Scraptember Day 8: Book in My Bullet Journal

Hello! Welcome to Day 8 of Scraptember and the start of week two – feels like it’s been longer somehow!

Today, I’m sharing a page in my new bullet journal. As I go through bujos fairly quickly, I don’t want to keep migrating collections each time I start a new notebook, so I’ve decided to have one that’s just for collections. Today, I set up my reading log. I stopped reading when I started suffering from depression in late 2016 and haven’t really started again – I think I’ve read one fiction book in the last 18 months. I do want to start again though, and, for my first book, I’ve picked what I hope will be an easy read – the 100 by Kass Morgan. I’ve watched all the seasons of the TV show, so I should be able to keep up with the plot!

As ever, I don’t want just a boring old list, so I’ve drawn some books on which I can write down my reads as I go. If you’d like to see how it came together, there’s a process video below.

Thanks for reading! See you later. xxx

Mindfulness Exercise: Writing Slowly

One of the things I experience when I’m anxious is an increase in the speed of whatever I’m doing. It doesn’t matter whether that’s talking, walking, eating or even writing – it all just gets faster and more frantic. I guess the adrenaline rush is preparing me for flight or fight.

Funnily enough, I’ve found writing to be really helpful in getting me through such moments. When I notice my handwriting speed up so much that I can no longer read what I’m putting on paper, I stop, take a few deep breaths and then start again, but with a conscious effort to write slowly, neatly, thoughtfully. This not only slows my physical response to adrenaline, but it also helps distract my mind from whatever thought it was that set me off in the first place. Sometimes, that will have been the topic I was writing about. If that’s the case then I might choose to write something else: a letter, a poem, a bible verse, an affirmation, the words to a song – whatever helps.

Incidentally, the tools I write with have become really important to me. Beautufully smooth, colourful paper … a weighty fountain pen … the sensations I feel when writing with these lifts my spirits and helps ground me in the physical world, and can help make writing a mindful and calming experience.

How about you? What helps you get through those anxious moments?

Thanks for reading! See you soon. xxx

(Image source: Pixabay)

#52librarybooks: Are You Watching Me?

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 13.22.14I should have written this review a couple of weeks ago when I finished the book, but I got sidetracked by zombies again. Anyhoo … Are You Watching Me? by Sinéad Crowley was Book 6 of my 52 Library Books reading challenge. It’s the story of a young woman, Liz, who has a past she’d rather forget and who reluctantly becomes the face of the charity she helps run. Soon, she finds herself the object of a fanatics affection and the centre of a murder investigation. It’s also the story of a less young woman, a police sergeant called Claire, who has just returned to work after maternity leave and finds juggling a baby, a husband and a case more difficult than she thought it would be.

I quite enjoyed this book, but I think I’d have to shelve it under ‘OK’. It’s well-paced with plenty of tension, so it kept me turning the pages, but I found both of the main characters a bit too angsty and a bit too cliche for my liking – Liz especially suffers from the Too Dumb To Live trope. I also guessed the twist fairly early on which damped the ending a bit. The general consensus on Goodreads is that Sinéad Crowley’s first book is better, so I’ll probably give that a go as this one was almost my cup of tea.

#52LibraryBooks: The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the TriffidsBook 5: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

I think this story might have been where it started: my love of all tales apocalyptic. As a kid, I remember watching both the 1962 movie (Not in 1962 I hasten to add!) and the 1980s TV series. I was totally gripped by both, but until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never actually read the book. Shameful!

So, it goes like this: there’s a dazzling meteor shower; almost the whole world goes blind as a result; society collapses; carnivorous plants literally stalk the land; plagues spread like the plague, and a handful of survivors have to … well … survive.

I love this book for so many reasons. It’s very much of its time. It was written in 1951, and you can feel the Cold War breathing down your neck as you read. The changing gender roles of the period are also discussed – overtly and covertly. The narrative voice is very 1950s British; it put me in mind of Ian Flemming’s James Bond books. But what I really love is the whole ‘Do the ends justify the means?’ choices the characters have to make, because, for me, that’s what apocalyptic stories are about. They’re about maintaining our humanity (the good parts at any rate) in the face of extreme adversity. When the rules and norms of society are stripped away, what do we become? Who do we protect? Who do we save? How do we decide who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us’? And should we? And then of course there are the titular Triffids, which are basically plant zombies. Attracted by sound, they trudge relentlessly toward their blind victims, dispatching them with their venomous stingers and then waiting for their bodies to decompose so they can digest them. You could write a whole PhD thesis on the symbolism of triffids/zombies (In the 1950s they pretty much represented the Soviet Union.), and I’m sure someone has, but when I read about them the one thought that goes through my mind over and over again is that, today, triffids/zombies = consumerism. As a race, we’re mindlessly chomping our way through this planet’s resources (and people), and most of the world seems blind to it.

Fans of The Walking Dead might enjoy this book – there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of similarity between the plots, but that’s not a bad thing; 1950s Britain and 2010s USA are very different places, the people who inhabit them, however, are not …

“Zombies are all the things that will not lie down and die, the truth we cannot repress, the thing that will rise up until it overwhelms us all. Whatever you want to forget is stumbling, dead-eyed and open-mouthed towards you.” Naomi Alderman

#52LibraryBooks: The Stories So Far

8343846So, I started my #52librarybooks reading challenge on 11 April 2016 by borrowing Chattering: Stories by Louise Stern. This is a touching yet somewhat unsettling collection of short stories revolving around the themes of communication, dislocation and isolation. Most of the main characters are young women looking to broaden their horizons and let their hair down. They’re also deaf. Beautifully written: graceful and fluid, these stories don’t spoon-feed the reader – some don’t have a sense of denouement, but that suits the characters and situations about which these stories were written. I think I found this collection unsettling because it reminded me of my own travels as a young women, half a lifetime ago, and of just how vulnerable I often felt living and working among people whose language and culture I didn’t understand.

closure-22Book 2 was Closure Limited and Other Zombie Tales by Max Brooks. This choice was inspired by my latest obsession: The Walking Dead. (So far, I’ve watched Seasons 1 – 4 on Amazon Prime.) As with all good zombie stories this isn’t about zombies; it’s about surviving an apocalypse whilst retaining some shred of your humanity – unless you’re a vampire and then it really is just about surviving. I enjoyed all four stories, but my favourite was ‘The Extinction Parade’ – of course vampires would be worried about losing their food source to the zombie hordes! ‘Great Wall’ was a heartbreaker, and ‘Closure, Limited’ offered an intriguing scenario. I found ‘Steve and Fred’ engaging, but I can’t help wondering if the zombies outside Fred’s toilet cubicle were all in his imagination.

51yLwMYOIKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I took out Book 3 – Pictures or It Didn’t Happen by Sophie Hannah – because I wanted a ‘quick read’ and I’ve enjoyed Sophie Hannah’s poetry in the past. The book was certainly quick to read as it only took me about an hour to finish, but it felt a little … unsubstantial. I read a lot of short stories, so I know you don’t have to compromise character to achieve a low word count, but that’s what I feel happened here. I felt I was skimming along the surface of everyone’s lives. On the flip side, there was plenty of suspense which was what kept me reading to the end. I guess it was just not my cup of tea.


18744618And finally for this update: Book 4 – The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Oh my goodness, what can I say about this other than I loved it?! I loved the writing, and I loved the story. Both have a fairy tale quality to them, but neither are for kids – to be fair, most fairy tales aren’t for kids are they? There’s a lot of mythology and a lot of allegory and a lot of wisdom – this book is Neil Gaiman’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I could write for ages about all the things I loved about this book, but I won’t, instead I’ll leave you with my favourite quote: “I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

#52LibraryBooks: A New Challenge

ShootsIt must be something to do with the warmer weather and longer days – as the vegetable seeds germinate in my planters, the urge to take on a new challenge germinates in me. It’s the same every year.

This year, I’ve decided to take on a year-long challenge: to read 52 library books in 52 weeks. The reason for this is three-fold:

  1. I’m trying to save money, and borrowing books is infinitely cheaper than buying them. I did think about buying cheap secondhand books from charity shops or Amazon, but this way …
  2. the authors of the books still get paid, and …
  3. I am supporting my local libraries, which are perpetually in danger of closing due to funding cuts. It’s ‘use them or lose them’ time.

There’s no two ways about it; libraries are essential. To quote Albert Einstein:

 “The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.”

Where else will you find all those stories, all that knowledge, all that wisdom? Where else will you find all those support groups, citizens advice sessions, comfy sofas, study rooms and public PCs with wifi – all for free at point of use and equally accessible to everyone?

Not to mention the kids clubs, adult education courses, and arts ‘n’ crafts workshops!

As Neil Gaiman says:

“Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.”

If you’d like to join me as I read my way through the libraries of Hampshire, I’ll be posting updates here on the blog, on goodreads and on Instagram. Any book suggestions will be greatly appreciated, although I suspect the lack of pressure to purchase, will mean I’ll be indulging myself in many blissful hours of in-depth browsing!

“The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man”
― T.S. Eliot

#AmWriting #AmReading News – February 2015

It’s almost the end of February and therefore time for another reading and writing round-up. This time of year seems to fly by, which is not a bad thing as I’m not a fan of Winter. I do like the cold-and-crisp blue-sky days, but you can keep the grey-and-drizzly ones!

As far as writing goes, I’ve not been doing much at all (Every winter it’s the same: my fiction-writing brain takes a vacation between January and March. I only wish it would take my body with it. It could do with some warm sunshine.). Two of my stories have, however, been published and are now available for public consumption.

I hope you like them!

On the reading front, I’ve worked my way through four books.

indexI finished FlashDogs: An Anthology. This is a super read. I do have two short stories of my own in it, but that’s not what makes it super. What makes it super is that it’s packed with great flash-fiction and short stories spanning every genre imaginable. Obviously, I enjoyed some tales more than others, but that’s to be expected from a book that contains 110 stories written by 34 different authors. At £1.99 for the ebook and £6.38 for the paperback, it’s an absolute bargain. Plus all profits go to The International Board on Books for Young People, a charity devoted to encouraging excellence in children’s books, to supporting literacy and reading projects across the world, and to developing international understanding through children’s books.

17336666After spending the whole of the autumn reading flash-fiction collections, I felt the need to start the year by devouring a novel or two. I bought Deadly Heat ages ago, but lent it to my mum who then lent it to a friend, and it only found its way back to me at Christmas. After reading it in January, I quickly ordered the latest book in the series, Raging Heat, as I knew I’d need a February fix too.

For those not in the know: Richard Castle (played by the ruggedly-handsome Nathon Fillion) is the titular character in the TV show Castle. Castle is a crime writer who rides along (initially for research purposes) with NYPD homicide detective Kate Beckett (played by the mesmerizing Stana Katic). A series of spin-off books have been released. This is where it gets complicated: these books are “written” by Richard Castle and “inspired by” his adventures with Beckett. In the books, the writer is a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist called Jameson Rook (See what they did there?) and the NYPD homicide detective is called Nikki Heat (hence the ‘Heat’ in every title).

20454547The plots in the books are loosely based on the plots in the show, but readers are meant to believe that the show is not a show but real life, and once you get stuck into the books, you really do start to believes that’s the case, and it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that both Castle and Rook are fictitious.

As far as I’m aware, the public doesn’t knows who ghostwrites these novels. Whoever they are, they do a pretty good job of capturing the show’s ethos – and bending my mind. The writing can be a little bumpy in places and both of these latest books could have done with another pass in front a proofreader, but when it comes to Fillion/Castle/Rook I can forgive anything!

428864Living Out Loud by Keri Smith is a cracking little book – although it’s not really a book; it’s more of a folder with lots of pull-out-able pages. As my fiction-writing-brain has been switched off since Christmas, I decided to give my creativity a boost with some new fodder. This book is packed full of inspiration to keep you dreaming and playing. There are games, projects, activities, crafts and ideas that open the eyes and mind to all manner of creative opportunities. If, like me, you’ve been feeling a bit stagnant on the creative front, this might be just the refresher you need. (Expect another post about the creative endeavours inspired by the book!)

#BookReview: Change the Ending (curated) by Dawn Reeves

Change the EndingWhat would the world look like if care home workers were paid a decent wage? What would the world look like if teachers refused to play the work-till-you-drop game? What would the world look like if every cog in the public services machine was given a place that fit and enough oil to keep it spinning? These are some of the questions to which Change the Ending offers answers.

In The Guardian, on this year’s National Flash-Fiction Day, writer and former local authority director Dawn Reeves launched a creative writing project. The aim of said project was to produce a flash-fiction collection about the future of local government written by the people who care about it, and at the start of October, the collection was launched and Dawn kindly sent me a free copy to review.

Many of the stories in this book resonated deeply with me. Instead of the usual narratives that tell us what’s wrong with the education system, local councils and communities, this book is full of dreams of a future in which workers aren’t bound by red tape, in which the vulnerable are given the help they need, and in which small acts of generosity, kindness and self-sacrifice have a positive impact on the lives of others. While not every story was to my taste in terms of style, the collection as a whole has left me hopeful and more respectful. If these dreamers are the people working in and running the public sector, the country might not be going to hell in a handcart after all.

The stories in this book seem to fall into two categories: those that give us a glimpse into the lives of individuals, and those that give us an overview of the system. For me, it was the former group that worked best. Most of these tales are snap-shots of the positive impact that a well-run and people-focused public sector can have on lives, and the effects of communities actually being communities. While there were some uplifting and encouraging stories in the second group, my ignorance of the inner-workings of public services was a bit of a barrier to my understanding the significance of what I was being told.

Of the 42 flash-fictions in the collection, my three favourites were Enough (the story of a secondary school teacher whose decision to look after herself has knock on effects for her students), Instagram Sam (the story of someone who decides to reap the benefits that paying taxes can bring) and The Interview (an ending far happier than it might otherwise have been).

I found this an engaging and inspiring collection. Congratulations to all who were involved in its creation! I hope these dreams spark conversations that really will lead to the ending being changed.

Change the Ending: flash fiction about the future of public life is published by Shared Press and available in paperback and as an e-book.

#BookReview: War, Conflict and Resolution

WarIn February this year, Ryan Thacker and Alex Gallagher, Creative Writing students at Edge Hill University, put out a call for stories of between 150 and 500 words inspired by the themes of war, conflict and resolution, and this is the result – a collection of 17 flash-fictions and two poems that commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One and honour its fallen.

I bought this collection because it features two 1000words authors: Tim Stevenson and Stella Turner. Tim’s story, Mudflowers, is simply beautiful, a subtly-told moment between grandfather and grandchild, a memory and the making of a memory. Stella’s story, May Day, is a heart-wrenching instant in which we are shown the gap between generations, the innocence of childhood and the long-reaching effects of war. Bravo.

As you might imagine, the other pieces in this book range from stories about the effects of war on those left behind to stories about the effects of war on those who fought on the front lines. There are also tales of bravery and sacrifice, of suffering and regret, of longing and loss, of justice and injustice.

Yesterday, as I stood in our village square listening to the reading out of the names of local WWI servicemen who gave their lives for our freedom, it occurred to me that it’s stories like these that need to be told, so that those of us who are too young to remember these conflicts don’t forget the sacrifices that have been made for us.

The only thing that lets this collection down is the apparent lack of proofreading it’s been through. I don’t know what the paperback version is like, but in the ebook there are lots of distracting typos and errors that could have easily been rectified before publication. I think a collection like this deserves better.

War, Conflict and Resolution is self-published and is available from Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. Any profits made from this project will be donated to The Royal British Legion.