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.

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. 

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?

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.


Tuesday, 17 May 2016


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?


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?

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.


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?

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?


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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