Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Insomnia / Insomniac's Moon




I've always been a massive fan of Carol Ann Duffy. The World's Wife was the first of her collections that I encountered and remains my favourite for its wit, humour, and feminism. Shortly after beginning this slight obsession I was given Answering Back, an anthology edited by Duffy in which contemporary poets respond to poems of the past. It's a wonderful anthology and I loved discovering new to me contemporary poets alongside old favourites.


Insomniac's Moon is Ruth Fainlight's response to Elizabeth Bishop's poem Insomnia. Elizabeth Bishop was an American poet and short story writer who received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1956. Shamefully, I hadn't heard of Bishop before reading this anthology, but as more than one contemporary poet chose to respond to her works I have some understanding of her popularity and impact.

Insomnia is a poem I find hard to attach any adjectives to. I adore it, I adore the message, I adore the imagery and the description of the moon. As a teenager my nights were ruled by insomnia, but it was a fraught, fearful sleeplessness. This poem describes a more thoughtful and quietly passionate, if lonely, sleeplessness.


Insomniac's Moon by Ruth Fainlight takes again this image of the watchful moon at night and adds an element of harshness. The lack of sleep in this poem is much more negative, and almost brutal in a way. There is a sense of always being on the edge of something, of just missing out - on sleep, on dreams, on life.

These two poems are quite different, but I find them both equally compelling. I'm a sucker for moon imagery anyway and Bishop and Fainlight use the moon in innovative ways.

Side note: so I've already missed a few days, but I'm going to keep on going and posting poems as often as I can until Christmas Day. I'm really enjoying rediscovering old favourites.
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Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Sick Rose || William Blake



There are very few poems I can recite by heart, but Blake's The Sick Rose is one that I can. The Songs of Innocence and Experience have always been some of my favourite poems - I think I prefer the Songs of Experience, but don't tell Innocence - and The Sick Rose stands out in its brevity, apparent simplicity, and all round blatant innuendo (the invisible worm?! Come on!).

I've always loved Blake's deceptive simplicity and this poem is a shining example. It can be read and interpreted in so many different ways and many of the key symbols - the rose, the worm - can be understood in various ways, both literally and metaphorically. I have a fondness for poems which will inevitably mean different things to different people and this is certainly one of those.

Reciting poetry in anxiety-inducing situations is one of my coping mechanisms and this one is particularly good for relieving stress and anxiety. In part because it makes my immature self giggle uncontrollably! I had a hip MRI this year and I am supremely claustrophobic, but I repeated The Sick Rose over and over for the time it took and managed to survive. It was only after that I realised the MRI technicians could hear everything going on in the room - oops.

Can you recite any poems from memory?


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Friday, 2 December 2016

Fragment || Rupert Brooke



Rupert Brooke is most well known for his patriotic poems from the First World War, some of which are fantastic. However, my favourite of his works is one that doesn't always show up in various collections: Fragment.

Fragment was written on the journey to Gallipoli, shortly before Brooke's death from septicaemia in April 1915. It marks a change in his war poetry and has a much more sombre tone, yet still maintains his typical lyricism. The final stanza I think is particularly beautiful, but read retrospectively with the knowledge of his death, it is also extremely sad.

The whole poem has an eerie feel, from the 'cloudy moonless sky' to the 'perishing things and strange ghosts' of the final stanza. He alludes to the randomness of war, the brutality and the futility of it: 'thought little of, pashed, scattered...' Perhaps the overriding thing I feel when reading this poem is loneliness and that feeling of being alone in a crowd of people. Brooke is on the outside looking in, having had a realisation that war does not allow idealism, and slowly coming to terms with the knowledge that he, or his fellow soldiers may, or will, die.

A long time ago I read Jill Dawson's brilliant novel The Great Lover which is a fictional exploration of the rumours that Brooke fathered a child in Tahiti. I'd barely come across him before this and had misguidedly dismissed him as a somewhat uninteresting war poet, but Dawson's novel opened up a different side of him for me and introduced me to his Grantchester poems. I've had various conversations with writers and readers alike about Brooke and I always find myself defending him. I think it's important to read literature in the context of its own time, not in the context of now, and I often feel that Brooke gets judged harshly on the basis that he was a staunch patriot and perhaps naive and idealistic. I'll always call on this poem as my evidence that things perhaps changed for him on that boat heading for Gallipoli.

What do you think of this poem?
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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Invictus || William Ernest Henley


I first came across Invictus by William Ernest Henley a short while after my sixth form English Lit teacher helped me fall back in love with poetry by way of William Blake. I'd suddenly included the poetry section in my local Waterstones into my weekly browsing ritual, but didn't know where to begin, so I started with a classic anthology: Poetry Please. It was a neat little hard back book, almost pocket size, with a lavender coloured spine. I read it cover to cover, engaging with some poems more than others, and rereading and rereading.

Invictus gets a bad rap I always think, for such a powerful poem. It is perhaps simplistic or lacking in subtlety, but I'd argue that its blatant in-your-face-ness is another way of imparting the message. He is the master of his fate and he shows you that with the unrelenting force of the poem as well as through the words themselves.

It's a significant poem throughout history and has come to represent Britishness, the 'stiff upper lip' mindset, and Victorian stoicicm. It is widely quoted both in fact and fiction, from Churchill's wartime speeches to Dorothy L Sayers's detective-hero, Peter Wimsey.

For me, the significance is wholly personal. My sister was very ill at the time I first came across the poem, having also been very ill as a child, so it soon morphed into a poem that represents her and her unconquerable strength. Sometimes the simplest of poems can root you to reality and act as a beacon of hope. Invictus did that for me in those uneasy sixth form days and continues to do so now. A couple of years after I first read it I showed it to my sister and tried to describe what it means to me in relation to her. She now has the title tattooed on her foot and the final two lines on her leg.

I think my experiences with this poem, found by chance just when I needed it, is testament to the power of poetry.

Have you ever had a similar experience with a poem?

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Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Hello + a Project for December


Hello, hi, hey there. It's been a while, huh?

I've been umming and ahhing about coming back to Lit Nerd pretty much since I published my 'see you on the other side' post. I stopped writing here because I no longer enjoyed it and because I am very good at losing myself in comparison games. There's times I miss it and times I don't, but I do miss talking about books and being creative (if that's what this is).

Usually in December I set myself a 25 days of fitness challenge, but my hips are too bad this year to put myself under that pressure. I have a funny old relationship with December and I like having something to spur me on through the month, so I've decided to do a short project on here instead.

Every day from tomorrow until Christmas Day I'm going to share a poem. Some poems will be old favourites or ones that have had a significant impact on my life, others will be new to me that I'll discover throughout the month.

My books are all still in boxes (there's no bookshelf in our new flat), but tonight I'll be rooting around to find all the collections of poetry I keep in London, and tomorrow I'll start.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the poems I share throughout the month and I hope you enjoy reading them.

See you tomorrow.


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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

See you on the other side


In case you haven't noticed, I've been taking some time away from Lit Nerd. I don't know when - or, if - I'll be back, but I do hope that one day my enthusiasm for this little corner will return. After all, it's kept me going for nearly four years.

I'm still instagramming and twittering intermittently, if you start to miss me terribly.

See you on the other side

x
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Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Q&A with James Wilson


It has been a couple of weeks since I finished The Summer of Broken Stories but, as I said in my review, it's still floating around in my mind. For that reason I was very excited to have the opportunity to grill the author, James Wilson, about the novel and certain elements which stood out for me. 

Q. Both world wars cast a long shadow in this book and it’s clear that many of the characters were involved with and affected by war in one way or another. Was this a conscious decision to draw attention to the effect of war, or was it just an inevitable part of the novel because of the period in which it’s set?

A. That’s an interesting question. The answer is that it wasn’t a conscious decision, but a reflection of what I found on my return visit to my ten-year-old self. I realized that almost every adult I knew then had been directly affected by one or both of the world wars: my father had been evacuated from France (Calais, not Dunkirk) in 1940; my mother’s childhood home had been damaged by a German bomb; my grandmother had lost her fiancĂ© on the Western Front; one of my great uncles had been killed, and his brother, my grandfather, had been gassed, and remained a semi-invalid for the rest of his life. The strange thing is that, while these back-stories were a constant off-stage presence, people very rarely talked about them openly.

Q. Did you face any challenges whilst writing this novel?

A. There are challenges with every novel, starting with trying to find the right narrative voice. With The Summer of Broken Stories, the problem was to come up with an approach that acknowledged the lapse of time between the 1950s and now, but didn’t weigh the story down with hindsight: I wanted the reader, as far as possible, to be able to share Mark’s experiences as they happened. Only after several false starts did I hit upon the structure I eventually used: a short opening section set in the present, which then – by a kind of cinematic fade – moves back into the past.

Q. I loved the focus on stories, storytelling and imagination in the novel. Did you make up imaginary worlds like Peveril on the Swift when you were a child?

A. Absolutely! Like Mark, I had a model railway, and made up stories about the people who lived (in little cardboard and balsa wood houses) in the village next to the station. And like him, too, I spent a lot of time outside with my dog, imagining myself back in some earlier period – the eighteenth century, or Roman Britain, or the Middle Ages.

Q. There’s a lot going on in this novel – it explores a variety of themes, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. Were you driven by any particular theme or message whilst writing?

A. You obviously read it very perceptively! Yes, there is a lot going on, much of it – as you suggest – beneath the surface. I can’t reduce what I was trying to do to a message, exactly, but there are certainly a number of themes. One of the most important is the power of the stories we tell ourselves, and their relationship with our experience of the real world. So, for example, Mark’s imagined community, Peveril on the Swift, is a kind idealized version of the village he actually lives in – the village as it would like to be, or he would like it to be – where he can take refuge from the tensions of his family life. 

Q. Was there anything in particular which triggered the idea for this novel?

A. Part of it stemmed from the death of my mother, and the realization of how much had disappeared with her. At a stroke, a lot of my life, the world I grew up in, became, literally, history. And I wanted to recapture something of what it actually felt like – or at least, what it felt like to me, growing up then – before it had vanished altogether. It was nothing at all like the popular view of the 1950s, which sees it as a kind of dull, monochrome prelude to the psychedelic sixties. The two world wars, as you say, still cast long shadows, and there was a good deal of anxiety about the future – a lot of it expressed in TV and radio dramas, and children’s comics, and the novels of authors like John Wyndham. And I was interested in what those stories tell us, not only about the time in which they were written, but also about the world we live in today.

Q. Finally, I’m pretty nosy when it comes to books so I’d love to know what you’re reading now?

A. My reading’s a bit hotch-potchy: a mixture, usually, of research for my latest project (currently, Rob Young’s excellent Electric Eden, about the visionary tradition in English music); classics I should have got round to earlier (most recently, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter); and contemporary fiction (I’ve just started Patrick Flanery’s I Am No One). 


Thank you very much to James Wilson for taking the time to answer my questions so brilliantly! You can find my review of The Summer of Broken Stories here and find the book on Alma's website here.

James Wilson can be found on his website and on twitter.



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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Summer as Character || Mini Reviews

A few weeks ago I found myself reading two books with the word summer in the title back to back. They couldn't be more different - one is a debut thriller, the other a work of literary fiction from an established author - but I was struck by the role summer played in both. Summer, and heat waves in particular, acts as a crucible or catalyst in many novels (having read it this year, I'm reminded of Maggie O'Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave). These two novels take summer as their setting and weave tales that are inextricably linked to the season; one because of the heat, the other because of the school summer break.    


The Last Days of Summer by Vanessa Ronan

In the blistering heat of Western Texas, Jasper Curtis returns home to live with his sister and her two daughters after ten years in prison. Jasper says he's done with trouble, but the town can't forget what he did.

I thought I'd like this novel when I first read the synopsis, but I'm surprised at quite how absorbed - almost addicted - I was. Donal Ryan's quote there on the front cover sums it's up pretty well, this novel is gripping, dark and compelling. The darkness that presides over it is thick with heat and uncertainty. I found myself losing sight of what's right and what's wrong the further I was led into the story and into Jasper's life.

The heat is an important part of this novel. It's oppressiveness is felt throughout and reading it I could almost feel the sun beating down on me, feel the panic of confinement and the discomfort of the thick air.

This is a novel that tips you upside down and makes you question your long held beliefs. Once it's done that, Ronan hits you with the climactic scene. I was surprised at how it played out, yet I was in awe of Ronan's gentle touch. Her writing is detailed, lyrical and tense. I turned those final pages with my heart in my mouth, but it never felt overdone or sensationalised. Her understanding of humanity and particularly of the need for revenge is truly something.


The Summer of Broken Stories by James Wilson

This novel is written from the perspective of Mark, a school boy who is busy spending his summer wandering with his dog and making up stories when he comes across a rather unusual man in the woods. This man is Aubrey Hillyard, a writer working on an ominous science fiction novel, who has been shunned by village society for reasons unknown to Mark. They strike up an unusual friendship based on storytelling, whilst the villagers plot to drive Aubrey out.

This book is set in 1950s England, where the shadow of the Second World War still looms. It's quite different from The Last Days of Summer in a number of ways, but it is equally as unsettling and memorable. I was struck particularly by how intricate the book became considering that the plot was relatively simple. What made it intricate was the sheer number of themes and issues it addresses, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. It explores things such as friendship and childhood, betrayal and rebellion, and yet it never feels overdone. Check back tomorrow to hear more about this as I was lucky enough to arrange a Q&A with James Wilson.

Summer here is like a character in a play. It's there to move things along and to instigate various actions, but it has a start and an end point which brackets the novel. There isn't so much a sense of oppressive heat here, rather the tension comes partly from the time constraints as the days before term restarts (and reality hits), slowly fall away. On a slightly more metaphorical level the passing summer also reflects Mark's childhood and the passing off his innocence as he gets more and more embroiled in Aubrey's world.

I thoroughly enjoyed both of these novels and I've found it so interesting to reflect back on them in a slightly different way. The more I think about it, the more I realise how important the season is to a work of fiction. It can completely change the tone and tensions of a novel - I wonder how either of these would play out in the winter. Quite differently, I suppose.

Have you ever been struck by the role the season plays in a novel?

Thank you to the publishers for providing me with these novels for review. All opinions my own as per.



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Friday, 24 June 2016

Holiday Reads



It's that time of year again! Today my sister and I are jetting off to San Sebastian for a long weekend, which means two days reading by the sea, as much tapas as I can squeeze in and a shed load of wine. I've not had a break yet this year and I can feel myself reaching potential burn out stage so this short holiday is coming just at the right time.

We're not really beach holiday people, preferring to explore cities and towns and really delve into a culture, but every so often you need a lounger, some sand and a huge pile of books. We decided on San Sebastian after a couple of recommendations and an urge to experience a different side of Spain than the one we encountered in Madrid a few years ago. I've also wanted to go to Basque country for a long time, probably since reading David Boling's Guernica.

As finances are a bit tight this year and I, ashamedly, have far too many unread books on my kindle, I made the decision not to buy anything new for the trip. We'll actually only be on the beach for two full days so I shouldn't need more than two to three books anyway and I most certainly have that many (far more than that many) on my kindle.

So, in order of preference, I will be reading:

Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

I'm also planning on taking along one paperback - Death and the Seaside by Alison Moore - as it's an ARC I unusually requested (Moore is one of my favourite authors these days), and a book about the seaside has to be read at the seaside, right?

Finally, I've downloaded a load of Desert Island Discs and The Widow by Fiona Barton. I think I'm set.

I'm slightly concerned about the weather for this trip as the forecast is heavy rain and chilly, but I live in hope. Should our beach lounging be rained off, I'm sure we'll settle for coffee shop and tapas bar lounging instead.

See you next week!
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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Five Favourite Indie Bookshops


Persephone Books, London
I've waxed lyrical about this shop many times on this blog and I'd go so far as to say it's my favourite bookshop in London. I now work just up the road so I often take a stroll past to cheer myself up if I'm having one of those days. I've got one Persephone book left on my shelf that I want to read before going in for my next batch and I can't wait to explore the shelves once again. It's a tiny shop, but beautifully decorated and the staff are lovely and knowledgable.

Brendon Books, Taunton
In my home town we have a Waterstones, an Oxfam bookshop and this wonderful indie. I spent hours in all three as I grew up, but I always loved Brendon Books because it stocked the perfect mixture of new and secondhand books. The owner also ran a literary festival from the store and, in the last couple of months before I moved to London, I attended a book club in the shop after hours (always a strangely magical feeling).


The Minster Gate Bookshop, York
I've only been to this shop once, last September when I took a trip to York, but it left such an impression on me and I fully intend to go back. It's normal to plan a trip half way up the country just to visit a bookshop, right?! If I were to own a bookshop this is exactly the sort I'd want. I love the narrow crooked staircases, books piled on every stair and every surface, and the way it invites book lovers to find a corner and just pour over the books there, no matter the subject.

Foyles, London/Bristol
This is a no brainer really. I adore Foyles partly because it's so reliable. I can go in there looking for a specific book and actually find it, which in most bookshops is easier said than done. I also love that they stock such a range of publishers and magazines too. I always discover something new and I always need to be dragged out before bankrupting myself.


Any Amount of Books, London
I have never been in this shop and come out empty handed. Never. I have also yet to venture downstairs because I always find too many gems on the ground floor. I've talked about secondhand bookshops before and Any Amount of Books is perhaps my favourite in London. Browsing the shelves and narrowing down my purchases away from the bustle of Charing Cross Road is such a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? 

 This week is Independent Bookshop Week so spread the love and pop in to your local indie!

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Joyce Girl || Annabel Abbs


It often takes me some time to get into historical fiction based on real people (I've read somewhere that this genre is called 'faction'). I have to make sure I set aside the things I know, or think I know, to really give myself to the story. This process was easy with The Joyce Girl for two reasons:

1. I'm fairly unfamiliar with Joyce and Beckett. I've read their work, but never looked into their lives.

2. The Joyce Girl is written so well that from the word go I was there in Lucia's head, in 1920s Paris,  and there was absolutely no way my mind could wander from that world.

'1928: Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world’s most gifted performers. When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she’s captivated by his quiet intensity and falls passionately in love. Persuaded she has clairvoyant powers, Lucia believes her destiny is to marry Beckett. But when her beloved brother is enticed away, the hidden threads of the Joyces’ lives begin to unravel, destroying Lucia’s dreams and foiling her attempts to escape the shadow of her genius father.

1934: Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent by her father to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. But now she decides to speak.'

The relationship between Joyce and Lucia portrayed in this novel made my skin crawl. His labelling of her as his muse is the ultimate method of control: shackles seeped in false flattery. His constant calls for her to dance for him made me feel quite uncomfortable and yet it's when she's dancing that Lucia feels most alive.

'I could feel the muscles in my legs burning and the perspiration rising on my lip. And yet I loved this feeling, the tautness and control, the sense of every muscle at its perfect pitch, the way my teeming brain stilled in the effort.'

Abbs has brought Lucia to life with very little source material to go on. The majority of Lucia's letters, papers and even the patient notes from her sessions with Carl Jung were destroyed, but Abbs pieces her life together wonderfully and incorporates what source material is left - such as the review of her dancing in a Parisian paper - into the text. 

As I read The Joyce Girl I was reminded of Zelda Fitzgerald and her novel, Save Me the Waltz. There are many parallels between Lucia and Zelda and I was pleased to come across Zelda in the text. Zelda's breakdown and stay in an asylum foreshadows Lucia's own and adds extra depth to the commentary on mental health that is wound into the novel.

As with Fitzgerald's autobiographical novel, questions of identity - as a dancer, as a woman, as a daughter - are at the forefront of The Joyce Girl. Lucia is constantly struggling to find her place in the world and each time she comes close, most frequently when dancing, she's pulled back by one of the many controlling men in her life. She's shaped by the men around her, rather than by herself. I felt this added a tinge of sadness and poignancy to a novel which is otherwise so alive with energy. Not that that is a bad thing. On the contrary, Abbs skilfully handles the polarity of emotions and paints a stunningly real portrait of a woman trying to forge her way through a life which is dictated by her father, her brother and by Beckett. 

'And it struck me that being in love with Beckett was not dissimilar to dancing - the breathless sense of invincibility, the feeling of time and space falling away.'

Enthralled is a pretty good word to describe my reaction to this novel. It captured my imagination with its charm and energy and, immediately upon finishing, I was googling Lucia Joyce to find out more. I often wondered how much of the novel is fiction and how much is fact and I found myself forgetting it is a novel at all. Abbs creates a world and a woman so vivid and full of life that it's easy to believe that Abbs's Lucia is Joyce's Lucia. 

The Joyce Girl is truly an impressive debut (no wonder it won the Impress Prize for New Writers), and one I would urge you to read. 

The Joyce Girl blog tour is running until Monday 27th June. I'd highly recommend visiting the other stops on this tour as the reviews and guest posts are fab and well worth a read.

FYI, if you were as yet unsure about buying this fantastic novel, the profits from the first year of sales are being donated to YoungMinds in memory of Lucia Joyce, which is a wonderful way of commemorating and celebrating her life.


Thank you to all at Impress Books for inviting me on this tour and providing a copy of the novel for review.
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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #57



1// The Joyce Girl book launch On Tuesday I took myself off to the swanky King's Road in Chelsea for the launch of Annabel Abbs' debut novel The Joyce Girl. I won't say much about the novel as I'm reviewing it as part of the blog tour next Tuesday. I will say: go read it and thank me later. I've never been to a book launch before and I was a bit out of my depth (and holding back so much anxiety I thought I might scream), but I had a really enjoyable time. It was held in Waterstones and it was lovely to be surrounded by books, celebrating a new book, and generally talking about books for a couple of hours.

2// Free prosecco Every year at around this time Zizzi send an email enticing me back with a birthday treat - a free bottle of prosecco and a free main meal. I honestly could not say no to this, so I grabbed some friends and went for bubbles and pizza. Lots of fun was had by all.

3// A good old family knees up This weekend I'm in Essex having a bit of a family get-together. We went for a fabulous meal at our favourite tapas restaurant last night and I'm certainly nursing both my food baby and hangover this morning.

4// Trying to run On Tuesday I persuaded my sister to accompany me on a 'run'. It wasn't quite as successful as the last few times I've tried to go out, but I was prepared for that as my hips have been a little fussy the past couple of weeks. Still, I worked up a sweat and managed a sprint finish (can't resist racing to the end) and I felt great at the end of it. I'm learning that I don't have to do half-marathon every time I head out, even the shorter ones make a difference.

5// Excellent Women by Barbara Pym I started this on the tube on Friday morning and fell in love instantly. Barbara, where have you been all my life?!

What made you happy this week?
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Thursday, 16 June 2016

On the Stack #4


It's been a while since I've shared anything here, so I thought I'd kick off again with a look at what I'm reading at the moment.

I currently have two stacks by my bed. One is a fairly average sized pile of books I want to get to in the next few weeks, but the other is a rather ominous pile, close to toppling, which is made up of the books I've read recently and intend to review. I'll get to that at some point.

This last couple of weeks I've been reading a lot about the Somme. The centenary of the first day of this infamous battle is coming up on 1st July (which also happens to be my birthday, what timing), and I've been busy getting reviews ready for the books page on Centenary News. I finished Sisters on the Somme by Penny Starns the week before last and now I'm reading Elegy by Andrew Roberts. My final Somme book of the month will be Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine. I've read books from the Forgotten Voices series before so I'm sure this one will not disappoint.

My interest in the First World War is mostly cultural rather than military so I've never really retained much knowledge about the battles or why and how they were fought. Over the last few months though I have been reading a lot more military history and I think it's giving me a much more rounded picture of the war. The Somme has only existed in my head as some hazy awful bloodbath and my knowledge has been influenced heavily by literature as opposed to non-fiction. Now, though, I feel like I understand a lot more about the thought processes behind the Somme, what happened on the first day, how it unfolded and the conditions the soldiers faced. I'm a long way from being a military historian, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the learning process.

I've been plowing through books recently and I think I've finally made a slight dent in my TBR (must not celebrate by buying more books). I've been enjoying discovering books I'd bought months or even years back and have read some corkers, including: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi and Mrs Dalloway's Party by Virginia Woolf.

I want to delve a bit deeper into my TBR pile over the next few weeks and I've got Excellent Women by Barbara Pym lined up for my next read. I think I need something a bit lighter and jollier after burying myself in the Somme and I think this will be the perfect antidote.

Finally, I have fished out my copy of Susan Cain's Quiet from the deep recesses of my bookshelf. I have dipped in and out of this, but never actually finished it. My organisation put a lot of emphasis on MBTI profiles and knowing your personality type and I've just been on a course to find out more about what makes me tick and how I work. I am 100% introvert and it causes some problems for me in the workplace so I'm hoping Cain's book will give me a boost of confidence and a few ideas about making my introversion help rather than hinder.

What are you currently reading?
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Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Running Diaries: First Steps


On Tuesday night I went for a run. I realise that this is neither exciting nor breaking news for anyone other than me, but I still wanted to share it.

Somewhat unbelievably it's not too far from the three year anniversary of the injury that set me on the road to increased weight and decreased happiness. You all know the story by now: girl runs half-marathon (though not her first), girl gets hurt, girl doesn't stop training; girl now can't do anything, girl has physio/x-ray/MRI/referral to orthopaedics, girl still can't do anything.

I have reached a point now where I'm very much stewing in my anger. I've fallen into a pit of despair and deep heat patches; one is delightful, the other not so much. The time has come to suck it up and get on. It's time to accept that I'm not as capable or as fit as I used to be. It's time to set new challenges and new goals that are feasible for my now weaker and heavier body. It's time to run again.

On Tuesday I went to a talk at Waterstones after work which was wonderful, but I had 'that' stomach ache I get when I'm tired and stressed. Experience has always proven that a bit of exercise soothes that pain slightly so, stepping off the bus round the corner from my house, I decided to get home, get changed and get out.

I ran for twenty minutes as the sun set and the clouds lit up pink and orange before fading to grey. It felt good. I called my mum, who still manages to be the best running partner from 200 miles away. We had a chat as my feet pounded the pavements and the wind fought against me. My lungs hurt, my legs hurt, my hips hurt, but I felt amazing. When I run I can almost see the worries and stress and anger and sadness fall into the dust behind me; it leaks out with my sweat and I feel lighter.

I made it home, still upright and in one piece, had a scalding shower and settled down to do one of Yoga with Adriene's post-run stretch videos before getting into bed. It felt good, I felt good. I woke up yesterday feeling better, both in my body and my mind. Running has always given me that, it's always kept me on the straight and narrow, and I need that back. So, whether it's recommended or not, I'm taking it back.

Here is where I need to be careful. I want to run again, I want to run further and faster and longer, but I know I should probably give myself time. I ought to aim for maybe one run a week with plenty of cross-training and yoga. So that's what I'm going to do and I'm going to bring you along for the ride.
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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

London Notes: Morning Walks


I am an early riser. I wake with the sun (or my lumie alarm clock if it's dull out), and I make it my mission to get as much out of those few hours before I have to be at work. Recently I've been restless, unhappy in my flat and in need of movement, so I walk.

I walk through Elephant and Castle, blindly navigating the huge roundabout now that the underpasses are gone, past the people stood at the bus stop with their headphones on staring blankly at the middle distance.

I begin to feel the warmth of my gentle exertion spreading across my skin so I take off my jacket and feel the morning air nibble at my bare arms. I love the chill of the morning, that first couple of hours before the sun really gets going.

I'm listening to Amy Phoeler. Her voice soothes and energises me simultaneously. She makes me laugh and I catch the eye of someone walking towards me, a grin on my face. This stranger and I lock eyes and I can see that they're puzzled by the smile on my face - smiles can be hard to come by in this city. I wonder for a moment whether I ought to adjust my face, hide the smile and rearrange my features into a London frown, but I decide not to. Amy Phoeler is making me laugh, it's a new day full of all the opportunities a day brings, and a smile is so rare these days, it almost feels like an act of kindness.

Walking is good for the soul. With each step I can feel the knots in my shoulders come loose, I consciously release the anger and sadness and feelings of not being enough that seem to build up. I get to work early, feeling refreshed and ready for what the day will bring. If it brings sadness, well, I guess I'll be walking those same streets again tomorrow.

///

I moved to London in the summer of 2013 and fell in love with the city. London Notes is a new series where I document the various encounters I have with this city - the weird, the wonderful, the seemly inconsequential, and, occasionally, the profound. 
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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #56


1// A 4-day week After doing some overtime a couple of weekends ago I had a day owing to me, so I decided to take it this week. I was in Essex for the weekend so it just made sense to remove the stress of Sunday evening travelling. It made my week feel much less rushed, which is always lovely, although I did find myself very unsure about the day by the time Thursday came around.

2// Maxi skirts I really dislike having my legs on show so I pull out my trusty maxi skirts when the weather starts to get a touch warmer. They're so comfortable and I love the feel of the fabric swishing around my legs.

3// Yes Please I've been listening to the audiobook of Amy Phoeler's memoir for the last few weeks and I absolutely adore it. She makes me laugh so much.

4// Sunday brunch Today Mike and I walked to Peckham to see The Jungle Book at the cheap cinema there (£4.99 for a ticket!). It's about a three mile walk from my home, through the lovely Burgess Park and up the old Surrey Canal Path. On our way we popped into a little cafe just off the beaten path for a spot of brunch - avocado and smoked salmon on toast always makes my day.

5// Quiet Fridays I found myself home alone with no plans on Friday. I was exhausted after a busy week so I made myself some delicious pasta, watched The Force Awakens with a G&T, and then rounded it all off with a read in the bath. The perfect pamper evening in my opinion!

Things I've loved around the web
Tea in Your Twenties - How To Share the Love as a Blogger and Why It's Important
Miranda's Notebook - A Day in Rye
What I Know Now - Healthy Food, Healthy Mind?

What made you happy this week?
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Thursday, 19 May 2016

Meeting Maigret



Meeting Simenon

If you've been around these parts in the last six months or so, you'll know that I've had a number of serendipitous moments with the author, Georges Simenon. Before I went to Brussels last November a quick bit of research into Belgian writers led me to him and to his short novel, The Blue Room. I quickly devoured that novel and made a mental note to look in Simenon's other work, but, as usually happens, I got caught up in other things and Simenon slipped to the back of my mind.

It seems that he wasn't happy to wait patiently at the back of my mind until I eventually remembered how good The Blue Room was and set out to read more, because all of a sudden (or so it seemed), he was everywhere. His name popped up in articles I read, he was talked about at events I attended, I found at least one of his Maigret novels in every bookshop I visited, and I even went to a talk about his work at LSE's literature festival. Coincidence much? I think not.

So, I duly followed the signs and turned to a couple of random Maigret novels that I had been offered for review (serendipity at work again): Maigret's Holiday and Maigret Sets a Trap (which has now been adapted for TV). Well the rest, as they say, is history. From where I'm sat I can see a small stack of Simenon's work that I've found in various secondhand bookshops and I know there is yet another waiting for me on my kindle. I'm completely addicted.

Meeting Maigret

I wasn't sure what to expect when I turned the first page of Maigret Sets a Trap. I knew from reading The Blue Room that Simenon has a unique and truly recognisable style, and I wondered whether this would be different in his Inspector Maigret series. It wasn't. Simenon has a really stripped back writing style; his work is blunt, it's sparse, and there is not one unnecessary word. I think it is particularly impressive for a crime/mystery writer to achieve such deceptively simple prose, but still manage to set the scene and build tension wonderfully.

Onto Maigret the character. I'm not sure I truly have a sense of Maigret the man yet, at least not to the point that I would recognise him as a character without it being indicated (as I do with, for example, Peter Wimsey or Miss Marple). All I know so far is that he loves to smoke, loves to drink, is very well regarded and known, is quite brusk in his manner, keeps things to himself until it's necessary to reveal them, and has a somewhat gruff yet lovable demeanour. I have to say, I'm very excited about getting to know him more.

I breezed through both these novels in less a week. They are short, yes, but I found myself hooked on Simenon's every word, so much so that I could hardly bear to put the book down. Out of the two I think I slightly preferred Maigret's Holiday, purely because I get the impression that it follows a slightly different structure to the others. I also loved the relationship between Maigret and his wife in this novel. She's nothing but a shadow/a disembodied alcohol holding hand in Maigret Sets a Trap so I was pleased her role was fleshed out a little more.

One thing that's difficult to comment on is Maigret's detection style as much of the actual detecting seems to go on in his head. He's like Sherlock in that respect, minus the need to showcase his talents. I actually quite like that finding out whodunit isn't always necessarily the focal point of the novel. It seems that the journey to catching the criminal once they're known is important, as is their motive. I'm interested to see if this is the same in other Maigret novels or if these two are unusual.

Penguin are republishing all seventy-five Maigret novels in new translations. I believe #31 My Friend Maigret was released earlier this month. Check them out here, they're fantastic and the covers are to die for.

If you've not read any of Simenon's work then all that's left to say is: read it. If you have read his work, whether his Maigret series or not, then I'm dying to know what I should read next!




Thanks go to Penguin Books at the team at Peters Fraser and Dunlop for the review copies. As ever, opinions and enthusiasm all my own.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Bookshopping




I spent the weekend just gone enjoying some quiet time in Essex with my boyfriend and his family. We visited a pub or two, went on some meandering drives, watched all three Hobbit movies (new to me, loved them), read lots, talked about the future, and, mostly importantly of all, visited several bookshops. Unintentionally, of course [ahem].

On Saturday Mike suggested we go to Saffron Walden, a lovely old market town not far from his, for some brunch and a wander. I readily agreed, remembering that recently Daunt Books opened up a store there (ulterior motives and all that!). Saffron Walden is beautiful; it's full of little streets, higgledy piggledy houses, hidden gardens, and has the most wonderful market square with a library at its head. Hart's Books happened to be a slight disappointment, but thankfully we stumbled across an Oxfam Bookshop as we pottered around the side streets. There I found Rhoda Broughton's Cometh Up As A Flower.

I have never heard of Broughton before, but my interest was piqued by the author's dedication of the novel to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, whose work I have enjoyed. Cometh Up As A Flower sounds like just my cup of tea. The blurb calls it a 19th century tragic love story and suggests that it challenges gender stereotypes of the age. Perfect.

On Sunday we took a trip to Chelmsford because I needed to pop into M&S, like the old lady I am. Chelmsford also happens to have one of the best Oxfam Bookshops I've ever been in. It's possibly even better than the one in Bristol and that is saying something! I have yet to fully explore the entire shop as I've always been thoroughly preoccupied by the fantastic literature and crime sections. They have a bookshelf dedicated solely to vintage crime, which is arranged according to publisher [swoon]. Spines upon spines of green and white penguins - an absolute joy to behold.

As I seem to be having quite the vintage crime phase at the moment, I really let loose in the crime section. I resisted the numerous Christie's and instead picked up novels by authors I have vaguely heard of, but don't know their works at all. This led me to Edmund Crispin, Dashiell Hammett, Josephine Tey and 'Sapper'. I had hoped for a Sayers or a Simenon, but actually I'm rather excited to discover someone new.

I also couldn't resist grabbing this Huxley novel as Mike dragged me to the till. It's not one I've come across before, but apparently it's a satirical novel set in the immediate aftermath of WW1. Again: perfect.

Have you bought any new books recently?


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Saturday, 14 May 2016

Literary London

London is a positive melting pot of literary delights. Since I moved to the big smoke as a culture-loving-lit-nerd three years ago, I have discovered some fantastically literary things to see and do. Some are well known, others are a little more off the beaten track. Possibly the best thing about London is its literary history and how much this has been written into its very core. From blue plaques to gravestones, from bookshops to pubs, London's literary history is everywhere you turn, very much alive and breathing.

Whether you live in London, are visiting for the first time or coming back for the tenth, there is always something new to discover. If it's a literary discovery you're after, how about trying these:


Highgate Cemetery
Now, wandering among tombstones in a graveyard might not be the first thing that comes to mind when I talk about the literary excitements London has to offer, but bear with me. As well as being the final resting place for many an author, Highgate has also featured in a number of novels. It was Tracy Chevalier's Falling Angels and Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry which first put Highgate on my radar, and it doesn't disappoint. In an interesting take on celeb spotting, it's wonderful to lose yourself in the cemetery, bowing your head to likes of Douglas Adams, Alan Sillitoe and, let us not forget, George Eliot. Highgate is a place of subtle contradictions; it's both gothic and romantic, neglected and well maintained, modern and antique.


Literary Pub Crawl
A year or so ago my sister found an advert for a literary pub crawl happening in London. Obviously this combines two of my favourite things - literature and pubs - so there was no way we weren't going to go. Run by a London-based theatre company, the crawl starts in Fitzrovia and wends its way, with various stopping points, through to Soho. The tour leader is often the late Charles Dickens, although I hear the late Virginia Woolf makes an appearance now and again. The areas around Fitzrovia have a rich literary history and if you're the sort of person who like to go to places frequented by your idols, then this crawl is a must.


Plaque Spotting in Bloomsbury
Last summer I searched the internet for the locations of various blue plaques around Bloomsbury. I then plotted those locations on to a map and set off, with my long suffering boyfriend in tow, to visit the houses that some of my favourite writers, artists and thinkers had lived in. Bloomsbury is full of blue plaques so you can pretty much just wander and come across a multitude, but it's also really easy to create your own little route and stand outside the houses of writers such as Woolf, Sayers, Holtby and Brittain. Get some comfy shoes, a sunny day, and a camera for all those 'Woolf was ere' selfies.


Persephone Books
Without a shadow of a doubt Persephone Books is my favourite bookshop in the whole of London, if not the UK. They're also my favourite publishers so I guess that's inevitable. Walking into the bookshop is like walking into the front room of your bookish best friend. The decor is fantastic, the piles of books everywhere make my heart flip, and the staff are knowledgeable, friendly and always there to give a recommendation. My latest purchases there were a result of recommendations (Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins and Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski) and were so good that I intend to go back and ask what I should pick next. Somewhat dangerously I now work around the corner from the shop so I can often be found wandering past, having a browse or grabbing the latest biannually to read in the park.


[insert author here]'s London 
You're probably beginning to see a theme of walking and exploring here. Although there are tons of wonderfully literary museums and locations in London (check back for part two!), I will always prefer just wandering, seeing what I can stumble across and exploring blindly. My wanderings have been responsible for so many serendipitous discoveries and I would always recommend it as the number one way to experience London. Something I do occasionally is research the London my favourite authors would have known, for example Woolf's London or Wilkie's London. Once I have a few locations to aim for I'll then just walk the streets. You never know, an assuming street could have hidden treasures. My next author-inspired excursion will be a nighttime walk a la Charles Dickens.

Where are your favourite literary spots in London and beyond?
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Tuesday, 10 May 2016

On Poetry


The last week has been a bit of a blur for me. I've been stuck in this downward spiral of confusion and sadness and a total feeling of being utterly and completely lost.

I feel like my life is disappearing beneath my feet and I can't do anything to grasp it. I know I should be mindful and be in the present rather than thinking about the past and worrying about the future, but I just can't. Or maybe I don't want to. I don't know.

I mentioned something on twitter about being in a state of limbo and a lovely person shared a link to poem with me: Rose Cook's 'A Poem for Someone Who is Juggling Her Life'. It's a wonderful poem - simple, yet carrying such an important message - and it really spoke to me in that moment.

So I went home and I read the Mary Oliver book that has sat next to my bed for two months. I also painted my toenails red because that's an instant uplifter. I tried to watch a film, but couldn't. So I gave myself permission to do nothing, to sit with this poetry book, to think, to feel everything I'm feeling.

The next day I woke up with a restlessness I couldn't shake so I showered and was out of the house by 6.30am. I walked from my home, through Elephant and Castle, across Waterloo Bridge and up Kingsway to Holborn. I treated myself to breakfast and then went to work. That hour spent walking, in the morning chill with the sun warming me ever so slightly, felt ever so calming. I got to work and bought two new poetry collections.

Over the weekend one of the poetry books I'd ordered arrived - Clive James's Sentenced to Life. I made a coffee and crawled back into bed with it, sinking into the verse, the rhythm, the beauty of James's words.

I've had an on again off again relationship with poetry for my entire life. I adore poems, but sometimes my brain won't allow me the time they need and deserve. Now though, in this fast-paced social media world, I think reading a poem is the perfect way to stop, take a pause, and reassess.

There are poems that have meant so much to me throughout my life. I remember stumbling upon William Ernest Henley's Invictus one day and my heart instantly overflowed with all the emotions I'd held down for so long. I cried and cried and eventually I showed it to my sister who, for me, is the epitome of that poem. Years later she had two lines of the poem tattooed onto her thigh, for she truly is the master of her fate and the captain of her soul.

I thought I didn't 'get' poetry until I discovered William Blake. His poems are so deceptively simple, but in reality they hum with life and passion and spirituality. A few weeks ago I had to have an MRI and, on the cusp of panic, I recited Blake's poetry. Without him I wouldn't have made it through that twenty minutes intact.

Poetry says what I can't say myself. It pushes me to acknowledge and accept feelings that I'd often rather hide from. A poem can be a slap in the face, a gentle smile, a loving embrace; a poem can be home, it can be adventure, and it most certainly can be life.

I've since devoured that collection of Mary Oliver's poems that has sat by my bed for so long, but I won't be moving it. I'll leave it there, waiting patiently for the day when only poetry will do.

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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #55



1// Chaos Walking I finally finished this trilogy earlier this week. I don't gravitate towards YA at all, but Patrick Ness has the ability to write for all ages I think. This trilogy has had me sobbing non-stop, but it's absolutely fantastic and I'd recommend it to anyone. My sister and I read it at the same time and shared many a sad sigh.

2// My Mother Said I Never Should When I was a school I was a massive drama enthusiast. I adored acting, planning shows, doing the lighting, reading plays and researching plays. My Mother Said is a play my best friends and I put on when I was about 15/16 and it remains one of my favourites to this day. I never thought I'd see it live, but I opened the paper a month or so ago and saw an advert for it at the St James' Theatre. If you're in London this month then please go, you will not be disappointed.

3// Quiet It's been a quiet week and I've not really had anything going on, which makes a change these days. I've spent most of my evenings reading on the balcony talking to my guinea pigs.

4// Poetry I had a reintroduction to poetry this week (I'm going to talk about that more soon), and I've been loving the work of Clive James and Mary Oliver.

5// Sunday I worked an extra day this week in a situation I wasn't particularly comfortable with (people, lots of people), so today I'm treating myself to the ultimate Sunday. After the gym I'm going to visit a local cafe for brunch and then retire to the park with a blanket, my book and some SPF. Bliss.

What has made you happy this week?
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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

April in Books


Breakdown by Taylor Downing
They Are Trying to Break Your Heart by David Savill
The Repercussion by Catherine Hall
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
Maigret Sets a Trap by Georges Simenon
Maigret's Holiday by Georges Simenon

April was an excellent month for reading. I read a phenomenal book about mental health in World War One, enjoyed another wonderful Persephone classic, and finally met Inspector Maigret. I feel that this is one of the most varied reading months I've had in a while as I explored a good mixture of fiction, non-fiction, classics and contemporary novels. 

It's hard to name a favourite from the past month. I have enjoyed each of these books immensely, but for quite different reasons. Breakdown turned out to be one of the best non-fiction books I've read in a while (I talked about it in more detail here), and I loved getting reacquainted with Woolf and newly acquainted with Maigret. 

I feel like I'm finally getting my full reading mojo back. I never completely lost it, but I got quite caught up in hyped up new releases and lost sight of the books that I truly adore. Does anyone else get that? I think it's partly because I get all of my recommendations from blogs and twitter and so many new releases are given an arguably unnecessary amount of space on those platforms. I always then get it in my head that I really need to read every book I see that's given a lot of attention on the internet. Which, actually, isn't true. Reading Woolf and Simenon this month reminded me that it's those books that I adore and for the next few months I'm going to be reading from my own shelves and possibly the occasional new release that truly grabs me.

In terms of general life stuff April was a whirlwind month. I've been writing a lot for BookSmoke which means spending my evenings at literary events, all of which were fantastic. I generally go to these events alone which I find quite tough, but I think it's good for me to be pushed continually outside of my comfort zone. It has been wonderful meeting likeminded people and being surrounded by others who are as passionate about books and reading. 

I'm looking forward to a quieter month in May and hopefully plenty of reading time. 

What books have you enjoyed in April?

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Monday, 2 May 2016

May Goals



Have a dry month - no alcohol until 1st June

Slowly work up to running 5km (but don't push it!)

Read Mrs Dalloway's Party for #Woolfalong

Do something creative every week

Read more poetry

Do you have any goals for May?
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Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Voyage Out || Virginia Woolf


'When I think of the age we live in, with its opportunities and possibilities, the mass of things to be done and enjoyed - why haven't we ten lives instead of one?'

I find it impossible to review Woolf's novels so I'm not going to even try. Instead, I'm just going to share a few thoughts and I'd love to hear yours too.

The Voyage Out has been on my shelf for not too far off a decade. Unread. Well, actually, I started to read it at college, but we had the choice to either write about TVO or George Gissing's The Odd Women. At the time The Odd Women spoke to me far more than Woolf. When I first picked the book back off my shelf, encouraged by HeavenAli's #Woolfalong, the page where I gave up on Woolf and moved on to pastures Odd was still marked: page 32.


This time, with a hard-won appreciation of Woolf and a love of her writing, I breezed past page 32 in the first sitting.

// The Voyage Out is certainly Woolf's most accessible novel. It follows a more traditional structure and does not focus on a stream of consciousness like her other works. I do think though that you can see the slow beginnings of her work taking shape, not quite as much as in Jacob's Room, but I think it's there.

'It's not cowardly to wish to live, Alice. It's the very reverse of cowardly. Personally I'd like to go on for a hundred years'

// It was quite odd but also quite reassuring to come across the Dalloways in the novel. I hadn't realised beforehand that they appear and have more than just a fleeting cameo.

// I loved the relationship between Hewet and Rachel and how, when they're first engaged, they feel the need to keep reminding themselves that they love one another. Not from a lack of feeling, but I think they're both overwhelmed by the suddenness and the happiness of it all.

// There are some wonderful quotes about happiness in this novel and it seems to be something that the characters are searching for and have a particular awareness about.

'Very gently and quietly, almost as if it were the blood singing in her veins, or the water of the stream running over stones, Rachel became conscious of a new feeling within her. She wondered for a moment what it was, and then said to herself, with a little surprise at recognising in her own person so famous a thing: 'This is happiness, I suppose.'

// I was quite taken aback by the ending. It caught me thoroughly off guard and I almost felt winded. I did like how it brings yet another layer of meaning to the title of the novel - a final voyage almost.

'At last she shut the book sharply, lay back, and drew a deep breath, expressive of the wonder which always marks the transition from the imaginary world to the real world.'

// I truly adored this novel with its insightful musings on life, happiness and existence in general. I'm sure it will stay with me for a long time and I already know that to revisit it will be like seeing an old friend after a long time has passed.

Have you read The Voyage Out? 

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Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Joys of Secondhand Bookshops


Mooching around secondhand bookshops is possibly my favourite thing to do. Whether it's a dusty old store with narrow staircases and books piled on every surface, or an outdoor market, I can happily spend hours exploring, browsing and reading pages here and there. I have found some absolute gems in various stores around the country and, occasionally, abroad (in Amsterdam I found a beautiful copy of Olive Schreiner's Dreams).

There is something almost magical about secondhand shopping. Coming across heartwarming or witty inscriptions, finding old bookmarks or notes tucked into pages, and reading annotations left by some previous reader is a connection to people throughout history who have read and loved and shared their passion for the written word.

I'm quite an ordered browser. I make my way through the genres that appeal to me, from fiction, to classics, to history, to art, to literary criticism, picking up books as I go and always on the look out for certain books by certain writers. I'll always look under 'C' for Collins before moving onto 'W' for Woolf, West and Wyndham. In history I'll go straight to the First World War before searching out the Suffragettes. There's this wonderful quickening of the heart which comes over me when I discover a book, amid so many others, that I've been searching for and I inevitably find my feet dragging and my head turning for one last look as my bank balance forces me back out of the shop.



I've made some marvellous finds in the last month or so, firstly in a little bookshop hidden away in Bristol and secondly at the Southbank Book Market. It's rare that I'll leave a secondhand bookshop empty handed and I do seem to have a sixth sense for tracking down certain writers and subjects, but even knowing that I've been amazed by the books I've found recently.

You'll notice a couple of Simenon's in this pile and I've said before that he seems to be almost following me - every bookshop I've entered in the last six or seven months has given me Simenon and his invention, Maigret. I don't know whether it's because he's coming back into the public consciousness thanks to Penguin reissuing the Maigret novels, or whether it's my own awareness has changed since reading The Blue Room. Either way, I'm in love and so happy to be stumbling across various old editions.


I was perhaps most excited to find this old Penguin edition of The Great Gatsby. My sister actually found this on the Southbank Book Market and shook it wildly at me until I came running over. I was then distracted by seeing a sea of Simenon's and a copy of Virginia Woolf's The Common Reader (which I'm still kicking myself for not buying). I have a couple of different copies of The Great Gatsby already, one which I filled with my A Level annotations and one which I filled with my degree annotations, but I am overjoyed to own this gorgeous Penguin - I particularly like the mini synopsis on the front!

I'm having a slight break from book-buying, secondhand or otherwise, at the moment as my shelves here in London are bursting at the seams (I've been forced to stack books on every available surface now, as many of my favourite bookshops do!), but I'm planning a couple of trips around the UK for the summer which, if all goes to plan, will essentially be one long bookshop crawl.

Do you like secondhand book shopping? Found any gems lately?
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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #54



1// #Bronte200 I've loved all of the celebrations for Charlotte Bronte's bicentenary this week. It's very much put me in the mood for re-reading Jane Eyre and Villette and discovering her other works. I'm also in the mood to re-watch the Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska film after hearing Moira Buffini, who wrote the screenplay, talk on Thursday.

2// Sceptre Salon On Monday I went to the first Sceptre Salon at Foyles. Chris Cleave, Clare Morrall and Tristan Gooley made up the panel, chaired by Hannah Beckerman, discussing the theme of water. It was wonderful and I really enjoyed hearing about both Cleave and Morrall's new novels having loved their works previously.

3// More exercise Since an inconclusive MRI left my physio stumped I've decided it's time to get myself back to fighting fit, or risk staying miserable for a lot longer. I've been slowly building myself back up with the gym, swimming and yoga, and yesterday I went for my first run in about six months. With a little determination and plenty of stretching and self-care, I think I can get back to where I used to be.

4// Cooking I spent most of today cooking up a storm. First I made some apple and cinnamon muffins, then miso soup, and finally I pickled some red cabbage for future salads. All very tasty, even if I say so myself.

5// Star Wars Nothing beats a Sunday evening spent curled up with a cider in front of The Force Awakens. Top notch evening.

What made you happy this week?

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Thursday, 21 April 2016

The Repercussions || Catherine Hall


Catherine Hall's The Repercussions had sat on my shelf for much longer than it should have before I finally got around to reading it. I think I'd bought it after reading a couple of positive reviews online and I was drawn to the slightly more unusual perspective on WW1. The Repercussions is not particularly groundbreaking and, for someone who has read an inordinate amount of war literature, it's possibly a little predictable. Nevertheless, it's really a rather good book and has stuck with me, floating somewhere at the back of my mind, since I finished it.

The Repercussions is a dual-narrative novel. One strand is told from the perspective of Jo, a war photographer back from Afghanistan and struggling to make sense of the things she went through there. The other strand is Elizabeth's story, shared through diary entries Jo found in the house she inherits from her Aunt. Elizabeth was a nurse in The Royal Pavilion and found herself torn between love and duty.

I was reminded of Sam Baker's The Woman Who Ran and Pat Barker's Double Vision (at least I think it's Double Vision). It seems that writing about war correspondents and photographers gives authors the opportunity to address trauma from a different perspective. Hall has taken that one step further by paralleling modern day war trauma with shell shock and the mental repercussions of the First World War.

This book addresses a multitude of subjects, all of which are acutely relevant to one another. Using Brighton as the geographical base allows Hall to focus on the nurses and soldiers in the Brighton Royal Pavilion, which then allows her to explore issues of race, gender, class and sexuality in one fell swoop. Jo's narrative also deals with some quite difficult topics, including life under the Taliban rule, but Hall has a delicate touch and avoids sensationalising.

Beyond the deeper issues explored through the two narratives, the overarching story and Jo's movements through post-war life make for fascinating reading. However, I certainly wasn't prepared for the blow we're dealt on the final page. Generally I really enjoyed The Repercussions and would recommend it to anyone interested in war fiction. I even stayed up late to finish it which is rare for me these days!

Have you read The Repercussions?



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