The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan

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

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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 – what 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 of 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.

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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 it 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**

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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 yet 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.

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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 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).

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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 make 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 that I wouldn’t make it to.

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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.

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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 about 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. The he did the sweetest thing.

He told me to read the book and then gave me his email address. He told me to 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 he 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.)

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I wasn’t sure completely 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.

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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.

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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 my 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.

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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!

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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.

Since We Last Spoke by Brenda Rufener Review

After more than a month’s disappearance where I spent quite a few weeks in hospital (having not one but two chronic illnesses is such fun) I’ve finally been able to get back to doing some actual reading and reviewing (I was on quite a variety of drugs while in hopsital so found it difficult to concentrate on reading much) but after much ado I present you with one of my first books read in months and what I hope is a fairly positive review: Since We Last Spoke by Brenda Rufener

Overall Rating: 3.5 – 4 stars. This review contains spoilers!

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I was really looking forward to this book, and overall I did enjoy it but I just felt something missing really.

I loved the book cover – I know this doesn’t really have any connection to the story or plot itself but I just wanted to say how gorgeous and inviting it is. So if you’re judging a book by its cover I can see why you would choose this one.

Speaking of the cover – the blurb on the cover was also something that drew me to the story. I’m quite keen just now to read depictions of dealing with grief especially within YA; particularly because I’m trying to depict a character dealing with grief and guilt in my own writing.

I did really like Aggi and Max and found myself drawn to Max in particular in terms of his journey. I really liked the split narrative so we saw many situations from both perspectives. The author did a brilliant job in showing how such strong emotions and how such huge tragedies can tear people apart – even (and often especially) loved ones.

But like I said, it just felt like something was missing – there were a few moments that did make me tear up, but very often with book dealing with these themes I would be sobbing through a lot of the book. I think part of the problem is that I never fully connected with any of the characters. The story just never made me fully care enough. Grace was always so much of a side character – never fully developed that it was hard to properly feel the panic and worry that Aggi and Max was meant to be feeling – both the first time she went in the lake and when she went missing later.

I think grief was handled in such a careful way – and I think Kate’s suicide was especially well done but I was really kind of expecting something more like All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven but it just missed the mark slightly.

I was disappointed that during the conclusion the Franks’ chose to fully sell their property; I could understand Aggi, Grace and their mom moving out a bit – but surely as the two families worked through everything and began to grieve together it would have been better for them to stay close – for Aggi to still have such close proximity to Max and the lake. It also felt slightly like the conclusion was rushed in a way – the book was a very quick read and it felt like it could have been longer, with more depth to the story.

Overall I did enjoy this book, just perhaps not as much as I expected but it was still very well written and the subject matter sensitively and carefully handled. So I still can’t decide on the final rating but definitely somewhere between 3.5 and 4.

****

Obviously with my recent hospital stay and now prolonged recovery and rehabilitation at home things have been put on hold in terms of my etsy shop, writing and future plans for both but I’m hoping as other things in life are slowly getting back to normal I can get back to focusing on these things and hopefully, getting back into the studio soon. But until then, I hope you enjoy my latest review and I can be back to do more blog posts soon!

Until then, see you in the future! ❤

China Mieville: A Love Letter

Falling back in love with an old favourite

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My to-be-read pile is steadily moving into the double figures (ok, who am I kidding it’s been there for a while) but I still struggle to pick a new read. What am I in the mood for this day/week/month?

So after finishing my last book (I didn’t particularly enjoy it so I’m not going to link it here- if you’re desperate to know what it was, it’s on my Goodreads!) I took to my tbr shelf – yes it has its own shelf now – it can take me a while to pick really. Sometimes I start a few books but give up after a few chapters. This doesn’t mean I won’t read those books just not right now.

Then Facebook came to the rescue!

It’s been a year since my two girls had kitten so I’ve been checking my memories on Facebook every day for any kitten goodness! But this morning I also had a memory from two years ago. It was an interview with China Mieville to mark the publication of his latest book October – which unsurprisingly was about the Russian revolution 100 years before. I had posted it on Facebook with multiple love-eyed emojis and I did in fact get the book itself for Christmas that year.

A little context

I am utterly and unabashedly in love with China Mieville. I originally heard of him in 2007 when my dad got me to read his ‘Tis The Season short story. I fell in love. Pretty soon after that my collection of China Mieville’s books started. I read Looking For Jake first – loving pretty much every single story then moved onto King Rat as my first novel.

I’ve since seen China Mieville three times at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – getting a lot of my books signed in the process – each time managing to completely embarrass myself.

I know people will be reading this thinking, it couldn’t be that bad surely??!! Believe me it was. From not being able to produce words or make eye contact to being able to find the words but all the wrong ones and finishing completely red faced each time has been pretty eventful and horrifying.

While researching possible MAs to attend when I read how much the tutors at Napier loved China Mieville; also the possibility that he might actually come for a guest lecture was kind of enough for me to choose the course (other reasons did appear but honestly? That was the initial spark)

So it’s no surprise that I actually have an entire shelf dedicated to China Mieville – I just feel really bad that I may have reread Looking for Jake multiple times I haven’t actually read all of the books a first time.

chine mieville shelf

Fast forward to 2019

So he didn’t end up starring as a guest lecturer; although I did get to read his short psychogeography of London: London’s Overthrow and I made a new friend who also loves China Mieville (the wonderful Brittany – who also writes awesome weird fiction!) so I guess I can forgive him for not coming north of the border to teach us!

And that brings us back to today, with me standing in front of my bookshelves trying to decide the impossible and suddenly remembering I had all of these China Mieville books left to read.

So I’m off to start reading one of the lovely, lovely books from the author I’m most in love with.

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens – review

 

The disability rep I needed as a teen.

I was so excited for Unbroken: 13 stories starring disabled teens. I’ll be honest it was partly for the amazingly pretty cover art. (Also the title is perfect)

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Anyway I pre-ordered this as soon as I could and was excited for it arriving, then it sat on my tbr pile for months, while life took over and I got distracted by other books.

The trouble I’m having, having been recently diagnosed with a chronic illness, is really being in the right headspace for reading reps and descriptions of people suffering with chronic illnesses/diseases. I get to a stage where I want my reading to be pure escapism and this means reading anything but characters facing similar struggles as I am with my health.

But, eventually, I decided to give it a go – I could always stop and pick it up later, right?

I don’t read many anthologies, and I know they are quite hard to review. Do I give an overall rating? Or a rating based on each individual story?

I will admit that at least part of my rating comes from the fact that there are so few physically disabled YA reps out there (if you have suggestions, please go ahead) especially in sci-fi or fantasy settings – I’ve yet to come across a YA dystopia which successfully deals with proper disability rep. So I want, in part, this book to do well simply because it needs to exist. YA audiences need to see themselves in books – they need to be encouraged that life is possible, even with the odds stacked against you. And not every reader is able-bodied or neurotypical or “normal” by whatever cultural standard is the predominant factor in society. I wish I had a book like this when I was a teenager, I wish I had books like this when I was even younger – when we would play playground games that more often than not would devolve into me chasing my “friends” despite (or maybe because) my physical disability. But I digress, the important thing now is, what I thought of the stories themselves.

I didn’t love all of them, I’ll admit it, I think a couple I didn’t really “get”. Perhaps not living with that particular condition or disability meant that the subtleties of those portrayals were lost on me. Since you can’t buy just the stories you adore in an anthology I don’t really see how rating each story individually will help but I will mention a couple that I really loved.

Britt and The Bike God by Kody Keplinger

This was a wonderful bit of romantic fluff for me. I could empathise with the struggles and emotions felt by Britt and felt genuinely happy (ok slightly goofy) with the ending. It was really nice to see a representation where all the internalised guilt and hatred was expressed but then dealt with in a happy way – sometimes we just need that one person to remind us of our good things and happiness.

Per Aspera Ad Astra by Katherine Locke

I loved this story. It really made me feel like the author really understood how it feels to live with anxiety – that it’s not just worrying a bit. I really enjoyed the fact that Lizzie anxiety wasn’t built up at the start then just simply forgotten during the main drama of the action. She manages to function, to do what she needs to do in order to save the day but the anxiety is still with her – she’s not cured just because she made it past her front door. I wish I could read a full book about Lizzie to be honest, as this representation felt really true and powerful, and Lizzie as a protagonist felt compelling.

The Day The Dragon Came by Marieke Nijkamp

This story was just utter perfection. I fell in love with Alix by the end of the first page – the depiction of her dealing with chronic pain was so well crafted and captivating, her relationship with Delfin was so in-depth even in just 25 pages. Again this is a story I would love more of, it feels like there is so much more to tell about Alix and Delfin. (On a side note I now desperately want a dragon handle for my cane)

Honorary mentions also go to A Play in Many Parts (Fox Benwell) Ballad of Weary Daughters (Kristine Wyllysand A Curse, A Kindness (Corinne Duyvis)

This as whole is such a powerful, accomplished and above all, important book. While I’ll still steal away into escapism with my reading, this anthology has shown me that I can read disability reps, even when I’m feeling down about my own life – and that sometimes they can even make me feel better.

Wednesday’s Child Is

 

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A little confused…

Anyone who knows me, or indeed reads this blog knows I love to sew. I wouldn’t have been running my own sewing business for the past 8 years if I didn’t.

I began sewing, first by hand then on a machine when I was about 7 or 8. My family has a history of seamstresses and haberdashers; so part of my inheritance has been an absolute tonne of fabric and findings – some pieces dating back to the start of the 20th Century at least. So it seemed kind of inevitable that my mum would teach me how to sew (I can also knit exciting things like scarves; but have never mastered crocheting). I even remember the first pair of trousers I tried to make for my doll – at that point I hadn’t figured out that trousers are more than just two tubes of fabric).

After flirting with the idea of fashion design in high school, it was an exhibition about the art of Star Wars in 2001 that solidified my plan to go learn costume design. Studying Theatre Costume Interpretation at college was amazing, both in terms of education and socialisation – my confidence with both sewing and friends grew by leaps and bounds.

In my third year of university I started thinking about what I could do afterwards: I needed a job, I needed to be an adult, and I needed a plan. So I decided to set up shop on Etsy, doing then what I did best: sewing.

So 8 years later, the business is still going and I’ve even managed to successfully graduate with a Masters in Creative Writing – focusing on another area of creativity I’ve loved for most of my life: writing.

But, as usually happens, my life has taken an unexpected turn: in early 2018 I was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.

Cue a year worth of Hospital Fun Times™

Multiple Sclerosis is generally an invisible disease, with most of the worst symptoms hidden from view.

For me, apart from one big known relapse I think I’ve been doing ok (of course my various pre-existing conditions make for fun complications – mostly my cerebral palsy)

So, unless I try to go out without crutches or my stick I do look like I’m very drunk – my balance was already pretty bad but now it’s kind of completely shot; do too much in one day (that even means doing too much at home) and I’m exhausted for hours later, or into the next day and I’m constantly living on about a 6/7 on the NHS universal pain scale.

The pain is a huge issue right now, and after trying different doses and prescriptions of pain meds I’ve finally received a referral to a pain clinic, where I can go next month.

But, probably the biggest symptom – and the cause of my most obvious and recent relapse is altered sensations. Not only do I have a vague numbness and pins & needles down both calves and my feet (to add to the uselessness of my cerebral palsy right foot) I also have major altered sensations in my hands.

You know the feeling you get when you’ve fallen asleep on your hand and it’s not quite woken up and started working again yet?

Well that’s what I face all the time. At first, it was only in my right hand – I thought maybe it was carpel tunnel syndrome or something similar (ok, this was in my non-dominant hand but never mind.)  But as it started spreading into my left hand and I got a letter from my neurologist regarding things found on a recent MRI I knew things weren’t quite right.

A quick side note

I do have a family history of MS, so when I got the letter mentioning inflammation on my MRI I had some inkling of what she was going to tell me. But let me make this clear: MS is NOT a genetic disease. You can be the only person in your family to have it, or one in a long line. This adds to the problems specialists and scientists have in understanding what causes MS and also one of the many reasons why there is no cure as yet.

Now comes a fun list

So back to my hands: not only do they feel numb and irritated all the time they also refuse to do what they’re told a lot of the time. This causes a number of problems:

  • I can no longer properly identify or judge fabrics by my fingertips; which makes shopping for orders and costumes quite difficult.
  • My ability to do fine needlework is reduced – I no longer have the delicacy or dexterity I once had. This makes hand sewing or (tragically*) hand beading enormously difficult.
  • My hands take longer to start working – and recover afterwards. I can decide to get up and dressed to start work at 9. I can decide to work late on an order. I can decide on a lot of things but my hands often have other ideas.
    • If you think again about falling asleep on your hands; whereas normally you should be back up and raring to go within 5 minutes (10 minutes at the very most) it can take a lot longer for my hands to start working the way I want and need them to; think upwards of half an hour.
    • Muscular fatigue means that once my hands are cramping and tired I have to stop and wait for hours – if not until the next day – until my hands are actually useful again.

All of these problems also have an impact on my writing – I now can’t hand write anything much. (This was hard to accept since I used to be able to write screeds and screeds of pages.) But, whereas I can start using voice to text software to write on my computer I can’t really do that with sewing, can I?

Other symptoms, not directly caused by the MS but definitely worse since my diagnosis are depression and anxiety. Both of which can add to feelings or fatigue or exhaustion.

What does this have to with my sewing?

I have had a hard time coming to terms with my diagnosis, and while I can pretty much get on with things; there are days that I can barely drag myself out of bed – when my pain is too much, when I’m too anxious or just too damn exhausted – not just fatigue but the exhaustion that just comes with existence.)

I want to be able to ignore everything; to go back to the person I was – I spent so much of my life defining myself by first sewing then writing so now that both are affected, how do I define myself?

First steps in a new direction

But, now I am starting (happily) to accept things, which has led to a decision: I’m going to stop sewing as much.

I’m not stopping for good. I can’t see a future where I don’t sew anything but I am going to slow down. So that means come June 2nd 2019 (I figured a good time to change things is my Etsy anniversary.) you’ll see a change to my Etsy shop and website. The larger costumes are going; along with some of the more complicated accessories.

But more literary inspired accessories are coming; more historical accessories and brand new wedding accessories are going to be introduced.

So I’m not stopping, just, adapting. I’m starting to start focusing more on my writing in general so it makes sense that my Etsy shop is going to head in that direction too. Think more Jane Austen cushions, Jane Eyre and Romantics inspired tote bags and even steampunk wedding items.

Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week

This week April 22nd -28th is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week. So it seemed quite appropriate to announce this change this week. There is loads of really good info on both the MS Society website and the MS Trust – it’s worth reading up. It is in general a really hard disease to diagnose, so both websites have great resources for anyone going through the investigation or diagnosis process. Also, because it’s an invisible illness, you never know who might be dealing with it, so being aware of various symptoms and the fun trials and tribulations of living with the disease is, under everything else just really helpful in boosting your empathy and levels of understanding. It’s true, don’t judge a book by it’s cover because you never know what‘s going on behind the scenes.

Resources and other helpful things:

NHS 24

MS Trust

MS Society

A more helpful pain scale over at Hyperbole & A Half

And if you don’t have anyone to talk to and you just need a friendly ear:

The Samaritans are always there.

*I’ve loved beading details for years, from complicated pleated decoration for my 18th century silk ball gown right down to a simple flower for a 19th century reticule. I find it so difficult to accept this.

Cull by Tanvir Bush – review

In which I mistake satire for dystopian reality.

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So I loved Cull by Tanvir Bush. I got this book on kindle through the Unbound Reading Club (it’s a very cool idea from an indie crowd-funded publisher – go click the link!!) and was intrigued as soon as I read the blurb.

A sharp and outrageous satire about the deadly dark side of discrimination.  Alex has a problem. Categorized as one of the disabled, dole-scrounging underclass, she is finding it hard to make ends meet. When in her part-time placement at the local newspaper she stumbles onto a troubling link between the disappearance of several homeless people, the government’s new Care and Protect Act, and the Grassybanks Residential Home for the disabled, elderly and vulnerable, she knows she has to investigate further… but at what cost to herself and her guide dog Chris?

 

Ok, so I may have skipped over the first line – it wasn’t until after finishing it, and reading other reviews that I realised this was satirical but since I loved the book anyway, does that really matter?

My first thought when I started reading was that this was a dystopia, a contemporary – or very near future one. Now dystopias are one of my current favourite genres so I thought, a dystopia set in the UK with actual proper disability rep? Yes, please.

So I kept reading. I know some people have been put off slightly by the fact that a few chapters are written from Chris, Alex’s guide dog’s perspective but I actually loved it. It gave a different, lighter perspective on the horrifically serious topic Bush was actually writing about.

It also helped to build Alex’s character for me – she was overall quite isolated (self-imposed or otherwise) but she was able to create and maintain a happy, healthy relationship with someone else.

The worst thing about reading this book (and not realising it was satire) was that it felt far, far too real. For me, this was a dystopia that, given another few years of austerity and Tory government could be true – non-fiction instead of fiction as they say. Bush even has a government minister in the mould of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the despicable John Thorpe-Sinclair.

I loved the small acts of rebellion throughout the book like Mrs Honey’s way of dealing with her daughter’s loss of Carers’ Allowance and The Ladies Defective Agency.

I also really loved that this was a proper disability rep. There were happy endings for some but, there was never the suggestion of the “cured” trope which can be so easy for people to fall into by choice and by ignorance. Again it wasn’t until finishing and reading some bio things about Tanvir Bush that I found out it was also an #ownvoices rep as well so that was cool – and makes it kind of obvious as to why there wasn’t the “cured” trope in the book. And overall, despite happiness, or contentment for some – there is a clear ending showing that nothing in the novel actually made a difference, the tiny acts of rebellion and personal victories aside, the world kept going in the same way it was before the start of the action.

The book is horribly sad, because of how desolate it made me feel mostly because of the aforementioned realness; but I also laughed, and more often than not rolled my eyes at the actions of the government and other ableist characters.

I’m really glad I found this book; it’s a very well done depiction (ok satirical depiction) of some of the worst aspects of life in Britain today. But it was also quirky and creative in ways too.

 

The Boy Who Steals Houses – Review

So I’m trying something a bit different with this blog just now, let’s start with a book review!

The Boy Who Steals Houses

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I absolutely adored Cait’s first novel, A Thousand Perfect Notes so when I found out this was coming out, it went straight onto my pre-order list.

I think it would be grossly underestimating the little book by describing it simply as a contemporary YA romance.

Before we continue I just have to say how much I love Cait’s writing style, it’s so lyrical and poetic like:

‘We are the kings of nowhere,’ Sammy says. ‘We only need us.’

Or

‘Then he walks while slivers of hope fall out of his pockets and splinter on the ground’

Somehow her words are magical but can also gut-punch you so hard you’re sobbing.

Full disclosure: I had to stop reading at one point because I was crying so much my glasses fogged. So yea I adored this book even though it made me cry.

I’m really into reading about sibling relationships right now, possibly because it’s a major theme in my own writing but I think Cait has surpassed herself this time.

I really liked how she managed to balance a very understanding and respectful portrayal of autism with the reality of having a sibling – of growing up knowing they are different* but being willing to fight for them because they’re your sibling and that’s what you do. I read somewhere that this is an #ownvoices rep for autism and anxiety and I can get that.

Sam is in one word, adorable. While I did fall in love with him for his unwavering support and care (and fear for) his brother I also could identify with him through his need of finding safety – of finding a home that fits him – and he fits into perfectly.

I think the danger would be that the story would focus too heavily on Avery, and Sam’s love and care for him – this is an #ownvoices story about autism but it’s made clear that it’s not only about autism. It also deals so well with the post traumatic effects of growing up in both a physically and emotionally abusive household for Sam. Is it a nervous tic that makes him steal houses – or the keys at least – or is it his way of coping with his isolated and troublesome world?

Of course, there are romantic elements – Sam falls for Moxie. In a way that only a scared, abandoned boy can – by falling in love with her family first. But romance aside (because really, would the book fail if it didn’t have the romantic relationship between Sam and Moxie? I don’t think so) this is a book about falling in love with safety; with a chance for a family – however patchwork and broken it might be.

You see, I could probably keep going on but there are only so many ways I can say that I adored this book. While both are standalone this and A Thousand Perfect Notes fit each other perfectly – from having a male POV to dealing with various forms of love, abuse, anger and hope. I can’t wait to read more of Cait’s stuff!

 

 

 

 

*while I am not neurodiverse myself, I have grown up with a sibling and dealing with the effects of disability between us and sibling rivalry. It’s a hard balance and I think Cait does it wonderfully.

Reader, I married him.

Re-reading Jane Eyre, 7 years apart.

#focusbookclub

A few weeks ago I saw on facebook that Focus Feature were doing Jane Eyre for their #focusbookclub. I love Jane Eyre, especially the Focus Feature Cary Fukunaga version from 2011. For me, Michael Fassbender is the definitive Rochester. A few years ago I even wrote a lengthy blog post about the costumes and cinematography of the film. So when this popped up on my newsfeed and I started to actually think about it I realised, as much as I claim to love Jane Eyre I hadn’t actually read the book itself in sometime.

So I did what any other normal book dragon would do and I decided to re-read the book then write a new blog post – this time about the book itself; not just the costumes (however pretty they are.)

First, some time-travel.

I first read Jane Eyre in 2012. I’d not long moved to Glasgow, moved into a flat with my boyfriend – and had only started on Etsy about a year before.  It was, overall a very hopeful and happy time for me.

The reason I read the novel is because of the film. I was becoming (more) obsessed with period costume, in particular 1840s/50 stuff and there is, sadly, a limit on how many times you can reasonably watch Richard Armitage as John Thornton in North & South ( I have a thing for guys in period waistcoats, okay?)

So I found Jane Eyre, strangely the first copy by boyfriend got me was in Italian and while I’m fine with subtitles I wasn’t really looking for a foreign language film right then. But Edward Rochester became a very fine replacement for John Thornton (ok not permanently – I still watch both, a lot).

But wandering about in town one day, thinking I must really buy myself a book (this was quite a while before my current book-buying mania) and lo, I went into The Works and found myself a nice hardback copy of Jane Eyre.

Remembering with delight

So it wasn’t really until halfway through the book – when Jane finds out about Bertha Rochester that I realised I’d read this book before. Of course, I hadn’t but as it turned out I’d read – and loved – a modern retelling of it, set in my beloved Edinburgh if you can believe it. Lazy Ways To Make A Living came into my life at a very different time to Jane Eyre but at a time I desperately needed the comfort of an albeit fictional counterpart and friend.  (I bought it in a charity bookshop in 2007; there wasn’t a lot of backstory to it, ok?)

So despite having to stop reading at awkward time (say, on a train home when I was about to start crying at Helen dying) I finished the book in a matter of days – all with a newer energy, knowing that I loved the retelling, why not the original?

Let’s come back to the future*

7 years later, I still watch Jane Eyre on repeat (which reminds me I really need to do a rereading and rewatching of North & South) I know the story so well now that I can always spot when something is a retelling of it, or takes inspiration (so the mad woman in the attic is now a bone fide trope in literature, right?) I know the story so well that despite everything I still fall madly in love with Rochester every time I watch it.

But I haven’t re-read it since that first time. (Although I read Lazy Ways To Make a Living multiple times) So what’s different with my life now?

First I’m no longer in a relationship (as it turns out, no matter how much period costume I forced him into he did not, in fact turn out to be my Edward Rochester – or John Thornton, sadly)

I tried living on my own in Edinburgh for a while but it wasn’t to be (do you know how expensive Edinburgh rents are now? Especially living on your own? Its madness) so I’m back with my parents for now – the question of how long for is one that I refuse to answer (I’m not a proper grown-up yet okay?)

I’m still running my baby Etsy shop, it has not brought me the fortune it should have but it’s still there.

I have a Masters now. Completed in 2017 I now have an MA in Creative Writing and am still struggling to finish my first novel (of course I’m not writing blog posts instead of finishing the chapters that would be crazy.)

But the biggest thing I guess is that I was diagnosed with MS early last year. To say that 2018 for the most part of was a bit of a clusterf*ck is an understatement.

So, now early 2019 I am single, living with my parents at my childhood home again and having a hard time adjusting to the “new normal” of having this disease and what it means for me – both for my personal life and my professional life. (As it turns out, one of the more noticeable effects of the MS is constant numbness and pins and needles in my hands, making sewing a struggle and hand writing anything kind of a no-go area.)

What has this got to do with Jane Eyre?

Well amidst feeling all sorry for myself Jane stepped in, with her unwavering belief in herself and honestly, that’s kind of what I need right now.

I found I’m still utterly in love with Rochester. Yes, he’s abusive, dishonest and quite frankly a beast at times but I have a thing for brooding Byronic heroes.

I still read the book paying close attention to the descriptions of clothing – as if sometime soon I might actually get a chance to make them (I won’t).

But most of all I re-read this book with a better understanding and respect for Jane herself.  She carved out some kind of home out of the turmoil of Lowood. This shows that she had the perseverance to make things work even if it wasn’t ideal (in this example downright appalling). Then when she had grown from this and needed greater adventure she pushes herself – advertises herself – in order to find that adventure which she craves. Then, although deliriously happy and settled at Thornfield she respects herself too much to continue somewhere that will ultimately bring her pain and suffering.

I need to remember this. To remember that I belong to myself and no one else. Yes, I am facing some struggles and obstacles (some which, regardless of how much I push will always be there) but I can make the life that I want. I can carve out my identity and need for adventure myself.

And yes, this book is ultimately a romance and while I am single just now I know from reading Jane Eyre that happiness can still be found – by yourself or with someone else. Jane didn’t return to Rochester until she was ready to; until she was certain, in herself that it was the right thing to do, and the right way for her to be happy.

So this is a gothic novel, a feminist tome. It’s heart breaking and gut-wrenching (watching Helen Burns slowly disappear before Jane’s eyes is truly horrible) but it’s hopeful and happy (at times) and most of all peaceful – Jane finishes the novel at peace with herself.

And really, if I’m going to accept my “new normal” I think I need to find some peace with myself too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*sorry (not sorry) it’s my only time-travel joke/reference, honest.