2016: A Year of Books

It’s that time again; we’re saying goodbye to the old year and hello to the new. There has been a lot about 2016 which has been unpleasant, worrying, and sad, and I’m making an effort to remember that it hasn’t all been bad by any stretch. We’ve had some wonderful adventures and happy news throughout the year and I have been blessed, as I am every year, with opportunities and love. It’s also been a brilliant year for reading! (So it definitely can’t have been that bad.😉) At the beginning of the year I set myself a challenge to read 100 books, and I managed it (just)! I’ve actually just finished my 101st book of 2016 so I even managed to beat my goal. I thought I’d share with you my reading year and recommend some of my favourites. Here’s a round up of my year in books (be warned, it’s lengthy!)…


I started the year with some brilliant books: I devoured Illuminae and read the whole thing cover to cover on New Year’s Day. It’s definitely one of the most original books I’ve read in terms of execution of an idea and I found it compelling to read a story told in such an unique way. 

I also read, and adored, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I so enjoyed heading back to this world (Rothfuss is a genius of the genre) and I found this tale told from Auri’s perspective to be haunting and moving. It’s not an continuation of the Kingkiller Chronicles and I know many were disappointed because of this, but I found it utterly enchanting and a true testament to Rothfuss’ skill and imagination. 

Another favourite was Uprooted, a truly engrossing fantasy. I loved how unusual the magic was in this story and loved the characters and how they developed throughout. I’ve lent this to many people, all of whom have loved it. (It’s also one of the most beautiful books on my shelves!)

I enjoyed revisiting an old favourite series  in The Black Magician trilogy – The High Lord is one of my favourite characters. 

Bird by Bird was one of my favourite reads of the year. It really made me want to write more of my own and made me feel like it wouldn’t matter if it turned out to be utter tripe, as long as I had the courage to actually write it! I haven’t done as much writing as I had hoped but thei book certainly spurred me on to write more than I’ve ever managed before.

My mum lent me a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth and I thouroughly enjoyed it. A fantastical world filled with entertaining word play. A great fun read!

A couple of highly recommended books on bookstagram that made my reading list this year were Queen of Shadows and Shatter Me. I really enjoyed Queen of Shadows, in fact I loved the whole series – Caleana is a great character! Unfortunately, I did not feel so positive about Shatter Me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just didn’t grab me. I normally enjoy reading YA but this one just felt too young, somehow. I know many people loved it though and it’s an interesting premise so I’d still give it a go.

I enjoyed The Martian immensely and it’s one of the few books that I have read AFTER I’ve seen the film. It’s funny and somehow still profound: I just love Watney’s dry humour. I’d also highly recommend the film as a really try interpretation of the book – Matt Damon is excellent!

The Catcher In The Rye is on that I have been meaning to read for an absolute age and the couple of times I started it I just wasn’t in the right mood. Not the case this time! I always think it’s worth persevering with classics if they don’t quite grab you the first time, as I have found with many that when I eventually get my brain to engage then I really enjoy them.

Ah, so many good ones in this little batch! The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is a compelling and original story which Infound incredibly thoroughly gut provoking. It’s sci-for as I’ve never read it before and I completely fell in love with the crew of the Wayfarer. I’m excited to read the sequel in 2017!

I finally got around to reading a couple of children’s classics which I had never read before: Peter Pan and A Little Princess. Both were wonderful! Peter Pan is wonderfully weird and fantastical but the classic story which many of us grew up with (regardless of whether you’d read the book or not) doesn’t fail to engross, even as an adult reader. A Little Princess is completely enchanting and has some of the most beautiful lines and turns of phrase in it. I grew up loving the film adaptation of this book, my favourite part of which was always the magical transformation of the attic – it was just as magical, if not more so, in the book! Loved it!

I also have to mention Girl of Ink and Stars – this book is utterly wonderful. You cannot help but fall in love with the characters and the island, and the storyline strikes the perfect balance between being vividly real and disturbingly fantastical.

Two more favourites from this year were Rebel Of The Sands and The Reader On The 6:27. Rebel Of The Sands is magical and bursting with imagination. It’s so brilliantly written that everything leaps out at you – you can almost feel the heat rippling off the page and constantly expect to find grains of sand trickling into your lap. Read it.

I continued my re-reading of Harry Potter over the summer which is always a favourite of mine. If you’ve not yet read this series then you should give it a go.

Queen of The Tearling was a great new fantasy read and, again, I’m excited to read the next in the series in 2017. 

The Red Notebook is a really lovely story – great for fans of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry!

I am not normally one for non-fiction or biographies but I had to give I am Malala a chance and I was not disappointed. I already knew something of Malala’s story but reading it in her own words was truly moving and made me feel proudly fortunate. I was also so struck by what an incredible man her father is – we need more men like him in the world.

I was excited to receive The Graces in my Illumicrate box in July and really enjoyed reading it. I felt it took a little while to get going but was one of those I couldn’t quite put down.

Sleeping Giants was initially a cover but (so pretty!) but I was really pleased to have picked it up. It has echos of Illumicrate but is adult sci-if rather than YA. I also enjoyed reading a sci-fi that was set entirely on Earth!

I had so much fun reading all the new wizard of world books released by Pottermore this year – I loved reading a bit more about some of my favourite characters, particularly McGonagall. If you’re a HP fan and haven’t read these yet then you should go and read them. They’re inexpensive, quick to read, and a delightful trip back to the wizard of world.

Other favourites from this bunch were Ted Hughes’ poetry collection, Crow, and the recently published Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, which it inspired. Both were dark, profound and deeply moving. Anyone who has grieved will find something of truth in these pages and it is strangely comforting.

Pax is one of my absolute favourites from this year. A thoroughly moving story about a boy and his best friend, who happens to be a fox. It’s a lovely tale but the thing that struck me much was how TRUE the pages from Pax’s perspective felt. That might sound strange, after all how on earth would I know what a fox’s perspective would sound like, and yet it felt completely right. It wa the perfect autumn read.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises joins Pax on my absolute favourites of 2016 list. This book was charming, magical, relatable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I have bought at least 3 copies to give to other people and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Probably the most controversial book I’ve read this year is Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I have seen such mixed reviews about it: some love it, some hate it, some have gone so far as to say they feel betrayed by JK for putting her name to it(?!). As far as I’m concerned it was great fun! It was NOT the 8th Harry Potter book but I never expected it to be. It was fun to return to Hogwarts; it was fun to imagine the possible futures of my favourite characters; it was fun to see something of the next generation of witches and wizards. Yes, there were some slightly questionable plot points, yes, it did read a little like fan fiction – but, honestly, I still loved it. I would happily read it again and I really, really hope I get to see the play at some point.

My last big batch of reading from 2016 included some of my Christmas favourites: A Christmas Carol is to this day the only Dicken’s book I have read all the way through. I hope to change this in 2017 as I really do love this book and although Dicken’s writing is incredibly wordy I think it is beautiful.

Chasers of the Light was a Christmas present and I absolutely loved it. Simple, but stunning, poetry typed on found paper – a joy to read.


My 100th book of the year was The Snow Child which has been on my bedside table for 2 years waiting to be read. This tale is achingly sad but beautifully written. It is a haunting tale and Ivey perfectly evokes the ethereality of deep winter and human desire for connection and love.

As well as reading my 100 books, I’ve also had another great fun year on bookstagram! Here are my #bestnine from 2016…


There’s clearly a favoured theme since I haven’t stuck to one theme all year but these all got the most likes. I haven’t decided what I might do with bookstagram in 2017 (to stick with one theme or keep a messy feed, that is the question…) but I do know that I still love this online bookish community. The pictures are beautiful and inspiring and the people are kind and encouraging. It’s a great little creative outlet and I look forward to another bookish year being a par of it.

So there you have it, my year in books! I hope you had a wonderful year, whether it was bookish or not. Please leave any of your own recommendations/favourite reads of 2016 in the comments.

Whatever your 2016 was like I wish you all the happiest of New Years, and love, peace, and joy for 2017.

God Bless, Take Care, Love You


There’s frost on the ground, but the sky burns

With the flaring amber of the setting sun.

There’s grief in our hearts, but joy in our souls

For that life lived and the love we’ve known.

There are tears on our cheeks, but laughter on our lips,

For the memories shared and tales retold.

He is

         Embracing his best love, with tears of joyful reunion.

We are

          Feeding the ducks on Langold Lake, with him telling jokes by our side.

He is

          Racing around on a long coveted Harley, chuckling like a school boy.

We are

           Playing dominoes for coppers, being tricked into extra pocket money.

He is

          Indulging in the biggest Yorkshire pudding he’s ever seen, with extra gravy of course.

We are

          Sitting at his feet watching cartoons and competing for who can laugh loudest and longest, at Pingu, Gromit, Tom and Jerry.

He is

          Saying: Goodbye,

                                  God bless,

                                           Take care,

                                                     Love you.

We are

           Saying: You too.

There is frost on the ground, but the sky burns

With the flaring amber of the setting sun.

Hogwarts Helps the Homeless

It’s been a long, tiring, albeit rewarding week. But instead of curling up to fall asleep on the sofa with a book on my face I’ve venturd back out to support Smith Goodfellow PR in their latest charity endeavour.

This year, the SG team have undertaken another series of extraordinary events to raise money and awareness in support of two homeless charities: The Wellspring Kitchen and CRASH. So far they have embarked on a 5k colour run, climbed the Welsh Three Peaks, and held a car boot sale and I’m joining in for as many events as I can. Today’s event is a 24 hour, Harry Potter themed, stationary bike ride. Because the Hogwarts community would DEFINTIELY help the homeless. And we think it’s hugely important too.


You can read about what has motivated the SG team over on their blog, and you can donate to The Wellspring Kitchen here and CRASH here.

It’s devastating that so many people in our country are facing homelessness. We must do more to protect and support each other and a small donation to one of these charities can go a long way. Please consider giving whatever you can to support. It could so easily be one of us.

Armchair Travels


Mega, mega excited for the deliver of the first ever Fernweh Fiction box! It’s been a tough few days and this has brightened up my week no end. I’ve only had chance to have a quick look through the contents but I’m already impressed: the book is one I’ve never come across and looks brilliant, the additional gifts (of which there are many!) are thoughtfully selected and each beautiful, functional, fun, or delicious in their own right. 

If you want to see what’s inside check out my Instagram story for a full unboxing, but if you’re still waiting for your box then avoid the spoilers because unwrapping the contents was so much fun!

I’m super impressed with The Travelling Reader’s first book box and can’t wait to nestle down with the book. If you’re not already subscribed then sign up quick at fernwehfiction.co.uk.

Watch this space for more photos of what’s inside!

Who Are We Now?


I’m in need of a brain dump so excuse me whilst I empty my chaotic thoughts right here…

Never has the wit and wisdom of Douglas Adams been more appropriate:

 “The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them. 

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. 

To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” 

― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

When the Brexit ideology won out in the EU referendum, I was in shock for days. Weeks. In fact, I still can’t quite get my head around it. I was so disheartened that a campaign of lies and fear mongering had won, so afraid of what this decision might mean for our future. I was angry, upset, disillusioned, anxious, fearful. But as I started to shake off the negative torpor that followed I worked hard to not be judgemental of those who believed and had voted differently to me, and to try and live and speak in a way that was respectful and inclusive (whilst retaining the right to express my pretty pissed off self!). I spent a lot of time reminding myself that there are many, many people, of various political leanings, who truly care about the world and their fellow human beings, who live in compassion and honesty with a strong sense of social responsibility – not just for those closest to us, but for all. I reminded myself that I could still be one of those people, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

I honestly didn’t think I’d see another political outcome that would upset me as much.

I was wrong.

Waking up this morning to the news that Donald Trump was on his way to becoming the next President of the United States I was in total disbelief. I actually felt sick at the thought. How could it be possible that a man who is so wholly offensive, to so many, who actively encourages hate and violence, who is corrupt and dismissive and ignorant and hateful, was about to be offered one of the most powerful positions in the world? It could not be true. And yet it was.

It was Brexit all over again, but somehow even worse.

I still have no words to describe exactly how this makes me feel. I’m shocked and saddened that so many choose to align themselves with, what seem to me, such abhorrent views. I honestly don’t wish to offend anyone who believes differently to myself, but the problem I’m faced with is that I just can’t understand how demonising or devaluing groups and individuals, because of their race, religion, gender, sexuality or anything else, can be seen positively. Can be used as grounds for political manoeuvring. I just can’t comprehend it. And that seems to me to be all that Trump has stood for throughout his campaign. I have seen no love or compassion or concern for humanity in any of what he has campaigned on. And without those things, who are we? What will we become?

I’m fighting once again to remind myself that there is more good than hate in the world. That it is up to us to fight the good fight, to uphold principles of love and peace and compassion. I still desperately want to believe in the inherent good of people. I want to see the world become a better place. In light of everything that is occurring I find myself asking, who are we now? What can we do to bring the best of ourselves to the fore?

I believe in humanity. We are better than the fearmongering that surrounds us. So let’s be better.

I urge you to remember Douglas Adams’ big friendly letters: DON’T PANIC. And don’t forget your towel.

Ticking Along Nicely

IMG_4632.JPG

 

November has got off to a lovely start. I was completely spoilt for my birthday, with tons of books, clothes, books, games, books, chocolate, and other goodies, but more importantly with the love and time of lots of my favourite people. We talked, we ate, we danced, we watched fireworks: it was perfect.

The first week of November has also seen the beginning of my first ever NaNoWriMo – I’m not embarking on a whole novel or even aiming for 50,000 words, I simply want to improve and increase my writing practice. So far I’ve outlined a handful of short story and poetry ideas and today I actually started writing one! It feels good to write.

With all the birthday busyness, planning/writing time, and a hectic start to the half term, I haven’t done as much reading as I normally would. I got a stack of amazing books for my birthday to add to my already humongous TBR pile and yesterday I decided to crack into one of them: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. I’m about a quarter of the way in and I’m completely in love with this quirky story. It’s original, funny, and moving in so many ways and I have come across some real gems to add to my ever growing list of favourite quotes. Most of them are about grandmothers. I’ve found them especially appealing because I’ve been thinking about and missing my own Gran a lot recently – I can’t quite believe how long she’s been gone – and so many of these beautiful lines reflect exactly how I feel about her or are exactly the sorts of things she would do or say. So to round off my little ‘Ticking Along Nicely’ post, I thought I’d share a few with you.

“Having a grandmother  is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.”

“A grandmother is both a sword and a shield.”

“Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”

“There’s something special about a grandmother’s house. You never forget how it smells.”

“It’s much more difficult to have conflict when there are cookies around.”

I highly recommend picking up this book, especially if you have a grandmother you love (and especially if that grandmother is a little eccentric).

I hope your November is going as well as mine.

x

 

In Love With The Season


This is absolutely my favourite time of year. The trees are aflame and their burnished colours make the world seem warm even when that autumn chill pierces the air. It’s time to snuggle up inside cosy layers: jumpers, scarves, boots, hats – it’s your time to shine. The nights close in earlier and earlier, and whilst sometimes it feels like you don’t get to see the day (especially when you’re working) it has the distinct advantage of meaning you have every excuse to pull up the draw bridge as soon as you’re through your front door. Change into those comfy clothes, light some candles or even a fire, snuggle under a blanket and enjoy the unique hush of an autumn evening. Read a book, watch a film, just enjoy being.
And then there’s the food…soups and stews and stuffed jacket potatoes! Warm crusty bread and mugs of hot chocolate! Forget about the carbs or the calorie count. Everything in moderation and don’t forget you need that energy to keep you going – since our bodies are tuned to work better in daylight, the shorter days mean we need that fuel.

All these things and so many more are the reasons I’m in love with the season.

When the leaves have turned and the nights draw in, I find it so much easier to be at peace with the world. It goes a little bit quieter in my head and it feels like home.

This year autumn seems to have got off to a particularly brilliant start. The leaves are turning more slowly and the colours are more vivid than in recent years. October was beautiful and, if this morning is anything to go by, November promises to be crisp and cool and the perfect run up to the year’s festive finale.

I was lucky enough to spend a fabulous few days in the peace and quiet of Cartmel with my hubby. We found a cosy little hideaway (complete with log burning stove), and holed up for four restful days of reading and lazing and (occasionally) exploring the village. It was perfect and made me feel incredibly blessed, not only that we have the means to take trips like that but also that I have a husband who I can just be quiet with; no pressure to talk all the time or be busy doing things, with the happy ability to just be  in each others company, reading books, listening to music: just enjoying.

We’re now back into the swing of things after our time away; he to a busy PR office and stack of writing and emails and projects to complete, but with a great, fun team to take the edge off; me to another hectic school term with resources to make, interventions to plan and meetings to attend, but also with a great, fun team to take the edge off!

November 1st saw another beginning…yep, you guessed it: NaNoWriMo! I have considered getting involved in NaNo for a few years now and never had the guts to do it (hello self doubt!), and whilst I’m still not sure I have a novel in me quite yet, I am determined that I want to improve my writing practice. So, with a little nudge from a friend, here I am. Writing. I signed up on the NaNoWriMo website and am hoping to write every day, but I’m not anticipating 50,000 words or anything like it and I’m not planning a novel. Instead, I want to use the NaNo spirit that permeates November to write anything  I can. Right now it’s a blog post. Yesterday I started outlining some short stories and even came up with some ideas for poems. Who knows what I’ll produce, or whether it will be any good, but actually it doesn’t matter: I just want to have a go.

I’m in love with the season and it has me feeling happy, hopeful, productive, and creative. You never know, maybe I’ll discover I had a novel in me after all…

For the Love of Poetry

Thursday 6th October is National Poetry Day so I’ve decided to share some poems here. I love poetry but it’s rarely my go-to reading material when I get time to pick up one of the many books on my shelves. It’s a great shame really because poetry can be so profound and inspiring, and it can also be incredibly grounding. By sharing some poems here I’m hoping to fill more of my days with poetry.

I’m starting with an appropriately seasonal poem in celebration of my favourite time of year.

Ode To Autumn – John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimmed their clammy cell.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir, the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft,
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Giselle: A Triumphant Reimagining


I have just had the pleasure, and the absolute privilege, of watching English National Ballet perform Akram Kahn’s Giselle. I’m not even sure if I can articulate how I feel about this production. Words like phenomenal spring to mind but I’m not sure even that would do it justice.
Every aspect of this reimagined classic has been crafted to perfection. Kahn’s choreography is poignant and eloquent, managing to be both true to the classical ballet style whilst also writhing with an earthy, contemporary edge. The combination of classical motifs, that appear like a breadcrumb trail evoking the original choreography, the bodily contortion and contemporary attack, blended with nods to Kahn’s classical kathak, make for a truly original work of art. 
Tamara Rojo is exquisite as Giselle, and carries the complex blend of frantic movement, utter stillness, and expressive gesture with the degree of poise and perfection we come to expect from professional dancers, yet which still manages to astound. Likewise, Stina Quagebuer portrays Myrtha with finesse: exuding other-worldliness and wielding suspense with her every movement. 
Along with the incredible performances of the principles and soloists, the artists of the company were truly breathtaking. For me, their portrayal of the Wilis in particular was striking. It was here, in Act 2, where Khan’s incredible conceptual originality shone: through the flawless execution of the artists. Managing to maintain the famous ethereal vision and movement of the classic, Khan brings a raw, underlying tension to the act, the eeriness of which raises the hairs on the back of your neck. The stunning choreography and performance is complimented beautifully by effortlessly flowing costumes; simple yet effective sets and staging; and a haunting use of light. 
Circling and weaving through the production is another masterpiece; Vincenzo Lamagna’s score. A perfect blend of symphony and silence, threaded through with industrial sound, Lamanga manages to both enhance the choreography and give it space to breathe and speak for itself. In the music, as with the choreography, there are familiar refrains woven through a new and exciting artistic landscape: I can’t imagine a more successful accompaniment.
As if the artistic virtuosity evident in this production was not enough, this unique retelling carries with it themes both old and new, that resonate with extraordinary power. Love, rejection, betrayal, death, revenge and inequality all have their place in the evidently timeless story, and all are expressed in such a way that invites us to consider the impact of such things in our own communities, and indeed the world.
I congratulate all involved in the planning, production and performance of Giselle; it is truly triumphant.