Category Archives: Books

Reading Reboot Part 2: The ‘How To’ Bit

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Some books here are waiting to be read.

In my last post about reading, I left you at the point of the story where I had resolved to start reading fiction again, but was at something of a loss as to how to re-establish the habit.

This is the good part.  The bit where I tell you what I did, so that you can do it too:

Choose a regular time of day

One of the tips I came across in starting my reading reboot was the idea that in establishing any habit, it helps to have a trigger, a specific time of day, perhaps, which you come to associate with that particular activity. I thought about my mother, who always sat down at 10.30am for a cup of coffee and the Telegraph crossword, and after her lunch at 12noon, she always had half an hour or so special ‘me time’ for reading.  It’s a routine she didn’t deviate from for more than 40 years, and in that time she must have read hundreds of books.

Most people read at night.  I find that helpful as, like many ME patients, I have a tendency to insomnia, so reading at bedtime helps me to wind down.  (NEVER read on your phone, tablet or laptop, however, since the LED display has been proven disrupt the melatonin levels in your brain, making you more awake, rather than less.

You can find the scientific proof, if you are sceptical, here.

Choose a time of day that you can set aside 15-30 minutes of pure reading time, in your lunch hour, on the bus, whenever that most suits your lifestyle, and do it every day.

Block out a chunk of time

I find I really enjoy getting totally immersed in a book, and often, if its one I’m completely absorbed in, I like a big chunk of time to really get to grips.  Sunday afternoons are great for this, but I don’t have kids, so this may not work for you.  Evenings are great, especially when your partner goes for a night out with their mates.  I make an occasion of it, indulgently laying in good chocolate, lighting candles, and maybe even playing soft music in the background.

Grab a moment

I always carry a book with me.  I hate to be bored, and any time of the day when I am on my own, perhaps waiting in a queue, on public transport, or grabbing lunch at a coffee shop, is perfect for packing in the next chapter.

Make a list

When I was at college, and, we were given reading lists.  A series of texts to wade through.  Doing my diploma, I wrote my reading list on a slip of card which I used as a book mark.  I drew a line through every book I finished on the list, and went on to the next one.  Every time I opened my book, I was presented with tangible evidence of what I had achieved, which spurred me on to read more.

This time around I generated my own list.  I happened to have a shelf full of books that I had bought but that remained unread.  You know, the ones you get when there is a ‘buy one- get one free’ on summer holiday books in Waterstones, and you read one when you are away, and the rest get forgotten.  I made a list of all the unread books I had lying around, and started on them.

Another way you could do it is to visit a bookshop with a notebook and wander round, noting down the books you fancy reading, the ones that attract and intrigue you.

Perhaps you’d like to read on a theme.  There are books which will help you with this, like ‘The Novel Cure’.

Many books on writing contain lists of recommended novels that you could work your way through – there is a fantastic one in Francine Prose’s wonderful ‘Reading Like a Writer’. (This is a book you really need to read, by the way.)

Or you could just wander around your local library, pick out a few novels from their displays, or ask a librarian or bookseller for their recommendations.  And charity shops are great for plucking out a few juicy reads at affordable prices to add to your stash.

Once you have your list, don’t forget to tick off each book as you finish it.  I like to score a line right through each title.  It gives me huge satisfaction, and gets me revved up for more.

Stay Faithful – Read to the end

I’m such a butterfly.  I have a very short attention span and I’m well-known for getting bored with a book a couple of chapters in, putting it down ‘for the moment’ and never finishing it.  I’ll end up with about 17 books on the go, and often have to restart books because I’ve forgotten the story so far.

I have found recently that I do have to resist this temptation.  If another title attracts me when I’m half way through my current novel, I now make myself plough on, with the reward of the new one in my sights.  My intention is to use my voracious butterfly instinct to flit onwards as a means to spur me on to completion.  I won’t let myself open the next title until I’ve finished the first.  Sometimes I hate it, but it always feels so great when I get to the end of a book that I don’t care.

Don’t be afraid to dump it

On the other hand … yes, I am about to contradict myself.  Sometimes there is a book that you start, and no matter how much you try, you just can’t get on with it.  Something, or everything, about it grates.

For years, people had been telling me to read ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen.  It has been sitting on my shelf, staring at me balefully in reproach.  I’ve tried.  God knows, I’ve tried.  So many times.  But I just can’t like this book, and I just can’t read it.  So I have given myself permission to let it go.  I’m never going to finish it, so what is the point in keeping it.  It made its path to the charity shop, along with Ian McEwan’s ‘Atonement’, another book that made me want to spit bullets, and that I have tried to read half a dozen times without success.

Sometimes, it is best to know when you are beaten, and retreat gracefully.  Life is too short to waste precious reading time on books you downright hate.

Give up the Telly (At least some of the time)

Where am I going to get all this time, you may be asking?  I discovered, when I began to really get back into reading, that I had been watching a whole lot of television.  Reruns of old detective shows, documentaries I had seen before, pap that was not feeding my soul or my Muse.  It was just filling my time.  I discovered it was far more fun to switch off the gogglebox and dive into a book.  The pictures were better in my imagination, for starters!

Yes, I know it sounds impossible, but think about it.  How long do you spend staring at the TV or getting lost on the internet, looking that things that really are not exciting or entertaining you, but just occupying your eyeballs.  Just think how much more fun a good book could be.

Commitment not Discipline

Your reading list is NOT another stick to beat yourself with, another SHOULD to add to your already bulging list.  If you don’t get chance to read today, don’t tell yourself you lack discipline.  Frankly I think discipline is an evil word, used to oppress, manipulate and shame people everywhere.  Its not down to having enough discipline.  Its actually down to whether you want to do something enough or not.  And if you really want to do it, you will. So what if you didn’t have chance to read today because the baby was running a temperature, or the boiler broke down?  Commit to reading tomorrow.  Reading is for your pleasure, after all.

Congratulate Yourself

I have a list of ‘Books Read in 2017’ in my bullet journal.  When I finish a book, I write it down on my list there, as well as scoring it out on my bookmark.  It is a way of congratulating myself.  When I get to the end of the year, and look back at my list, I know I will be so proud of how much I’ve achieved, because I’ll have a concrete record of it.

There’s another thing I do.  Maybe its not so sensible, but when I finish a book, I like to treat myself.  I’ll take myself to the local café for a nice cake.  Buy myself a new lipstick or nail varnish.  A new notebook or a nice pen.  Nothing too big.  Just a little treat to say ‘well done.’  Because, let’s face it, you put a lot of hours and concentration into finishing a 300-page novel.  You deserve a pat on the back!

 

Of course, volume is not everything.  At the moment I am re-establishing the habit of reading, and the issue of what I read, and how it impacts on my writing is something for the future.  I may go back to keeping a reading notebook, as I have in previous years.  No doubt there will be future posts on the subject.  But in the meantime, I hope that something here will help you to get back into the habit of reading, if you have dropped out of it, and if not, that you can discover something new to enhance your enjoyment.

Happy Reading – and Creating,

Love EF

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Reading Reboot Part 1

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Shelfie!

As part of my creative recovery journey, I’ve been trying to get back into reading.  Stephen King says firmly that:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

(Stephen King, On Writing)

What the Great Man says has to be right, yeah?  So, if I want to write again, I need to resume reading.

I have to confess that in recent years, while I’ve been in dementia-survival mode, I’ve been reading for the purposes of distraction or survival.  Which means I’ve either been reading comforting, funny novels, most of which I’ve read before i.e. Terry Pratchett, or self-help. Or an awful lot (and I mean an awful lot) of fanfiction!  Now, as I emerge from the dark shadow, I need to remember what the hell a novel actually looks and feels like.

In working this out, I thought it might be useful to consider my history as a reader.  I have to admit that since I learnt to read as a child, I have been a complete addict.  I was the kid that had read the back of the cornflakes packet so often, I knew it by heart.  I devoured books.  I spent so much time lying on my bed reading that the neighbours believed my mother locked me in my room rather than allowed me out to play!  But I didn’t want to go out to play. I wanted to read Monica Dickens, and Enid Blyton’s ‘Mallory Towers’ and ‘St Clares’ books. I adored Tove Jansson.

My parents encouraged me.  My mother was a voracious reader who introduced me to Jane Austen and the Brontes.  My father read to me most nights when he got home from work, and if he was travelling for his job, which he did often, he recorded episodes on an old cassette tape player for me to listen to every night – oh, how I wish I still had those episodes of him reading ‘The Wind in the Willows’ and doing all the voices!

So it was not surprising that I wanted to do an English degree for the sheer pleasure of spending three years reading.  There I discovered Virginia Woolf and Hemingway.

In my twenties, as I recovered from the rigours of academic analysis of texts, I was introduced to Terry Pratchett, whose common sense wisdom and humour left me in a kind of ecstatic daze.  I read Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel, Garrison Keillor and Laurence Durrell.  And then I discovered Alice Hoffman’s early works, and was dazzled.  This was what writing should be, I thought.

In my thirties, powered by the reading list I received as part of my Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, I ventured into new territories.  Margaret Atwood, Helen Dunmore, Pat Barker, Iain Banks, Tracy Chevalier, and Michael Cunningham all delighted me.

But eventually, my illness caught up with me.  ME/CFS has created neurological symptoms for me that have caused me trouble with my language skills.  For a long time, I struggled to read at all.  Words jumped all over the pages.  I couldn’t remember what the start of a sentence was when I got to the end of it.  I would stare at the words for hours, recognising the shapes, knowing I ought to know what they meant, but unable to grope for the meanings.  The occupation that had once been a joy to me became misery.  No longer able to concentrate, my fiction reading fell away.  I fought on, but tended to concentrate on history, and more self-help books, because I could read them in short bursts.  Later, I began a slow recovery, and I read fanfiction because it was easy.

Clearing my late mother-in-law’s home since her death in September has reminded me of how much joy we shared in our reading.  She too was fascinated by books, and we often swapped volumes.  I remember going with her to see P.D. James, Colin Dexter and Alan Bennett speak.  Alzheimers sadly robbed her of the ability to read early on, but she was still passionate about buying books right up until her death, even though she didn’t know what to do with them anymore.  In sorting through her belongings, we have been faced with a gargantuan mountain of much loved volumes she treasured, a monument to a life spent reading for the sheer joy of it.

It was one of her final gifts to me that boxes of dusty Agatha Christie, Ngiao Marsh and Margery Allingham volumes reminded me that reading was something I also loved.  I will forever be grateful that she has given me back the delight in novels that I had forgotten.  I plucked a couple of C.J Sansom books out of her stash and waded in.

And it was wonderful.

So I set the intention to resume reading fiction.

Voraciously.

Does any of this feel familiar to you?  Could you tell your own story of a reading life somewhat derailed by life?  Do you remember a time when you consumed books like other people get through teabags, when nothing made you happier than to get to the end of a doorstop-sized novel, having lived it every step of the way?  Are those days long gone for you now?

In the next post, I will tell you how I managed to reinstate good reading habits, so that you can do it too if, like me.

Happy Creating – and Reading!

Love EF

 

Witness my Journey

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A New Adventure

This is my plan to begin again.

Two years of creative drought are over, and though there are still challenges in my personal life which could prove equally difficult, I have decided I can’t allow myself to be so completely crushed next time around.

So I’m on a journey.

One step at a time, baby steps. Reminding myself.  Beginning again.

Its actually quite hard when you have been effectively out of the creative loop for so long, and there is no expecting to pick up exactly where you left off.  My typing fingers are rusty, my imagnation has stalled, my physical strength is unreliable, and I am far too likely to lapse into ranting at the mirror in the bathroom in the mornings, and then being in such a bad mood that I fail to find any corner for creativity the rest of the day.

Its time to inch into new habits, little actions that mount up, tiny movements that ease me into a new frame of mind.

I’m on a journey, and I’d like to invite you along with me.

I don’t know how its going to turn out, and if I’m going to get anywhere, or if I’ll end up back at square one, but I hope that you and I can both learn from the experience.  So I’d like to set out for you the little steps I am taking to ease myself back into writing again.

Firstly, I’ve made a vow to read more.  Yeah, I know, this from the woman who can’t walk past a bookskshop or a library.  This from a woman who has permanent damage to her shoulder from lugging around a handbag full of books, just in case she finds herself in a queue without some way to entertain herself.

I did a bit of analysis after Christmas, and realised that the majority of books I read last year were non-fiction.  That, or Terry Pratchett books I’d read before that I knew would comfort and distract me through admitedly difficult times.  I remembered the days when I was taking my Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, days when I consumed really good writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Helen Dunmore and others.  I realised I couldn’t remember when I’d last read a new work of fiction.

So my new New Year’s intention was to read.  Widely.  Novels, yes.  A bit of History and, obviously, non-fiction.  To remind myself what good writing is.  And so far I am doing quite well, helped by the fact that we’ve been clearing out my late mother-in-law’s sustantial book stash, from which I have benefitted greatly.  I had quite a haul of books for Christmas too, which I’m looking forward to devouring.  The important thing to note is that I am excited about the idea of reading fiction again, which I haven’t been for a long time.  Which is a good sign.

Secondly, I’m pursuing a writing practice.

I read Natalie Goldberg’s wonderful book, ‘The True Secret of Writing’ at the end of last year and I was blown away by it.  I started doing timed writing practices in the manner she suggests.  Pen to paper. Write whatever comes.  Its heaven.

Thirdly, coaching.  Yes, you heard me right.  My dear friend, the poet, Heidi Williamson, is also a writing coach, and kindly agreed to take me on as a client.  Our first session was mind-expanding.  I’ll write more about this experience in future, but let me tell you, I’m sold.

I’d been wrestling with getting out of my own way to do writing practice, and Heidi suggested I make a deal with myself to do two sessions a week, on the days best suited to my schedule, which for me is Monday and Thursday.  So far, I have yet to default.  Which is unheard-of for me. I do it on other days too, which feels like earning huge brownie points.  Its only a little thing, twenty minutes at most, but it feels like a monumental change.  And I’m keeping a promise to myself, which is adding to my confidence.

Fourthly, not pushing.  This might seem counter-intuitive, but Goldberg suggests that you need to do writing practice for at least a year before you have even begun to accumulate enough material to track what it is you would like to write about in a sustained way, such as a novel.  So I don’t really have a particular project.  I’m just writing.  I’m being gentle with myself, because goals tend to freak me out and stop me writing.  There is plenty of time for them later on, when I’m ready anyway.

The whole point of not pushing is to enjoy myself.  I’m not going to write if it isn’t fun.  So why make it hard.  I want to enjoy it.

No doubt I will add to this routine in future, but this is my core plan to gentle myself back into creating.  I read somewhere recently that ‘Creativity is the expression of the Soul.’  My soul has taken quite a battering in the last two years, so I need to nurse it gently back to health with love and sploshy paints, and definitely no strict rules.

Finally, I mean to document my journey here on this blog, which has been sadly neglected of late. I want to tell you how I get on.  A bit of accountability, yes, but also a project to get me blogging again.

So I hope you will join me on my trip to Creativity,

with love,

EF

Alice and the Nature of Fear

Jonothan Miller's BBC Alice in Wonderland, who looks decidedly vampirish!

Jonothan Miller’s BBC Alice in Wonderland, who looks decidedly vampirish!

At our Writers group last night, my friend, the poet Heidi Williamson, read a poem she has written, inspired by the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ books by Lewis Carroll. (It’s a great poem, but then you would expect nothing less from Heidi!) We had been discussing the books themselves, and our various responses to them were fascinating to me.

My mother wouldn’t let the Alice books into the house. She had been terrified by them as a child, when her mother had attempted to read them to her, much as I had been when my sister tried to read me ‘Great Expectations’ when I was small – the phantom of Magwich in the marshes put me off Dickens for more than twenty years!

As a result, I came to Alice relatively late, in my early teens. I ploughed through a copy from the school library that combined both ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’. It was a rather large tome, a bit like one of those novels adults read, so I was quite proud of having finished it. But to be frank, I didn’t really get it. It seemed horribly dated to a child who had grown up on the fantasies of Roald Dahl and the Goons. Mainly, it just didn’t make much sense to me.

Interestingly, each of the members of our group shared our memories of reading Alice as a child. One was not much bothered. One, an older lady, had loved it so much that her face lit up with the joy of childhood more than 60 years after she had first read it. It was still a delight to her to remember the feeling of identifying with Alice herself.

From Tumblr. A note written in blood?

From Tumblr. A note written in blood?

And one, like my mother, had been terrified. (Although, in truth, it was probably because the version she had contained the most sinister illustrations in a book intended for children that I have seen since my husband showed me his Victorian copy of ‘Struwwelpeter’!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear recently, in connection with my writing. I’m working on ideas for a new novel, trying to decide whether what I have is a ghost story, a horror story, or a work of supernatural romance – or something of each.

Our talk last night got me to thinking about the things that scare me. I have this theory that we all have one story in our childhood that scares us out of our wits, even into adulthood. For my mother and friend, it’s Alice. Even now, in her 80s, my mother shudders at the mention of it.

For me it was ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ which I saw as a TV cartoon in the early 1970s. The terror of the Headless Horseman has stayed with me ever since. Like every child I was scared of Dr Who, and I had nightmares about Dracula and Frankenstein (thankfully seeing Mel Brooks’ ‘Young Frankenstein’ sorted that out!), but it was Ichabod Crane’s encounter with darkness that filled me with wordless dread.

I had to read Washington Irving for my degree, and I made myself read the original text of ‘Sleepy Hollow’. I was scared. I could only read it in daylight. But I finished it, and that helped.

Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman in 'Sleepy Hollow' (Burton, 1999).

Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman in ‘Sleepy Hollow’ (Burton, 1999).

Years later, and certainly years after it was released in cinemas, I finally watched ‘Sleepy Hollow’, Tim Burton’s version. It was the exposition in that film that healed. The atmosphere Burton so superbly conjured up added to my terror, but in the end, finding out the ‘why’ of the Horseman’s predicament somehow took the sting out of the tale.

Because it is the not knowing that creates the fear.

When Lockwood hears the tapping of ghostly fingers on his window pane in the opening scenes of ‘Wuthering Heights’, it is not knowing what is making the noise, or who the ghost is, and why she is knocking, that is terrifying.

In the film, ‘The Haunting’ (the old version of course), it is the evil we can’t see, the unseen entity that makes the booming noises, that holds a girl’s hand in the darkness, that is so terrifying.

And the Master of them all, M.R. James, knew that what you don’t see is far scarier than what you do. His greatest ghosts and demons are faceless entities, the shifting surface of a bedsheet, the shadow on the staircase.

We fear the myriad possibilities of our imaginations. There is nothing in the real world, even created by Hollywood, which can match up to the nameless dread of our own minds’ creativity, of Not Knowing which monstrous solution is behind the curtain.

Looking back, I can see that my fear of the Headless Horseman was about Not Knowing. As was my conviction that Dracula might emerge from behind the cupboard door of my bedroom. It was that place of unknown dark potential that scared me. And in the end all good ghost stories and horror stories are actually detective stories, in which the hero or heroine sets out to discover what is behind the supernatural phenomenon he or she encounters – ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’  by Hammer anybody? (Now that one really scared me!)

So my challenge with my new work is to explore that potential of the Unknown – and perhaps the Unknowable, and see where it will take me. I need to get inside my hero’s mind, and look at all the potential horrors he can create in his head, and see which would terrify him the most. It’s a tall order, but I reckon I can probably refer back to the shudders induced by Alice and Ichabod to guide me.

After all, what’s the worst that can happen…

Happy Creating,

EF

A Bit of a Staycation

We had this plan to go on a proper summer holiday this year.  You know, beach parasols, bikinis, sun tan lotion etc.

And then Life Happened.  Primarily in the form of unexpected expense: me needing new spectacles (£650) and Husband needing a new crown on a tooth (£220).  Ouch!

So having assessed just how depleted our holiday fund became, we figured a staycation might be an idea. The nice thing about a staycation is that you don’t have to worry about luggage allowances.   So this is what I am taking on my staycation this year:

My staycation goodies

My staycation goodies

I’ve given myself permission to read EXACTLY what I want, not what I think I OUGHT to read, or anything along the lines of my usual reading list.  So I went to my favourite second-hand bookshop and picked out a book that just sounded really, really interesting.

‘Explaining Hitler: the search for the origins of his evil’ by Ron Rosenbaum.  Its not so much about Hitler, in the biographical sense, as about the way we talk about Hitler, about what we talk about when we talk about him.  It is about our ideas about the nature of evil, something I have been interested in for a long time, and spans everything from first hand witness accounts of his life, through philosophy and history, to theology and cultural studies.  It will be a demanding read, bit I can’t wait to get stuck into it!

‘What are you looking at? 150 years of Modern Art in the blink of an eye’ by Will Gompertz, was lent to me by a friend who knows I love modern art.  I read Norbert Lynton’s seminal book on the subject when I was doing my art ‘A’ level exams as a teenager, and recently I’ve been looking for a book as accessible that would explain and update my knowledge.  My pal suggested this one, and though I don’t particularly like Will Gompertz as a BBC correspondent, I think its mainly because I can’t bear to look at him.  Well, he can’t help looking weird and smug.  I guess he was born like that, so I shouldn’t hold it against him.  And my friend says his book is the business, so I’m looking forward to diving into that one while lounging in the garden with a chilled elderflower pressé too.

A couple of DVDs.  I don’t know why, but around this time of year, my system starts preparing me for autumn, and I get the urge to watch ‘Practical Magic’ and ‘The Witches of Eastwick’.  We had both of these films on video for years, but when we got rid of all our videos some months back, my copies went to the charity shop along with the rest.  The other day, I decided I would treat myself to new copies, and I’m looking forward to spending some of my break snuggled up on the sofa watching these much beloved, familiar movies.

My journal.  I just listened to Susannah Conway talking about journaling on this podcast, and its brilliant.  I’ve been contemplating my journaling practice for a while, and this seems like a good time to expand my skills.

A few nice girlie things too:  Divine Oil by Caudalie, which smells as good as it sounds, and makes my skin feel wonderful, and Sally Hansen Complete Salon Manicure nail varnish in ‘So Much Fawn’, which is just neutral enough, and just pink enough too.  I usually wear the loudest red on my toenails that I can find, so this is a bit of a departure into the realms of subtle for me, but I like it.

So I’m off on my staycation to chill out, read, write, paint my toenails and hatch a few plans for the coming months.  If you are off on holidays too, I hope you have a wonderful time, where ever you choose to go, or not go!

Happy Creating,

EF

The Tale of the Soapy Otters

The view from my pillow

The view from my pillow. Sorry its a bit blurry, but that’s how I feel right now.

This is my life right now.

Lying in bed, sleeping, reading, writing, staring out of the window, watching the clouds, listening to the wind.

I’ve had a real health crash.  I’m back to the ‘having to sit down to brush my teeth and wash my face’ stage.  The ‘having to go back to bed after my shower because thats all the energy gone for the day’ stage.  The ‘oh, shit, how the hell did I get this bad again?’ stage.

Today, I’m regarding myself as lucky.  My brain has picked up again, so I am able to read once more, but to start with it was impossible to take anything much in.  There was that horrible feeling of staring at the page and knowing that the letters and words so familiar to me were completely unintelligible, that even if I could understand them, they wouldn’t stay in my mind long enough for me to make sense of the author’s ideas.  Words become like soapy otters on days like this.  You’ve no hope of catching them.

That’s the hardest thing for me to handle about this illness, I think.  The soapy otters. 

Because I am a reading addict.  I was the kid that read the back of the cornflake packet at breakfast every day (even the list of vitamins) three or four times, just to keep myself entertained.  As an adult, I need to have something to read continually with me, or I get twitchy.

And if I am not reading, I am writing.

Being deprived of this capacity on however temporary basis is agony.  I feel lucky that it doesn’t happen too often anymore, because when I was first ill, some 17 years ago (Gods!  Is it that long?) it was pretty consistent for months. I couldn’t even listen to the radio because the sound hurt my ears, and I couldn’t understand what was being said anyway.

I’m grateful to be better, believe me.

Not least because the soapy otters are harbingers of major changes.

They herald a time when I am forced to lie down and face my thoughts.  They offer me a time to rest and recuperate, but also to realign.  My body may be rusting like that of the Tin Man, but my soul is in hyper space.  Things are shifting.

Soul shifts seem to come in spurts for me.  Nothing for a long time, and then everything all at once.  Maybe that’s why I am so exhausted.

My diary has taken a hammering since I’ve been able to write again.  Pages and pages.  So has my writing notebook.  And that big notebook you can see in the picture?  That’s my wellbeing workbook.  That is where I write down what my body needs, what my heart and soul need too.  My diary is for my thoughts and feelings.  My workbook is for my vision and planning.  For working things out.  It is my wellbeing memory.  And yes, I like to use brightly coloured pens in that one, not just to draw attention to certain paragraphs and concepts, but because I like them.  They make me happy.  Yay for Papermate Flair pens, I say!

You’ll notice there is another notebook in the picture, too, a black one.  That’s my current writing notebook.  And yesterday, I actually was able to write something in it.  A scene from a story.  I felt so proud of myself.

And when I have exhausted my Bloglovin’ feed, I’ve got books, though they are a bit more resistant to my brain at the moment.  I don’t know why I find the written page harder to understand at times like this.  The electronic one is definitely less ottery.

At the moment I am rejoicing in Danielle LaPorte’s wonderful ‘The Desire Map: a guide to creating goals with soul’, a title which is a bit of a misnomer because actually its about core desired feelings which really hits the spot.  I’m a person who finds it hard to connect with feelings, so using them as a life compass is a huge and thrilling idea to me.

The other book is  Tami Lynn Kent’s ‘Wild Feminine:  Finding Power, Spirit and Joy in the Female Body’, which is feeling more like hard work, but I think that may because I am so resistant to the material.  One of my intentions this year is to connect more to my womanness, and thats why I am reading this one.  I think its going to cause a revolution.  I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

And now, after writing all that, I’m exhausted again.  Sorry, I had better wrap up.  I just wanted to share with you where I am, the good and the bad.  And on the whole, while it is an uncomfortable and frustrating place to be, I find that actually I am deeply grateful for it.

But before I go I want to leave you with an unbearably cute photo of an otter sleeping:

Sea Otters can sleep on their backs in the water.

Sea Otters can sleep on their backs in the water.

Yes, I know he’s not soapy, but I couldn’t find one that was.  Which is probably for the best, don’t you think?

Happy Creating,

EF

The Book List

Some books here are waiting to be read.

Some books here are waiting to be read.

The other day, a friend challenged me on Facebook to name the top ten books that had most influenced me in life. It was one of those things where you give your list, and then challenge your other friends.

So far so good.

But how the hell do you choose, especially as the challenge specifies you do it off the top of the head, without thinking too hard, as fast as possible. How do you choose only ten books out of all the great novels and stories you have read over a lifetime?

My list was visceral, and based largely on what I read when I was younger. I thought about the books that had made me happiest, that I have gone back to over and over again in the course of my life. And it was interesting just to reflect on my criteria for choosing, as much as anything.

So here is my list (verbatim):

“1. Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
3. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
4. Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor
5. Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee
(gosh this is hard)
5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (kept me sane in the run-up to my wedding)
7. Antrobus Complete by Laurence Durrell
8. Persuasion by Jane Austen
9. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
10. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (obvious)”

I ended up with about 15 that didn’t quite make the grade, and if I think too hard about it, I would definitely shift a few from one list to the other.  I mean, how do you choose which Terry Pratchett?  The above was my original choice, and I think I’ll stand by it.

And then I challenged other friends. And like Japanese knotweed, lists of novels and non-fiction books blossomed out all over. Everyone had a fascinating new combination of books they raved about. Many, like Sebastian Faulkes’ ‘Birdsong’ and Camus’s ‘The Plague’, were held in common. Lots of lists were biased towards ‘we did that one at school’ books. I marvelled at the wide range of stories that had influenced my friends.

And I felt like I had barely read anything worth reading since I left college.

I suppose this is understandable. When you see a list of books, you always look for the familiar ones. And if the ones you have read are in the minority, you feel like a fool for not having read the others. Especially the significant ones. On the other hand, who the hell has read the whole of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’, or ‘War and Peace’? (I have to say I was impressed by the number of people who had read Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’. Kudos!

There are woeful gaps in my reading, despite what friends who always see me with a book might think. This is especially true these days, when I am so addicted to the quick highs offered by every morning’s new crop of fanfics. I have not read many European novels, or the Russians. I don’t know Kazuo Ishiguro or Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch or GK Chesterton. Or Kerouac, despite having a degree in American Studies. I read one book from last year’s Man Booker shortlist (Ruth Ozeki, ‘A Tale for the Time Being’), and that was because it looked like the easiest. (It was fantastic.)

Writers must read.

It is one of the basic pillars of the Craft. And you have to read the good stuff as well as the commercial, otherwise you never improve. Making this list made me realise how little decent fiction I have read in recent months. Time to get back to it.

“I mean to read myself blue in the nose.”

Virginia Woolf.

When I began my Diploma in Creative writing, we were given a list of novels and volumes of short stories to plough through as precedents, much as art students must analyse the works of the Masters, sitting in galleries for hours on end, studying Goya or Rembrandt. I found an old bookmark from those days, a list of novels scrawled on it, each title with a line scored through it as I completed it. (A couple of loose ones at the end remained unread.)

I need to do the same again.

This morning I found myself in a bookshop, gazing longingly at table after table of lovely crisp new novels. (It’s the time of year that provokes me – September draws me into bookshops still, an echo of student days of joyful bookbuying with a free conscience!) But I was good. I left the books uncaressed. I have piles of unread novels at home, you see, amongst them ‘Birdsong’, along with Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’, Jonothan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’, and dozens of others, all highly recommended as quality fiction for the budding writer, and all gathering dust on the shelf. No point in buying new ones until I have ploughed through the old ones.

So I will cut a strip of paper and write a list of the books in my pile on it. And then I will begin. And each time I close the back cover a book and sigh with completion, I shall draw a careful line through the title and pick up the next.

Happy Creating,

EF