Words In Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

5 stars

20200215_132907

Spoilers ahead!

Guys! This is a whole book that not only uses the epistolary format; they have a whole aspect of the plot focused on letters and how important they are to people; how they can shape people lives and memories. How could I not love a novel like this?

Also again it’s a book dealing with grief and the relationship between siblings. It’s almost like it was written specifically for me. This is I think maybe the fourth book I’ve read this year where the relationship between siblings is one of the main story threads of the book and I love it.

I’ve probably mentioned one or two times before but I have a brother; he’s two years older than me and he annoys me so much but I love him so much more.

I spent quite a lot of this book thinking about what my reaction would be if I were in Rachel’s shoes. If he died and I was offered some kind of magical space that I could pretend he was still there, would I take it? Or would I try to be as open and public about it as I try to be about other areas of my life? Not for pity but maybe as a way to understand things, a way for me to grasp the enormity of how my life would’ve ended with him, would’ve been changed and reborn.

One of my pet hates is to buy a second-hand book and find it’s been written in and marked up and changed but I also think that’s what could be so beautiful about the Letters Library. That those notes can be cherished as glimpses into someone else’s life; as Rachel would say they can be the transmutation of memories. It’s a library of people.

We all know how much I love epistolary novels and I loved that Crowley managed to tell multiple stories and love affairs in a single book, using this technique. It’s one of the reasons I love this device so much: it’s telling the stories between the lines. What happens in the gaps is the important bit.

So it’s not just a love story of two best friends. It’s not just the despair of two ex-lovers, or a new doomed almost romance between two people whose identities are secret; or the budding friendships and stumbles of love. It’s all of that in just 288 pages and it’s beautiful.

Ok enough gushing about the device and onto the plot!

Henry was wonderful. Yes he was a complete idiot when it came to Amy and was entirely clueless about Rachel. It might just be me but I was really annoyed by Henry’s assumption that Rachel has just forgotten him or doesn’t miss him after moving away because she stops writing back to his emails. But I loved how he thought in books; how poems could become such monumental things; like how he starting quoting poetry and singing lyrics when he was drunk. I loved his love for George – that he would try again and again, regardless how badly things went to see her happy. I love that he saw his life in terms of the bookshop, his relationship to his parents was tied to books – the books like Great Expectations that forms his views on his parents relationship (notes from his mum and dad were left to each other in the Letters Library; his relationship to his whole family is told in books – how they discuss them at Friday night dinners.

George was brilliant too – I was so heartbroken when I realised she had been writing to Cal. That they had fallen in love and she was finally able to let herself be vulnerable only to be met with the pain and grief of losing them. It was heart-breaking waiting for Cal’s final letter; waiting for when Rachel and George would learn the truth of each other and waiting to see how Rachel would finally break the news to George.

I was secretly hoping for a happy ending that somehow the bookshop would be magically saved at the end – maybe Fredrick would buy it out or something but there did seem to be a nice resolution to everything. I have to say though that Michael just deciding he’d bugger off and go travelling for a while not even considering his kids – what if they didn’t want to live with Sophia? – was a bit of a dick move.

This sounds like me just listing all the characters I loved but I thought Rachel was so well done. As I said at the beginning of the post I can’t imagine losing my brother. I think it was handled really well – Rachel was trying to find her way through her grief; find her way through being back home with people who used to know her. Obviously an easy way through for her would be to be angry, to push everyone away, and to lie to everyone.

All in all I really, really liked this book. I absolutely adore epistolary novels and I loved a book full of books. I went in to this book not really knowing much of what to expect other than the device; it had siblings; it had explorations of grief and it had letters – pretty awesome.

See you in the future! ♥

Afterimage – Naomi Hughes Review

Afterimage by Naomi Hughes

5 Stars (and some more…)

20200214_110434

Figuring out the genre AFTER I started reading (yes this was a bad attempt at a bad pun)

As always this review is going to contain spoilers.

I follow Naomi on twitter and had been lusting after this book for a long time. Despite reading the blurb and following Naomi I honestly had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect a sci-fi adventure. I know I know, the blurb on Goodreads actually says “In a race where the fabric of time and space is at stake, they must figure out who caused the explosion before the culprit comes back to finish Camryn―and her city―off for good.” I should’ve known but whatever. I saw that there was a possible ghost and grief/death so I went for it.

I loved this book. I loved Camryn’s complicated relationship with Kyle. I loved the representation of panic disorders and issues of anxiety. I loved the little loving nods to all the various sci-fi shows and films that Hughes loves (I love a lot of them too, to be honest).

I liked that she was clear how debilitating anxiety can be but it is still possible to function and that even after dealing with huge events the anxiety and dark thoughts can still be there, it’s just finding a different way of dealing with that anxiety.

I used to find making phone calls unbelievably stressful. I know this is a common problem for people so you might not be surprised by this. I often found it so hard that if I couldn’t email or maybe text I would just not engage and lose out on certain opportunities or wouldn’t get support I needed but could only get access to on the phone.  I have found ways around it. I still struggle with it at times but I have techniques and ways of dealing with it now. I can use the phone now; this helps my life immensely. The anxiety is still there, it still causes problems but I can deal with it. That particular part of my anxiety is manageable.

I love Kyle. Many of you will know I’m currently doing a re-read and first edit of my own novel that has a really important sibling relationship itself so it was really great to read this sibling relationship.

I loved that in a way, Cam was dealing with the loss of Kyle before she ever really lost him. For Cam, the fact that Kyle isn’t really there during her hospital stay and recovery; it feels like she’s lost him already. Of course, she doesn’t know the whole story at that point in terms of her Mom being a suspect but it doesn’t stop her feelings of loss and betrayal being real in the moment.

As you all know by now I tend to cry at any book I read – it’s actually rarer that I don’t cry as opposed to when I do. So of course it’s not surprising that I cried. I loved Kyle from the start; I loved how much he loved Camryn regardless of everything. I loved how similar he was regardless of any timeline. I was sobbing the second time he died. When Cam got to hold him and see him slip away. When he showed how much he loved her in that tiny little exchange when they’re both covered in blood. I especially love his last words of the book, not even looking at Cam – and it would seem without caring until:

“If you break her heart, I’ll kill you,” Kyle calls lazily

Kyle is by far my favourite character of this book.

The way Naomi managed to merge issues of anxiety with Cam dealing with the grief of her mum, then Kyle’s death is really wonderful. Where does the trauma of a mental illness end and the trauma of losing a parent or sibling begin?

Yes, as it turns out this is a sci-fi novel, written by someone who is clearly a sci-fi fan herself. But it’s so much more too. It’s falling in love; it’s losing everyone who makes you, you; it’s finding them again; it’s dealing with your own mind and what happens when your own body betrays you.

Put simply, I loved it. Go read this book.

See you in the future! ♥

We Are Enough

Feel Good Movies for a Rough Time Ahead

Just a note, there will be spoilers in this post!

1st February 2020. That’s the date I decided to finally start my reread of Rosa’s story; which marks the start of my editing journey. I have to admit I am absolutely terrified. It’s taken me over 3 years to write and I haven’t read any of it since the end of 2017.

So much has happened in those 3 years; and I guess, I know how much of myself I’ve put into those pages. Yes, of course it’s fiction. I know and totally understand that Rosa’s journey is different from mine but I also know that I put a lot of my life into hers: she has two wonderful parents and an incredible big brother; all of whom love her. Although not literally, we both went through trauma and difficult times – the question is, how much of my trauma did I give her? What am I really going to read, Rosa’s trauma or mine?

That however, is not the point of this post. Today I wanted to look at some of the ways we make ourselves feel better; more specifically the films we watch to cheer ourselves up.

We all have them. The films that we turn to when life feels too hard; when we’ve just had a hard day – basically when we need to warm and fuzzy inside, as I’ve heard my Welsh friends say quite often it’s the film we turn to when all we want in the world is a Cwtch (don’t worry, I’ve linked to a translation for non-welsh users.)

For me, that film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind directed by Michel Gondry. In fact I love it so much, I decided to analyse it for a Studying Film essay while an undergraduate – I rewatched the same scenes so often for the analysis, I kind of broke my DVD. I know that a lot of you might be confused by this choice. Isn’t it the story of the break-up of a relationship? Isn’t it often described as seeing what happens 6 months after the happily ever after? And maybe it is.

MV5BMTY4NzcwODg3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTEwOTMyMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_

The film shows many different stages of a relationship: The excited high of flirtation between Stan and Mary; the heartfelt fumbling and awkwardness of Patrick and Clementine. OK so that’s ignoring the fact that Patrick kind of stalks her – maybe it’s better look at the heartfelt fumbling of the start of Joel and Clementine’s relationships. We even see the anger, lack of trust and resentment bubbling under the surface of the marriages of Rob and Carrie or Dr and Mrs Mierzwiak.

But after everything that Joel and Clementine go through in the film they still decide to try because, even after hearing all the hurtful things they say about each other (and felt by the end of their relationship) they still see something in each other. They still see the happiness they once felt together. And for the moment, that’s enough to try.

I’ve always really loved that ending. It always makes me feel better about things; it makes me think that sometimes it’s enough to just try. That sometimes that’s all you need.

So maybe I won’t ever get a cure but waking up each day is enough.

Maybe I’ll never get better enough to go back to just a walking stick, and my crutches will always be part of me but decorating them and making them mine is enough.

Maybe I’ll never feel well enough that I can stop relying on antidepressants to even out my moods; but maybe I’ll find ways to compliment them; maybe the mindfulness and meditation techniques I’m learning will be enough.

Maybe I’ll never get Rosa’s story published; maybe it’ll sit in a folder on my computer gathering dust for years to come but maybe just feeling O.K. to read it again is enough. Maybe finishing her story; finishing my story of the last 3 years is enough.

Maybe I’m enough.

See you in the future ♥

One Possible Future

The Future as imagined by an 11 year old me.

Today, while rummaging through some old papers and artwork, I came across this incredible piece of work. According to the title and date it was written in May 2000. I was almost 12 and just a few months away from starting High School. Apparently I had to come up with my vision of the future, not sure how far in the future it’s supposed to be but regardless, it’s a thing of beauty. I can’t remember writing it but now I feel the need to share it with you all. It’s actually surprisingly similar to world-building worksheets we had to develop on my MA listing the different aspects of society that would be affected or changed depending on what the world was like. And so, we begin:

The Future, written on 15/05/2000 by Rhona Tennant

Transport – In the future, we will have flying cars with a self-recycling exhaust pipe so no fumes come out. (Can we say Hybrid cars or carbon capture technologies, anyone?) We won’t have buses; instead the cars will be able to join so that more people can sit.

Energy – I think that in the future we will use a lot more wind energy. (I type this, living in a house surrounded by wind farms) We will really live up to the phrase “Waste not, want not” by using as much as we can with the stuff we have.

Food – The food will organic or it will be Genetically Modified foods. (Can anyone say plant based “bleeding” meatless burgers?) We will just to put a plate/bowl under a gap, press a button and the food comes out.

Just as an aside, I was watching a lot of sci-fi T.V. back then – I mean, not much has changed but it may have tainted my view of the future somewhat.

Education – We will have virtual reality teachers and schools but we could have brain implants implanted at birth will all the knowledge we would need for the rest of our lives. (This is honestly one of my favourite ideas. That we could possible understand what knowledge we’d need for our entire life at birth!)

Housing – Because crop land is valuable we won’t want to damage the Earth by building; so houses and buildings will be in floating pods.

Communication – The communication will be so advanced that it will be voice activated control, so you could be linked to your computer on a head-set and just say “Hi mum” and it phones your mum. (Yea, we don’t have voice activated devices like Alexa or Siri.)

Entertainment – Instead of having a T.V. we will have things like the holodecks in Star Trek. (I wish….although we do have VR headsets.)

Weather – There will be more extreme weather on Earth due to global warming like even more heavy rain, snow, and sun. (Can anyone say current climate disaster?)

Recycle – Everything that can be recycled will be recycled because of how much stuff had been wasted in the past.

Water – Because water supplies have been polluted in the past, water processing; concentration and creation will play an important part.

Waste – Wasting something that could be recycled will become a criminal offense. (A bit harsh, perhaps.)

Medicines – We will have a cure for cancer but not for the common cold. Instead of injections we will just have to breathe in a gas with medicines in them. (This is happening too; and has been happening for years to treat asthma etc.)

Genetics – Genetically Modified people will wipe out lots of inherited diseases (The wonders of stem cell treatment and research! This might actually happen soon. Also genetically modified people? Can you say designer babies anyone?) If we have a mental handicap (For fuck’s sake, 11 year old Rhona, why the hell are you using those terms instead of, you know, something or maybe anything else???) at birth it will be fixed by computer.

I then go onto the start of a short story, which I’m not going to include but was written in epistolary format; showing that even back then this was one of my favourite literary devices.

But guys, I’m so in love with what I wrote. A young, somewhat naïve 11 year old thinking of what the world could be like. I even managed to come up with versions of technology and scientific theories that are here or coming soon. How cool is that?

So this was my writing, age 11 so I hope it’s safe to say I’ve gotten better over the year but who knows. February, when it finally arrives, is the jumping off point of rereading and editing Rosa’s story. Wish me luck!

See you in the future! ♥

Looking Back Is Harder That You’d Expect

I started to write a sort of year in review blog way back at the start of December. I thought I could do an overview of everything that happened last year; I thought I could write it all down and then pick out the positives.

But after trying to work through it for just over a month I gave up today. Instead I give you this slightly rambling meander about what I’m going to write this year.

Last year ended up being really hard, for a variety of reasons – some of which I’m still dealing with and to be honest I am still struggling. But last year was also exciting, exhilarating, terrifying and exhausting.

I got to go to Dublin with my dearest Mammy; got to bid farewell to sewing professionally by designing and making my wonderful friend’s wedding dress. I went to The Edinburgh International Book Festival; bought far more books than I’ll ever find time to read; got a couple of new tattoos; learned to drive and finally at the end of November I finished the first draft of the novel I’d been working on for 3 years.

I booked a writing day retreat for this weekend with another writing friend and I had thought I could maybe start editing there. But I haven’t even started rereading it so I’m not ready to start changing anything yet.

I’ve talked to The Mammy quite a lot about the idea of trigger warnings for books. (As some of you may know she’s a trained psychotherapist so knows what she’s talking about) I see the purpose and need for them in some instances but not all of them. Over the years I’ve read some really difficult books, I’ve struggled with subject matter that has hit just a bit too close to home and I have had to stop reading a book for a couple of days while I rehydrated and got control over my emotions again. But I chose to read those books; I decided to read them even knowing the subject matter and I kept reading, even after it got hard. So despite all the struggles with some of the subject matter I never felt the need for a trigger warning. In the case of Love From A-Z or The Weight of a Thousand Feathers I’m still kind of in the midst of my trauma with MS and no trigger warning will help with that.

But regardless; I think these topics are important. I think we need difficult books. We need the ones that’ll handle the hard issues: the ones that people can read and finally see themselves, their struggles in another person, in a book they can grow to love.

I was talking to another writer friend about this – about my propensity to cry while reading, and my need to read books that I know will probably destroy my soul in the end. We also talked about the fact that this is the kind of reaction I want from my readers. I don’t want them to suffer just for the sake of it. I don’t want to just punch their guts to make them cry. I want them to see themselves; I want them to fall in love; I want them to finally breath a sigh of relief knowing that finally, finally someone else understands.

Thing is, I know what’s happened over the past 3 years, and I know what emotions have gone into writing this book and I know it deserves the right amount of time and space before I change things. I deserve the right amount of time and space before diving back in. I know how much of myself I’m going to see in those pages; and I know what that might mean. So, for now, we wait.

But that left the question of what to write at this weekend’s writing retreat.
I thought about maybe writing some blog posts or even rehashing some short stories I started writing while on the MA but then I decided to go back even further.
I went back to the novel I’ve been trying to write since I was 17 – a novel I’ve been rewriting and adapting (I even tried to turn into a graphic novel idea and as a possible screenplay) for 15 years. After everything I learned on the MA I thought now the time was right to head back to it. I could use the pre-writing skills I learned and apply it to this project instead. I could make it into the novel I always wanted it to be.

It’s so completely different from Rosa’s story: it’s contemporary fantasy, it is (might be) dual perspective and I might even write it in third person. I haven’t shared my writing much but that’s a big departure from my usual first person narratives. (First person is just my go-to perspective when I start writing anything.) And maybe the most amazing part is that no-one dies (at least in this draft). It definitely feels strange that I’m not killing off my characters – it’s be such a common theme throughout my writing for so long.

I do still want to address mental health; bullying and finding yourself. Your teen years are such a huge, important phase for so many people and these themes are so often so prevalent and pervasive throughout that the idea of writing YA and not including these issues is strange.

This does mean heading back to my own teen years, though; it means looking back on the bullying I faced; it means seeing how much of my 17 year old self I originally put into that story and it means going back to the dark feelings of my own depression I hope I’ve dealt with.

Writing my chapter breakdown and synopsis is the plan for this weekend and maybe I’ll find out that it gets easier the further back you look.

Acknowledging Endings When They Come.

This year I started seeing a therapist. At first it was through the MS society; because (and I freely admit this) I was really needing help coming to terms with my diagnosis and accepting that my life may be different from the way I’d envisioned it but not necessarily bad or wrong. After 6 sessions I decided to continue with her privately.

One thing that has come up repeatedly is how I deal with endings and loss. I am going through a form of grief as I come to terms with my diagnosis – it’s long and never straightforward and really, really hard.

There have been quite a few changes and losses over the last few years – most obvious really is that I have now made the decision to stop sewing; to give up being a professional seamstress.

This means a change to my business model; to my blog; to everything really. But I’m getting there.

I started my MA near the end of 2016. That was 3 whole years ago. A lot has happened in that time. As part of our pre-start homework we had to come up with 20 possible story ideas – one of which could eventually become our major project. Thus Rosa’s story was born. A tiny little paragraph of a story idea; that really doesn’t relate to much of the novel once it was finished. But it was a start.

So Rosa has been with me for 3 years; been with me through everything – through every ending and loss that I’ve had to deal with. She was even there while I was lying drugged up and barely conscious in Hospital.

On the 15th September 2016 I came up with the idea for Rosa’s world and on the 29th November 2019 I finally got to write The End on my first draft.

20191129_110717

This ending has been much harder than I expected. I spent the last week of November close to tears at all times and was maybe a bit unconsciously avoiding getting to that last line by sometimes only writing about 300 or 400 words a day.

word count

A screencap of my word count tracker for my novel

I know that this isn’t the end. I still have a long way to go until I let other people read this; until Rosa’s story is ready for the rest of the world BUT it is AN ending. After discussing it with my therapist I knew this was an important ending to mark and acknowledge. Rosa is a second generation Russian immigrant in Scotland and she often slips in and out of Russian while telling the reader of her adventures. She suffers losses in the novel too so I came up with the perfect way to say goodbye; to let Rosa say goodbye to her family too.

I held a funeral wake. Well, after reading about funeral traditions in Russia I held a make-shift wake. The biggest features of a wake tend to be feasts and remembering and saying goodbye. So I ate special food (blinis, smoked salmon and caviar and home-made black bread with sour cream) and offered a shot of vodka covered with a slice of bread to the spirits of Rosa and her family; in a kind of symmetry to breaking bread with someone when you first meet.

20191203_155547

It felt right to say goodbye to Rosa like this (yes I did taste the vodka, and yes it tasted exactly what I’d expect nail varnish remover to taste like) to say goodbye to the last 3 years of my life; and the version of Rosa that was born from that.

And so here I am, forcing myself to take a break for a few weeks before re-reading the novel and starting the long process of editing. It’s been harder than I expected now that I don’t have writing to do. So I have been trying to get back into baking and trying to find something to occupy my time. I have been instructed by my therapist however, not to fill up every minute of the day. I need time to process she said. I guess maybe I do.

20191204_095628

Why was it so hard to take a non blurry photo? Perhaps we will never know…

Next year will also bring changes and endings. Next year will bring them for Rosa too. But for now I’m relaxing and finding new things to read and even thinking of completely different things to write.

Goodbye Rosa; thank you for staying with me this far ♥

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson – Review

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

5 stars – I’m always disappointed Goodreads rating system; why do we only get 5 stars with which to show our appreciation?

20191120_105132.jpg

Just a warning, this review as usual contains spoilers!

I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before but I think epistolary stories are my absolute favourite form of novels. To get technical during my Masters in creative writing I found out that letter, emails – or in this case text messages are a perfect device for first person narrative stories. I could go into more details about conditions of narration or placing the reader in an active position; but I’m not writing a lecture today.

Back to the book then. As previously mentioned, it’s written in the form of an on-going text conversation between our two protagonists. Although, according to our heroine, the hero of our piece could actually be considered her antagonist.

I think one of the things I loved about the book, is that despite being completely in texts Johnson doesn’t fall back onto simply using emojis during the parts of the conversation that goes really deep between Haley and Martin.

One of the things I really loved about the book was Johnson’s ability to discuss some really sensitive issues without judgement or it seeming like she was making A Statement about it all. The book covers bullying and isolation – especially how people can be ostracized from their social circle or group of friends; it talks about mental health issues really well too. As someone who suffers from Social Anxiety Disorder myself I really liked how she dealt with Haley’s Generalised Anxiety Disorder and how it can often feel so much simpler to talk to people or to open up when protected by a screen.

She also deals with issues of sexuality that most, if not all, teenagers face throughout puberty. I liked how she very smoothly introduced the idea of the Kinsey Scale as a way for Martin and Haley to discuss their sexual identities without it being dangerous or risky. I did like that although this was a novel with an opposite sex love story; Johnson allowed the protagonists to be more than straightforward cis-het characters.

To be perfectly frank, it would’ve been quite hard for an epistolary novel to disappoint me but I was quite excited by the blurb of the book anyway. From the jacket description it sounded exactly like my kind of go-to contemporary YA and it just got better when I realised what the format would be.

I loved that Haley was so fascinated by facts – any facts really and loved learning and reading any article that came her way. I loved the Martin seemed to reject all the usual stereotypes of a rich middle class white kid.

It was a quick read, partly because of the format but I really fell in love with Haley and Martin and I have a feeling this book will be re-read quite a few times in the coming years.

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

The Weight of a Thousand Feathers – at times it was hard to breathe.

20180822_141252

5 stars (I’d give it more if the Goodreads system allowed more) **This review contains spoilers! **

As those of you who’ve read my round up of the book festival would know I got to see and hear Brian Conaghan speak again this year. I also got a change to talk to him while getting his new book The M Word signed.

This ended up being my last event of the day as I was succumbing to exhaustion and had already cancelled the following event with my friend. I mentioned seeing him last year and having still not felt up to reading this book, as I was still struggling at this point. He then did the sweetest thing by giving me his email address and told me to read the book and then let him know what I thought. Honestly by that point I was so tired and in such pain I felt close to tears anyway but that gesture had me a bit tearful and star struck on the drive home.

So I read the book and here it is – my thoughts on it and how it felt to read another book with a main character dealing with MS.

I thought after Love from A to Z I would be better prepared for reading this but I hadn’t counted on still struggling with recovery by this point.

As much as disability rep and own voices* are important, as a reader it can be so hard. I didn’t feel the need for trigger warnings or anything. I mean, what trauma would it trigger? Especially since I was still struggling with the “trauma” of diagnosis** It’s just hard to read certain things when other parts of your life are crumbling.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I was absolutely sobbing through large chunks of the book especially when it came to flashbacks about how Bobby’s mum became ill; the starting symptoms of the MS – some of which were so reminiscent of the starting symptoms I was faced with a few years ago.

When I was discussing the ending with someone they asked why Bobby’s mum had to die. It seemed to adhere to the ableist myth of better to be dead then disabled.

But the more I thought about the more I really understood the ending. It was never about his mum being better dead than disabled – it was about choices. It was about her right to choose how and when to end her life. Her death was inevitable due to the progression of her MS so this was about her decision, and about Bobby’s decision to be there for her. Bobby, Danny and their mum got to be together, got to choose. As Danny himself said, when they were discussing the possibility of their mum going into hospital or hospice care:

“But Mum shouldn’t be in a hospital with tubes and strangers – she should be with us. We can’t put her with strangers.”

I loved Bobby. He could’ve been a stereotype, of a 17 year old boy; of a young carer, but he was so much more than both of those ideas. He was complicated and layered and wonderful. I think my favourite thing about him is that he’s a writer. I identified so much with his need and effort to explore his feelings and situation through poetry. (Having myself written some fairly bad poetry as a teen dealing with bullying)

It gave a layer you wouldn’t expect and subverts the idea that boys don’t like books or reading or even creativity.

I loved the other characters too – Belle, for being so unfailingly supportive and positive. Danny for being so insightful – he was underestimated by almost everyone, even Bobby at times – but he just seemed to understand what was going on with his mum more than everyone knew. I also loved Roddy and the rest of the Poztive guys. Honestly I disliked Lou from the start – was I supposed to like him? I’m not sure. I did have a feeling that there was something else going on with him but I had assumed he was pretending to be a young carer so it was an interesting turn that he had been through it all; that he’d been faced with the same dilemma as Bobby.

I especially loved Bobby’s reaction to Lou’s complete detachment to and attempt to “help” Bobby’s mum. As Bobby said, it wasn’t his job; he didn’t have the right to do anything regardless of whether he had been through the same battle with his mum. Although you could argue that the reason he had such a detachment to it, and didn’t really understand Bobby’s reaction was that it hadn’t been his mum’s choice, her request – it had all been for him.

I also really liked how Bobby’s sexuality was dealt with. It wasn’t simply announced at the introduction of Bobby: 17 years old, male, a young carer and gay. Instead, it was introduced slowly, when it made sense, when it mattered. I liked too, that Bobby was facing relationship and romantic issues – just like most other teenagers – at the same time as dealing with issues with his mum. It was never one or the other so in this way he was built into such an interesting multi-dimensional character.

Hilariously (or maybe just darkly funny – I have a hard time deciding which) I realised a few days ago that the bookmark I’d been using while reading this book was one I had received along with a book called Overcoming MS (which has since been relegated to the recycling bin as, call me strange but I have a thing against burning books, even awful, unhelpful and frankly dangerous ones.)

Ultimately though, I was really glad I finally did read this book, it was really difficult but I do think it’s important to read difficult and hard books sometimes (obviously as long as they don’t damage your mental health).

So now I’ve added The M Word to be tbr list and I’m off to figure out how to email a famous author to talk to him about his book. (Cue a bit of panic and flailing.)

*Although to be clear, neither Love from A to Z or The Weight of a Thousand Feathers is really own voices since neither S.K. Ali nor Brian Conaghan have MS themselves, although both books were written after extensive research and both have family experience of it.

**I have had a lot of discussions recently about the idea of triggering and trigger warnings with my mum who is a practicing Art Psychotherapist. I won’t go into it all today but let’s just say I have mixed feelings about the current conversations around the use of words like triggering and trauma.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival – review

The Book Festival Of My Heart

Before I get properly into my review of this year’s events I have to admit how much I truly adore the festival. I have been going to the Book Festival for as long as I can remember. Mum and dad even used to take us to the children’s book festival when it was held in Inverleith Park.

Books have always been a huge part of my life; were such a huge part of my childhood. Now that I’m I guess a real writer; going to the festival has gained new importance. Not only do I get to see my favourite authors as a reader I get to see industry professionals talk about being successful in a career I’m hoping to succeed in myself. This year I went to panel discussions about writing craft, about publishing and even about getting kids interested in reading (regardless of whether it’s reading poems and rap lyrics or huge classic tomes.)

I knew going in, that year was going to be a bit different. It was the first year without quite a few of my writer friends around (as a lot of them have been searching out interesting non-Scottish climes); it wasn’t the first year dealing with MS but I had, quite recently been discharged after a month, bedbound in hospital. Well I got home in late June but as anyone with a chronic illness or spent a long time in hospital can attest – you don’t get home and suddenly everything is back to normal the next day. Recovery takes a long, exhausting time (more on this later.) But I was still determined to do as much as I could and to enjoy it to the max. (Having been stuck in hospital, facing those same four hospital walls for so long I was just super excited to be enjoying all the books.)

I went to an interesting mix of events this year – without really focusing on the times and dates (which was probably a bit stupid) I more just signed up to anything that sounded interesting.

To The Events!

The first event I went to was with my friend (and development editor extraordinaire) Sam. Since my diagnosis last year I found out I could get priority booked seating at all the events – which meant we ended up in the very front row (and into DeRay McKesson’s Instagram stories!).

This event was with DeRay McKesson who wrote On The Other Side of Freedom – and who was one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

It’s been 5 years since the killing of Michael Brown led to huge protests and activities in Ferguson, Missouri and his book/memoir covers the killing and the creation of the movement. At once harrowing and aggravating (not DeRay himself, just the situations he described) it was a really incredible event to start my time at the festival and one of my favourite events overall. He was funny, empowering and very passionate.

20190830_140504

The next day I then persuaded my mum to join me seeing MG writer Robert Muchamore with his newest book Arctic Zoo. I hadn’t really heard of Robert Muchamore before, I just thought the listing seemed like something I’d like to see. With an event title like “Change The World” I was kind of expecting politics and possible dystopias but I was surprised to find that his new book, set both in London and Lagos deals – instead of the apocalypse – with mental health; sexuality and identity*

I don’t read much MG, but this was quite an interesting event and – of course – I bought the book, so it’s another one to add to my tbr pile**

20190830_140711

That night I went to my third event (I actually managed two events in a day; three defeated me but more on that later) again with Sam. This was the only graphic novel event I made it to this year but it was really awesome. Again I hadn’t really heard of the authors before and I was excited to find some new graphic novels for my shelves. This was Rachael Ball and Jon McNaught discussing Families in Graphic Novels.

Both Ball and McNaught have completely different styles but also ways of working it was so cool to see how different artists can work with the same theme. I’ve been fascinated by graphic novels for a long time – even to the point where I took a writing graphic novels module on my MA; but I’ve never felt the courage to be able to write and also draw my own graphic novels. Writing the scripts feels a bit safer and gives a sense of distance that you can also get with screenwriting. (Something else I fell in love with at undergraduate level.)

Jon McNaught – who was clearly nervous about appearing in front of a large crowd (that made me feel better about my own anxiety) – focused on the dullness but odd magic of a family holiday to a costal caravan park somewhere in England. In his book Kingdom he managed to capture so many moments that are so familiar and common for everyone – well, for me at least. Having spent a few different summer holidays in a small town caravan bought by my grandmother for the purpose of family holidays; I could understand the atmosphere he managed to achieve through the novel.

I have to say, I haven’t yet managed to read either Ball or McNaught’s novels but through their event they did discuss a lot of the story, process and art of each. So while I haven’t read them to completion yet, I did get to see some of the story in the event.

Rachael Ball’s Wolf deals with the theme of family in a completely different way. She focuses on the loss of a parent and the grief that follows. The book suddenly becomes a story of attempted time-travel and rescue of a loved one; it also follows the creation of new, supportive relationships. Her art is all done by hand – black and white pencil sketches. So gorgeous.

20190830_143010

20190830_143000

I then had a day to rest on the Tuesday – which was nice, after a couple of days at the festival I was coming to realise how exhausting being out the world again was – I can’t quite remember what I did but I’m pretty sure a lot of sleep was involved.

Wednesday was again a day of double events. In the morning I went to see the panel event What Is Home? With my wonderful friend Vita (who also took one of Lexi’s kittens last year). The event was chaired by Val McDermid; who hosted Leila Aboulela, Robin Robertson and Linda Grant. This was one of the very few events where I didn’t buy any books to be signed but I really enjoyed this event regardless. Home was one of the themes of this year’s festival and it was a really interesting discussion on what home means to a variety of authors – some of whom are first or second generation immigrants. How did they define home when two cultures clash in their hearts? I even managed to surprise myself by asking a question during the audience participation section. It’s one of the first and only times I’ve ever had the courage to ask a question at the festival.

Later that day I attended an event with my dad with the author and historian Richard J Evans. It’s a tradition with my dad that we will attend at least one thing together during the Book Festival, some years he chooses some years I do, and sometimes we find a something that were both really interested in. Last year we ended up going to quite a few YA events so it made sense of that this year we would go to something that more grown-up and a bit more in-depth or intellectual I suppose. I’d never really heard of Richard J Evans but he is well known and well respected historian, he is perhaps best known for his work on the Third Reich. He was at the festival this year to discuss his most recent work which is our biography of the historian Eric Hobsbawm. Although I didn’t buy any book to be signed I actually found the discussion extremely interesting and loved getting to spend time with my dad in our Book Festival tradition.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent resting and trying to build up my energy reserves for the last week of events – I was almost successful.

On Sunday I had booked to see 3 events. This wasn’t completely intentional; when deciding what I wanted to see it wasn’t until after I had booked, paid and received my tickets that I actually looked at the dates and times. This was the only day to have 3 events and there was roughly 2 or 2 and half hours between each event so I thought: that’s plenty of time to recover and regenerate between events, I had my tablet with me to do some writing and easy access to books if all I wanted to do was read and relax.  But the day didn’t end amazingly well. And so begins the tale of my Sunday at the Book Festival…

First, I went to see Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander and Sarah Crossan. I ended up going to this event on my own as none of my friends were able to make it but I still loved the event. The event was on Writing Rhythm – writing books and stories in verse. It was also a discussion on how verse novels can actually attract reluctant readers. It is much less daunting to read a novel that is only 60 pages long, and feels like a poem than a big 80 or 100k novel with wall-to-wall text. I have to say I absolutely love Jason Reynolds – after seeing him at the festival with dad last year I was excited to see that he had about 3 different events on this year. I only went to two of them but I love not only his attitude to writing but the writing itself. His recent verse letter For Every One filled me with such positivity without it feeling preachy or too “inspirational”.

The signing was a bit chaotic – the bookshop was really busy and I was distracted by having 3 different people sign at the same time without a proper chance to engage with the author (which, after years of embarrassing myself, I am getting better at).

20190830_14104920190830_14072620190830_141106

Then I had a break – it was the longest break of the day and my plan had been to head for the giant Waterstones on Princes’ Street; get set up with food at the café and write for the remaining hour or so until my next event.

Then I got to Waterstones and made a stupid mistake. For those of you unfamiliar with the shop it’s a huge 4 floor building (5 if you count the basement) with the café on the top most floor (amazing views of Princes’ Street Gardens and the castle). When I arrived, I saw a sign that told us the lifts were out of order. They apologised for the any inconvenience and said if you needed any help, just ask and a member of staff would try to assist.

You may think I would first re-think staying there for lunch, and instead find somewhere accessible to eat and relax. If only…

As I mentioned before, I had only about 6 weeks before been discharged from hospital, after a month of not being able to stand then barely being able to walk. I had also only just made it back onto my crutches rather than a wheelchair or rollator. But I had recently made progress and managed to go up and down the stairs at home, at least once unaccompanied.

I am naturally stubborn and shy away from asking for assistance in a lot of situations; so when I saw the four flights of stairs, I thought: well I can manage stairs now, how bad can it be?

I also questioned how much help a shop assistant could offer in this situation. Would they just bring my lunch down four flights of stairs, setting me up with a little table hidden out of the way on the ground floor? It seemed pointless to even ask (or so I told myself.)

I made it up to the café – eventually – with weak legs and an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. But I figured all I needed was some lunch and a seat to rest my aching bones.

I had lunch, and even managed to get some writing done. I didn’t end up staying the full 2 hours, thinking that by the time I made it down the stairs and back to the festival again I would need time to recover again, before the event.

I made it back to the festival; despite being wobbly and exhausted by then. My next event was with Brian Conaghan and Lisa Williamson at quarter to 3. I had seen Brian Conaghan last year at a panel event with Jason Reynolds and Steven Camden, so I was excited to see him again. (I hadn’t yet read his book The Weight of a Thousand Feathers from last year yet but again, more on that later!) This was another event I was going to on my own so I wasn’t waiting on anyone but with 15 minutes left before the event I realised that I wasn’t going to last much longer.

I made it into the event – again with reserved seating so I was in the front row – which made surreptitiously attempting to text my mum and arrange an earlier pick up a bit challenging. I also sadly had to cancel on my friend for the 3rd event that day. We were due to meet for an event at 7pm with Katie Hale and Rita Indiana, which I knew even by 4pm I wouldn’t make it to.

20190830_141149

20190830_140652

With my sly texting out of the way and my mum on her way to pick me up I was able to enjoy the event. Brian Conaghan’s new novel The M Word sounded exactly the kind of thing I love to read. Despite the fact that I’m currently writing a future dystopia I do really love reading contemporary novels – I don’t know how successful I would be at writing one though. Like Jason Reynolds, I find listening to Brian Conaghan extremely inspiring, again both in terms of his attitude towards writing (He made the point that he is in fact a 45 year old man writing 17 year old female protagonists – it’s less about the age and more about the emotions of the characters) and his attitude towards readers and the act of actually creating these characters and worlds for people to fall into.

Like a lot of the writers I’ve seen at the festival I had never read anything by Lisa Williamson but I found her really interesting and I’m now really looking forward reading more of her stuff.

One of the biggest problems with seeing all these new authors and finding (ok buying) all the new books is that I never know which one to read next – I also end up with so many awesome book hangovers that it still takes me a few days to recover between books.

Anyway, I’d arranged with my mum to be picked up after the event and signing – I know that signing doesn’t add any value to the books but I love being able to have even the briefest connection with the author. Getting my book signed allows for that tiny amount of time and personal interaction.

First was Brian Conaghan. This is where I still get a bit teary and star struck. I decided to mention to him that I’d seen him last year but I still hadn’t plucked up the courage to read The Weight of a Thousand Feathers. The story revolves around a young guy called Bobby who is a young carer for his mum who has MS.

20180822_141252

It was a surprise last year, sitting in the audience with my dad to listen to him read an extract from the book and for it to hit me full force in the chest that I almost started crying right there in the event.

Despite it being over a year since I was diagnosed it was only this summer after getting out of hospital that I finally felt O.K. enough to read a fictionalised account of someone with MS In S.K. Ali’s Love From A to Z.

Anyway I told him this and he asked me why, I tried to explain that I haven’t really come to terms with my own diagnosis yet (especially given my recent hospital stay) so reading about characters battling the same thing feels incredibly difficult. Then he did the sweetest thing.

He told me to read the book and then gave me his email address. He said read the book and then tell him what I think about it.

It makes me tearful because it was really sweet, but also I felt seen in a way – a writer wanted to know the feelings of someone with the illness he had researched and written so carefully about.

It also makes me slightly star struck because oh my god an actual famous, successful real published author gave me his email address; he actually told me to contact him. Yea it felt strange and really nice.

After that I made my way to where mum was now waiting. The tears on the way home were partly due to pain and exhaustion, partly due to how kind and sweet Brian Conaghan had just been to me.

So luckily, after my overconfidence on the Sunday I didn’t have any other events books until Tuesday 20th with another Jason Reynolds event. This time I was able to persuade my dad to come with me so I had someone to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This time Reynolds was with Nikesh Shukla and they were talking about the use of sport in their novels to address some pretty difficult themes but also to encourage reluctant readers (If you haven’t guessed getting people into reading is a fairly common theme for me.)

20190830_141118

20190830_141049

I wasn’t completely sure what to expect in terms of this event. No one has ever described me as sporty in really any way but as it turned out that didn’t matter. The discussion was more about the community Nikesh Shukla found in boxing – the sense of support after a horrific racist attack (which was used in the novel too) For Jason Reynolds it was running – which really hit me, I used to walk so much, especially when I lived in Edinburgh and I walked everywhere.

This time I didn’t have time to get any book signed as when the event finished I was due at the other end of George Street to meet Sam again for our final event together called Cracking the Reading Code. It was a panel discussion about, you guessed it, getting reluctant readers into reading and loving books. The publishing company Barrington Stoke hosted the event with authors Sally Gardner, Alex Wheatle and Tom Palmer. Each author has struggled separately with issues of dyslexia and other reading issues as they grew up so each felt how important it is to have accessible books for Young and Middle Grade readers.

The discussion was actually quite fascinating and I discovered the company Barrington Stoke who specialises in accessible and very readable books for young readers. Every book is an approachable length, the text is printed in a special dyslexia font, with the words and paragraphs spaced evenly to make reading each letter easier. The books are even printed on special thick and coloured paper to avoid the “ghost” where the words of the page overleaf shine through onto the page you’re reading.

While I didn’t buy any books by these authors to be signed I did buy Juno Dawson’s Grave Matters at another point in the festival which was published by Barrington Stoke.

20190924_201135

So then we reached Thursday 22nd and the penultimate day of the festival for me. This festival was a struggle for all sorts of reasons some physical, some emotional but I am so happy that I was overall well enough (and finally out of hospital) to be able to enjoy it.

20190823_084903

Thursday was the event with C.A. Fletcher and Marcus Sedgwick. I was very excited by this event after finding out (and buying) that Marcus Sedgwick had written a book based on Mary Shelley’s experience writing Frankenstein.

Both authors dealt with the end of the world – or close to it. C.A. Fletcher looked at the importance of pets in terms of friendships and family while living after a man-made apocalypse. A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World looks to be a really heart-wrenching but sweet read – I’m hoping that it doesn’t end with the death of his dog, because I think the book hangover would be more than I could bear right now.

Marcus Sedgwick’s newest work Snowflake, AZ deals with chronic sickness in a world that’s being destroyed by climate change – essentially it is a contemporary novel and focuses on sickness and people’s willingness to be blissfully ignorant when it comes to medical diagnoses and how difficult it can be to be believed when it comes to being sick. The phrase “it’s all in your head” is such a common one – the simple answer to that is so what? That doesn’t make your experience of your sickness any less real.

Marcus Sedgwick’s book is actually based on his own experiences of being disbelieved and finally diagnosed with a chronic illness. I found his experience incredibly interesting because he said that it has taken him six years from the date of his diagnosis to feel able to write about his illness, or have a sick protagonist. This struck a chord with me – which I’ll go into more detail with in another blog post – as much as I value diverse voices in literature and the need for visibly disabled protagonists I often feel guilty that I’m not yet able to write disabled protagonists or able to write about my own illness.

20190830_142949

20190830_140541

The End Is Nigh

So now we’ve reached the final day of the festival – thanks if you’ve stuck with me for this long, I know I tend to ramble, especially when it comes to books.

I had 2 final events on Friday. The first was with both mum and dad as we went to see our friend and much respected historian and lecturer at Edinburgh University Talat Ahmed. She was at the festival to discuss her new book, a very in depth biography and discussion of Ghandi Mohandas Gandhi: Experiments in Civil Disobedience

Although we’ve been friends with Talat for a long time before this I’ve never really read anything about Ghandi – I’ve never really known anything except what the casual observer tends to know. Ashamedly, I know very little about Indian politics and the partition in 1947 apart from the British Colonial Powers were horrible (not a surprise really) so I found the entire discussion really interesting. While I didn’t get a copy of the book signed that day, I’m sure I could convince Talat to sign a copy for me in private another time.

So we come to the final event of the festival for me. This time I got to see my friend (and extremely talented author in her own right) Laura. We decided to go to a panel discussion called How To Be A Writer For Life with David Almond and another of Laura’s friends the wonderful Lauren James.

This was a panel discussion aimed at young adults and writers; and discussed how both Lauren James and David Almond got into writing and became published authors. There wasn’t much new information – given I follow a lot of writers and agents on twitter this wasn’t a surprise. But it was nice to be reminded that I’m not alone; that every writer has ups and downs and if I really want to be serious about writing as a career I need to come to terms with the idea of diversifying. It can’t all be about sitting in front of a computer writing thousands and thousands of words; it can be about teaching; workshops; events and talks. It can be so many things related to writing. This is really encouraging because after completing the teaching module on my MA and reading a lot of the work of Lev Vygotsky and Paulo Freire I realised how much I really like the idea of getting involved in teaching and workshops, of getting involved in encouraging others in creative writing.

Laura was meeting up with some friends after the event for dinner and invited me but to be honest, by that point I was starting to fade and the exhaustion of the past month was really catching up with me so I had to say no. I did get a chance to meet her friends quickly at the signing though (I didn’t actually get anything signed this time, but we did chat to Lauren James) despite Laura telling me they were both YA authors, and seeing that one actually had an event on at the festival I didn’t really understand who they were until later. The two awesome people who were simply introduced as Tom and Peta turned out to be Tom Pollock and P.M. Freestone – two pretty big names in the UK YA scene. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that when chatting to them I was kind of more star struck by the fact that Tom knew – and had text conversations with – China Miéville. Who, as anyone who’s read my previous blog posts will know, I’m kind of in love with (and have successfully completely embarrassed myself in front of every time we’ve previously met.)

With that we come to the end of this year’s Book Festival adventures. I did go home and sleep afterwards – maybe not for a full month but I had some very long naps and late mornings in the days that followed. Although this year wasn’t without its struggles, both emotionally and physically (I promise not to attempt another 4 flights of stairs anytime soon.) I had such a great time. I got to go to a couple of events with my dad – keeping our tradition alive and well; I got to see some friends I hadn’t seen in ages and I got to find out about a lot of awesome new authors – and catch up with some cool old faces.

I had originally started this post at the end of August – but as usual life got in the way. So here we are, almost a month later and I’ve only just finished it!

I do have some fun plans for October though, a few book reviews waiting in the wings and some changes afoot with Wednesday’s Child as a whole but until then…

See you in the future! ♥

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*ok, yes a lot of dystopias also focus on these issues but the point is, this is a contemporary novel and I was expecting a speculative one.

** Honestly, the book festival has destroyed my to-be-read pile. So many books; so little time.

Love from A to Z by S. K. Ali review

Love from A to Z – and I loved everything between.

5 stars (honestly if Goodreads would let me I’d give it more) This review contains spoilers!

20190928_145336

I bought this book after seeing the blurb on twitter and it’s been sitting in my tbr pile for ages. Not only is it #ownvoices rep for Muslim teens it’s also got an amazing disability rep in the character of Adam.

One of the reasons it stayed on my tbr pile for so long is that I didn’t feel ready to read a fictionalised account of someone struggling with a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis. But after getting out of hospital I’m not allowed back up the stairs for a while so I got my mum to bring down a pile of books for me to read, including this one. I figured if it became too hard to read it I could stop (although I find it so hard to not finish a book – even if I hate it)

But I finished this book in one day – I fell in love with it.

First off, I have to say I absolutely adore epistolary novels – anything written in the form of a diary or found document. When I bought the book, I didn’t know it was going to be this format so I was so happily surprised to open the book and find out.

I loved that there were author note disclaimers to make it more real – these diaries are real things, these people, Adam and Zayneb, are all real people. I’ve kept a diary on and off my whole life and the idea of a marvels and oddities journal was brilliant.

I saw myself not only in Adam with his reaction to his first major relapse but in his stubbornness and creativity. I loved his passion at trying to make everything, see everything, do everything while he still could.

MS is such a horrible and wholly unpredictable disease that I could understand his need to do as much as he could, as soon as he could – because with this illness you never know what tomorrow will bring.

I saw myself in Zayneb with her passion and fire, her anger at all the injustices surrounding her. With MS limiting my mobility (and honestly affecting my confidence) I feel her rage and inability to do anything to change things; of being stuck with all the anger and no clear path.

While this is ultimately a love story I have to say I fell in love with Hanna too. Her excitement and optimism was infectious, her love for Adam and her dad was wonderful – it was a lovely touch to have her be so protective of Adam after she finds out about his diagnosis, checking on him constantly.

I have to admit that I don’t really know much about Muslim culture – especially when it comes to friends and romantic relationships. So it was fascinating to learn about that through reading this book. I wasn’t surprised but I was angered and saddened to find that the examples of islamophobia in the book were basically real examples that the author or her family have faced.

I was worried going into this read, and at times it was upsetting and really hard to read; as I followed Adam with his new symptoms – many of which were so like my own but I’m so, so glad I read it. I’m so happy that there is such a fantastic disability rep. I’ve been trying hard to find YA books with disabled protagonists that aren’t just there as inspiration porn so this was wonderful.

Ultimately the thing I loved most was Adam’s hope and optimism. While I’m still coming to terms with my own diagnosis I want to bring that optimism into my life and keep pushing forward, as much as Adam does.

I now know I’m going to go buy S.K. Ali’s other book Saints and Misfits. She is a wonderful author who brought such brilliant characters to life.

I did absolutely love this book and it deserves so much more than 5 stars.