Monday, 29 September 2014

To the Lighthouse

'She had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness, and it silvered the rough waves a little more brightly, as daylight faded, and the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, It is enough! It is enough!'

My relationship with Woolf has been a rocky one. I spent the first twenty years of my life vowing to never read her novels because I questioned the sort of person who would write what I then wholeheartedly categorised as 'difficult' books. I first encountered her properly at A Level, but even then we were given the choice to read The Voyage Out or George Gissing's The Odd Women and the entire class chose the latter (which is, incidentally, a brilliant book). So Woolf again, unfortunate as it may be, stayed in her difficult box and I moved on without a second glance.

Fast forward a few years and I'm in my final year at uni studying a module on Modernism for which To the Lighthouse was a set text. Ignoring my many mumblings and grumblings, I started to read it. I read a few pages, then a few more. I met Mr and Mrs Ramsey, Lily Briscoe and Augustus Carmichael. I met the Ramsey brood and the two lovers flung together by Mrs Ramsey's matchmaking. Then I reached Time Passes and felt the war ravage the family and the house. And that was it, I was hooked. 

Since then I have read it numerous times for study and for my own enjoyment, taking something new from its pages every time. It was pretty much a given then a few weeks ago, when I was in dire need of a serious comfort read after finishing Crime and Punishment, that I'd pick it up again.

I have two copies of To the Lighthouse - one is a much annotated and very old Penguin classics which my Mum read in the eighties and passed on to me, the other is the mind-blowingly beautiful folio edition pictured. I stumbled upon this on Etsy and ordered it immediately. It's second hand and missing the slip case, but my goodness is it a work of art. This folio edition is the only one I have in London (I have a little display of my most beautiful books), so this time I re-read it without all my familiar notes and markings reminding me of passages I'd loved before or sections which link to various literary theories. I have to say, it was quite refreshing.

I think with Woolf, re-reads are almost obligatory. Her prose and the way she sees, interprets and describes life is so fluid and mutable that it seems to change as you change. I've now read To the Lighthouse at 20, 22 and 24 and, though the ages are not that disparate, each time I have been in an entirely different environment and situation: undergrad, postgrad and living in what is still a new city to me. This latest re-read has perhaps been the most interesting and the most inspiring.

Re-reading To the Lighthouse was the best decision I've made in a while. Sometimes you just need a book that is familiar and unfamiliar to reignite your spark for life. As Lily Briscoe puts down her paintbrush in the final moments of the novel, satisfied that she has had her 'vision', I felt a bit of a chill run down my spine. Maybe Woolf is the last person you would expect to remind you why life is wonderful, but that's what she does for me. Who knew a re-read of a book by an author who once terrified me could be so invigorating. I'd highly recommend it.

Do you have such a book? One that you've read so many times, but that each time gives you something new?


Friday, 26 September 2014

5 Reasons Why I Love Running

My favourite route along Albert Embankment

Tomorrow morning I am doing the Women's Running 10k in Finsbury Park. It will be the first race I've run since my last disastrous half marathon a year ago. I have a dodgy hip, a leg which insists on going dead somewhere around mile four, and my training has been painful to say the least. And yet, I am unbelievably excited. I might not get the time I hope for and I might exacerbate my dodgy hip and end up walking funny for while, but I don't care because I'll be pounding those pavements doing something I love and proving to my non-runners physique that I can, and will, do it.

I have been asked before why I like to run so much and it's actually pretty simple. Let me break it down for you.

1. The Quiet Waking up at stupid o'clock in the morning, lacing up my trainers and heading out before anyone else is even thinking of stirring is such a peaceful feeling. Although I live and run in London where you're hard-pressed to find any kind of solitude, it is surprisingly quiet running along the South Bank at dawn. Quiet and so very beautiful.

2. Anger Management Running is an excellent way to release any pent-up frustration. I tend to do short fast runs when I'm particularly worked up as I find channelling my energy into speed is a really good way to let go of any unwanted thoughts. You can't really focus on anger when you're busy trying to run your fastest mile. Starting arguments with people in my head is also an excellent way to get up a big hill.

3. The Buzz This is probably the most obvious reason for loving running: it makes you feel so darn good. If I do a really good run - hell, even if I do a really bad run - I feel like I can take on the day. 

4. Strength I run to prove to myself that I can. I run to improve to remind myself that I can do things, that I can achieve something if I put my mind to it. There is also an element of needing to prove to others that I can which probably isn't healthy. But for the most part I run to know that I can, and knowing that I can makes me stronger, more confident and a lot happier. This is the main reason I run.

5. Thinking Time Running is pretty conducive to thinking. I think about all sorts when I'm out. Sometimes really mundane things like what I'll cook for dinner, but other times I'll think about the big stuff, like what my life goals are. Goal setting whilst running is a good way to allow yourself to aim high - if you're on mile seven and still feeling strong then your motivation levels are probably taking quite the boost. There are days though when I don't want to think about anything except my legs, my lungs and the way my feet feel as they hit the floor. And that's alright too.

Running for me is more mental than physical. The physical aspects are huge and can't be ignored (hello, thunder thighs), but what I take from running and the many positive results are all mental. I run to feel good, to feel strong, to feel confident and, most of all, to have faith in myself.

If you're a runner why do you run? 

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Friday, 19 September 2014


Sweater Weather | Slippers | Cosy Blankets | Books | Crisp morning runs | Hot tea | Crumpets

Autumn is my favourite season. As the nights slowly creep in, the trees change colour, and the morning chill becomes more pronounced, I often find my mood shifting. Although I think winter is more commonly thought of as the cosiest season, I think it is Autumn which carries that mantle. There is something about the change from hot, muggy days to cooler, crisp days that makes me want to snuggle under a blanket with a hot tea and a good book. As much as I love to be able to read outside in the sun, nothing beats a comfy sofa and a fluffy blanket.

When Autumn comes I am usually in the mood for cleaning, changing and re-organising things in my life and in the home. So far this month I have sorted out my clothes (and recycled a ridiculously large amount), scrubbed the fridge and rearranged our sitting room. Next up on the agenda is to rearrange my bedroom to hopefully be able to squeeze in a desk. I'm also going to attack my bookshelves, which have grown slightly unmanageable of late. I'm going back to Somerset next week for some r'n'r in the country so the plan is to take a load of books back in order to do a swap.

The word that I most associate with Autumn is 'nesting'. The minute we hit September and the jumpers and boots hit the shelves and there are rumours of pumpkin spiced lattes in the air, I suddenly become even more of a home-body than I usually am. I like to be at home doing really domestic tasks which, perhaps oddly, help my imagination run wild and fuel up. I hope I'm not the only one who feels their creative imagination working whilst wearing a pair of marigolds and with a scrubber in hand!

Of course, Autumn wouldn't be Autumn without books. At the moment I'm in the mood for non-fiction and unputdownables. Something that'll keep me going long after my tea has gone cold. I've a few things up my sleeve.

What does Autumn mean to you?


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Happiness Project

I think for a lot of people happiness is not just there within grasp. It can be hard to come by at times with all the pressures that life brings bearing down on us from all directions. For me those fleeting moments of pure unadulterated joy come from the smallest and most mundane of sources. I can be curled up with a good book, having a coffee with my sister or walking through my favourite parts of London when I slowly become aware of the warm tendrils of happiness weaving their way through me, lifting me up and reminding me that everything is ok. It is those moments, those tiny uplifting moments, that set the tone of my entire day and remind me that happiness is there, and I can grasp it.

As someone who loves projects, goals and, above all, lists, I'm creating The Happiness Project. It may sound obvious, cheesy or even cliché, but sometimes a girl just needs a cheesy cliché to get her through the day (also a bit of a rhyme). This is my Happiness Project and these are the ten things I need to do to get me started:

1// Write daily
2// Smile always
3// Read
4// Breathe fresh air
5// Run
6// Focus
7// Listen to my body
8// Learn
9// Experience
10// Take a minute to take it all in

Where do you find happiness?


Monday, 15 September 2014

Best Books of the Summer

I've been doing a lot of reading this summer, particularly when I was on holiday at the beginning of August. Here are my favourites from the last couple of months:

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Every time I think about this book I am reminded of Babe and Wallace and Gromit. If you know why, then high five! This novel is so dark, dismal and melancholy, but the writing is just perfect. I found myself excited to read more and taking my time over each page, really savouring every moment of it. The descriptions are vivid and almost terrifyingly haunting at some points (I'm thinking about the murders and the horse beating). I've been advised to avoid Dostoyesvsky for a little while because it is 'too depressing', but I look forward to exploring more of his works when my brain can handle it.

The Silver Dark Sea by Susan Fletcher
This is a truly beautiful novel about the restorative power of hope. Susan Fletcher has long been one of my favourite writers because of her lyrical prose and uplifting narratives. In this novel she weaves in a slightly magical vibe which works brilliantly with her solid and very human characters.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
I fell in love with John Wyndham when I read The Day of the Triffids and this has cemented his place in my 'favourite authors' list. He writes science fiction that is not so ridiculously far out that I lose track of the whys and wherefores of the story. Which is always a plus. I couldn't put this book down and it made a very traumatic flight (I thought I was going to die), slightly more bearable.

Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo by Tim Parks
I felt supremely nerdy when I said to a friend that I was reading a book about Italian trains, I think understandably so, but actually this book is brilliant. When I was 20 I travelled round Italy using the trains and Parks talks a lot about trains that I am familiar with, the frustrations of train travel in Italy and the many many confusing aspects of ticketing, fees etc. Even without my experience on the trains I think this book would be highly readable. Parks is very adept at describing people and history and his little vignettes make great non-fictional story telling.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
I needed a bit of escapism at the end of July and this provided the perfect fictional escape. This novel has such a wonderfully fairytale-esque structure and the characters have been formed with such care. It is quite fantastical, but not beyond what I can usually read. It was the pacing that I found to be particularly well done, as it had such a perfect balance of fast paced plot movements and slower and more focused character and setting descriptions. I really couldn't put it down.

What were your favourite reads this summer?


Sunday, 14 September 2014

Things That Made Me Happy This Week

1// Wearing bright floral trousers that feel like pyjamas. There's nothing like a bright print and soft fabric to perk up your day.

2// Singing with the choir I joined this month. A friend from work persuaded me to join the choir she is with and I'm so glad I took the plunge and went. Singing is good for the soul.

3// Re-watching Dr Who episodes. After about six months of not really watching TV I've recently felt the urge to watch Dr Who again. Thank you, Netflix.

4// Cooking. I made a really tasty chickpea and cauliflower curry this week and had so much fun doing it. I'm not good at following recipes and tend to just chuck stuff in, but I really enjoy the freedom of that technique. Even if it is a bit hit and miss at times!

5// Morning coffee with my sister. Although we live together Liv and I don't see each other much because of her crazy chef work hours. We've recently started to get up a little earlier to sit and have a coffee and catch up in the mornings. It's the perfect way to start the day.

Did anything make you happy this week?


Tuesday, 2 September 2014


I guess it's been a while, hasn't it. I have my reasons for going off the grid (so to speak), but I'm not going to go into them. Nobody wants a long, rambling post about the deep stuff on a Tuesday morning. Suffice it to say, there have been reasons and even coming back and writing this feels like a big task. You know when you put something off for so long and it suddenly becomes a lot bigger and a lot scarier than it started? That happened.

In reality, I'm writing this to prove to myself that I can. It's like a test, a challenge I'm setting myself that I have to complete. I have a habit of letting myself be overwhelmed by life. I take on projects or find new hobbies and suddenly cannot cope. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed and inevitably it all just gets so big and terrifying and I just...stop.

This is me not stopping.

I'm not ready to give up yet, I'm not ready to lose this blog as a creative outlet. But all the same, there are going to be some significant changes. I'm still not quite in a position to actually decide what those changes will be, but I do know that I'm not going to be limiting myself any more. I have lived and breathed books since I read Heidi in primary school with my teacher and learnt the word 'quenched'. My love for books will never be quenched. But there is a lot more to me than books, and I think it's time to let the other sides of me roam a little freer. At the moment I just want to write - I'm not worried what about, I just want to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard and make words. 

I'm currently deciding whether to start entirely afresh, create a new blog and hope that there is still something in it that you delightful people find interesting. The other option is to stick with Lit Nerd and see where I can take it, and, again, hope that you will join me for the ride. Either way, I guess I'll let you know.

I don't know when this will be. Maybe this week, maybe next. Maybe October, maybe November. It may never happen, but I hope it doesn't come to that.

I love change, and I hope you do too.

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