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?


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
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!


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?


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.


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.


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


Wednesday, 11 November 2015


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.'


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?


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?


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.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Take a Minute

What could be more relaxing than a morning spent reading and drinking coffee?

Recently I've been reminded of the importance of rest, of taking a moment to myself, and not racing around trying to do everything. Last Saturday morning I took my own advice and took an hour first thing in the morning to drink coffee and read.

I always wake up early regardless of how much sleep I've had, so instead of jumping straight out of bed and off to the gym, I ambled downstairs in my dressing gown and slippers and popped on the kettle. With coffee in hand I then collected a variety of reading materials and my notebook and crawled back into the comfort of my very cosy bed.

I probably stayed there for a little less than an hour and it made such a difference to my day. I felt calmer, happier, more relaxed and also more energised for the day ahead.

As a quick side note, the book I was reading is really brilliant. It's a memoir about the author's experiences with Russian literature which really appeals to me as a recent convert to the joys of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky etc. It's almost putting me in the mood to line up my next challenge and as I type The Idiot is quite prominent in my eye line. Maybe...

Saturday taught me a necessary lesson in slowing down and taking the time to breathe, to appreciate the day, and to allow myself to just take a minute before rushing headlong into my to do list.

Do you ever take a morning to yourself?


Monday, 2 November 2015

November Goals

Spend half an hour a day writing whatever comes into my head

Read three books for non-fiction November

Attend two literary events and speak to at least one person at each

Make the most of my trip to Brussels - experience all there is to experience

Keep things interesting at the gym by adding one new exercise to my circuit every week

What are your goals for November?


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #39

1// Relaxing mornings I woke up early yesterday, as usual, but decided to make myself a coffee and relax in bed for a bit before heading to the gym. It was such a lovely way to start my Saturday.

2// Trying new foods On Friday night my sister and I went to a new-ish restaurant in Bethnal Green where one of her friends works. The food was quite different to what I'd usually eat and I actually found I really enjoyed trying different things.

3// Domestic Noir On Wednesday evening I went to a talk at Waterstones about domestic thrillers/domestic noir. It was a really fascinating talk and has put me in the mood for expanding my horizons and reading more crime. Being handed a glass of wine at the door really helped too. If you're interested in reading about the night I wrote about it here.

4// Getting back in the gym After being unwell and then still struggling with the 9-5 life, I finally got myself back to the gym on Monday. It was hard work motivating myself to get there, but once I was there and sweating on the stepper I felt so good.

5// Surprise visits M and I weren't meant to be seeing each other this weekend as I have to do my grand-daughterly duties today in Wiltshire and it seemed a bit much for me to go to Essex or him to come to London for one day. So it came as a lovely surprise for him to ring my doorbell at 8.30am yesterday morning. We only had the day, but it was wonderful.

 What has made you happy this week? Share your link below and use #sharethehappy on twitter and instagram!

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