Thursday, 23 March 2017

Book Group Notes: Atonement by Ian McEwan

The Literary Lady’s Book Group Guides are designed to generate discussion at your book group or as a way of enhancing your own reading experience. The discussion points offer a ‘route’ through the book but don’t feel you need to stick too rigidly to it if an interesting topic comes up that needs further discussion!

About the Book:

At the heart of Atonement is a simple idea: on a hot summer’s day in 1945, a young girl gives a false account of a serious crime and spends the rest of her life coming to terms with her part in it. From this one transgression, the novel expands into an epic story of war, love, childhood and guilt. McEwan’s skilful and vivid writing presents the reader with a novel about the responsibilities and the power of storytelling. 

Discussion Points: 

- The novel is split into three parts – one summer’s day in Briony’s youth, Robbie’s experiences at France during the war and Briony’s life as wartime nurse. There is also an epilogue with the elderly Briony in 1999. Which of these sections resonated most with you?

- ‘What was guilt these days? It was cheap. Everyone was guilty, and no one was.’ Who is guilty in this novel? 

- What kind of family is the Tallis family? What do you make of the familial relationships and roles the characters engage in? 

- What part does war play in the novel? 

- What is the effect of McEwan’s visceral descriptions of war and violence? 

- How does the sex scene between Robbie and Cecilia contribute to our experience of the novel? What is the effect of Briony interrupting them?

- ‘Yes, I saw him. I saw him.’ What does Atonement say about truth and storytelling? 

- Geoff Dyer commented that with Atonement, ‘McEwan seems to be retrospectively inserting his name into the pantheon of British novelists of the 1930s and 1940s’. Does McEwan share similarities with writers like Virginia Woolf, D.H.Lawrence, E.M.Forster and Henry James?

- McEwan said he fell in love with Briony as a character. What was your impression of her? 

- Atonement was adapted for the screen in 2007. How does the film compare with the book? What would you have done differently if you made the film? 
Have you read Atonement? Join the discussion and leave a comment below! 

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Spring Wishlist

Spring arrives in small doses – a crocus here, a daffodil there – and then suddenly casts its spell on our landscape. It lifts our moods and reminds us there is always sunshine after rain. Here are some things that you could include in your plans for spring…

- How’s your literary life going? Give into temptation, throw off the blanket and head outside for a luxurious read as the spring sun warms your back. Choose uplifting reads by writers like Barbara Pym and Jane Austen to match the blossoming world around you. 

- With Mother’s Day falling on 26th March, this is definitely the time for gratitude. Extend your thankfulness to the special people in your life. 

- Easter, obviously. I command you to eat as many of the treats this season brings, be it hot cross buns, chocolate eggs or simnel cake. 

- Go on a bluebell walk. Put fresh daffodils on your desk. Take photos of the blossom whilst it lasts. Celebrate the beauty popping up all around you. 

- Have an epic spring clean. I think everyone finds it therapeutic to have a good old clear out. Clothes are the obvious one but there’s also gloopy nail varnishes, unwanted books and even email inboxes to think of. What better way is there to feel lighter as we move into spring? 

- Do some crafting. There are some very inspired crafts here to put on your ‘to make’ list. The bunny macaroons are serious baking goals. 

- As I talked about in this post from February, we can take our cue from the natural world after a long winter. Allow the parts of you that have lain dormant to flourish this spring. Re-take up a lost hobby, dust off an old creative project or try to recapture the spirit of a wonderful time in your life. 
Any of these take your fancy? What’s on your spring wish list? Let me know in the comments below… 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Love Notes from the Earth

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow. - Proverb

The little shoots that are bursting thought the soil are like little love notes from the earth. Each one cheers us on and reminds us to keep going even on the glummest and gloomiest of days. Spotting these green shoots, the white froth of snowdrops or the jewel-like crocuses that adorn the ground in colourful patches is good for our souls. We can rest assured that brighter days are on their way.

Of course, I love winter and I wrote this post last year about cherishing it before it goes. But there is something magical about the regenerative energy that spring gives our gardens and ourselves.


If you’ve been pondering change, thinking you could be more than the self-limiting beliefs you have placed on yourself, take inspiration from the season’s change and rise up now. Be the hopeful, curious little shoot because you might just be the thing inspiring someone else to do the same.
Are you cheered by the onset of spring? Leave a comment below

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Questions for Cultivating Confidence

Confidence plays a big part in our happiness. We measure our dreams against our own confidence in achieving them, often stopping before we’ve even begun. Part of having confidence is knowing how you define it. For me, confidence is talked about in too broad a term. Can anyone say they are truly confident in every single aspect of their life? We also need to discern whether we think confidence is positive or negative. Some would say confidence means self-obsessed, others would describe it as simply having inner peace. Once you know what confidence means for you, the more likely your chances of feeling it. So, take a deep breath, clear some time for yourself and answer these questions... 
  • What does confidence look like? 
  • Who is the most confident person in your life?
  • Do you need something in particular to be confident, i.e., a particular body type, profession etc.?
  • What tasks give you a sense of mastery? 
  • Is there anyone in your life who makes you feel confident? 
  • Do you properly acknowledge and celebrate your achievements? 
  • What is the difference between cockiness and self-assuredness? 
  • What hampers your self-confidence most? 
  • Can you be confident and introverted?
  • Which aspect of your life do you feel most confident in? 
  • How does the word ‘confident’ relate to a famous figure you adore? 
  • What situations are the greatest drain on your self-confidence?
  • What thoughts are the greatest drain on your self-confidence?  
  • What is the link between confidence and luck? 
  • What is one thing that your own self confidence made possible?
  • What is one thing that lack of confidence has held you back from doing (so far)? 
  • What advice would you give someone who feels low in confidence? 

I would love to know your feelings about confidence. Join the conversation and leave a comment below! 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Valentine Vanilla Hearts

Grand gestures of romance get all the attention; the sweetest things are the little acts of love. These valentine vanilla biscuits are a sweet way to say ‘I love you’. They are the perfect little treat to whip up in less than half an hour and only have four ingredients. Pop one in an envelope and seal with a loving kiss or fill up a biscuit tin to share with your beloved. 


225g/ 8oz plain flour
150g/ 5 ½ oz butter or vegan alternative, cut into small pieces.
125g/5 ½ caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lay some baking paper on a baking tray.

2. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and vanilla extract and mix together to form a firm dough. You may need to add a little milk to bring it together.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to the thickness of 1cm. Stamp out the hearts with a heart shaped cutter until you run out of dough. Arrange the hearts on the prepared baking tray.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until just coloured. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

5. To decorate, dust with caster sugar, dip in melted chocolate or drizzle with icing and top with sprinkles.

(This simple recipe was adapted from a book called I Love Sugar)

Are you making any tasty treats this Valentine’s Day? Leave a comment below… 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Literary Alphabet: I is for Illustration

With little ones in our family again, I’ve been seeing familiar sights long buried in my memory. Toys I played with, tiny woollen mittens I used to wear and books which were once read to me. Looking over beloved storybooks, I realised how powerful illustration is to the mind. Illustrations are iconic to our memory– think Mr. Happy, The Snowman and the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Whilst the words may be lost between the pages of our ever-growing brain, the image remains long after we have put childish things away.

Illustration naturally reminds us of our childhood books but there are occasions when we grown-ups can enjoy this symphony between word and image too. Try Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle with spell bounding illustrations by Chris Riddle or the brilliant Life Portrait series which tells the life stories of iconic women via drawings. I just love the engravings that appear alongside the text in Victorian novels. These illustrations depict a key moment within the text. The artist must convey hundreds of words in one picture. Rightly or wrongly, those illustrations stay with us as we read. They shape our impression of a character or situation strongly.

Illustrators have a lot of responsibility – like us, they must process the text and conjure up a corresponding image in their minds. But then they take the additional step of putting that image onto paper. Their image can become, or even replace our own. George Du Maurier, Victorian illustrator (and father of Daphne), believed there were two types of readers: the reader ‘who visualises what he reads with the mind's eye, unconsciously, perhaps, and without effort, but in a manner so satisfactory to himself that he wants the help of no picture’ and those who do ‘not possess this gift’. The latter type is who, Du Maurier believed, the illustrator is there to serve. He compares it to theatre – the action can unfold visually before us without any need for our imagination.

I think this underestimates both the reader and the power of pictures. I prefer thinking of illustrations as cues, or keys that can unlock our imagination. We can take the illustrated image and let our imagination run with it. When illustrators get it right, their drawings can be masterful suggestions to our imaginations. If books are there to transport us, illustrations sure can help us on our way.

Catch up with more in my Literary Alphabet series here.
Do you love illustration? What does it mean for you? Do leave a comment below!  

Monday, 6 February 2017

Journal Prompt: Love Stories

‘And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes Heaven drowsy with the harmony.' - William Shakespeare

Will, you old smooth talker. February is the month of moonlight and roses. To celebrate, here are some journal prompts to help you connect with your inner Cupid.

  • Look up dictionary definitions of love. How would you change it, what would you add to these definitions? Are there any synonyms for love? How would you describe it using the five senses?
  •   Single or in a relationship, list ways you can bring more romance into your life. How about planning a visit to a place that inspires you? Writing a sonnet? Devising new self-care rituals for yourself?
  •  What are your favourite representations of love in literature, film and music? Why is it that they move you?
  • To have and to hold. Your longest relationship is with yourself no matter who is in your life. Write a set of marriage vows to yourself – what do you promise to yourself? To never speak harshly? To always get a good night’s sleep?
  • What is your greatest passion in life? Describe in detail why this thing has such a presence in your life. Allow the feelings of accomplishment and joy to wash over you as you write about it.

Join the conversation! Leave a comment below… 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Who Are Your Teachers?

When was the last time you learnt something? When was the last time you felt curious or compelled to find out more? Being inquisitive is what keeps our soul alive. If you’ve ever been depressed then you’ll know that one side effect is a huge disinterest in anything. Joy is just the opposite – a thirst for knowledge and an appetite for exploring.

We often limit our definition of education to the image of students sitting in a classroom. But to do this is to underestimate your capacity to learn. A different way of looking at it, is to think about who your teachers are. If you’re lucky, you’ll have had one or two really special teachers at school who inspired or encouraged you. When you think of all the confidence shattering episodes that occur in our early lives, these figures ought to be treasured. But our teachers aren’t just the ones who we encounter at school. There are teachers available to us at all times.

Our teachers can be the people who lived thousands of years ago whose words we find in the pages of a book.

Our teachers can be the people who we find so irritating we have to learn patience and empathy.

Our teachers can be the little babies who can’t yet speak but have an insatiable zest for life.

Our teachers can be the difficult situations we find ourselves in that force us to know ourselves better.
When you seek to find your teachers, you’ll find that there are numerous chances to be enlightened and grow. Even if we meet that person fleetingly, or via the television screen, or they end up our life’s mentor, the chance to learn has to be a decision you make. Once we’re willing to learn, our teachers make themselves known, or as the saying goes, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.’ When we pay attention to what people have to say and maintain a childlike curiosity we may be opened up to worlds we didn’t know existed. Let people spark your interest. Follow up on fascinating insights. Buy a biography about that historical figure who sounds fascinating.

Find your teachers and begin your journey.
Who are your teachers? Leave a comment below! 

Monday, 30 January 2017

January Reflections

2017 has well and truly begun! I hope you had a fantastic start to the year and you’re still on a New Year high. Here’s a few bits and pieces from January… 


A good quote to carry around with you always…

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humour to lighten the burden of your tender heart.” - Maya Angelou


Most of my month has been spent ploughing through Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. It tells the story of two people – the selfless, soul searching Deronda and the childish, spoilt Gwendolyn Harleth – as they both undergo huge changes in their personal circumstances. Tackling Jewish identity, women’s rights and class, Eliot extends an invitation to the reader to ponder the intricacies of life and the importance of knowing oneself fully. I can’t wait to get stuck into the TV adaptation!


This month I’ve been rewriting, rethinking and reshaping my first novel whilst working on a second. It’s a liberating feeling to know that nothing is set in stone and that you can make little and big tweaks if you feel called to. Having said that, it’s also strange to rearrange and change something you know so well. It’s a bit like unpicking the threads in a garment you’ve been wearing for years. This is all part of the creative process so I’m going to embrace the change!

Focus on…Remembering our New Year Intentions

The end of January is a good time to remind yourself of your new year goals and intentions. Have you made any little steps towards your aspirations? For February, make a list of some concrete but fun ways you can move closer to your goal. If you’re putting off a goal, maybe question whether it’s the right one for you. Marie Forleo advises, that if you’re having trouble deciding if you’re going in the right direction, to ask yourself ‘does this make me feel expanded or contracted?’ Let your feelings guide you to pursue the dreams you really want!

Three things to look forward to in February:

1. Making a homemade pizza for Pizza day on 9th February. I always use this Chiappa sisters' recipe – the sauce is perfect.
2 Buying fresh flowers for Valentine’s day.
3. Make easy Valentine crafts with my little tiddlers, like this gorgeous heart wreath.

Enjoy a cup of tea with these posts from January:

How was your January? Leave a comment below! 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

In Pursuit of Self-Belief

Often when I’m reading, I’ll think about the actual moment the words I’m looking at were born into this world. The moment that the quill scratched at the parchment, the pen touched the paper and the fingers pressed the keys. I wonder about the ease and tension behind those words. Did Shakespeare spend hours coming up with ‘to be or not to be’? Did Hilary Mantel think about chucking it all in half way through Wolf Hall? It’s immensely comforting to know that every writer has had to deal with self-doubt in some form. It’s a given that self-doubt must accompany us on our creative journey, that’s why we need to make sure self belief comes along for the ride too.

Self-belief is the one thing every writer has in common. Without even a tiny morsel of it, novels, poems and plays have no chance of getting written. Along with passion and excitement, it’s the thing that drives every project along. If we are what we believe we are, then, to believe we can do it is the key!

Engaging in anything outside of our comfort zone immediately puts our ego into a frenzy. Our ego, bless it, wants to protect us any way it can. When you sit down to write, our ego thinks ‘this isn’t going to end well.’ It fears rejection, not being good enough, being laughed at, self-indulgence and everything negative in between. Like a risk assessor it will tell us all the things that could go wrong and we have to listen to it for every word we write. Being a writer is like mothering twins – self-belief and self-doubt – it’s important not to play favourites. If you feel you’re spending too much time with doubt, up your bonding time with self-belief. Here are three ways to reignite your self-belief right now:

1. Remind yourself that you’re not a beginner. Remember that we all have something under our belt, a precedent we can be proud of. When I sit down to write and feel the fear, I remind myself that I wrote yesterday and the day before that and that I can write again today. I remember that there have been days where I wrote nothing but still managed to write again. This even applies for achievements that are unrelated. Being a parent might give you some authority to ‘birth’ a novel.

2. Recognise its part of the process. Every writer has had to deal with self-doubt. My best writing days are the ones when I hear the self-doubt but write anyway. You could try saying ‘thank you for your opinion but I’m going to do this’ to your self -doubt like you would a meddling, opinionated person.

3. Change the story. Write out the story you’ve told yourself. I never finish anything. I’m not good enough. I’ll let everyone down. Cross out the story and re-write a new one that encompasses the things you’re great at.

How do you deal with self-doubt? What are your top tips for self-belief? Leave a comment below! 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Five Gratitude Practices

‘Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.’ - Marcus Tullius Cicero

In my unapologetically vast collection of self-help books, each author always agrees on one thing. Be it a book about meditation, faith or journaling, there is always an importance placed upon gratitude. Being grateful for what we already have changes everything. It causes a shift in our perspective that can help us feel that we’re having a really good day. The mysterious thing about gratitude is that the more you have, the more reason you get to feel thankful. Tuning your focus onto the wonderful, means you pick up more greatness – more good luck, more gifts and more good experiences! Here are five ways you can practice gratitude…

1. Gratitude Record/Jar

This is such a simple gratitude practice that has amazingly rewarding results. A few times a week, or daily if you want to, write down something you feel grateful for (big or small) into a gratitude notebook or onto a piece of paper that you can place in a big jar. I like this idea because not only do you feel grateful in the moment, but you’ll also reap the benefits when you re-read your notes later on. Last year, I used the jar method for a whole year and opened it up on my birthday. It felt so good to remember all the little moments of happiness that might have been easily forgotten. 

2. A Letter of Thanks

This is a gratitude tool that you can take longer over. Write a heartfelt letter of gratitude to someone who has helped you, supported you, taught you or made you a better person in some way. It can be hard to get your feelings on paper knowing someone will see it, so if it makes you feel better you don’t even have to send it. First and foremost, you want to trigger that feeling of appreciation in yourself. But, of course, sending it will give you that feel-good feeling of making someone’s day. This is a good one to do on special occasions like Mother’s Day or anniversaries. You could even try writing one to yourself.

3. Look on the past with gratitude

Many people confine their gratitude to the present moment - which is good because being mindful of the ‘now’ is key. But, in reality, our minds often wander back to the past and we find ourselves judging our actions. Pick out a few occasions from the past where things went annoyingly for you. For example, instead of cringing about times you’ve made mistakes, think about what that mistake taught you and be grateful you are now wiser.

4. Morning Gratitude

This can be done before you’ve even left your bed in the morning and is particularly good for very busy people. Simply, state to yourself or out loud ten things your grateful for. Include the core things like your health, loved ones and home, but also add in a few different ones each morning like the parking space you found with ease or the great podcast you listened to yesterday.

5. Incorporate little moments of gratitude

Build in little moments of thanksgiving each day: say thank you to shop assistants when you’re paying, smile at people who do nice things for you and buy flowers for people your grateful for. Like Joey Tribbiani says, there is no selfless good deeds because all these things will make you feel wonderful about yourself.

Pick one or two from the list and keep a note of any positive impact on your wellbeing. Thank you for reading!

Which of these ideas do you like best? Leave a comment below! 

Monday, 16 January 2017

Journal Prompt: Impossible Dreams

“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible'!”
-           Audrey Hepburn

How often do you find yourself thinking of things you want to achieve when a voice in your head shouts, “it’s impossible!” These journal prompts are there to explore and expose the boundaries that we and others have imposed upon our lives. Grab a pen, journal and prepare to decode your impossible dreams.

  • What in your life seems impossible? What dreams do you have that feel too pie in the sky?
  •  What three impossible powers would you like and why?
  •  Ponder what these powers mean to you. How can you incorporate some aspects of this into your life? Time Travel might not be possible but you can soak up the past in other ways, like visiting museums and travelling to heritage sites. If you crave invisibility maybe what you need is regular time to yourself away from an audience.
  •  Discuss an occasion when someone crushed your ambition.
  •  Discuss an occasion when someone made you feel you were capable of achieving your ambition. 
  • What one, miniscule step could you take towards your impossible dream?
Join the discussion! Leave a comment below… 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Walking in Winter

‘And O it is delicious, when the day
In winter's loaded garment keenly blows
And turns her back on sudden falling snows,
To go where gravel pathways creep between
Arches of evergreen that scarce let through
A single feather of the driving storm’

Extract from ‘Winter Walk’ by John Clare

Have you noticed that there are different ways of walking? There are walks in solitude, when we seem to see and hear the world clearer. There are chatty walks – those slovenly gossipy ones with friends. There are walks with little ones, pushing babies along and seeing the world through their tiny, wide eyes again.

Despite the variation, ironically, what makes walking so therapeutic is its steadiness. The repeated steps, are like our own heartbeat, bonding us with the land we walk on. This beat counteracts the chatter in our minds that we might have set out with. Countless artists have packed up their troubles and taken them out with them. Julia Cameron wisely asserts that ‘when we walk out, the sorting process begins’. Our problems and dilemmas ‘keep us company as we walk’ and we can meditate upon them. Sometimes, a solution can be found by the time we reach our destination. Other times, we can gain some distance, clarity or perspective on them.

With a clearer mind, we can get closer to where we are or maybe it’s the other way round – our surroundings give us that much sought after clearer mind. We can notice the poetry in the little things. Whether we’re in the middle of a bustling city or deep in the forest we can find that joy. No wonder, then, that walking is so associated with spiritual enlightenment. Each and every walk can become a pilgrimage, a devotion and exploration to the simple beauty in life. Each and every walk can be an exercise in mindful gratitude.

This is why I love walking in winter. I notice the tiny beauties that this much-maligned season offers. Winter has a delicious flavour to it – frosted lawns, the icy surfaces of ponds cracking and splintering under the bright, winter sun, and plump, jewel like berries adorning the wet, glistening bushes and hedges. In winter, life can be found even amongst the bare and barren. Don’t wait for winter to fade, go out and embrace it with every footfall.

Join the conversation! Leave a comment below… 

Monday, 9 January 2017

A Literary Alphabet: H is for Hardbacks

Buying a hardcover is a momentous moment in the life of a literary lady. A hardback is something solid and permanent, stately and formal, unlike a flimsy paperback that can be bent and battered. Purchasing a hard cover is a symbol of trust in a new author or faith in an old one – otherwise you’re stuck with a cumbersome tome. It is, of course, more expensive to buy a hardback than wait for the paperback to be released… but sometimes it’s hard to resist the special quality of a hardback. There’s definitely a tactile element – the feel of good quality paper between your fingertips, the solidity of the covers, the hefty weight of it. And, then there’s the covers. Cloth bound hard covers are particularly enticing (you can feed your cover obsession on my Pinterest page). We all know its what’s inside that counts, but hardbacks definitely give good stories a wonderful wrap.
Do you love hardback books? Leave a comment below! 

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Your Creative Goals 2017

Have you made your New Year Resolutions yet? I love a good goal. If I achieve one, that’s brilliant and I celebrate. If I fail miserably, I find myself endeared to my 12 month younger, over ambitious self. Bless her. My favourite type of goal to set is my creative ones. Unlike weight loss or healthy habit resolutions, I know for sure that I’ll have a good time revelling in my creativity. The following are a few questions to ask yourself to get your creative juices flowing in 2017…

Are you planning to start something, or complete something, this year? What is that project you have your eye on? 

At this stage it might be vague. You may just have the desire to write a children’s book. Or, you might be half way through an epic fantasy novel. Whatever it is, identify it and review where you are with the project.

What will you need?

This is a great question to ask yourself. A lot of the time, prospective artists are put off the idea of starting because they feel they don’t have the right resources. But, really, that might just be fear talking. A writer can get started with a pen and a notebook. Think deeper about what you really need. Time? Support? Self-belief? Once you have identified your ‘toolkit’ you can focus on the creativity part. 

Can you branch out into other creative mediums, in any way, this year? 

Whilst you might have a big dream on the cards for 2017, have you thought about the little acts of creativity you can do just for fun? At primary school, we were always making little things out of pine cones, glitter, yoghurt pot lids and a truckload of PVA glue. Playing with our creativity like that is good for us and can actually help with our big, grown up projects. Think of ways you can introduce little projects into your life. 

Who will you appoint as your creative mentor?

Choose someone who you can look up to during your creative year. This could be someone you know or a famous artist. Let this figure inspire you through the year – look at how they create, read interviews with them, stalk their entire artistic output. Being inspired by and learning from other creators makes the whole thing more exciting. 

How will you keep going?

Undoubtedly, you will come across hurdles during your creative year. These could range from being too busy to get that day’s writing done, to pure indifference and low confidence in what you are working on. When these hiccups occur, how can you tackle them? Finding this out, is an important part of the creative process. If you procrastinate, is there anyone nice, but a little bit scary, you could report to so you’re accountable? If you feel isolated is there somewhere you can go to work on your project? Have a standby support system in place. 
What are your creative goals for 2017? I would love to know, so please do leave a comment below…

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