A Pause, A Ponder And Some Poetry

After a brief, unintentional hiatus, I’m back and trying to figure out how on Earth to balance a busy day job and a more-hectic-than-usual home life with the writing life I crave. During the summer lull, I had managed to start to create time during my days to write or at least play with ideas for writing. I had been posting regularly on the blog and creating regular content for my bookstagram account, both of which grew in followers and engagement. I was loving having the time to enjoy my creative life. And then the new term started. I was utterly snowed under within a matter of days and, even on the evenings when I wasn’t having to bring work home with me, I was so shattered and anxious from the accumulated stress of the work day and then the waiting housework that I had no energy for writing or taking photos, even when I could have found the time. So all of my creative pursuits fell by the wayside. My journal pages stayed empty. My notebook gathered dust. My latest blog post aged slowly in its corner of the internet. My bookstagram started to stagnate. And I felt guiltier and guiltier for not managing to summon the energy for these creative pursuits; for not managing to do it all.

I’ve still not managed to pull myself out of that particular guilt rut and I’m starting to realise it maybe runs a bit deeper than I’d thought.

It’s frustrating to feel I’ve lost the momentum that I had started to build – it all feels a bit ‘one step forwards and two steps back’. But I can’t deny that my brain – which is doing all sorts of unpleasant things right now – needed a break. Juggling all the many aspects of life (wonderful though most of them are) is exhausting sometimes. Occasionally, some balls are going to slip and fall. Sometimes it will take a while to recover them. And most of the time I know that’s ok.

I did manage a little flurry of bookstagram posts last week which I actually wanted to share here as well.

Last Thursday was National Poetry Day and, as I’m a huge poetry lover, I wanted to take the chance to share some of my favourite poets/poetry collections. So following my pause and my ponder, I present you with some poetry recommendations:

First up is the fabulous Nikita Gill whose poetry is a poignant reminder that though we may be inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe we are each as miraculous as the stars. Beautiful, lyrical, empowering poetry.

Next up is Nocturnal by the oh so talented Wilder – I absolutely ADORE this collection. Not only is the poetry thought provoking, moving and beautifully written, but the book is exquisitely designed with accompanying illustrations by the author. I devoured this when I first got it and turned back to the first page for a reread as soon as I’d finished. Simply gorgeous.

Another favourite poetry collection of mine is Chasers Of The Light by Tyler Knott Gregson – simple and elegant, these appealingly presented typewriter poems show the power of poetry to capture poignancy in the smallest moments.

I fell in love with Amanda Lovelace’s poetry with her first collection – the princess saves herself in this one – but for me, her second collection – the witch doesn’t burn in this one – is something truly remarkable. Raw and empowering, Lovelace uses not just the words but the form of her poems to raise a call to arms at the same time as inviting you into the embrace of the sisterhood. This collection raised the hairs on my arms with its power and the connection it offers.

Last but certainly not least in my poetry favourites is this exquisite book from Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – the illustrations are absolutely stunning, seeming to live right off the page, and combined with the wonderful collection of acrostic poetry celebrating the natural world bring back all the wonders of a childhood spent in the garden and exploring the woods. Filled with nostalgia, hope and marvel this collection is the antidote to our hectic digital lives. You’ll want to wander in the great outdoors from the first page.

Do you have a favourite poem, poet or collection of poetry? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments as I’m always on the look out for new poetry to enjoy.

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.
  • Being Emotionally Honest

    This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

    When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

    Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

    Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

    It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

    What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

    I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

    Reading:

    The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

    Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

    Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

    Circe by Madeline Millar

    (I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

    Listening To:

    The Happy Place

    The Guilty Feminist

    Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

    The Quibbler

    Made of Human

    Photographing:

    Books

    Nature

    My dog!

    Writing:

    Poetry

    Blog posts

    A young adult fantasy novel…

    Journaling:

    Quotes

    Doodles

    Tracking sleep, mood, steps

    Daily gratitude

    This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

    What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?

    Poems From The Library

    Today is World Poetry Day and I had the pleasure and privilege of accompanying a group of students to our local care home, where they performed poetry they had written for the residents. It was a wonderful and moving experience to see these young people engage with such care, kindness, and interest with the older generation in our community. It was also a true testament to the power of poetry to move and inspire.

    The students involved revelled in the opportunity to create poetry, several of them never having attempted anything like it before. The whole experience reinforced my own love of the poetic word and prompted me to reflect on my own experience of writing poetry. Unlike with other forms of writing, I often find that poems materialise inside me in a very natural way. Writing stories, articles, and blog posts usually takes a conscious effort of considered construction, but poetry often seems gifted to me.

    I heard a wonderful TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she shares Ruth Stone’s poetic process:

    “…when she felt it coming – because it would, like, shake the earth under her feet – she knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to – in her words – run like hell. And she would, like, run like hell to the house. And she’d be getting chased by this poem. And the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times, she wouldn’t be fast enough. So she’d be, like, running and running and running and the – she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would, like, barrel through her. And she would miss it. And she said it would continue on across the landscape looking, as she put it, for another poet.”

    My own experience of being discovered (or chased!) by an emerging poem is not quite so dramatic but I can completely relate to the idea of a poem coming to the poet! Don’t get me wrong, my poems don’t just blink into life fully formed before me. I usually find that they sneak up on me and then just part of it will just appear to my consciousness very suddenly. It is like seeing something glinting in the grass and when I pick it up it becomes a thread for me to follow. I follow the thread and hope I can figure out where it was supposed to lead. I weave it into something new and hopefully capture that moment in time.

    Lat summer, I was lucky enough to stay at Gladstone’s Library – something which I HIGHLY recommend to any writer or bookworm – and my time there really rekindled my love of writing poetry. One poem found me whilst I was writing in the library late one night and I thought I would share it with you today:

    Night birds sing their sunset tune,

    As the eloquence of trees is cloaked in shadow.

    The final note rings out the day

    And silence envelopes the warm, red brick.

    But lights still glow through the leased windows,

    And gentle figures sit in quiet reverence,

    Breathing deep the ink and parchment dust

    Of ages past.

    Walked in by layers of words and prayers and panelled oak,

    Held close by the carved pillars and balustrades

    That guard the ancient knowledge of the library;

    They sit

    And seek

    A knowledge of their own.

    Outside the darkness creeps

    And chases off the warmth of day

    But inside the write by their own cones of light,

    Cocooned in the low steady burn of ideas.

    And even as the lights dim and blink out,

    One

    By one

    By one,

    And heavy heads hit feather pillows, to

    Dream

    And dream

    And dream,

    The seemingly slow and silent life of the library,

    Carries on it’s endless forays into

    History and Destiny and Fantasy,

    Because imagination never sleeps.

    The Joy of A Moment

    Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

    In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

    I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

    I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

    I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

    Wishing you all a peaceful week.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Reads – Anxiety Journal

    This is just a quick little recommendation, as I’ve only just come across it myself but thought it still seemed worth a share.

    The Anxiety Journal is actually something my lovely husband found and suggested to me, and I’m so glad he did. It is another beautifully presented book, very simply formatted, with lots of white space, which makes it a lovely, calming book to flick through.

    It provides a combination of insightful quotes, thoughtful reflections and exercises, and simple illustrations. I have found it the perfect book to end the day with. Just before bed I can sit and open it to any page and use what’s printed there to help me take stock, reflect on the day, and deal with any anxiety or panic that may have built up. Combined with a scented candle, a warm drink, and some quiet music, it makes for a lovely bedtime routine.

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Reads – Calm

    IMG_6115

    It’s time for another recommendation.

    I vividly remember stumbling across this book when I was down in London with family. We were browsing around Anthropologie and, as is usual for me, I gravitated towards a small display of books. This one caught my eye immediately. The vivid blue stood out and the simplicity of the cover appealed to me. But it was the title that drew me to pick it up and flick through. Calm. That was what I needed.

    As soon as I opened it and began to leaf through the pages, I knew I wanted a copy of my own to enjoy slowly in the peace of my own home. Even standing in a busy shop in the middle of London, I found it to be soothing. Stunning illustrations come to life on the pages of this lovely little volume, and it’s definitely one to be savoured slowly.  Alongside the beautiful images are a selection of reflections, exercises, and question prompts to help you find your own little bit of calm in amongst the chaos of life. It’s a wonderful book to get lost in.

    IMG_6119

    You can also find more from the creater of clam, Michael Acton Smith, over at the Calm website or by downloading the Calm app. Both great if you want some guided meditations, sleep stories, and mindfulness content, combined with lovely visuals and sounds. You can access a lot of the resources for free or you can choose to take out a paid subscription, depending on your need/interest/financial situation.

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    It’s #TimeToTalk Coping

    Image found here.

    This is a post I shared three years ago that I thought was worth re-sharing, with a few tweaks.

    I’ve mentioned some little things that can be helpful in coping with bad days. There’s one thing in particular that I have found helps me cope with anxiety and ward off depression. The arts. Any and all.

    I love to dance, and beating the hell out of a dance floor can be a real release for pent up negative energy. I always leave dance classes feeling better than when I arrived.

    I love to sing. Belting out tunes from my favourite musical or album of the moment is a very cathartic experience. Especially when driving. I’m not sure why. Somehow being in my car I find I can make a lot more of a racket than I would anywhere else.

    I love to listen to soothing music. Enya is and always has been my go-to relaxation artist. Not only is her music beautiful, ethereal and calming, but it also has a strong personal connection to my mum. Hearing that music takes me back to being a child when she would help sooth away my nightmares. It helps.

    I also love to write and draw and doodle. I journal. I write poetry and stories. I draw patterns and dream-scapes. Focusing on the pen and the page helps me to let everything flow out of me. I recently developed some rules about my journal. I don’t put negative things in there. I still put them down on paper but I get rid of it. I don’t keep it. I don’t want to hold onto that negativity. I used to find that my journals ended up being very negative and I hated that because I never recorded all the tiny good things in my day to day life. This way my mind is redirected towards the positive in my journal and I know I am collecting happiness rather than negativity. I still allow myself to put the negative down on paper but I then have to let it go. Tear it up, screw it up, bin it, burn it. But let it go. This is a very personal choice but I find it works well for me.

    How do you cope with negativity in your life?

    ***

    If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

    The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

    Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

    Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

    Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

    Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

    Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

    Please do not struggle alone.

    x

    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!

    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.