My Life In Books

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I don’t know what’s in the air today – or floating around the Twittersphere – but it seems to be a day for celebrating female writers. Hurray!

Its all down to the brilliant people over at Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction. Not content with inventing the most amazingly tasty liqueur (Caramel Baileys, anyone?) and coming up with a prize that celebrates some seriously amazing women’s writing throughout the world, they are now the brain-child behind #This Book. A trend currently doing the rounds of social media, the idea is “to shine a spotlight on books written by women…that [have] had the most impact on you.”

It seems to be the season for talking about women writers who’ve penned books that have impacted, shaped or changed our lives. I am currently in the process of scribbling some words down about books I’m loving at the moment and are written by female authors for For Books’ Sake – another brilliant website getting its love out for all things lady writerly.

So all this has got me thinking about my life and how certain books have made me think, feel, and act over the years. From childhood classics to contemporary page-turners, I’m going to try and pin point the ten books that have had a huge impact on the person I have become (so, yeah, blame the books and not the gin, K?).

1. The Faraway Tree – Enid Blyton.I became mildly obsessed with this book as a child. There are several snaps of me clutching a dog-eared copy – at the dinner table or sprawled on a sun-lounger on holiday – and I think I must have read it a thousand times. Aged eight or nine I was dragged out of bed on a Sunday morning to attend my brother’s football matches and, along with my friend, we’d abscond to a climbing frame in some near by park which served as our very own faraway tree. We’d recreate lands filled with Moon-face, Silky fairy and Dame Washalot (and laugh at the names of some of the characters like Fanny and Dick). This is where I learned to let my imagination run wild and drown out the noise of the world (aka. my mum’s loud and embarrassing cheering from the side-lines).

2. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott. I wanted to be Jo. For me, Josephine March may just be one of the best literary characters. She is strong willed and fearless and an incredibly fantastic story teller. She hot-foots it to New York and becomes a published writer, and has a romance with an older German professor. She is a feminist with her unconventional behaviour and refusal to accept gender stereotypes, and I love that she won’t marry the first fella that comes along (however much I may have loved Laurie!) When Beth dies it broke my heart and continues to break my heart every time I read it. I’m totally with Joey when he puts the book in the freezer in Friends. Beth dying is the most harrowing moment in fiction!

3. The Harry Potter Series – J K Rowling. I don’t know when I decided I wanted to be a writer but it was somewhere between Little Women and the middle of Harry Potter (and all the library books borrowed in-between) I – along with most of the world- fell in love with the magical life and wonderful characters J K Rowling created, and am eternally grateful that she sat in that café and persevered for so long (Yes, I have been to The Elephant Café in Edinburgh like a proper Fan Girl). There’s something about those novels that made me want to be a writer. And who doesn’t love Hermione, Ron and Harry? I grew up with these books, carrying them through my teens and into my adult years. We used to have a brilliant PE teacher who would read us extracts from the novels and let us name our netball teams after the houses – I always wanted to be in Hufflepuff. Its such a strong word! I turned every page with anticipation. I cried and laughed and cried again. These books made me want to be part of that special world – the special author world that seemed to be so full of magic and possibilities. I’ve just started reading them to my niece and nephew when they visit. Isn’t it a wonderful feeling getting to pass something you love on to the next generation? I suppose this is how my mum must have felt when she sang Lisa Stansfield songs in the car and tried to make us learn the words. Sort of.

4. Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte. I studied this novel for AS Level and it was such a turning point for me. I’d always loved reading and had enjoyed school but the essay I turned in on Wuthering Heights was my first English A grade – and marked the start of a time I really began trying to get good grades – and it was one of many to follow. I just fell in love instantly from the first line, “I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour I shall be troubled with,” to the very end, “I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” Like every girl who has ever read this book, I fell madly in love with the exotic and brooding Heathcliff, and envied the free-spirited Cathy for getting to smooch him! This novel also spawned a pretty amazing song.

5. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte. Another Gothic love story to set my teenage heart a flame. I love Jane. She’s brilliant. In your face Blanche Ingram, the Jane’s of this world are better. Plus it gave us Mr Rochester. O.M.G. He was the love of my teenage years. I also liked that, once Jane found out about Bertha, she chose not to go with Mr Rochester to the South of France to live in glorious sin with him (she’s a stronger woman than me, I’d have been on that boat quicker that you can say ‘ahoy!’) and sticks to her guns. They get together eventually, and the novel ends as all good love stories should. Although I always felt angry about the representation of Bertha, and wondered what had happened to her before she became the crazy-ex.

“I would always rather be happy than dignified.” – Jane Eyre

Which brings me to my next choice:

6. Wild Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys.Everything about this novel is beautiful, from the colours to the language. Rhys reimagines Bronte’s madwoman in the attic and gives her a story. Caught up in an oppressive patriarchal society where a cruel, cool husband can deem his wife mentally unstable, Rhys creates a beautifully displaced character and gives Antoinette a life. This was also the first novel I read that was really about somewhere “other,” somewhere exotic. It also heavily influenced my undergraduate dissertation which was about displaced women and mental illness. It also fuelled a love of reading about exotic, beautiful places.

7. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath.I don’t love this novel. I like it and I certainly think it influenced me because I often come back to it. I read it over and over and over, and have got different things from it at different times in my life. Its wonderfully poetic and thoughtful.  Its a novel that has always stayed with me but I am not sure why.

8. The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger. I read this book from cover to cover in a matter of days. I then read it again. Then I gave it to a friend who did the same thing and loved it just as much as I did. It was just something wonderful. There is this beautiful, beautiful love story that transcends time and place, and is both incredibly heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. I went to see Niffenegger read from her next novel, Her Fearful Symmetry (which is equally as wonderful and the creator of my obsession with Highgate Cemetery) and she was everything I hoped she would be – fiercely intelligent, artistic and funny. Plus she gave us Henry. One of my favourite literary crushes ever (and thanks to the film, forever immortalised as a half-naked Eric Banner in my noggin).

“We laugh and laugh, and nothing can ever be sad, no one can be lost, or dead, or far away: right now we are here, and nothing can mar our perfection, or steal the joy of this perfect moment.” – The Time Traveller’s Wife

9. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy I read this book as part of my undergraduate course – a module called Modern Gothic. I didn’t love it instantly. In fact I read half of it and just couldn’t continue. It was a slog and I felt displaced and unsure the whole time I was reading it. Then, years later, when I was out of books and needed something to pass the time on the hellish 197 bus journey into Manchester, I picked it back up and read it again. This time I read the whole thing, and loved it. I loved it so much that I reread it. Twice more. Its so vivid and beautiful and horrific and messed up. Its everything a great novel should be. There’s this idea of “love laws” in the novel, and who should be loved by who, and how much and its impact on the people who have to live under these rules is rife in the novel. Its about all the small things that influence our lives and lead us to the path we decide to take. Plus, its her only novel to date which makes it even more special in my opinion.

10. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is quite possibly my favourite novel in the world. It was recommended to me by a friend and my copy is very special to me as it has a note from her in the front which is all about our friendship. The physical book means as much to me as the actual story. I can’t even talk about the story because its so perfect and wonderful. Just promise me you’ll read it?! (I may talk about this soon, elsewhere watch this space).

And because I can’t choose only ten – I am a greedy book fiend – here are two more books I NEED on my list.

  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher. This book made me want to write YA fiction. It was THE BOOK which made me think, ‘wow, this genre is powerful.’ Everyone was talking about it. It crossed over the line from young adult to adult readership with ease. In a time post-911 in the USA and the 7/7 bombings in the UK, when the world was terrified and fraught and people were afraid of everyone else, this novel showed us a version of that world through a child’s eyes who couldn’t understand – and didn’t care – about issues surrounding religion and race, nor understand the fear, but fell in love with a beautiful girl who became his friend. It was so positive. It is incredibly uplifting and powerful, and hats of to Annabel Pitcher for tackling such a brave subject and creating such a wonderful character in Jamie. It makes me want to write a book as commanding as this. The ending is just the best.
  • Paper Aeroplanes – Dawn O’Porter. I’ve always been a fan of O’Porter, right back to her pre-O days when she was writing articles and producing documentaries about internet dating and our size zero culture. She’s always made me laugh, said what I was thinking and I generally agree with most of her comments. Then came Paper Aeroplanes and I fell hook line and sinker for O’Porter’s writing style. Its candid and hilarious and just like reading a teenage diary. I love the characters of Renee and Flo, and there is something magical about following a female friendship as it blossoms. There are so many novels out there about first love – particularly in teen novels – but what I really like about Paper Aeroplanes is the suggestion that real first love is actually between female friends. Whenever I read this book – and its sequel Goose – it reminds me of being that young, meeting your best friend and it being the most important and significant relationship of that time. I think about the person I met when I was a teenager and how she is still a great friend of mine all these years later. For me, not enough YA author’s write about female friendship, or friendship in particular.

Well, there we have it. My life in books. Well, by female writers anyway. There are many more writers that I love and who’s novels have influenced my life (Margaret Atwood, Anne Enright, Maggie O’Farrell, Jenny Downham).

If you could pick ten (or twelve in my case because I am greedy) books by female authors that have changed your life, what would they be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: What’s the Trouble?

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Hannah’s smart and funny … she’s also fifteen and pregnant. Aaron is new at school and doesn’t want to attract attention. So why does he offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby?

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this book if I am completely honest. I’d been looking forward to it ever since it was announced and I’d heard that Non Pratt is a pretty amazing YA writer. I’d just spent a few weeks gorging on The Hunger Games and – although I am a huge fan of the trilogy – I wanted something a bit more contemporary, something grounded in the here and now, and preferably something from the UK.

But as is the way when we look forward to something, there’s a danger that things might not live up to our expectations. The whole teenage pregnancy narrative is not new in Young Adult fiction, and can be done in an annoyingly stereotypical manner (I always think of that Mean Girls quote here: ‘Don’t have sex or you will get Chlamydia. And die.’ Lolz.) There are, however, lots of good novels out there about – and touching on – the subject, including the fantastic Red Ink by Julie Mayhew (which I loved, loved, loved), so I opened this book with pretty high standards.

I really needn’t have worried about being disappointed because Trouble is an absolutely fantastic debut novel.

What’s brilliant about Trouble is its lack of judgement. Teenage pregnancy is not right, its not wrong, it just is. Its something that happens. Its not overly controversial. Its hard and an obstacle in Hannah’s life, and that of her family, but its not depicted in a negative light. Nor is it glamourised. It is real.

Its written as a duel narrative between Hannah and Aaron. They share the story so we get to hear both sides, like a friend who is being told the story from each person in turn (or a particularly nosey friend rifling through someone’s diary!) and it provides a clear and well rounded picture of events.

The characters are fantastically believable and relatable. Hannah starts of as the stereotypical, brash teenager girl who, when she isn’t with boys, is thinking about boys. And sex with boys. Her attitude and behaviour are not shocking, rather its truthful, and I love that as the novel progresses, the ‘real’ Hannah comes to life on the page. She’s a firecracker but she’s more than she seems to be at first glance. Like everyone.

I wasn’t sure about the character of Aaron when I’d first heard about the premise of the novel. I couldn’t understand why a teenage boy would sacrifice himself and help Hannah in such a way. But the more Aaron’s story is revealed, the more it makes absolute, heart breaking sense why he would get involved with creating such a smoke screen.

The novel is about more than teen pregnancy which is where I think it really comes into its own. Its about second chances and meeting the people who help you get though challenging events in your life. I don’t want to go into too much detail regarding the plot and ruin it for all you bookworms, but this is where I think the true magic of the novel lies.

Growing up can be trouble, but that’s how you find out what really matters

– Trouble

Non is a master at creating brilliant characters, from the shallow, backstabbing Katy, to the gorgeous popular boy that can make any teenage girl do crazy things, and, my personal favourite, the wonderfully cantankerous old man that is Neville who is also not quite who he appears to be.

The plot is really great and well paced, revealing just enough at a time to keep me hooked. Non has a fantastic teenage voice that captures both the laugh-out-loud and horrific moments that come with navigating teenage years.

It’s also a wonderful example of UKYA fiction with its fantastically contemporary feel and use of language.

I was incredibly invested in Hannah and Aaron’s story and was a little sad when it was all over.

There is no trouble with Trouble, that’s the answer.

 

 

 

Writing: What’s Death Got to Do With It? Is YA Fiction Too Morbid?

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For those who know me – and read my blog – saying that I love Young Adult fiction is probably a bit of an understatement.

I really LOVE YA Fiction.

I think its fantastic and brave and vibrant, and its going through a bit of a surge at the moment. I mean, there’s always been cross-over fiction (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games) but I know a whole host of adults who are consuming YA fiction like a box of Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers. You only have to take a look at Twitter to see the brilliant YA blogger community – made up of both teenagers and adults – who support and champion new YA writers with an excitement that is more catching than a cold.

I’ve got the bug. I am both a reader and an aspiring writer of YA fiction, and a huge supporter of authors who are knocking out some seriously good YA novels.

But why is it so popular with adults? According to John Green, the writer of the WONDERFUL The Fault in Our Stars, the reason he reads YA fiction is because of its “uniroinic emotional honesty.” In an article produced for Cosmopolitan magazine (here), Green says, “when you’re a teenager, you’re often doing so many important things for the first time — everything from falling in love to grappling with heartache and loss. You also begin to ask the big questions of humanness: What, if anything, is the meaning to all this? What are my responsibilities to myself and to others?”

I think that’s a great statement.

Its such a stereotypically teenager thing, isn’t it, the idea of having to make sense of the world.

But what I don’t think is discussed is how we never actually grow out of this. We’re continually searching for these answers throughout our adult lives and constantly learning about ourselves and the world around us in the process. No-one has it all “figured out” – and no-one gives us a How to Guide to Life on our eighteenth birthday – which is why I think we are drawn to stories about navigating love, life and death, and – despite our cynical nature – the overwhelming sense of hope that these stories and characters seem to provide us with.

But is all this a little too much for teenagers?

All this talk about death and dying and illness – all these terrible things that life throws at us. I mean, its hard enough having to deal with them as adult, right?

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Is YA Fiction too Heavy? 

Over the weekend I read an interesting article in The Guardian on this particular subject (for the article in full click here) and where they raised the question: Is Young Adult Fiction Becoming Too Dark?

Well. I suppose you only have to scan the shelves of the Teenage section to see that there are some pretty death-heavy topics being written about, from stories told through the eyes of a child with a terminal illness (Jenny Downham Before I Die, John Green The Fault in Our Stars), to children having to overcome the death of loved ones (upcoming novel The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss, The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling), and even suicide (Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky). I can see why some people – parents in particular – might be a little concerned.

In terms of my own writing, I have struggled with transitioning into YA writing. It didn’t happen straight away. I started writing fiction for adults and my first attempt at writing a novel (which will never see the light of day) was written while studying for my MA in Creative Writing, and was a ghost-story-type-affair aimed at an adult audience. It was only when I wrote a short story from the point of view of a young person (and when someone told me they like my writing style in this genre) that I decided to pursue YA and I’m so glad I did. I LOVE writing for young people and I LOVE reading YA novels but its difficult. I struggle with subject matter. I’m constantly second guessing a choice I’ve made – am I taking it too far? Is that too dark? Can I really swear that much? Is it OK to talk about sex? Drugs? Drinking? Abuse? Is it OK to talk about death?

But I think it is. And most importantly, I think its necessary that we continue to do so.

Think back to your teenage years. What were the issues that concerned you? Did you know someone who had died? Did you ever feel low? Did you wish you could have spoke to someone about the way you were feeling?

I certainly did.

And that’s what I think books are. Someone to get lost with. Someone to go on a journey with. Someone to cry and feel with, and live vicariously through. Those characters are just like us (even if they happen to live in some post-apocalyptic fantasy world) and in the end, when they find hope or love or peace, we find it with them.

In a way these novels about death and dying, and everything in between, are as far removed from being morbid as we can get. By definition, when someone or something is ‘morbid,’ the interest in subjects such as death and disease are characterised as unhealthy and abnormal, and I don’t thing this applies to YA fiction. The curiosity is natural and a part of growing up, which is what these novels are about and exactly what these characters are doing.

They are also extremely positive. They teach us not to be afraid in times of grief and show us ways to be strong and hopeful.

I think Sian Cain hit the nail on the head in her piece for The Guardian when she said:

“Despite what you may hear, young adults are adults too. Sometimes they die, sometimes they know people who die. To deny YA readers the chance of finding comfort in literature is only a comfort for those denying them, out of some misguided pomp of moral authority. Whether they are grieving or curious about death (or life), young adults can be reassured by the power of knowing that their innermost feelings can be mapped on to others; that despite whatever feelings they are feeling, it is not unimaginable that someone else (fictional or real) has felt it too. What a ghastly comfort for one to have.”

It ain’t pretty, but neither is life, and its so important that these novels exist.

I whole-heartedly support them and plan to keep writing what I think I should be writing – what feels right to me – but I may have to curb by enthusiasm for swearing.

Which books do you feel helped you through a tough time either as and adult or child?

Beer is NOT Food and other Advice for my Twenty Year Old Self

The fabulous writers over at Stylist Magazine (a magazine I have been reading obsessively for years now) have got me thinking. They’ve asked a load of readers to write in with some pearls of wisdom for their twenty year old self – you know, things they wish they’d known – or someone had told them – when they were standing on the precipice of adulthood. They were great. Both heartwarming and funny – these little snippets of information would have certainly come in handy as I embarked upon the hellish journey of navigating adulthood (You can read the article here).

Now, if anyone else is like me, and have managed to get themselves a teeny bit lost along the way, these words become even more poignant. My favourites have got to be:

“Wear more Sunscreen” – I regret that lobster-pink I turned in Ibiza and the horrifying bout of sunstroke I suffered in the South of France. I can now be found slavering on the factor 30, donning a sunhat and sipping margaritas in the shade.

“Believe in yourself and contribute more” I wish someone had told me this. I wasn’t quiet at university – not by a long shot – but I wasn’t very brave. I should have tried out for the university newspaper or gone for an internship.

“You’ve got more than enough time to be with someone else, concentrate on yourself first.” This one is easier said in hindsight. The heart wants what it wants, after all, especially when you’re young. I wish I’d cottoned onto this sooner but then I don’t regret falling in love with the people I have as I have learned something from each situation.

As I seem to be hurtling towards the end of my twenties (28 – eep!) the whole concept of being able to sit that wide-eyed girl down and have a word with her is brilliant.

If Doc Brown skidded down the High Street, opened the passenger door to a Dolerean-turned-time-machine, and said, “where to?” I’d probably give this a go.

I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

– Alice in Wonderland

So where is it that I’m going with this?

Well, I started to think about what I would say to that girl, you know, just in case time travel becomes “a thing,” and this is what I came up with.

  1. Beer is not food.
  2. Bleaching your hair to within an inch of its life is ill advised. It WILL turn a manky orange and it WILL nearly fall out. You look better with dark blonde hair.
  3. When life gives you lemons…then find someone who’s life gave them vodka and have a party. Stuff is about to get pretty hard. You’ll be tested. A lot. But you have great friends. You’ll be OK.
  4. Its not love if you feel miserable. Contrary to popular belief – and country songs – love should not feel like getting hit by a bus. Love is hard, and will produce more obstacles than the Ironman competition, but it shouldn’t make you feel like crap.
  5. Dating is fun. Don’t feel ashamed to go and meet new people. Have fun, be spontaneous.
  6. Travel. Travel. Travel. We don’t get round to this until later. You get the bug in 2012 and take it seriously in 2014. It would’ve been nice – and easier – to have done this when you were a sprightly young thing who didn’t have a serious hair straightener addiction.
  7. Appreciate your parents and spend more time with them. You will always need them, and soon you will love nothing more than having a laugh over a boozy dinner, and spending weekends with just them for company.
  8. Speak up. Have an opinion. Its OK to be wrong or misunderstood, argue and be passionate. Your opinion and voice is important because it is unique. Its also OK to change your mind.
  9. Put work into your dreams.
  10. Grief does not change you. It reveals you. OK so I stole that from John Green and The Fault in Our Stars, but its true. There will come a time when you feel lost and it will last for a while, but it will ultimately make you a better, stronger and more compassionate person. It will help you become who you are.
  11. Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love.
  12. Don’t be ashamed of your mistakes. We learn from failure, not success. Its OK to make mistakes and don’t waste your time regretting them.
  13. The majority of your fears are irrational
  14. Support the people you love. Again, we all make mistakes but its important to support people – in career, love and other choices – rather than criticise. Everyone is different. Offer advice and be there as best you can. Don’t walk away from a friend in need even if you disagree with their choices.
  15. You will never like scary movies. Don’t try and watch them. Sleep is far too important to you.
  16. Don’t exhaust yourself with making others like you. Like yourself and others will follow.

So what would you like to tell your younger self?

 

“Its Not Time to Worry Yet,” is it?

“Drag your thoughts away
from your troubles…
by the ears, by the heels,
or any other way you can manage it.”
Mark Twain

I am a chronic worrier. I worry about everything. I fret about the big stuff such as money, career and relationship problems, much like everyone else, but I also worry about stupid things like what a certain person thinks about me, or what I’ve said the night before when in the mischievous grasp of a bottle of gin. I get this sinking feeling in my stomach, like when you think you’ve lost something important or remembered a cripplingly embarrassing incident, and I can’t shake it for days on end, sometimes even weeks. Its debilitating and the only thing that occupies my brain, often affecting  my mood. The issue goes round and round like a zoetrope. I’ll even admit that I’ve made myself ill from anxieties that I’ve let become too big. Its terrifying and makes the world seem insular and full of shadows. Sometimes I can be made to see sense by talking the issue over with a friend – especially if its something with an easy solution – but occasionally the worries are ridiculous, unnecessary and often non-existent.

But where do these fears and anxieties stem from? In our busy modern world where communicating through status updates rather than face to face with a friend, partner or family member –  and the constant bombardment of images, articles and “lifestyle” supplements that tell us what we should be doing, and thinking and feeling – its hard to remember that beyond the heavily doctored news feed, most people share the same anxieties and fears and worries, its just no one wants to admit it. And its bloody difficult to match up to this constant and exhausting perfection. The internet, quite frankly terrifies me in terms of its content and power.

“Don’t worry. Worry is useless. I worried anyway”

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

I’m not suggesting we cut the cord tying us to social media. I love social media. I am a HUGE Twitter and Facebook advocate. I’m just suggesting that we take it for what it is. I don’t want to bang on too much as I’ve already written my thoughts about this in a previous post.

I recently read an interesting article about how we, as Brits, cope with feeling unhappy. We’re known for our stiff upper lip attitude and ability to look on the bright side of life – but could this attitude be doing more harm than good?

Should I really give in to my irrational thoughts, or should I ignore them? In her new book “Constructive Wallowing,” US psychologist Tina Gilbertson states that “dwelling on our bad feelings is, in fact, the key to health and happiness.” Who’d have thunk it?

Of course, she’s not talking about necking a bottle of wine and harping on to anyone with ears about all your probs, but rather she’s suggesting that we take time to listen to our thoughts, address the cray, and get on board with being a bit nicer to ourselves **imagines slightly awkward group session where everyone talks about feeeeeelings and runs away screaming*

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My cynical side says this sounds a bit like crap and wants to roll her eyes sarcastically, but if you brush aside all the psycho-babble, it actually sounds likes common sense. Shock horror.

Of course issues will get out of control when you refuse to address them, or when you feel stupid for allowing yourself a bit of wallowing time. Ignoring them = sure fire way to build them up into something monstrous.

A friend and I used to have days where we’d get out the sofa bed, make cocktails and watch shows that we knew would make us cry (Greys Anatomy was one, and we were also partial to a bit of X Factor/BGT for access to Nan-cam – a guaranteed bringer of tears). When things were particularly awful, we opted the “take it to the kitchen floor” method which involved us lying on a cold tiled floor, listening to something whiny on the radio, and talking about what was going wrong. Now we no longer live together, we have a playlist where each of us adds songs that make us feel sad, or happy, or remind us of each other or a better time.

Its the great feeling you get when the notification that a new song has been added, like a text message from a loved one that just instantly make you feel better. Its another friend of mine who just makes me laugh. Its become part of what makes us tick as friends, to make fun of awful situations and worries, and all the crap stuff that comes along. It works and makes us feel brilliant. Its the pair of red heart earrings I received in the post from another friend when I was feeling low. The note in a suitcase full of clothes. The hand grasping mine in the rain near a statue in London. The bottles of wine shared over lazy dinners. The laughter. The talking.

So why is it then, that we don’t do these things for ourselves? Why do we forget to be our own best friend?

My irrational side will always exist. I will always be “a bit of a worry-wart” and fret over ridiculous things because that’s who I am and I don’t think that will change. The key is to avoid letting things build up like a game of Jenga because eventually the balancing act is going to give way and you’ll be left with a great big bastard mess to clear up.

jenga the cat

I don’t know about you lot, but I’m grabbing the cookie dough ice cream from the freezer and sticking on a bit of Take That and my p-jay-jays, for a bit of serious wallowing!

Bucket List of a Twenty-Something Girl

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I am turning thirty next year. In October, to be precise. I don’t feel ready. I feel like a prisoner, held against my will and forced to grow older. I demand to be released. I want to go to Neverland. Peter Pan did it, why can’t I? “Tinks, pass me the fairy dust!” (I’m apparently obsessed with fairies recently, I apologise)

Its not that I’m freaking out because I’m getting older (although ask me the same question on my 29th Birthday and I predict a very drunken and weeping Emma will tell you different). Its more to do with feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything. I mean sure, when friends and family take a look back on my 28 years so far, they tell me otherwise: I have a masters degree, I’ve done a sky dive, I’ve travelled around Europe in a convertible, I’ve moved cities, I’ve lived in London, I’ve fallen in love and had my heart broken, I’ve gotten over it, I’ve been covered in monkeys, and made some fantastic friends. I suppose I should give myself more credit than I do as I went through the mill a bit in my early twenties – having to deal with the sudden death of my older brother (he was 24, I was 22) which completely changed my life and, unfortunately, I didn’t feel ready to experience certain things such as travelling or getting an internship in a children’s publishers like I’d always thought I might do – and I think I’ve come out the other side, slightly bedraggled and bruised and with many mistakes under my belt, but otherwise stronger, wiser(ish) and with a greater value for not only my own life and what I want to do, but for those people around me who I love dearly.

So its with this in mind – and finally allowing myself to think in selfish terms (if you’d like to read my earlier post about learning to be more selfish, you can do so here) – that I have decided to produce a list of things I would really love to do before I reach the big 3-0 (if I can’t bargain with the universe and earn a reprieve from the ageing process first)

I have 17 months and 10 of these will hopefully be spent abroad.

So, here we go:

Thirty Things to Do Before I’m Thirty…gulp!

1. Learn to Drive. Yes. I am a 28 year old who can’t drive. I am AWFUL at it too. My favourite thing to do is stall at traffic lights, forget my left and right and mess up gears. Hopeless. I dread driving lessons. I have one this afternoon and the thought is making me want to chuck up in my desk drawer.

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2.Develop a Crush on Someone. Anyone. I would say ‘fall in love’ but its me and I’m being realistic here. I’d love to fall in love again, don’t get me wrong, I’m just not very good at it. I have been single for 2 and a half years. I barely crush on anyone. I’d like a full blown one, one that makes you blush beetroot when they are around. Someone who I think is absolutely amazing. Its been such a long time since I crushed, I’m starting to think I’m broken **world’s smallest violin plays**

3.Travel on my own. the most I have done is multiple train journeys in the UK and one flight back from Ghana where I was pretty much in a Star Beer/slight flu coma. I want to travel on my own and deal with all the scary, lonely, amazing, craziness that comes with doing so. I want to go to the places I want, see the things I want. I’m pretty sure The Big 12 Month Tour will be a slap in the face and a cuddle in equal measure.

4.Conquer my fear of heights. Now I have done a skydive. I loved it. It felt completely surreal and not at all like I was going up in the air or 11,000 feet or whatevs. However, put me on the London eye, top of a castle, or even that piddly wheel near Selfridges in Manchester, and my palms start sweating profusely and my legs wobble like jelly, and all I can think is GET ME DOWN. Its so inconvenient. I even hate the steps in castles…you know, the big stone ones that spiral up and up and you cant see where you going. **hides head in shame**

5.Conquer my fear of spiders. I’m half way there. Gone are the days where I would scream for my dad, brother, some male figure or brave lady figure, to remove an eight-legged fiend from my vicinity. I can now remove them myself with the aid of a glass and magazine (you would too if you’d lived with the Girl Most Afraid of Spiders ever) but only if I have an Epic Poem honouring the deed and spurring me on (truth) but they still make me sick to my stomach and I SWEAR I can hear them scuttling across the floorboards (although my dad is adamant that spiders legs cannot be heard unless “they are wearing bloody tap shoes.”) Anyway, I digress. I just really hate spiders. I might need therapy for this one.

6.Visit New York and the 911 Memorial. I’d love to track down the firemen who came to my brother’s funeral but its impossible so I’ll settle for leaving a note of my gratitude at the memorial centre and pay my respects.

7.Write a novel. I WILL finish LOL. I will. I will. I will. I have dreams about finishing it all the time but I also have dreams that I’m rich and married to Jim Hamilton.

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8. Enter said novel into a competition In the words of Sisqo “unleash the dragon” although I’m totally sure he was talking about his willy and now this is a bit awkward. Ooops. 

9.Try and find an agent who supports my ramblings. This one may happen. May not. That’s why I said try and not get. Be pretty nice though wouldn’t it?

10.Attempt to write features/articles and have them published in some sort of forum. I love blogging. I really do. I love it so. I’d like to be able to talk about more things that worry, inspire and annoy me. I may have this one covered but I don’t want to jinx it. Best to leave that chat for another blog post.

11.Enter Writing Competitions/submit short stories. I have LOADS of these on my computer they just never get sent anywhere. Time to do a little bit of emailing and finger crossing I think.

12.Travel to see my friends more often. My friends are awesome. I’m biased, but I’m pretty sure I have THE BEST ones. Unfortunately, I don’t live in the same part of the country as some of these lovelies anymore. I pledge to go see and hang out with them and arrange for them to come hang in the shire. I will spend surprise days with them somewhere random. Anything. I love those people like they are my sisters and I am at my happiest when I am in their company.

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13. Travel across North America. I love America, I love its big, brash supermarkets and over the top portion sizes. I’m obsessed with New Orleans and the music scene in Seattle. I want to see LA and the beaches of California. I want to see Boston and Washington and so many other places

14.Travel to India. I want the challenge of India. I want the noise and the temples and the crazy. I also want the peace and the wisdom and to learn exactly who I am and how to chill the hell out.

15.Travel to New Zealand. Lord of the Rings. Glo worm caves. Nuff said.

16.Travel to Nepal. A Himalayan Trek is about as far removed from my daily UK life as you can get. I want to push myself to do things I never thought I would be able to do. There’s also Yaks. Gotta love Yaks.

17.Travel and work in Kenya. My auntie has friends who own some amazing camping thing in Kenya. Why I’ve never taken advantage of this, I have no idea. I don’t want to stay in luxury though. I want to pay my way and meet new people. I also want elephants and lions and giraffes (oh my).

18.Join a gym and stick with it. I’m getting softer as the years go on. And if I’m going to Himalayan trek it, I best get on that treadmill. I need an anonymous gym though, where no-one can see my red, sweaty face and weak attempts at fitness. I also need a pool. Love a good swim.

19.Find out what it is that I want to do career wise. I want to be a writer but what if I can’t be? There has to be something else I want to do: teach, work for a charity, become a nun (hmm…perhaps not). I think time away will give me perspective as to who I am and what I want from my life. I cant keep bouncing from job to job to job like some directionless rubber ball.

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20.Learn another language. I hate the fact that I can’t speak another language. It makes me feel a bit silly in certain social situations, and I am completely jealous of other people’s linguistic ability. I want to make sure I learn phrases from every country I spend time in, but I’d also love to learn basic, conversational French. There’s only so far you can get when you ask what the time is or where’s the swimming pool again and again.

21.Learn to play one song on any instrument. I do not care what this. It can be anything from the piano to a didgeridoo to a recorder. Even the spoons.

22. Get Another Tattoo. I’ve been saying this for years but have never come across that one design that really means something to me. Perhaps I’ll go the whole hog and get this done while I’m travelling.

23. Go to the Harry Potter Studios in the UK. This may sound lame to all you non-potter heads but I love a bit of the chosen one and all his adventures. I’ve been to ‘Hogwarts’ in Florida but never on the studio tour. I will also drag my equally Hazza P crazy bezzie along for the journey.

24.Read as many books about as many things as I possibly can. I have always been a bookworm and I read quite a lot but I find that when I am really busy with work I tend to read less and turn the tellybox on instead. Although I see nothing wrong with my love of box sets and Emmerdale, I would like to feed the bookworm because he’s getting hungry and bit pissed off.

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25.Volunteer I used to volunteer all the time – literary festivals, community centres, all sorts – but this was when I worked part-time and had good access to transport links. I’d love to get back into volunteering somewhere, even if its just an afternoon or evening a week.

26.Go to a music festival. I sort of have this one covered, although I wouldn’t class Castlefield Bowl to see James a music festival. I’ve got higher plans for a music festival in America during my travels. I’d like to go to something completely bonkers like Burning Man Festival or cool like Coachella, or something I would never really go for, like the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Or perhaps a wild African musical festival, that would be amazing!

27.Learn to Cook. When I say this I don’t mean I cant actually cook. I make a mean shepherd’s pie, a yummy roast dinner and pretty amaze fajitas and tacos. I’m just not very adventurous. I cant make things from scratch.

28. Throw a fab party and invite everyone I love. Christmas/NYE/Going away party anyone? Get the prezzies, mulled wine and winter tunes on the go.

29. Raise more money for my parent’s charity. I probably won’t do another sky dive. But what about a bungee jump in New Zealand? I’ve always wanted to do that. I’m sure loads of people would pay to see me jump off something high!

30. Wash an elephant. This one’s a bit strange but I’ve seen it on the tellybox loads. Those beautiful beasts lolling around in water with lucky, loving people washing their giant skulls, ears twitching majestically about. I love elephants!

I want to end by spending my 30th somewhere inspiring. I haven’t actually calculated this yet. I’m not sure what country I will be in but I think it may be India. Perhaps I’ll see the Taj Mahal. That’s something I’ve ALWAYS wanted to see.

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So that’s my 30 before 30 list. Looks like it’ll be a busy year. Need a quick nap now.