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!

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!

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

october overview

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.

Do You Remember The Book That Changed Your Life?

I have a noticeboard next to my desk. It holds favourite quotes and cards from favourite authors and events. One particular card that I picked up at the Edinburgh International Book Festival years ago poses this very question.

Books and reading have been part of my life for longer than I can remember; it always fills me with a strange sort of happiness to know that my mum and dad read to be even when I was still in the womb. So it’s no real surprise that today I spend my life writing whenever I can (well whenever my writer’s block allows me to) and reading everything I can.

Yes, I’ve had times where I’ve read less, and read more. I remember being very proud that despite my inbuilt clumsiness I mastered the skill of walking through the school corridors during break with my nose shoved in a book.

But I like to be reminded of this question. It has always been incredibly difficult to answer, however. How can I narrow down to just one book? So how about we change it just slightly. Instead of just one book let’s ask the question:

Do you remember the books that changed your life?

Let’s start at the beginning. I could name so many books I read and loved before I turned 12. From any of Roald Dahl’s books to The Worst Witch series I remember how much I loved going to library sales in Edinburgh or spending hours treating book shops as libraries.

Harry Potter hit the shelves in 1997. Suddenly reading was cool.

I’d be lying if I tried to do this list without mentioning Harry Potter. For many people my age Harry Potter was a series that grew with us; that took us from childhood through our teens. The books ended in 2007, when I was 17 and had made the decision to leave school early. (Note the end of Harry Potter and the end of my school career were not in fact related.)

Of course there were amazing fantasy books out there for kids before this. Of course, kids my age loved reading before J.K. Rowling hit the shelves. But suddenly reading was everywhere – we swapped stickers based on the books, we discussed which school houses we’d be sorted into and we found dressing up cool for pre-teens.

But we also now had characters we loved and stories we cared about – more than 11 year old me could explain.

Until the fourth book, we had a new Harry adventure every year. Meaning when he was struggling with balancing the increased importance of school work and the increased importance of a social life as a preteen; so were we.

I’m not going to say Harry Potter didn’t change my life. Maybe at times I admit it begrudgingly but I always admit it. I made new incredibly important friends through our shared love of this book. I had such an amazingly successful first year on Etsy, thanks to starting my business by selling HP inspired costumes for the release of the final film in 2011.

But Harry Potter was only the start.

It may have reignited a love a reading in me – and helped to increase my love of dressing up and the theatrical. But I grew older, and my tastes changed.

I found new books and new worlds to inhabit. By the time I was 15; just reading things wasn’t enough. I wanted to change the world by telling me own stories too.

As much as I was always reading; I was also always writing. But it wasn’t until my 15th year, and my first summer out of Europe that I finally realised that writing as a career could be a valid option.

We spent a month in the summer of 2003 with family in America and I found the author Meg Cabot (then sometimes writing as Jenny Carroll). I absolutely fell in love with the protagonist Suze Simon and The Mediator series.

I bought and read the first four books of this series in the 4 weeks we spent in Philadelphia. And now even 16 years they’re still one of my go-to comfort reads. I have now re-read them so much that the original books are falling apart. I’ve bought the e-book versions, the audiobook versions and even invested in new paperback copies of the entire series so that my beloved, dog-eared originals can be kept ‘for good’ well, for display purposes anyway.

There is a reason that one of my tattoos is a key with the roman numerals nine on it. The Ninth Key is the second book in the series but it also serves as a reminder and memorial of what writing can do. What I can do as a writer. What I could do and what I will do.

I’ll let you into a little secret.

I’ve been working on my first novel since I was 17. It was all thanks to Meg Cabot and Suze Simon. I remember sitting in Higher English, I think it was a revision day; or maybe just a self-directed study class but I suddenly had the idea for a novel which has stayed with me until this very day. Some would say that 14 years is too long to work on the same project but it sat in paper format, then on my computer in digital format for so many years, untouched but never unloved. Then as my reading matured, and my understanding of how to write grew this baby novel flourished and changed.

While at college in my late teens I was praised for my writing and in-depth research projects. Then in university in my 20s I grew to love documentary films and screenwriting. I read (obviously) and read more books on how to write. I started researching; then changing my mind and researching again.

When I left college in 2007, and went to live in Edinburgh by myself for the first time (well the first time without my parents) reading became something of a solace. For the first time I was working for a living – in a terrible job that still barely covered my food costs. I spent a lot of my free time both reading or hunting libraries and second-hand book shops. And so my next all-time favourite book was found for just 25p in a random charity shop of Morningside.

Lazy Ways To Make A Living

By Abigail Bosanko, pulled me out of my isolation and funk. For the first time I really understood just how powerful books could be depending on when they found you. It wasn’t until years later, when I finally read Jane Eyre that I realised that aside from being the protagonist, Rose’s favourite book it acted as inspiration for Bosanko. Lazy Ways To Make A Living was in fact a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, building on the amazing foundation of feminist literature of the Brontës; Austen and Shelley. It didn’t perhaps change how I felt about books but it encouraged me to keep reading, to keep writing and to keep believing in the power of the written word.

But Ninth Key wasn’t my first book tattoo

That honour went to one inspired by the wonderful Vampire Academy books by Richelle Mead. Again this book found me at a specific time in my life, and made that time easier to bear. The main character, Rose was strong but frustrated. She was conflicted and determined. I saw in her what I could be; how I could be – if I just believed in myself again. In Mead’s vampire universe the half mortal guardian of the pure-blood vampires would make a promise, to their charges and to themselves: to keep fighting; to keep protecting; to keep going.

In addition to this promise; which was shown to the world in the form of a neck tattoo; each defeat of an enemy was celebrated with another tattoo.

So finally on my 27th birthday I got my first tattoo: A promise mark and two molnija marks (to celebrate victories) the mark was a promise to myself that I would always keep fighting. Each molnija mark represented an enemy that I would keep fighting: my mental health battles and my physical health battles.

Time to become a ‘Writer’

So it was 2015 after 27 years of reading and writing I finally got the courage to publish my own work. For the first time it was my words online. It wasn’t the fanfiction rambling I’d posted on livejournal. It wasn’t simply book reviews. It was something that came out of my head – all by itself. Something that meant something real to me. She and Him: Valedictory was released onto the world. It was also that year that I found my MA. The MA that sent me on the path I’m on today: a Masters in Creative Writing at Edinburgh’s Napier University.  I learned so much on this course and found so many awesome friends. And started, with a zeal and passion often considered by others to be geekish on what will now hopefully be my first completed (and hopefully) published novel.

While my first novel is still somewhere half-written on my computer (and still much loved) it is this current project I hope will lead to me becoming a ‘professional successful writer’ someday (whatever that means.)

There are so many books that I read during the one year course that changed how I viewed things; so many conversations I had that changed how I viewed beloved books and authors. Even ones that led to my third and most recent book inspired tattoo. (The amazing Flawed by Cecelia Ahern)

Do you remember the book that changed your life?

I can’t say I remember every single book I’ve ever read. But I do remember the ones that changed me, forced me to question things and moulded me into the person I am today. My answer to this question then I guess is: no but I do remember that books – all books and reading; just reading as much as I can have and will continue to change me for the better.

So here’s to another 31 years of books that will change my life.

Happy Birthday Wednesday’s Child

Well hello stranger! Fancy seeing you here!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted anything here, mostly due to various illnesses that worked their way round our family until it felt like we were living in some kind of plague house.

But I’m now feeling much better and ready to get things back on track also today Wednesday’s Child is 5 years old so birthday celebrations have been the order of the day!

5 years ago today I received my first order (sadly Etsy hadn’t made the phone app at the point so I wasn’t woken by the lovely cha-ching noise that’s so fun to hear these days.) I had handed in my undergraduate dissertation a few days before and listed my first items at the end of May.

It was 2011 and the final Harry Potter film was going to be released that July so naturally being the geek that I am my first products were Harry Potter ties and robes. That summer between June and December that year I sold 34 ties and many other Hogwarts House Pennants and even a few kids Harry potter robes and baby mobiles.

Between then and now I shifted my focus onto solely historically accurate costumes, lost pretty much all pop culture references and got so into Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë I’ve got two whole literary inspired sections in my shop!

The past 5 years have been incredible, both personally and professionally. I’ve had costumes travel as far as Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, to museums in Wales and even to a Yorkshire historical dance troupe! I’ve lived in Canada with my best friends, moved house (and studio) 3 times and even been featured twice in the Jane Austen Centre’s official magazine Jane Austen’s Regency World.

In the last year I’ve become involved with a wonderful voluntary educational re-enactment group based at Lauriston Castle in Edinburgh, (the brilliant Edinburgh Living History – more on them soon!) and really, 2016 looks to be shaping up to be my best year yet!

Along with my annual birthday sale in July I decided to celebrate my little baby business turning 5 in style today. This meant a very special trip to the tattoo studio and of course yummy birthday cake (complete with candles!)

I chose, in honour of my 5 year anniversary to get my damask logo tattooed on my wrist. I designed the damask myself in Adobe Illustrator and it’s not just a connection to my business but to my world life of sewing and creativity.

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This month’s edition of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine arrived today featuring my new shiny news article which was a nice birthday surprise!

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Then on my way home I decided to splurge on some celebration chocolate in the form of a very childish caterpillar birthday cake, I even bought purple, silver and gold candles to blow out!

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(Sadly the broken eyes made the caterpillar look very sad 😦 )
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The mammy and daddy even tried to sing happy birthday, which did feel a bit ridiculous 😀

But all in all this birthday has been very fun, and tomorrow I get to wake up, have some leftover cake for breakfast and head back into the studio and get back to work making some fun 18th century costumes for the aforementioned Edinburgh Living History.

Good Mood Mondays should be back next week along with some Charlotte Brontë themed goodies but until then,

See you in the future! ♥