The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • The Long Awaited Music Of Words

    Being a mood reader, there are not often books that I eagerly anticipate the release of; that I cannot wait to get my hands on and that I clamour for an early copy of. I usually browse in bookshops or see what takes my fancy on Bookstagram and pick up what takes my fancy. But this is one of those rare books I have been waiting for for a long time.

    This week saw the release of C.G. Drews’ (aka Paper Fury‘s) A Thousand Perfect Notes, into the wild. I have followed Cait’s blog for years and she never fails to make me smile and always makes me want cake. Her blog is full of enthusiastic shouting about books, relatable moaning about the misunderstood difficulties of bookworm life, lots of extolling the virtues of desserts and the odd insight into her writing life. I have lurked in the background (no, it’s not creepy, I promise), watching her tenaciously work towards her dream of becoming a published author. This year that dream became a reality and I am over the moon for her. I also could not WAIT to get my hands on her book baby and devour every word.

    I was amazingly blessed to be sent an ARC but, I’ll be honest, I had a moment of panic. What if I didn’t like it?! Here was a book I had been eagerly anticipating from a writer who, unlike most other authors I read, I actually occasionally interact with on her blog and on social media. If I didn’t like it what would I SAY?! It turns out I needn’t have worried. I read it practically in one sitting (that pesky thing called work got in the way of a true binge read) and I absolutely loved it.

    Here is a story that is shot through with passion, heartache, friendship, and hope. The characters sing off the page, along with Beck’s music, and the relationships between them were so heartfelt and real. The Maestro, Beck and Joey’s violently obsessive and overpowering mother, is a truly terrifying figure but she also has such a believable vulnerability that begins, ever so slightly, to bleed through her vicious exterior, that even whilst I wanted to run screaming from her I also wanted to reach for her and try to bring that humanity out.

    Beck is so lost within his incredible talent, heartbreak, and longing for a dream of his own, that I wanted to take his hand and hold him tight. I was so moved by his uncertainty and passion, and his relationship with his sparkly little sister is just so beautiful. A fabulously rendered sibling bond; equal parts love and irritation.

    When August bounced across the page it was like a crescendo and a splash of colour. She is such a beautifully vivid character and I loved the glimpses into her quirky life:

    “There are a few cats and a goat but we’re only babysitting the llama.”

    “Naturally.”

    August is a much needed balm to the pain and heartache of Beck’s reality and their unlikely but burgeoning friendship is so wonderful to read.

    There were highs, there were lows, there were points when I wanted to climb in between the pages, squeeze myself into the story and find a way to make everything ok. I laughed out loud. I cried. And when it was over I kept trying to turn the page in the hopes there would be more. This is one of my favourite reads so far this year. If you’re on the hunt for an immersive YA contemporary read, this is it.

    Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette for the ARCs.

    Share a Story

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    Hello lovely people. It’s been a whole month since I last spent any time in my little corner of the internet; I kept thinking about writing various posts but never actually managed to get around to doing it, partly because it’s been ridiculously busy and partly because I’ve had a bit of a rough mental health patch (ironic since my last blog series was all about mental health). But I’m here at last because it’s World Book Day and I couldn’t let it pass without a post.

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    World Book Day is one of my favourite days. A whole day dedicated to celebrating books, and stories and reading – what more could a bookworm ask for? Aside from maybe the day off work to read…(a girl can dream). This year, I’m looking forward to my first World Book Day as Whole School Literacy Coordinator. We’ve not got anything spectacular planned but I’m still excited that my job for the day will be to talk about books, read with students, and do what I can to encourage staff and students alike to share stories. It’s absolutely freezing outside and curling up with a good book and a mug of something warm seems like the ideal way to spend these snowy days but if I have to leave the house I’m glad it’s to do something book related!

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    The theme for this year’s World Book Day is “Share a Story” and I think it’s such a lovely concept. I’ve had great fun designing some lessons for KS3 and KS4 classes to get them thinking about the power of storytelling. (Shameless plug alert: if you’re planning last minute lessons you can get the powerpoint here and here.) I’ve been thinking a lot about how storytelling has evolved over time and how we are in fact surrounded by stories. Everyone and everything has a story and tells a story, from the history of the wheel that eventually evolved into the car or bike or bus you are getting to school or work in, to the ways we choose to dress or decorate our homes, stories are woven inextricably into everyday life – they are both mundane and magical. It’s so fascinating when you stop to think about all the millions of tiny stories that intersect with your own. I feel a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole when I consider it and I both want to keep on falling and worry that I might never stop!

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    As usual, my own winding way of storytelling on this blog has lost it’s thread a little, but I hope you will take the time to consider the myriad of stories surrounding you today. You never know, you might discover something wonderful and unexpected.

    I will be talking to students and colleagues about reading, and doing some reading and writing of my own. How will you be sharing stories today?

    2017’s Top Ten(ish) Books

    I did not read as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. In fact, I was a whole 20 books of meeting my Goodreads challenge! In spite of that, 2017 was a really good reading year and I discovered some new favourite authors and some new favourite books. I can never pick ONE favourite book but it takes something special for a book to worm its way onto my favourites list and this year at least TWO of the books I read made the cut…possibly even three. I’m undecided.

    Anyway, I thought I would recap my year in books by sharing my top ten reads from 2017…but then I couldn’t quite whittle it down so it’s my top eleven. Who’s even counting?!

    I have never really listened to audiobooks. I like to hold the actual book and savour the words in my own time. I’ve also previously struggled to find narrations that don’t annoy me. This year, however, saw the addition of a puppy to our family and with her arrival went a good chunk of my peaceful reading time. So I decided to give audiobooks another try to stave off the story withdrawal, since I can listen to them whilst I walk the pup. And now I’m hooked. It still all depends on the narration, as there have been a couple of books that I haven’t got more than a few minutes into before giving up through sheer annoyance at the narrator’s voice, but here are four audiobooks which not only had excellent narration but were also outstanding stories in and of themselves.

    How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

    Matt Haig is one of those authors who I have been meaning to read for forever. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while and have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for his openness about mental illness and the way in which he offers support and encouragement to those who are struggling with their own mental health. I’ve read a few of his books this year and he has quickly become a favourite author.

    How To Stop Time is a beautiful, eloquent portrait of what it means to be human: to want, to feel, to fear, to contemplate, to search, to love. Haig weaves and paints prose that reads like poetry until you are so enraptured by the image before that you hardly notice that he also wields words like a sword, until the moment when it pierces right to the heart of something you didn’t even know you were holding inside you. With compelling characters and an intriguing, twisting storyline, this is a tale to get lost in. The story, much like Haig himself, is endlessly quotable and is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. This was the one downside of listening on audiobook: there were so many points when I wanted to stop and write down or just re-hear a quote (not really achievable when out walking an energetic puppy). With the help of Goodreads I managed to track down some favourites:

    “Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”

    “Everything is going to be all right. Or, if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.”

    “A problem with living in the twenty-first century….. we are made to feel poor on thirty thousand pounds a year. To feel poorly travelled if we have only been to ten other countries. To feel old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren’t photo shopped and filtered.”

    “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

    “We have the knowledge to realise we are just a mess of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.”

    Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

    Eleanor Oliphant is one of the most discomforting and yet endearing characters I have every come across. From very early on in the book I was intrigued by Eleanor’s unique way of seeing and operating in the world and desperate to understand more about her and her history. Raymond is a wonderfully loveable character and the development of his unlikely friendship with Eleanor is heartwarming – I loved every second of seeing it grow. Eleanor Oliphant is darkly comic in its exploration of the impacts of childhood trauma and the story raised both laughs and tears. I have to give special mention to Cathleen McCarron for her excellent narration of this tale – she really brought the characters to life and I so enjoyed listening to her unspool this story.

    Although I have never experienced anything like what Eleanor has been through, I still found a lot to relate to in her character. Honeyman’s writing is amusing and highly relevant to so much human experience, here are just a few of my favourite quotes:

    “A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”

    “I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

    “In principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.”

    “There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

    “Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

    “LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

    “If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.”

    “My phone doesn’t ring often—it makes me jump when it does—and it’s usually people asking if I’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently.”

    The Keeper Of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

    The Keeper Of Lost Things is a wonderful story of loss, love, finding and letting go. I was captivated by the idea of lost things being carefully collected and catalogued, eventually to be reunited with their owners and the cast of characters had the added charm of being lost on their own ways as well. The alternating narratives across different character’s perspectives and time provides a breadcrumb trail through the story – the connection there the whole time but just out of reach and understanding, until right towards the end. Happiness and heartache in almost equal measure make the story compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.

    “Her grandmother had once told her that one could blame ugliness on one’s genes and ignorance on one’s education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”

    “Common decency, good manners, kindness and hard work were treated as peculiarities”

    “A hush is a dangerous thing. Silence is solid and dependable, but a hush is expectant, like a pregnant pause; it invites mischief, like a loose thread begging to be pulled.”

    The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

    This is one of my absolute favourite books, not just of 2017 but ever. I listened to the audiobook and was so utterly enraptured by the story that I am dying to get hold of a hardcopy so I can reread it and savour every word again. The first in the Winternight trilogy and voted best Sci-Fi and Fantasy book of 2017, The Bear And The Nightingale is one of those rare reads that is so immersive and enchanting that you forget you are reading (or in my case, listening) at all. I could feel the icy breath of the Russian winter with every turn of phrase and the magic seemed so real I felt Morozko himself dogged my footsteps. Here is a world caught in balance between the realities of harsh, arctic winters and the old, fantastical magic woven into centuries old folklore. It made me want to learn Russian and read every folk and fairytale I could get my hands on, and I did not want to leave the realm of the winter-king.

    Arden’s prose is so lyrical it weaves a spell all of its own and her characters are so well developed that they step into being with barely the lift of an imaginary finger. The story was exquisitely narrated by Kathleen Gati and her voice only added to the wonder of the story. When I started listening I hadn’t realised it was the first of a trilogy so my excitement was palpable when I noticed The Girl In The Tower will be gracing bookshelves any day now. If I were to recommend any book from 2017, it would be this one.

    “Wild birds die in cages.”

    “Nay, it is the coming storm. The first sign is fear. The second is always fire. Your people are afraid, and now the fires burn.”

    “It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.”

    “But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.”

    Dear Ijeawele: A Femenist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    I discovered Adichie through TED talks when I stumbled across her talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and read her book of the same title off the back of it. I am yet to read any of her novels but immediately picked up Dear Ijeawele when I saw it and enjoyed it even more that We Should All Be Feminists. Both books should be required reading for everyone but Dear Ijeawele especially spoke to something deep in the heart of me. Direct, perceptive, and wryly amusing, Adichie’s letter to her friend gets to the root of what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

    A quick and compelling read, it’s one to shove into the hands of anyone and everyone. Politely of course.

    “Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

    “If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”

    “Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.”

    “We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. And we do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous. Many sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be “nice” to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

    Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

    Not ordinarily one to reach for contemporary reads, I was pleasantly surprised by Me Before You. In fact, I loved it. I absolutely adored Louisa Clark and quickly wanted to make friends with her and sit down for a cuppa and a heart to heart. The story itself is also engrossing, being both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. I think what I loved most about this book though was that it didn’t succumb to the temptation to make everything all right in the end. There was something viscerally real about the stories understanding that love does not automatically make everything ok and that sometimes a happy ending doesn’t seem all that happy or look at all how you pictured it. I haven’t yet read the sequel to this book but and very much looking forward to it.

    “You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

    “I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”

    “I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.”

    “You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

    The Princess Saves Herself In This One – Amanda Lovelace

    I love a good poetry collection and this one really hit the spot. Gritty, unashamedly honest and beautiful, there is something profoundly relatable in Lovelace’s poetry, in spite of the differences in my personal experiences. I don’t really have an awful lot more to say about this one because I find poetry to be a very personal thing. It does deal with some very difficult and potentially triggering issues but I found The Princess Saves Herself In This One to be validating and inspiring.

    “ah, life—

    the thing

    that happens

    to us

    while we’re off

    somewhere else

    blowing on

    dandelions

    & wishing

    ourselves into

    the pages of

    our favorite

    fairy tales.”

    “repeat after me:

    you owe

    no one

    your forgiveness.

    – except maybe yourself.”

    “once upon a time, the princess rose from the ashes her dragon lovers made of her & crowned herself the mother-fucking queen of herself.   – how’s that for a happily ever after?”

    “fiction:

    the ocean

    i dive

    headfirst

    into

    when i

    can

    no longer

    breathe

    in

    reality.

    – a mermaid escapist II.”

    Blankets – Craig Thompson

    Much like audiobooks, I’ve never really got into graphic novels but I’ve had a couple by Craig Thompson on my bookshelves for ages that my husband read and loved. So, over Christmas, I thought I’d give them a go and found I really enjoyed them. Blankets in particular was an excellent read with Thompson’s graphics really bringing the story and the characters’ struggles to life. The tale is both moving and thought provoking on a subject I have always found interesting and challenging: the tensions between the sense of belonging and the expectations present within a religion or religious community. The characters in Thompson’s story are imperfect and therefore very real. Whilst I’m not sure they will ever have the same richness as stories written in prose, I’ll definitely be trying more graphic novels as there they offer something unique.

    “How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement – no matter how temporary.”

    “Sometimes, upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing that reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — Not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream.”

    “On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

    “At night, lying on your back and staring at the falling snow, it’s easy to imagine oneself soaring through the stars.”

    Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

    Another wonderful book from Matt Haig; very different from the first mentioned in this post but just as profound. Haig’s unflinching account of his experiences of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts is raw, moving, and strangely uplifting. He gets right to the heart of what it is to be trapped in your own mind and the horrifying experience of not being able to be fully present in your own life, even when it’s a wonderful one. Reasons To Stay Alive gives you just that; as well as truly nailing the torment of mental illness, Haig’s account also provides a funny, even joyful reminder of what it is to truly love, and why we should strive to stay alive even when it seems the dark is closing in. It is a tale of survival as much as of struggle and reading it felt like being offered a hand to hold and hearing, in the voice of a friend, that we are never truly alone.

    Recommended reading for all.

    “THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

    “Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”

    “And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”

    “Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.”

    “To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.”

    “You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.”

    The Power – Naomi Alderman

    The Power is one of those books that I started shoving into everyone’s hands the moment I finished reading it. Before I finished reading it in fact. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and disturbing books I have ever read and it made me think about our world in a different way. It woke me up to some uncomfortable truths – some of which I had been aware of but somehow seemed to have accepted as just being the reality of things, and some to do with my own thinking which I was saddened to realise existed in my own thought patterns. Graphic, visceral, and haunting, it provides a frightening portrait of society, past, present, and…future? One can only hope not. With themes similar to those in The Handmaids Tale, The Power strikes at the heart of some of the most vivid fears, hopes, and tortures of being female, in any society, in any age. Whilst part of me wanted some of the storylines to be more rounded and developed, the messages of the book were sharp as a blade and I found it interesting to discuss the story with friends, both male and female, and everyone seemed to have taken something different from it. Above all else, it really seemed to highlight the dangers of power: in anybody’s hands.

    “This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.”

    “One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’

    And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’

    That is the only answer there ever is.”

    “Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not, Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”

    “the highest among us aren’t always the wisest…”

    “We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.”

    Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

    Strange The Dreamer was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it did not disappoint. Taylor’s writing is rich, magical, and utterly mesmerising and her latest, long awaited, book is wonderful and beautifully strange: a dream in every sense. Uplifting and heartbreaking and utterly fantastic – stepping into this story is to have tour imagination ripped open in the best possible way, to find stars and flowers and terribly beautiful monsters waiting above. I didn’t think that Taylor would be able to beat the magic she wove with her Daughter Of Smoke And Bone trilogy but with Strange The Dreamer she did just that and I did not want to leave Dreamer’s Weep.

    “”You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

    “Beautiful and full of monsters?”

    “All the best stories are.””

    “It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.”

    “I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”

    “And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

    “You think good people can’t hate?” she asked. “You think good people don’t kill?”[…]”Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.”

    “Without his books, his room felt like a body with its hearts cut out.”

    “There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.”

    “The library knows its own mind… When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

    So there you have it, my top reads of 2017. I highly recommend that you pop off and read every one of them immediately. Just the thing to brighten up the wet, cold start we’re having to 2018.

    Happy reading!

    Whatever The Weather

    The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur.

    We’ve gained a family member in the shape of the most beautiful springer spaniel puppy; I’ve been more poorly than I’ve been in a very, very long time; my less than lovely anxiety beastie has been going a bit haywire, causing me all sorts of exciting issues when it comes to, you know, functioning; an work has been busy, busy, busy and I’m starting to come to know more of the challenges of my new role.

    I’m not going to lie, some days have been really, really difficult. Some days it has felt like it is only my skin holding me together. I have felt lost and vulnerable and scared and wondered what on Earth I am going to do.

    And then I realise: I’m already doing it.

    Difficult though it can be I am doing it. I am getting up every day and, even when I feel anxious and panicky, I am living my life. Even though my proud streak makes me delay longer than I should, I am asking for help when I need it. And through all the hard, horrible, dim, grey days, there is always a little sunshine. There is my wonderful husband who knows just when to hold me quietly and just when to distract me and make me laugh; there is our gorgeous puppy who, even though she can be mischievous and is SUCH hard work, greets us every day with complete adoration and has brought even more love, fun and laughter into our lives; there my fabulous friends, who are always there with a kind word and a hug; there are my incredible colleagues, who are beyond supportive and make my job a joy even on the crappy days; and all my amazing family, whose love, support, wisdom, and understanding is abundant and invaluable.

    So this half term week, as I balance rest and relaxation with puppy training and quality time with hubby, I will keep finding that sunshine. I urge you to do the same.

    Even the tiniest glimmer is still a light in the dark and I’ve never known a star shine alone.

    Here are just a few of my sunshiny stars:

    Sacred Stories

    Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

    When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

    I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

    The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

    I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

    I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

    Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

    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!

    How I Fell in Love with Reading

      
    Last week I shared the questions we had been asking students at school, to celebrate world book day. I promised you my answers so here they are:

    1) What is your first memory of reading?

    Honestly, reading has been part of my life since before I can remember. So much so that there isn’t a specific memory that sticks out because reading just was. I have many memories, all blurred together, of reading with my mum, my dad, and my gran, in particular. Bedtime stories were the norm. Morning stories were the norm. Mid-afternoon stories were the norm! 

    I remember Mum reading Tubby and Tootsie to me and my brother in the car when were parked up somewhere, early in the morning. Mumhated that book but she still read it with all the enthusiasm necessary to make telling a story an enchanting experience…which is why I asked for it again and again!

    I remember sitting with all my cousins, cosied up in the duvet on the big double bed in the spare room at my gran and grandpa’s house, eating toast squares and listening intently as Granny read aloud from The Children of Cherry Tree Farm for the umpteenth time. We all used to imagine what it would be like to have a squirrel for a pet or to meet a wild-man named Tamylan living in the woods nearby. 

    I remember Dad reading bedtime stories as he tucked me in for the night. I couldn’t tell you what story, but I can tell you how safe and loved I felt in those moments. Strong hands tucking my duvet in. Deep soothing voice intoning whatever my chosen story was, or speaking of clouds to lull me to sleep.

    I have so many precious memories around reading but it wasn’t just the books and the stories I loved, it was the experience of reading with people I loved that made it so special.
    2) What is your favourite story?

    I don’t think I could answer this question if I tried! I have so many. But I suppose what I love is the story where good wins; where things aren’t perfect but people are happy anyway; where truth is discovered; where corruption is challenged; where evil is overcome; where love is found; where different worlds and times and cultures come alive and dance off the page. My favourite story is the one I can get completely lost in.

    3) What book(s) have you read that you think I should read?

    This could be a very long list… I’ll give you a few but this is by no means an exhaustive list!!

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    Harry Potter

    His Dark Materials

    Jane Eyre

    Winnie the Pooh

    The Night Circus

    Mist Over Pendle

    Bird by Bird

    To Kill A Mocking Bird

    I Capture The Castle

    …I’m going to stop now or we’ll be here forever.

    4) What book, story or character has changed your life?

    (Why did we make these questions so hard?! They’re killing me!!)

    Again, I could list so many and for so many different reasons. I’m going to try and restrain myself and just mention 2. Firstly, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a really important story for me because its ideas of difference, identity, and mental health just hit home. Although my personal experiences were nothing like Charlie’s, I could still empathise so much with his character. His story spoke to me. Secondly, Mist Over Pendle as this was the first book that I remember being really enchanted with the language and the crafting of words. I think this is where my appreciation for beautiful writing, not just stories, began.

    5) Is there a place you would like to visit, or a journey you would like to go on, based on a book you have read?

    Lots probably, but the one that springs to mind is Prague, which I have wanted to visit since reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It just sounds like the most amazing place and I’m dying to see the astronomical clock!

    6) How did you fall in love with reading?

    I guess my answer to question 1 answers this one too! I fell in love with reading through the love of stories and books my parents and grandparents shared with me. Through the experience of togetherness I had when being read to or read with, I came to love stories for just that: an experience. Through the wide range of stories told to me, and books I was introduced to as a child, I came to love them for the words and the worlds they contained. I continue to fall in love with reading everytime I pick up a book; the look and the feel of the book itself, the smell of the pages, and the enchantment, wisdom, and illusion that unfolds from the letters printed within. (Who knew you could create such beauty from black squiggles on a page?) 

    How else can you travel the world and beyond, or see into the minds of great thinkers of the past without leaving the comfort of your home…or even your bed?! Books and stories are such an incredible gift and I thank all the people who have brought, are bringing, and will bring these things into the world. You are truly magicians. 

    I’d love to know your own responses to any or all of these questions. Please feel free to share in the comments below!

    Happy reading. 😊

     

    Would You Rather: Book Edition

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    I came across this bookish version of ‘Would You Rather’ on mylittlebookobsession’s instagram/blog feed (which you should obsolutely check out, by the way) and couldn’t resist joining in the fun!

    So, would you rather…

    Read only trilogies or standalones?

    Although this is tricky because there are so many amazing stand alone books, I would have to say trilogies. I love series of books because when discovering a good book and then finding out it’s the first in a series is the best thing!

    Read only female or male authors?

    First of all, I hate this question. The author’s gender is irrelevant to me to be honest; it’s their writing that is important not whether they are male or female.

    That said, if I absolutely HAD to choose, the feminist in me would say female authors because male authors still dominate the book world, particularly in my favourite genre (fantasy), and that is a shame because I have no doubt there are some amazing female authors that the world is missing out on.

    Still. Hate that question.

    Shop at bookstore or online?

    Although I love the convenience of shopping online I would choose bookstores. There’s nothing like browsing in a bookstore and coming away with a brand new book…or two…or three… I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy that.

    All books become movies or tv shows?

    I love TV shows but I always miss them when they’re on and end up binge watching them, which, whilst fun, renders me completely unproductive! I can’t imagine how unproductive that would make me if ALL books became TV shows! With that in mind, I think I’d have to go with movies.

    Read 5 pages per day or 5 books per week?

    Who only reads 5 pages a day?? HOW DO YOU COPE?! 5 books per week. Definitely…although I may get less done at work.

    Be a professional reviewer or author?

    Hands down, an author. I often struggle to find anything to say about the books I read other than IT WAS SO GOOD GO READ IT NOW, so I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a reviewer. Being an author on the other hand is actually my secret dream…

    Only read your top 20 favorite books over and over again or always read new books that you haven’t read before?

    The pain of answering this question is real and brutal. It actually breaks my heart a little to imagine either of these scenarios being real. I cannot imagine not being able to re-read my favourites over and over again…but equally, never being able to read a new book would be devastating. I think I would have to go with…only reading new books. *cries at the thought* Urgh, it hurts!! Has to be that one though; I already get upset at the thought that I won’t ever be able to read all the books I want to because there are more every flipping day!

    Be a librarian or bookseller?

    A bookseller!! In a quirky little independent bookstore with big squishy chairs!

    Only read your favorite genre or read every genre except your favorite genre?

    Only read my favourite genre. I don’t know how I’d deal with not having the complete escapism of fantasy.

    Only read physical books or ebooks?

    I love my kindle. I love the convenience, I love that I can carry literally THOUSANDS of books in my handbag and switch what I’m reading without moving. I love that the books are often cheaper. I love that you can buy a book from your bed in the middle of the night when you can’t seep and start reading it immediately…but…it’s not the same as a real book. So it’s got to be only physical books. (Also, what would I take pictures of if I only had my kindle!! Haha!

     

    So there you have it! What would YOU rather??

    Another Year Read

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    Happy New Year lovely people! It’s hard to believe another year is over – 2015 seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye! I did an awful lot of reading in those 12 months (and took a lot of pictures of books!) so I thought I’d do a year in books round up – here is a list of everything I read in 2015:

    1. Unwind – Neal Shusterman

    2. The Rithmatist – Brandon Sanderson

    3. Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo (read for work)

    4. The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

    5. The Library of Unrequited Love – Sophie Divry

    6. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (re-read for work)

    7. Romeo & Juliet – Shakespeare (re-read for work)

    8. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (re-read for work)

    9. Abomination – Robert Swindells

    10. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

    11. Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

    12. The Golem & The Djinni – Helene Wecker

    13. Not That Kind Of Girl – Lena Dunham

    14. The Innocent Mage – Karen Miller

    15. Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett

    16. The Infographic Guide to Literature – Joanna Eliot

    17. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

    18. The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman

    19. Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

    20.  Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe –  Benjamin Alire Sáenz

    21. The Coincidence Authority – John Ironmonger

    22. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

    23. The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman

    24. The Looking Glass Wars  – Frank Beddor

    25. All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

    26.  The Innocent Mage – Karen Miller

    27. The Awakened Mage – Karen Miller

    28.Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham

    29. Earth, Air, Fire and Custard – Tom Holt

    30. The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

    31. The Soul Trade – E.E. Richardson

    32. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

    33. All That is Solid Melts Into Air – Darragh McKeon

    34. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    35. The Witches – Roald Dahl

    36. The Glass Books of The Dream Eaters – Gordon Dahlquist

    37. The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

    38. Where The Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silversten

    39. The Tempest – William Shakespeare

    40. DNA – Dennis Kelly

    41. Ella Minnow Pea – Mark Dunn

    42. Very Good Lives – J.K. Rowling

    43. How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

    44. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

    45. A Mislaid Magic – Joyce Windsor

    46. Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

    47. Smilers Fair – Rebecca Levene

    48. The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett

    49. Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham

    50. Eunoia – Christian Bock

    51. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

    52. Night of Cake and Puppets – Lani Taylor

    53. The Paper Magician – Charlie N Holmberg

    54. The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

    55. Eros Unbound – Anais Nin

    56. Will Grayson, Will Grayson – David Levithian & John Green

    57.The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavander – Leslye Walton

    58. Rules of the Red Rubber Ball – Kevin Carroll

    59. Tales of Beedle The Bard – J K Rowling

    60. Giver – Lois Lowry

    61. Sun and Moon – Lindsey Yankee

    62. Mental Morfosis – Franz De Paula

    63. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

    64. Tiny Book of Tiny Stories – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    65. Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    66. Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 3 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

    67. Crown of Midnight – Sarah J Maas

    68. Night Owls – Jenn Bennett

    69. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J K Rowling

    70. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J K Rowling

    71. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J K Rowling

    72. The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Partick Ness

    73. Fever Crumb – Phillip Reeve

    74. Heir  of Fire – Sarah J Maas

    75. The Fox and The Star – Coralie Bickford-Smith

    76. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett

    77. Magonia – Maria Dahvana Headley

    78. Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

    79. An Ember in The Ashes – Sabaa Tabhir

    80. Poisoned Apples – Christine Heppermann

     

    I could honestly recommend any one of these books but my favourites were: Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Wise Man’s Fear, Shadow and Bone, An Ember in the Ashes, Harry Potter (all of them!), The Uncommon Reader, The Throne of Glass series, Very Good Lives, Magonia, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and Ella Minnow Pea.

    Hoping you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and wishing you a fabulous 2016!