Tag Archive: reading


A DIY interlude

One of the very few upsides of being unemployed for long periods of time is that I’ve had the time and inclination to DIY lots of stuff. In the past year I’ve made ridiculous amounts of origami, did all my wedding flowers, started cutting my own hair, redecorated on the cheap, and put together all sorts of things that were not intended by the original manufacturers. It’s really nice, actually, and most of the things I’ve done are simple and easily Google-able. I get a sense of accomplishment when I’ve made something with my own hands – double if it works! I’m not the most traditionally crafty upcycled tool in the shed.

Everyone has one of those rooms in their houses – that small, dark room you can’t do anything with. That room is my study/guest room, and despite my decorating efforts, it still felt cold and uninviting. It has a perfectly comfy futon and I deliberately put some books in there so it would turn into a reading space, but that never happened. Until, on a whim, I thought of the next step…

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That’s right – a reading fort!

I’ve never grown out of my childlike love for forts and hideaways. I’ve always loved being in small, warm, spaces – on the inside looking out. Some might say that it’s a subconscious desire to return to the womb – they may be right, but I’m not sure my Mum would like that very much.

Apologies for the quality of the photo, but I’ve installed a great floor lamp in there as well – just one I had literally sitting around. I have no idea why I hadn’t thought of it before. On the other wall I also have fairy lights, and I’m considering getting more to go in my fort. You can see I have some art on the walls, and just out of shot is a bookcase. I have lots of cushions and a blanket on the futon, and it’s perfect. And all it is is some spare fabric I had lying around, strung up with spare embroidery thread and masking tape. As simple as you can get, and equally precarious. If it is still up by morning, it will be a miracle.

On the other wall is my desk and chair, and lots of postcards. I’m getting a sewing machine in the next couple of weeks, so my base of operations will probably be there. I might see if I can get some awesome stickers to deface my black and white desk as well.

P.S. I might be beginning a wonderful collaboration soon. More details to come!

A Life Well-Read

As you know, I’m a lover of all the arts, in different ways. Movies provided a gorgeous escape world as a teenager, music is the closest thing to a religious experience, visual art soothes my soul. But my first and greatest love will always be reading.

Reading was one thing that was ingrained into me by my mother, who to this day is still a voracious reader (she also loves James Patterson books, but let’s not talk about that). She read to me in the womb – children’s books, the newspaper, whatever novel she was reading at the time. I could read fluently at the age of three, before I could speak properly. That wasn’t meant to be a boast, but it certainly set the foundation for my method of learning and comprehending the world around me.

I never used to be able to sleep without reading a book first. I would read a lot of Little Golden Books and the like, lovely sweet things that I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of. Reading would relax my frantic mind and I would go to sleep, dreaming of kittens, trains, princesses and Sesame Street. We had first aid books and layman-level medical books lying about the place, and I used to love looking at the pictures, which kickstarted my fascination with anatomy. I read and read and read. I was always at the school library and town library, and as I got older I tried to discover what sort of books I like, so I read them all.

I loved the pure escapism. I especially loved it when the books had true elements, elements that existed in my world that I could grab onto and then leap off into the world of imagination. I loved being in different worlds with different people, where people were good and kindly and lived happily ever after (sometimes, I still believe that). Adventures were had and things got scary but in the end everyone returned home safely with dirty faces. I was running beside them, being a train driver, playing with kittens, climbing trees, exploring castles, even fighting people with swords. I could do it all, and see it all happening in my head. The best-written books are the ones that are only half-written – your imagination supplies the rest.

When I was in my early teens, I started to write. I wanted to create a story of my own, one I could control for myself. I wanted to have my own adventures. I had the Internet and video games and movies, so my reading kind of dropped off. I was still using old favourite books to help me go to sleep, my mind becoming more frantic. Then I just started to read purely for research purposes, to help me write. The constant text analysis I had to do in English class put me off reading for pleasure, because I couldn’t turn off the analysis (thankfully after I finished school that went away quickly). Reading before bed was a disaster, because it just gave me ideas and made my mind race even faster. I kept notebooks beside my bed into which I would scribble notes in the middle of the night. I used to have ideas so strong and so clear come into my head, that it would actually wake me up.

Then, when I was 15, came the big one.

The Lord of the Rings.

The next four or so years of my life were devoted to that book. Reading it, reading its companion stories, reading the histories, biographies, letters, everything. And then I started to write, and that consumed me even more. Through that book came a community of people I am still proud to call my friends, and, indirectly, my husband.

After the dizzying high of that gorgeous world with so much potential came the crashing low. I couldn’t find another fictional world that I could fall in love with like I did Middle-earth. I couldn’t find characters that inspired me, and who I wanted to follow. So, I turned to non-fiction. My writing output slowed to a trickle. I could still laugh, I could still learn. I found gorgeous, funny, interesting people from whom I learned so much, and still learn from today. But it’s not quite the same.

My house is filled with thriller and crime books, which don’t really appeal to me. For a while I thought that I’d never love fiction again the way I used to. Is falling into the world of fiction something that adults don’t do? Do grown-ups only read books that are true or about people being chased? I couldn’t find a genre I liked, a setting I liked, characters I liked. And it only served to remind me about the loss of my own writing creativity.

But now, a few years on, a renaissance is happening.

I love fiction again. I’ve been having a hard time lately and I needed something to calm me down, and my worn and battered copy of Mother Tongue just wasn’t doing it anymore (still my number 1 book ever though, you need to read it!). And I’ve been itching to write again as well. This blog has been great but I want to tell stories again, and not about myself. I want to have notebooks and notebooks filled again. So my lovely boy said to me, ‘Start reading.’ So I did.

For my birthday last year I got a Sony Reader, which is a wonderful little thing, but I didn’t use it as much as I should have in the past year. I decided to try public domain books, and I read a few books and authors I’d wanted to read, but I didn’t really get into them. I enjoyed the flowery prose of Oscar Wilde, but it was too overblown for me. I enjoyed the plot of Jane Eyre but it was so slow to start.

But then, it hit me.

I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t know what I was expecting – more of your stuffy Victoriana, I expect. But the humour, the quirks, the pacing and the pure quality of the writing just killed me stone dead. I loved it. So, I started collecting more books, and requested some for Christmas. Between Christmas and now, I estimate that I have bought, downloaded or been given around 20 books, and I’ve read about 6. I’ve scoured cheap bookstores, found some gems and some duds. Books are exciting again, and I’m getting used to digital ones (they would never replace my paper collections but they are so damned convenient). I downloaded more Sherlock Holmes, and Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, which knocked my socks off once again. For the first time in a long time, I was standing beside Edward Malone, watching the iguanodons with their babies. I’ve gotten art books, DIY books, lots of fiction, historical texts, language books and non-fiction. I’d found one of Michael Palin’s diaries during my wanderings and his beautifully gentle, warm, funny and heartfelt voice was the perfect companion to my dark and desolate mood at the time.

I’m starting to find my feet again writing-wise as well. I’d like to think that my blog posts are getting better (although I find I’m making some awful grammatical errors, what the hell) and maybe, one day, I can finally leap into my own world again.

But trust me, once I do, my backpack will be full of books.

A Novel Fail

As I’m sure you’re aware, today’s (or tomorrow’s) date is the 30th of November. And I’m sure you’ll suspect correctly that I haven’t written one damned word of my National Novel Writing Month project.

It’s the same old excuses – been busy at work, haven’t got time, illness, stupid wedding, blah blah blah. It was just really bad timing. But on the upside I’ve written 5000 words on a procedural manual for work, other things for work and a few blog posts so it hasn’t been all bad. I spend all day writing emails, invitations, briefs, manuals, blogging, Facebooking, Twittering – I still write. But has the brevity of such formats so fried my brain that I can’t write anything long anymore? Or am I just lazy?

It’s probably a bit of both. I was never good at writing long things anyway. Plus, the idea has been swirling around in my head for years and years, and I’m starting to forget a lot of the finer details. I might need to have it surgically removed. But when should you let an idea go? This one is obviously persistent – is it worth giving it an airing, building the new wisdom and insight of the intervening years into the framework, or is it a wisp of a dream that should be finally laid to rest?

I think the crux of the problem is that I don’t read as much as I used to. Nowhere near as much. Reading and writing are like an iceberg – your 10% of writing at the top needs to come from 90% of reading under the water. The more you read, the better a writer you are. As I got out of my teens I found that fiction didn’t engage me so much anymore. I found that I was reading books that were great at the beginning and utterly underwhelming at the end. I’m not sure what genre I wanted to read (I’m still not sure). My family reads lots of thriller/crime books, which I don’t enjoy. I’ve moved to non-fiction and haven’t really looked back.

But I still love the magic of stories and storytelling. I love the idea that someone builds worlds completely in their head, and makes these imaginary people and places come to life, or uses their imagination to extrapolate on and explore real people, places and times (which ties into my love of history and mythology). Reading was a big part of my household from an early age. I could read before I learned to speak. My ancestors had a long and proud oral storytelling tradition, most of which has been lost in subsequent invasions.

I want to love fiction again. I received an e-Reader for my birthday, which is great. I’ve been working my way through the public domain classics, most of which have been extremely underwhelming (except for Sherlock Holmes – I didn’t expect it to be so brilliant!). I wonder if it’s the fact that I’m looking at it through modern eyes. I would like to read more horror and sci-fi – I’ve never experienced these genres in the written word so I would like to see how they work. Futuristic worlds and the thrill of the scare are so audio-visual to me.

So, darling readers – I’m leaving this in your capable hands. And it doesn’t have to be books – online sources are great too. Project Gutenberg, blogs, websites, anything! Any recommendations highly appreciated.

And so, to give you a better idea of what I like to read, here’s a list of 10 books I quite like. I can’t even produce a list of my top 10 favourite books ever, because there’s only a handful of books that I truly cherish. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.      Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

2.      The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

3.      The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien

4.      A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

5.      Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings

6.      The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

7.      The Pythons by Monty Python

8.      Zombie CSU by Jonathan Maberry

9.      Stargazing by Peter Hill

10.    On Writing by Stephen King

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