidence to say this draft is starting to feel right, and I’m on track for finishing by Christmas.

So, having said what I have to say, it’s ciao for now. I’ll be back, sooner or later. I hope this time I can keep up a decent streak of regular posts!

Sunshine at Sainte-Chapelle

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So today it was bare sleeves, skirt above the knee, and walking to a soundtrack of me cursing my single pair of so uncomfortable sandals. Blistered in the blistering heat of what can only be described as summer weather, I walked, and ended up at Sainte-Chapelle, where I expected to queue, and queue some more, like the British girl I am.

The best thing about Paris, is, in my opinion, the free access to pretty much everything for under 25s in the EU. Thanks to this fantastic scheme, I have been able to visit the galleries and museums, for the most part, without spending a single euro of my limited budget.

And in this case, it meant no queuing necessary. A flip of a passport, what I like to think was a very pleasantly accented ‘merci’ (though God knows my French is still rudimentary at best), and I was in.

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I’m so glad I went. Notre-Dame and Sacre-Cœur are bigger and a trifle more grandiose (and also free for everyone to visit), but Sainte-Chapelle is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

With the sunlight spilling through the glass in the Upper Chapel, and all the colours reflecting across the intricate tiles on the floor, it was not difficult to see why even the French Revolution saw this marvel spared.

According to the free pamphlet, much of the interior was restored after 1846, but the phenomenal windows are the original ones installed during the six year construction period of 1242-1248.

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Afterwards I did the only thing that must be done on a sunny afternoon in the city. I took a long stroll along the river, and sat in the park with my book. (The Romanovs, by Simon Sebag-Montefiore, if you want to know – look out for a review soon).

So, basically, if you’re in Paris, go to Sainte-Chapelle, especially if you’re under 25 and in the EU (there is a also reduced entry fee for young people from other parts of the world).

And if you’re not in Paris, Sainte-Chapelle is one of about 1000 things to do here, and if there is such a thing as a city made of art, this is it.

So go. You will never regret, or forget it.

Life, times, etc.

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It will soon be summer in Paris. Already, the weather favours sandals, and I am making plans for travelling about Europe with my new friend whilst the sun is on our side. First Amsterdam, and then Cannes for the beach. After that, who knows? I’d love to see Spain and eastern Europe.

Almost two months have passed since I moved. Can you believe it?

My French is a lot better now, though I still struggle in conversation. I make a lot of mistakes, some more embarrassing than others. Last week I told a handsome Mexican that I was at work with children. I later realised I had told him I was at work with my children. Needless to say, he didn’t call again.

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I think the strangest thing is how quickly an experience like this changes you. I was a different person three months ago. Coming here, I have forced myself to be self-sufficient, to cook and to clean. I have become more practical, and in chasing my dreams, less of a dreamer.

At times I am unsure, but there is no denying my self-confidence has rocketed. In forcing myself to do things, I have proved to myself that I can do them, and even if I am the anxious type, I feel I have gained a great deal more composure.

Weathering this, I know I can handle rougher seas.

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Recently I have started to look up universities for September 2018. My plan is to become a lawyer, hopefully in the civil rights sector, which means after my MA I need to do an intense law conversion course for a year, and then apply for law school.

I am quite set on the idea of studying in London, which is one of my favourite cities, but there are many months before I need to decide. In any case, having been changed by my experiences in Paris so far, there’s no telling who I’ll be by the time comes.

Before I go, I just want to say thank you to all my followers. I find it so encouraging that you are interested in my writing. It really means a lot more than I can articulate, so thank you, all of you. Until next time! ❤

More Songs for Writing

Also known as Deanna has run out of poems (for now…). Here is a list of some of the songs that help me put pen to paper. Perhaps some of you will find them helpful as well. All credit to the original artists, etc.

1. Bleachers – Don’t Take the Money

This gem popped up in my recommendations, and is perfect for writing happy endings, romantic montages, or dreaming up your next big idea.

Bleachers are a recent discovery for me, but I can tell you that ‘Like a River Runs’ is also well worth a listen.

2. Ruelle – Oh My My

There is nothing quite like a dark song with a thundering drum to get me in an imaginative mood. This is song for knuckle-cracking, and pounding out that next scene.

I know very little about Ruelle, other than some of their songs have cropped up in a variety of film soundtracks, but if you like this one, ‘Game of Survival’ is also very atmospheric.

3. Oh Wonder – My Friends

If you prefer something more delicate to listen to, then look no further than this husky vocal from Oh Wonder. With a beautiful piano accompaniment, this is a good song for writing about the bittersweet.

4. MS MR – Fantasy

One of my old favourites. Ideal for jolting the mind out of a slump, and the visuals are philosophical thought-provoking, or plain weird, depending on your take.

5. Lindsey Stirling – The Arena

I’m sorry, but if you don’t like electric violin, then we can’t be friends. Lindsey Stirling’s music has, in my opinion, veered towards the commercial of late, but she boasts an impressive catalogue of songs and covers, from video game soundtracks to preppy pop pieces.

I think this is one of her best, together with ‘Master of Tides’ and ‘Roundtable Rival’. If you enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road, the video will also appeal.

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