Monday, 22 February 2016

The Last of Winter

Its nearly the end of February which means Spring and all the joy it brings with it is just around the corner. I’ve already seen a few glimpses of it: snowdrops, daffodils and more importantly chocolate eggs are back in stock. Soon enough it will be time to shed our coats and boots. Winter will take a while to relinquish its grip though and I’m going to enjoy its fading beauty whilst it lasts.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The Jealous Writer

For me, one of the most prominent blocks to writing is a sense of inadequacy that my writing isn’t as good as someone else’s. Why does the world need another writer when someone else is clearly saying it more authentically or more beautifully than I am? (I’m looking at you Virginia Woolf). If jealously is allowed, it could stop you from starting or finishing a project altogether. That’s why it’s so important that we harness the passion of jealousy and use it to make us better writers.  Here are a few ways to do it:
  1. One of the most liberating things in life is to stop envying someone and celebrate them. If you read something that you think is amazing be excited about it. Be excited that these people are proof of what can be achieved. Being full of admiration rather than bitterness will put you in a far better frame of mind to achieve great things too.
  2. Admiring other writers instead of feeling angry with them and yourself opens up the way for creative growth. If you see yourself as an equal to these ‘better writers’ not only will you gain a sense of comradery with them but you can actually emulate them too. Be specific about what it its they do that you find so brilliant and study their work. See them as your teachers rather than your rivals.
  3. I remember in an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch where one of the characters had a room in her house called the Hall of Gratuitous Praise that would open upon a crowd of people applauding and shouting complements. If only such places existed. In times of self-doubt you have to remind yourself of your own strengths. Re-read a chapter that you’re proud of. Reminisce about great feedback you’ve had. Make a list of all the things that make you a good writer.
  4. Julia Cameron says that if we find ourselves comparing our work with others it’s a sign we need to get back to ourselves. Instead of thinking ‘how am I doing?” we think “how am I doing compared to...” Cut yourself off from reading or whatever triggers your envy for a while and dedicate time just to you and your writing.
  5. Finally, remind yourself that you will never write as well as anyone else because you are not them. In the same way no-one will ever write like you because only you are you. Cheesy but true.
How do you keep writing when you think everyone does it better than you do? Leave a comment and let me know!

Monday, 15 February 2016

Little Luxury: Lush Rose Bombshell

A useful tip to calm down when you’re feeling anxious is to imagine yourself inhaling the scent of a beautiful rose. The anticipation of that sweet smell means you breathe in deeper and slower making it easier to relax. There is something so calming about the smell of a rose which is what makes this Rose Bombshell such a treat. Looking as beautiful as an actual bouquet, the bombshell is embellished with little roses in a fresh pink colour. Once in the water the bombshell fizzes away turning the water a smoky pink and dispersing yellow rose petals that sit on the bath water like waterlilies. The floral scent will calm and revitalize you and leave your skin smelling beautiful and feeling soft.
You can buy the Rose Bombshell bath bomb from Lush for £3.95.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Margaret Forster: Five Favourites

It was a really sad thing to learn of the death of Margaret Forster this week. The death of someone famous, someone you didn’t know personally, is always a strange thing but the death of a writer is particularly odd. As writers, you’re not well acquainted with their face or their character or their biography but what you do have is their words. Since I discovered Forster’s books in my late teens it has felt like I’ve had a communication with her and her most intimate ideas. I was attracted to the way she wrote about women, often difficult women who didn’t immediately endear themselves to the reader. She wrote about ordinary and extraordinary women. She wrote about mothers, sisters, daughters and wives and how these roles are so often complicated by a desire for self-discovery and freedom. Her prolificacy meant I was never in short supply of her work, and there is still so many of her books I’m yet to read – that is a comfort. Here are five of my favourite Forster books that I hope you’ll be inspired to read.
  • Keeping the World Away
In my favourite of all Forster’s novels she explores ideas of femininity through the life of a painting. Through the lives of six women, one of them Gwen John - the artist at the heart of the story - and a journey through time, Forster explores creativity and what finding happiness for yourself means.
  • Georgy Girl
Georgy Girl centres around Georgina, a misfit in London of the swinging sixties. I love all the characters in this: from the acidic Meredith to predatory socialite James. At the crux of the story is what it means to be a single mother – a theme Forster returned to in other novels.
  • Significant Sisters
Forster’s non-fiction style was equally as elegant and lively as her novels. Through compelling biographies, she explores how eight women forged change for women and formed the foundation for feminism. The highlight of the book for me is the chapter on Josephine Butler, a campaigner for prostitutes who Forster brings to the page with empathy and vitality.
  • Private Papers
This was the first of Forster’s books I read and it makes a great introduction to the themes that prevail in her work- memory, family and motherhood. It tells the story of a mother and her four daughters and how perspectives on the past can cause clarity in the present. I adore the way she captures the relationships between sisters.
  • Lady’s Maid
Forster was able to gleam the poignancy in historical evidence and weave relatable characters from it with ease. Lady’s Maid is the perfect example of this. She explores the life of Elizabeth Barret Browning through the eyes of Elizabeth Wilson, her maid. It is full of domestic detail, touching friendships and beautiful prose.
Were you a fan of Margaret Forster? Which of her books resonated with you?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Sweet Treat: Pancakes

Mix a pancake,
Stir a pancake,
Pop it in the pan;
Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake,
Catch it if you can.
- Christina Rossetti  

Pancake day is always such a welcome celebration. Anyone who was canny (and disciplined) enough to squirrel away Christmas treats has probably succumbed to temptation by now and along with the rest of us is in need of a sweet pick me up. I’ve chosen a few pancake ideas that you might like to try this week!
I hope you enjoy pancake day!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The Joys of the Secondhand Bookshop

Books are everywhere; and always the same sense of adventure fills us. Second-hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack. Besides, in this random miscellaneous company we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.
Virginia Woolf

There is a particular joy about a new book: a smooth, shiny spine and unmarked, crisp pages. I use to pride myself on keeping my new purchases in pristine condition, but cast your eyes along my bookcase these days and you’ll find a number of frayed, faded spines years older than the neighbours they share their shelves with. These books are the spoils of my forays into second hand bookshops. It’s the perfect way of indulging literary passions without breaking the bank with the added excitement of never knowing what you might find.

Second hand bookshops are always the site of synchronicities for me. I might stumble upon an out of print book by my favourite author. I might find a 10p copy of a book I’m about to study. The other day I found a W. Somerset Maugham first edition for £5 – highlight of my week. It sometimes feels like the books have been waiting for me to collect them. Of course, it’s not as easy as putting an online order in but it’s certainly a lot more satisfying.

Any place with full bookcases is a happy place for me. But a visit to a second hand bookshop is a uniquely sensory experience. There is that old book smell - literally because you’re surrounded by old books. There are books spilling out of boxes, stacked against walls, all in colourful jacket covers from sixties orange paperbacks to bright neon self-help books from the eighties.

There’s also that feeling that you’re not just buying a book – you’re buying a historical object. The battered, tired volume you hold in your hands had a life of its own. It’s been the witness of countless conversations and arguments. It’s been thrown in a suitcase and taken across the world. It’s been lovingly chosen for someone as a birthday present. You are the next step in its journey.  Sometimes you’ll find a dedication written on the inside cover or a shopping list slipped between the pages – little artefacts of the book’s former lives.

Next time you’re looking for a new read, seek out the second hand bookshops and stalls in your area – what hidden treasure will you find?

Do you like visiting second hand bookshops? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Little Luxury: Storyteller Pencil Set

Why are you getting excited about pencils? The simple answer to this question is why wouldn’t I get excited about pencils? Pencils smell nice. Pencils remind us of simpler times. Pencils make a pleasing scratchy sound when you write. Pencils mean when you make a mistake you don’t have to make a messy line crossing it out. Conclusion: I rather like pencils. So you can imagine my delight at the discovery of these Story Teller pencils. All six pencils are adorned with an opening line such as ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. Take these lines as a prompt to get you started or just use as a cute little incentive to get you writing.

You can buy the Storyteller Pencil Set from The Literary Gift Company for £5.00.

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