Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 || Top 10 Non-Fiction Reads



Dead Wake by Erik Larson
I know a handful of people now who've either read or gifted this on my recommendation. It's a fascinating book, perfectly written, and hugely compelling. I'd really recommend it.

Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami
Cavell has always been one of my idols, but it was only this year that I decided to find out more about her. She was a fascinating woman and my reading was topped off with a visit to the prison in Brussels where she was kept before her execution.



The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
A slightly off the wall book, but absolutely brilliant.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
No non-fiction list from this year would be complete without Haig's memoir on life and depression.


Shell-Shocked Britain by Suzie Grogan
I adored this study of shell-shock and it's impact on post-war mental health treatments.

Late Fragments by Kate Gross
Although this memoir was published shortly before Gross's death, it is surprisingly uplifting. I found myself adjusting my perspective on life as I read it and I would really recommend this heartwarming book.



Worrying by Frances O'Gormon
A fascinating cultural history of worrying.

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
I really loved how very human this book was and how much there was to take away from it.



Executed at Dawn by David Johnson
Although this was a slightly frustrating read (it's hard to read about our own army killing its soldiers without getting mad), it was really interesting and I feel like I can actually have an opinion on the subject now I know more about it.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This was my first audiobook from Audible and I listened to it over a month or so on my occasional walk home through London. Although I hated Strayed at times, Wild has stuck with me and I'm sure I'll be reading/listening to her other works.

2015 was the year I really found my feet with non-fiction and I'm really looking forward to what I can learn in 2016. Any recommendations would be great!

Have you read any of these? Do you have a favourite non-fiction book from this year?


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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 || Top 10 Fiction Reads


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
It wouldn't be far off the mark to say that War Peace was both my book of the year and one of my greatest achievements of the year. I adored it and I know there's a re-read somewhere in my future. Bring on the BBC adaptation in January!

The Shore by Sara Taylor
This collection of interlinked short stories had me gripped from start to finish. It's not often I'll turn to short stories, but here it felt more like a cross-generational novel and I loved it.



Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith
From the top of my head I think this was one of my only Persephone reads this year. I found this based on truth story of a relationship very moving.

The Blue Room by Georges Simenon
This year I discovered a number of wonderful authors, but Simenon has probably been my favourite. I read The Blue Room on the way to Brussels (I still try to match my reading with my travelling) and now I can't wait to get stuck in to his Maigret novels.


Noonday by Pat Barker
Barker is up there with my favourite and go-to authors, so I was really looking forward to the release of this novel in the summer - it didn't disappoint. It's the third in the trilogy that began with Life Class and I found it a really excellent conclusion. It dealt with the blitz, but also explored relationships and the impact of war on relationships. There are some images that will stay with my for a long time.


The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
The Winter's Tale is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play of all time which meant it was inevitable that I'd buy Winterson's re-write as soon as it was released. I read it in a couple of sittings and almost started from the beginning again as soon as it ended.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
I read this almost a year ago now way back in January and I can still remember how it made me feel - I think broken is the perfect way to describe it. Powers's history as a poet shines through the lyricism of his prose, but it is the characters that I can't seem to shake.


The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins
For me a best of list would never be complete without a Wilkie. This is one of his shorter novels, but by no means less brilliant. Valeria Woodville is perhaps the best female character I read this year.

Girl at War by Sara Novic
I read this Zagreb/US-set novel whilst in Zagreb which transformed both my reading and travel experience. I'm very interested to see what Novic writes next.


The Enchanted by Rene Delfeld
Powerful, moving, exceptionally written.

Have you read any of these? What made your best of 2015?




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Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Christmas Reading List


Every year I make a big deal about which book will be crowned 'The Christmas Read' (see here, here and here). Sometimes it's a re-read of an old favourite, others it's tackling an almighty chunkster, and still others it's all about picking something from the depths of the TBR pile, dusting it off and showing it some love.

This year I'm trying something a little different and will be reading seasonal and festive reads. My picks for Christmas 2015 are:


A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce
Old Mr Fry still has his grips firmly on a little space of my mind a couple of years down the line which is a rare thing I find these days. For that reason I adore Rachel Joyce and will read anything she writes (although I'm yet to get to Queenie Hennessy - next year!).


The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol
Mostly this was a 'judge it by its cover' choice because ain't it a beaut?! I have, however, enjoyed Gogol's stories before so it's not a complete shot in the dark, and we all know I'm a fan of the Russian lit. Ticks all the boxes.


Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
I've been unable to escape the love surrounding this British Library reprint. I remember the buzz from last year and seeing some of my fave bloggers review it over the last few weeks pushed it right to the top of my list of essential pre-Christmas book purchases.

I'm leaving London for the countryside today and I aim to be snuggled in front of the fire, with Mystery in White in one hand and a glass of fizz in the other, by 4pm at the latest.

Merry Christmas you lovely lot! Be sure to let me know what you'll be reading throughout the festive season.
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Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Life Lately






Things have been a little quiet around these parts recently so I thought it might be nice to have a catch up. This time of year is always a little tricky and I find I expend all my energy trying to keep myself on an even keel, which means that doing things like writing and blogging fall by the wayside. That in itself is frustrating because they're two of the things that make me feel better. Don't you just love a vicious cycle?!

So, what have I been doing recently? I have...

  • Attended an advance screening of the film Room, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (take tissues)
  • Missed my work Christmas party because I messed up my neck
  • Watched Star Wars and fangirled so hard I almost cried (the excitement in the photo above is very real)
  • Attended the Young Writer of the Year Award winner announcement in the London Library (swanky venue)
  • Wandered around London a lot (Borough Market on the second to last Saturday before Christmas was not a good idea)
  • Partaken in Lots of mince pie eating and wine drinking
  • Been reading up an absolute storm and loving it

My #25daysoffitness challenge had to be put on hold much to my dismay, as a result of hurting my neck. I still don't know what I did to it, but I do know that I'd like to cover my whole body in heat patches (aka the cosiest things ever). I was doing so well with this challenge after such a long time feeling very demotivated so I'm still feeling very disappointed. I guess I'll just have to tack an extra 5 or 6 days onto the end after Christmas day to keep it going.

I've also been having lots of 'do I/don't I' thoughts about Lit Nerd and I've still not made up my mind whether I do or don't continue with it. All too often in the last few months I've forgotten why I write this blog and have been sucked into that darn comparison trap. I always feel somewhat mediocre anyway (probably that middle child syndrome), but constantly comparing myself to others is having quite the shitty effect on my mood. I love this blog because I love having the space to write and to talk to others, but I'll be thinking long and hard over the next few weeks whether this space is the best space for me.

All in all I'm tired (mostly in a good way) and ready for a few days sat in front of my parent's log burner with a good book (keep your eyes peeled for my Christmas reading list).

Let's chat! How are you all?

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Monday, 14 December 2015

Things That Made Me Happy Last Week #44




1// Being busy I've had lots going on this last week and it's going to continue to be quite hectic until Christmas now, but it does feel good if a little tiring. One of the highlights was doing some extra voluntary work for the charity I work for at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a very cool throwback to my theatre days.

2// Young Writer of the Year on Thursday I trotted off to the London Library to hear the announcement for the winner of this award. Sarah Howe won for her poetry collection 'Loop of Jade', which I started reading the next day. It was a stunning venue and I'm proud of myself for being brave and going even though I was anxious to the nth degree.

3// Doctor Who marathons to make up for a busy week I had a slightly quieter weekend. Although I still managed to get out and about, Mike and I also watched a fair few episodes of old school Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who. Just what you need on grey December weekends.

4// Getting crafty whilst watching the aforementioned episodes I got busy with my Christmas card making (I'm no longer able to just watch something, my hands also have to be busy). I love how they turned out and I'm very excited by my new found interest in calligraphy/lettering. I sense a new hobby in my future.

5// Trying new things at the gym/ swimming to go along with my #25daysoffitness challenge I've been mixing my workouts up and trying a few new exercises. I've also rediscovered my love for swimming and a dip before work just makes the day so much better.


What made you happy this last week?

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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Stasi Child // The Spring of Kasper Meier



A couple of weeks ago, by some happy coincidence, I found myself reading two thrillers set in post-war Germany back to back. One was Stasi Child by David Young, set in Communist East Berlin around the time of the wall, and the other was The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson, set in the years immediately after the war. Both are fantastic and engrossing novels which seamlessly blend history with a thrilling plot.

It's never happened before that I've ended up reading two books on a similar topic in a row (oddly, perhaps, given my interests), but it's certainly something I would repeat. It was fascinating to dive deeper into post-war Germany and experience through words the changes the country went through and how its people lived.

Stasi Child is the first in the Oberleutnant Karin Muller series and sets it off to a promising start. Muller is called to investigate a teenage girl's murder at the foot of the Berlin Wall; the murder doesn't seem too unusual at first until the arrival of the Stasi suggests more sinister undertones. Karin Muller is an excellently portrayed character. She's a relatively high-ranking female police officer with a male deputy and a husband who strays a little too far from the laws of the East. She's tenacious and sometimes unexpectedly harsh, but ultimately she is a character you root for. I was particularly pleased that Young created a plausible backstory for her which merged seamlessly into the central plot.

Stasi Child is a dark novel and sometimes quite unsettling, but it is compelling nonetheless. Whilst reading The Spring of Kasper Meier I found myself thinking back to Young's novel and comparing the characters' various experiences in relation to the period they lived in. 1970s East Berlin didn't seem too far from late 1940s Berlin.

The Spring of Kasper Meier is set in the ravaged remains of Berlin and follows Kasper as he tries to make a living from the black market. The arrival of a young woman asking him to find a British pilot triggers a series of events that draw Meier deeper and deeper into a dark and dangerous underground operation. Like Stasi Child this is a dark and unsettling novel. There's no quirky and upbeat character to add some cheer, instead Fergusson has written very real characters who are products of their circumstances. In amongst all that darkness, however, are moments of true hope and, almost, happiness. I was completely drawn in by the relationship between Kasper and Eve and they both stuck in my mind long beyond the final page.

In both these novels it is the characters which really stood out for me. Regardless of characterisation however, a good thriller is never complete without atmosphere. It seems a copout for me to keep referring to both novels as dark and unsettling, but that is also the most fitting description. Whilst The Spring of Kasper Meier ends on a high note, Stasi Child continues until the darkness seeps out of the pages. I'm glad of this distinction because it leaves me wanting to find some glimmer of hope in Karin Muller's life.

Something that made my personal reading experience of these two novels even more immersive is the knowledge of Berlin I gained during my trip in the summer. I stayed in east Berlin and explored many of the areas mentioned in Stasi Child so I could picture quite clearly the streets and routes the detectives walked. Similarly in The Spring of Kasper Meier, the bombed out church at the bottom of the Ku'damm features and I can clearly recall walking past it one evening. It felt like it added an extra level of meaning each time I recognised a place name and could orientate myself.

I would recommend both these novels for quite different reasons. Stasi Child is a fast paced thriller with memorable characters and has the potential to be a compelling series. The Spring of Kasper Meier on the other hand is one to be savoured. Although the plot moves along apace, it's the lyricism of Fergusson's writing which is the real winner.

The Spring of Kasper Meier is on the shortlist for the Young Writer of the Year Award and Stasi Child is currently available in ebook and is due for paperback release in February 2016.

I received both of these books free of charge in exchange for a review, but that in no way influenced my opinion. Thanks to the publishers for the review copies.
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Sunday, 6 December 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #43



1// The Shore by Sara Taylor This has been brightening my day all week. The writing is beautifully lyrical, the stories are well crafted and the characters will hang about in your mind for days. I'd like to see this one win the Young Writer of the Year Award.

2// The Book Collector by Alice Thompson I read this over two days at the beginning of this week. A stunning read and one I would encourage everyone to read.

3// Swimming yesterday morning I dragged Mike with me to try out the swimming pool that's close to my work so I can then go myself in the week. The pool itself is ok, but I absolutely loved the time we spent swimming and how good I felt afterwards. Swimming is wonderful.

4//  Finding motivation this week I managed three evenings at the gym which is more than I've done since I started my new job back in August. I end up being there at the busiest time because of my hours, but I always feel so much better when I go. I'm very proud of myself for pushing through this week particularly as the weather has been crappy.

5// Die Hard the weather was awful again yesterday (seriously, the wind freaks me out), so we decided to have a night in with the tesco £10 meal deal (classy birds that we are) and Die Hard. Starting December as I mean to go on. Plus, on a more romantic note, it was a throwback to the Die Hard marathon Mike and I had on our third date. Aww.

What made you happy this week?


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Saturday, 5 December 2015

Classic Club Spin



It has been an absolute age since I joined in on the Classics Spin, run by the Classics Club. I've read some corkers thanks to the spin - Anna Karenina being a clear favourite - so I felt it was about time I participated again.

The Idea
// Take twenty books from your Classics Club list and share them on your blog by Monday 7th.
// On Monday, the Classics Club guys will post a number from 1-20.
// The challenge is to read whichever book falls under that number in your list.
// Read that book by February 1st.

My List
Five Women
1. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
2. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
3. The Crowded Street by Winfred Holtby
4. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
5. Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain

Five Men
6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
7. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
8. Moon and Sixpence by M. Somerset Maugham
9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Five I'd Love
11. Parade's End (Book 1) by Ford Madox Ford
12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
13. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
14. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
15. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Five I'd Rather Not
16. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
17. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
19. Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
20. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald


It feels like it has been a while since I delved into a classic novel so here's hoping I get lucky with the number.

Are you participating in the spin this time?

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Friday, 4 December 2015

Ambler and Allingham



Last Saturday afternoon I walked, with Mike in tow, rather nervously up to an inconspicuous yellow door in the middle of Soho. This door lead to the Wonderland, for lack of better description, that is The Groucho Club. Was I excited? Of course I was, this is me. We were there to find out more about the lives and works of Eric Ambler and Margery Allingham and spent two glorious hours in literary heaven.

I was familiar with Margery Allingham prior to this event having had a slight obsession with the Golden Age of detective fiction since, well, as long as I can remember. I've been reading Agatha Christie since I was young, but it wasn't until Dorothy L. Sayers came on the scene that I realised quite how much I loved the genre.

Eric Ambler, on the other hand, I had never heard of and after hearing that he is generally credited with having brought thrillers to the level of literature, I was intrigued to find out more. Simon Brett, crime author etc. (I understand he is a man of many titles), spoke about Ambler to kick off the event. What I found particularly fascinating was Ambler's focus on realism which is actually pretty revolutionary when you think about it - you wouldn't expect Christie's or Sayers's stories to be plausible in the real world. Ambler creates ordinary characters that could function in the real world and puts them in extraordinary situations.

Brett suggested The Mask of Demitrios (in the US it's known as A Coffin for Demitrios) as a starting point for Ambler's work and also recommended The Levanter, which is one of his personal favourites. I picked up both titles and will share my thoughts in due course.

I for one, fell totally for Ambler after reading some of his correspondence here and this little nugget in particular: 'For me, still, a book to read makes almost any adversity tolerable'.

I had the joy of speaking to a couple of members of the Margery Allingham Society and it was the chairman of the society, Barry Pike, who introduced us to her work. Suitably attired in his Albert Campion tie, Pike talked us through Campion's evolution as a character. He began as a very Bertie Wooster-ish character in The Crime at Black Dudley, probably because Allingham though he'd be a one-off character, but through the series you can see him develop and mature into the sleuth we all know and love. I'm intrigued to read more of the Campion mysteries in order to experience his development as I find that detective characters don't always have character progression, but rather have new skills added to their CV as if by magic.

I came away with a number of recommendations for Allingham's work and it's Traitor's Purse and Death of a Ghost which I'm most looking forward to.

If you're interested in finding out more about Ambler or Allingham visit ericamblerbooks.com and margeryallinghamcrime.com. There are free ebooks available on both sites too - happy reading!

I'd like to thank the team at PFD for inviting us to this event and providing review copies.

Have you read any Ambler or Allingham?


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Thursday, 3 December 2015

November in Books



Possessed by Elif Batuman
Worrying by Francis O'Gorman
The Blue Room by Georges Simenon
The Meantime (short stories) by Various
Late Fragments by Kate Gross
Stasi Child by David Young
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson

This last month has been a great one for reading. I've not read a particularly huge number of books, but what I've have been reading has been particularly wonderful.

I started the month reading a fair bit of non-fiction and then slowly moved back to fiction after finishing Kate Gross's Late Fragments, which left me needing a bit of escapism.

I then ended the month on a high by finishing Carrying Albert Home, a new release which has found itself firmly in my 'feel-good favourites'.

I loved getting my teeth into more non-fiction this month and I can safely say that I'm definitely a convert - a far cry from this post a couple of years ago! Although I didn't read the full pile I was hoping to get through, I read some corkers and I'm very glad I treated myself to Worrying at the beginning of the month.

Non-fiction book of the month: Late Fragments by Kate Gross

Fiction book of the month: The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson

What was your favourite book you read in November?



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Wednesday, 2 December 2015

December Goals



Complete the 25 Days of Fitness challenge

Complete the 'return to running' program my physio started me on

Take one photo a day - don't forget to capture life's little moments

Read the books I want to read and take one evening a week to do just that

Be aware of what I'm eating and try to eat eighty percent of my meals at home

Don't give in to the blues - make a daily to-do list to keep busy and be sure to take note of the things I am thankful for

What are your goals for this month?

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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #42



1// Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam this is a must read. It's a quirky, lovable, feel-good ride through America with an alligator and a rooster. It touches on the ridiculous occasionally, but I have been loving it this week.

2// Young Writer of the Year Award at Foyles on Monday night I went to Foyles after a cheeky Chipotle to the celebration of the Young Writer of the Year shortlist. Previous winners and three of the four shortlisted authors were there answering questions and reading from their shortlisted novels. I came away with a burning desire to dive straight into The Shore by Sara Taylor.

3// Mockingjay my sister had a rare evening off this week so we decided to go and see the new Hunger Games. Although it went on a tad long (what's with that ending?), it didn't disappoint and was just as harrowing as the rest.

4// Lazy Sunday afternoons I found myself unusually home alone today so, after I'd finished my cleaning and made some soup to keep me going all week, I sat down to finish the two novels I'd been reading this week. It turns out I really needed a quiet day.

5// #25daysoffitness I decided to bring back last December's fitness challenge this year to give myself a little boost of motivation over the winter. I'm really looking forward to it starting on Tuesday and have been to the gym a few times this week to start slowly working up to it.

What made you happy this week?

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Friday, 27 November 2015

Challenge: 25 Days of Fitness

My favourite photos from last year's challenge

It's that time of year again! My office is already full of Christmas cheer and chocolates which are having a disastrous effect on my waistline (I had to undo the button on my jeans today before 10am), and it's too dark and cold to find the motivation for exercise. As you may know I'm not one to accept that sort of thing and instead of falling into a pit of gooey despair, I thought I'd revisit last year's Christmas-time challenge: to exercise daily from 1st-25th December.

I wasn't sure initially whether it would be a good idea to do this challenge again given my old-lady hips. On reflection it occurred to me that it's perhaps even more important to do it now, than it is when I'm at full fitness. Being on the bench (so to speak) has been hard, but it has also been a blessing in disguise. I think I'm more aware now of how my body works as a whole and how essential it is to nuture the whole thing, not just my thighs. There will be a run at the end of this challenge, but for the other 24 days it's all about learning how to cope without running and how to look after my whole body.

There are so many benefits of this challenge, both mental and physical, and I personally hope it will help me:

Sleep better
Feel calmer and less stressed
Accept my body
Gain strength
Get more fresh air
Heal
Feel happier
Feel healthier
Have more energy

The goal is to do some form of exercise for at least fifteen minutes a day from 1st December up to and including Christmas Day. I realise that working out on Christmas Day isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea (don't feel pressured if you join in!), but my mum and I have a Christmas morning run tradition that I'm not planning on breaking. There's something magical about running on Christmas Day when everything is so quiet and the only people on the roads are runners and dog walkers. Apologies to all those dog walkers who may have thought I was running after them for their dog - obviously that's exactly what I was doing, but y'know...dogs.

To make sure I don't get bored during this challenge I'm going to make sure there is plenty of variety in my workouts. I think a mix of yoga, strength work, the gym, swimming and long walks should keep me motivated throughout. Plus there is the added bonus of always having something I can do if I'm tired, if it's raining, or if my body needs something low-impact.

Who's with me? Let me know in the comments if you fancy joining in and how you think it will benefit you! It's a very relaxed challenge and there won't be any check-ins if that sort of thing puts you off. I'll be sharing my daily pictures on instagram and twitter using the hashtag #25daysoffitness so feel free to follow along and share your own - I can promise you will get plenty of enthusiastic cheering on from me!

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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Lit Nerd Recommends: Suffragettes



It's no secret that, along with the First World War, the Suffragette Movement is an obsession of mine. When I was planning my MA dissertation I somewhat cautiously moved away from my original idea focusing on shell shock and instead decided to look at the WSPU. It was both one of the boldest and most exciting decisions I'd ever made at uni and, although I slightly fell out of love with the subject at about 19,500 words, it's something that still fills me with that urge to learn.

I've read so many fantastic books - fiction and non-fiction - about the movement and written by the women who were part of it. I'm sure there are countless more out there that I don't know about. Given the recent buzz around the subject following the film Suffragette, I thought I would share my personal reading recommendations.

No Surrender by Constance Maud
Published by Persephone, this is probably my favourite of the bunch. 'No surrender' is a common phrase in suffrage lit and whenever I see it written down my mind immediately goes to the women in this novel beating out the rhythm of the words on the pipes whilst in prison.

William, an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton
Another Persephone book and an absolutely wonderful, but heartbreaking novel. Worth a read for the suffrage movement and WW1. Hamilton is also hugely inspiring and founded the Women Writer's Suffrage League (this reminds me that I really must revisit Lis Whitelaw's biography).

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
I studied this novel in college and I think it was one of the first books which triggered my life-long interest in the WSPU. It's a really good novel for getting a feel of the Edwardian period as a whole, not just the suffrage movement.

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
Another contemporary novel which has managed to stay with me since I read it. At it's heart is a romance, but it's a beautifully written novel which focuses on the struggle between the heart and the head.

The Judge by Rebecca West
I'm a huge fan of West, but this is definitely one of her more complex novels in terms of plot/theme. It's an interesting read and one with plenty of depth.

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette by Mary Talbot and others
You may remember I raved about this graphic novel a while ago and I still stand by those comments. It's brilliant and well worth a read - I adored that it uses only black/white and the WSPU colours.

Voices and Votes
This is a really great anthology that I tracked down when I was first collecting my primary sources. I always enjoy reading the perspectives of people who have perhaps been a little forgotten over the years.

Suffragette Sally by Gertrude Colmore
Another favourite and one I would highly recommend. Colmore includes real people and events in this novel (thinly disguised, of course), and her account of Lady Hill (aka Constance Lytton) disguising herself as a working girl to reveal class differences in the treatment of prisoners, introduced me to Lytton, who is now a bit of a hero of mine.

Prisons and Prisoners by Constance Lytton
When I wrote my disseratation I wasn't able to find a physical copy of this so you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon a copy on the South Bank Book Market (sheer joy doesn't quite cover it). For anyone who wants to explore a different side of the movement I would recommend this memoir as the perfect starting point.

Well that's quite a list! I think I may take some time next year to have a re-read of some of these books, or perhaps explore others. If you have any recommendations do share them in the comments! Have you read any of these?

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #41



1// Having the opportunity to write You may have noticed that I've recently started writing for BookSmoke, a website devoted to literature in London (clearly my cup of tea). It's all voluntary, but I've been really enjoying having the opportunity to write about different things somewhere other than here. I'm sure a few links will pop up every now and then!

2// Chilled weekends in Essex It's been another crazy week and I feel like I've been burning the candle at both ends a bit too much, so having the weekend to rest outside of London has been lovely.

3// Late Fragments by Kate Gross I finished this before work early this week and sobbed for a good while. It's a beautiful book and one I'd highly recommend. It made me feel quite heart-sore, but also oddly uplifted.

4// Possibly finding my workout motivation again I've managed to get to the gym twice this week which is more than I've managed in the last few weeks. I've been struggling with a mixture of a busy schedule and a lack of motivation. I think I may have the motivation back so I've just got to work on the schedule.

5// Spotify playlists The Autumn Leaves playlist has kept me going this week.

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Saturday, 21 November 2015

On Running and Not Running


Over the last two years I have slowly fallen out of love with running. I had a serious niggle in one hip that slowly became a serious niggle in both hips and now standing for too long or walking too far results in serous soreness.

I've known for a while that I've been making it worse by not stopping, by ignoring the pain and carrying on, but I'm stubborn and haven't been able to stop. I think I had a fear of not running, of not having that escape, but also a fear of being laughed at and my injury being seen as nothing and me being seen as a hypochondriac. It was actually almost a relief to be told that I should stop running because I then felt justified in my pain (and waddling gait).

Having had two months off now and still counting, I realise how heavily I identify with being a runner. I am a runner and running is my jam. I'm desperate to get back out there again and get some serious miles behind me. I'm desperate to sweat out the frustrations, stresses and worries of life so I can revel in the endorphins. I know I can get those endorphins from the gym, from yoga and from other types of exercise, but there's something special about that post-run feeling that the gym never quite reaches.

Running is my crowning glory and my main achievement. If I don't have running and the ability to run races and chase down a new personal best, then what do I have? Although I'm aware that there are probably things I'm achieving all the time, none of them quite register with me. I've never felt as good as I DID when I crossed the finish line of the Taunton Half Marathon in April 2013 in a time of 1 hour 54. Nothing has ever come close to that rush of emotion.

There are a lot of things about me that suggest I shouldn't be a runner. I certainly do not have the physique of a runner: I'm short and a little on the chubby side, but I have powerful thighs, a strong core, and glutes so solid I shocked the physio (that was a proud moment). The utter shock on people's faces when I tell them I enjoy running half marathons is, aside from a little insulting, always a source of amusement for me.

I've run up mountains in Tuscany, through parks in Amsterdam, along the river in Glasgow, around Central Park, and past the White House; if I could I would run in every place I visit. Running takes you places, it lets you see things differently and experience a different side of a culture. It's my goal to run in every place I visit - whether that's in the UK or abroad - and I look forward to getting back to peak strength so I can realise this goal.

I'm determined not to have to find another sport. My determination has got me round many difficult routes, so it will definitely get me through this. I will run again and I will get that 1 hour 50 half marathon best that's been my goal ever since I realised it was plausible. I'm going to keep going to the physio and having pins stuck in me, I'll keep doing my stretches and exercises, I'll continue to cross-train and I will not run. A few months of not running is a small price to pay for a lifetime of post-run highs.

I'd love to hear if you've had similar experiences or have any thoughts on running! Let me know in the comments.


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Thursday, 19 November 2015

Brussels in Pictures

I have a lot to say about Brussels (and Ghent) and will write that all soon, but I just wanted to share some of my pictures. Belgium is fast becoming one of my favourite countries and one I intend to revisit multiple times. If you're a fan of architecture then I think these pictures will explain my love of the place more than my words.



On the comic strip trail


Saint-Gilles Prison - Edith Cavell was kept here in the weeks preceeding her execution in 1915


Grote Markt


This little guy was far more interesting than the Manneken Pis




Beer and traditional food in Rene Magritte's old haunt, Le Fleur Papier en Dore


Very excited to be on a double-decker train to Ghent


Grey days


Beautiful Ghent




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Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Exploration


Tomorrow morning I'm heading to Brussels with M for a long weekend spent exploring a new city. I have a rough (ok, meticulously planned) itinerary featuring the First World War, Edith Cavell, Tintin, Magritte, and a variety of bookstores. I've got a novel by Georges Simenon and a collection of contemporary short stories set in Brussels loaded on my kindle. I'm all set and, for the first time in a long while, I don't feel uncontrollably worried.

I've talked about being an anxious traveller before and I can tell you now that this time is not any different, but what is different is my attitude towards my anxiety. I'm worried about how it's going to be, whether we will get lost, how I'll cope going into restaurants or cafes, and whether I'll put the brakes on and refuse to experience things. I'm also worried that I'll forget something, that I won't have the right clothes, that I'll be too cold or too hot, that our AirBnB won't look like the pictures, that we'll miss the train or sit in the wrong seats or do something wrong. All these thoughts are buzzing round my head like flies, but oddly I feel quite calm. I feel like I could take on these worries and win.

I think there's a bit of battle brewing in my head between anxiety and determination, and my determination to beat anxiety is starting to take the lead. I'm not winning yet, not by any stretch, and a number of things over the past couple of weeks prove that. But you know, I'm not going to let that stop me from living the life I want. I'm going to try my absolute hardest not to let it stop me exploring and if it does, which I accept as a possibility, well then I'll pick myself up and move on.

Exploration is almost synonymous with life, I think. There's something about travel, about journeys, about adventures, about trying new things and seeing new places, and above all, about learning, that makes me feel alive. I don't know whether it's the same for you. I think it must be if you're a reader because reading gives you all this from the security of your chair. Regardless of your preferred method of exploration, you are still doing it. You're putting yourself out there, you're experiencing new things, you are living.

I know that as long as I feel that lust deep within myself - to go to the next place, to do the next thing, to learn what's next to learn - then I know I'll be fine. I might have a panic attack; I might feel nervous or scared or restless; I might stand outside a cafe for half an hour trying to pluck up the courage to go in and find myself just walking away in the end. Those things might happen - heck, they will definitely happen - but I can pick myself up and say to myself that it's ok because I'm trying, and because I'm trying, it means I'm living.

Actually, do you want to know something? Walking away is courageous. It may not feel it at the time, but it is. Walking away means that you have the strength to know and accept what's right for yourself in those moments. There are times when I've not walked away and instead talked myself into doing something that makes me beyond anxious, and whilst there are times it has worked out in the end, all too frequently it doesn't. Have the courage to know yourself and to say no. Know when it's appropriate to walk away and when it's better if you take a deep breath and dive in.

There's no point to all this. I've got no handy tips for nervous travellers or book recommendations for armchair exploring. I only want to say this: never give up exploring. Whether you explore from the comfort of your home or work hard to encourage yourself to just get out there, or even if you are at your most comfortable when you're backpacking across Asia: never stop.

I'll leave you with a few words from T.S. Eliot:

'We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.'



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Monday, 9 November 2015

Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlist


Yesterday the shortlist for The Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award was announced. It sure is an exciting one:

The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson
Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
The Shore by Sara Taylor

I'm really intrigued by this shortlist and thoroughly impressed at its variety. It's got poetry and short stories alongside novels, which is interesting in itself and raises a few questions about whether all three writing styles can be judged on the same lines. I'm still on the fence about that and looking forward to reading the shortlist to find an answer.

I've only come across of two of these titles and shockingly read none. I'm definitely aiming to read a couple before the winner is announced on 10th December and I'm pretty sure I'll be starting with The Spring of Kasper Meier - I never can resist a historical novel that's to closely linked to either world war. I have read several rave reviews of The Shore so I suspect that will be the next one I move on to.

I hadn't heard of this award before a few weeks ago so I was most surprised to find it has actually been around for twenty-five years. It has been on hiatus since 2009 when Ross Raisin won with God's Own Country, which makes this year's prize a particularly big deal. The newly relaunched award aims to recognise the best literary works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry written by British or Irish writers under the age of 35. Previous winners include Sarah Waters (whom I adore), Naomi Alderman, Zadie Smith and Simon Armitage - this year's winner will be in good company!

The winner of the award will be announced on December 10th.

What do you think of this shortlist?

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #40



1// Bailey's Prize On Monday I went to the Bailey's Prize twentieth anniversary event at the Piccadilly Theatre and loved it. As usual I felt quite awkward being there alone, but I got myself a glass of wine and settled in for an evening of readings and bookish discussion. FYI Stanley Tucci has the best reading voice. I wrote about the event here.

2// Meze Aside from Mexican, Lebanese food is definitely my favourite. I had to work for a few hours on Saturday at Kings College Hospital so I treated myself to a mixed meze at my favourite Lebanese place in Camberwell on the way home.

3// Doing things that scare me This week I found myself feeling very anxious about meeting some friends I'd not seen in a while. I was so close to bailing on them, but managed to bring myself round and ended up having such a wonderful evening. Sometimes it's best to just do things that scare you.

4// Scary Movie I have somehow managed to get to 25 without ever having seen a Scary Movie film. I've watched one and two this weekend and found them hilarious and only a touch creepy. Clearly I'm growing up!

5/ Book post I seem to have gone a bit mad with books this week so my TBR has grown significantly. At least winter is on its way so I'll have plenty of chilly evenings to keep me going.

What made you happy this week?



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Friday, 6 November 2015

5 Reasons to Listen to Carmilla from Audible Originals




You may have noticed from a couple of my 'Things That Made Me Happy This Week' (really need to think of a shorter name for these) posts that audiobooks are now a thing in my life. After a long time of thinking that I wouldn't get on with them, I decided to actually give them a try and very quickly became a convert. That's a subject for another day, however, as today I want to tell you about a brilliant new release from Audible Originals.

Carmilla, written by J Sheridan Le Fanu, was released by Audible last week on 28th October, just in time for Halloween. I couldn't actually listen to it around Halloween because I'm a super-wimp and get easily freaked out, but as soon as the weekend was over I quickly devoured it. I have to say it was one of the most involved audio experiences I have had yet and one I would really recommend, whether you're new to audiobooks or a frequent listener and looking for that one book to spice things up.

I think everyone should listen to this audiobook and here are five reasons why:

1. It's a dramatisation This isn't the standard audiobook defined by one voice narrating an entire novel. Instead Carmilla has been adapted into a drama (by Robin Brooks), which breathes life into the story and creates a more engrossing experience. I find occasionally that my mind wanders when I listen to novels, but that did not happen here. The mixture of voices kept me on my toes and intrigued throughout.

2. The cast is top notch For me the cast is one of the main reasons why you should listen to Carmilla. It features David Tennant (I was sold at the mention of his name), Phoebe Fox (who was excellent in Life in Squares), and Rose Leslie. I've always thought voice acting must be really hard as you don't have body language or facial expressions to support the various inflections and the emphasis put on words, but in this case the cast perfectly embody their characters through voice alone.

3. It's a gothic tale At this time of year it's very hard to go wrong with a gothic story, whether it's a novel with only a twist of darkness or a full-blown spine-tingling gothic thriller as in this case.

4. It's short and gripping Carmilla is only a novella so this audiobook runs just over two hours in length which is perfect for a journey, a long walk, a good cleaning session or just a Sunday afternoon sat curled up in blankets.

5. There are vampires Now, aside from Dracula, I'm not usually big on the vampire scene (I think it's a bit old and tired now), but Carmilla actually predates Dracula as the first vampire story which I think is really quite cool. There's no wishy washy sparkly vampires in this book, it's all about the creepy female vamp, who's out for blood and maybe something more (depending what you read about the story).


With any luck that's sold it to you, so let me know what you think if you have a listen! 




I received a copy of this audiobook free of charge for review purposes, but this has in no way influenced my opinion.
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