This year I’m participating in NationalNovelWritingMonth (NaNoWriMo) for the first time since I was 15 (I just logged into my account and my username was ‘Starwhale’ so that’s where I was at back then).
So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to three of the characters in my novel:
Theo – One of our leads. She is 23 and works two part-time jobs. One is at the University, the other for an indie publisher. She likes to bake. She’s bad at it.
Margot – Another leading lady, she’s just a little older than Theo. She writes and makes coffee at an edgy cafe. The cafe falls apart whenever she leaves. She goes on holiday a lot.
Robin – Despite his efforts to be mysterious, we are pretty sure he is just your average guy-in-his-20s.
So here is our trio, with many more characters to come.
The story is going to be set primarily in Glasgow (wow look at me distancing my characters from my reality by a whole 1-hour train ride). It’s speculative fiction and I think there’s plenty about Glasgow that will add to my fantasy.
The other quick thing I wanted to say is that LighthouseBook’sRadicalBookFair started today! Followers of mine will know I love Lighthouse books and the rbf is a highlight of the year. They have loads of fantastic events over the next few days – find out more about them here!
Hank Green has been in my life since I was about 12 years old. Typing that out has just made me realise that is 10 YEARS of my life which I’ll react properly to some other time. I have complex feelings about the Green brothers at this time in my life, but the fact remains that I care about the things Hank Green creates.
I was especially interested in this book. I truly had no idea if Hank Green would be able to write something I would enjoy, regardless of his ability to create content I enjoy in other media. I’ve never thought of him as a fiction writer, he was the ‘science’ brother and I think that’s why he was my favourite Vlogbrother for so long – I fell more on the science geek side of things.
The book had endless positive feedback from everyone I followed online with an advanced copy. I still didn’t entirely feel I could trust them (I know I would struggle to criticise Hank) and I wasn’t entirely convinced when the book arrived. I had, of course, pre-ordered it despite all this doubt – like I said, Hank Green has held such a long-term place in my life, I care.
I wasn’t even entirely convinced after one or two chapters. It took me a little while longer to get into the story than I expected. I had recently read the miseducation of Cameron Post (blog coming soon?) and I had barely been able to put that down once I got it.
By the end of an absolutely remarkable thing I had teared up and had a little swell of joy in my chest as I read the acknowledgments. So in the end, I liked it. I did actually really like it – I’ll admit books with a bisexual lead get an immediate bonus 50 points from me (I’m biased as heck), but it wasn’t the only thing that I loved.
I do think the story was great, it was interesting and thoughtful. Eventually, I did hit a point where I did not put the book down again until I had finished. Hank names a lot of people in the acknowledgments who helped him write the story of someone who had different life experiences to him – and it showed. I was so pleasantly surprised by how he wrote a bisexual woman, and how he tried to make sure there was some diversity explicitly included. It’s still a book by a white, well-off, dude – but it helps a little.
Something which Hank is likely unique positioned to write about, which I found interesting in a way almost unrelated to the story, was the tale of becoming popular online running alongside the events in the book. It feels like it’s getting popular at the moment to have stories featuring vloggers and influencers – an absolutely remarkable thing felt like a more legitimate version of this story than some of the others I’ve encountered. I wonder how many of the comments about April’s relationship with her viewers and her celebrity status stemmed directly from Hank’s experience. Even as someone without a following I recognised the desire for attention April regularly admits to.
Ultimately, I liked this book, it’s not right at the top of my ‘favourites’ list, but it made me really happy. It snuck in ideas about the human condition without being too aggressive about it, and honestly, the story was just really fun – you want to know what happens, you want to solve the mystery that is Carl. I’ll definitely read the sequel – I’m dying to know more.
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Last weekend the Edinburgh Book Festival launched for 2017 and I managed to get to a couple of events on those first days. On Saturday afternoon I treated myself to ‘Afternoon Tea with Yemisi Aribisala’ and the following evening I was privileged to see Carol Ann Duffy with John Sampson.
Both events were exceptional, and great picks for the opening weekend.
I confess prior to booking my festival tickets I did not know of Yemisi Aribisala and her fantastic food book ‘Longthroat Memoirs’. I was mostly drawn in by the promise of discussion based around food, and led by an inspiring Nigerian woman. Part of my goal for the festivals (and in life) is to hear and engage with stories from as diverse a population as possible, so this was a must-do for me. The promise of some tea and food certainly helped.
Yemisi kindly took the time to introduce herself to us all ahead of speaking, and she instantly gave off such vibrancy and warmth, I knew I would be a fan. As the event went forward and her discussion of her life and book began, she absolutely won me over. She was fantastic and witty, and I was incredibly interested in what she had to say about food and her culture. She is absolutely the sort of woman I’d love to have a chat with at any time.
Her wonderful, witty voice comes through in her book, and while there are a small handful of recipes, it is so much more about the culture surrounding food, and beyond. I would certainly recommend picking up her book to get a feeling of just how lovely of a person she was, and how well she tells her stories of food.
As with many people my age, I, unfortunately, had a small handful of Carol Ann Duffy’s poems completely ruined for me when I had to over-analyse them in order to get a grade I wasn’t even that pleased with in high school. To any student that endured a similar cruelty, I could not recommend seeing her perform enough. I laughed, and cried, and completely adored her. Carol Ann Duffy is a wit, and a marvel, I have seen comedians at the Fringe who did not make me laugh so much as her. She also gracefully raised a middle finger to Donald Trump, and you know I’m always on board with a bit of that.
The fantastic performance was only enhanced by her marvelous companion John Sampson, who played beautifully on any number of instruments and made the jolly vibe just that much stronger. The poetry was lovely, the humour was exceptional, and the performance was an absolute highlight of my entire Edinburgh Festivals experience.
I can’t wait for more Book festival events, I’m back again this evening! What a privilege it is to be living in this City of Literature.
Obviously the growing overlap of books and YouTube is controversial. I won’t go into that. For me, it was really cool to see how the two different interests of mine overlapped. There were two panels I was really excited about – and luckily managed to get to (I was volunteering at the event so panels were not the top priority). I saw the Booktube panel on the Saturday, and the Women who write panel on the Sunday.
When I tried YouTube when I was younger I had always wanted it to be related to books, and if I ever try again I suspect I will come back to that. The Booktube community was one of my early points of access to the wider YouTube community. The Panel was moderated by Sanne (booksandquills) who I have followed for years and years. Other speakers were Hannah Witton, Ariel Bissett, Lucy Powrie, Genista Tate-Alexander, Olly Thorn (PhilosophyTube), and Imani Shola. I had known of and watched about half of the panelists before, and am really interested in what the other panelists do.
I was particularly interested in Olly Thorn’s work on YouTube. As a soon-to-be Psychology graduate I have often thought about making academia that I am familiar with more accessible by making YouTube content. This is effectively exactly how Olly got his start. I think it’s so important that knowledge is made more accessible to everyone. University is insanely expensive. Textbooks, journals, and even general non-fiction books can really empty out one’s wallet quickly. I was glad to see people are already doing the things I have thought about in approaching education accessibility, and I hope to be a bigger part of it someday.
It was interesting to hear Hannah and Imani speak a little on their own published works. I had already read ‘Doing It’ as a big fan of Hannah and as someone who is very involved in improving sex education. I now have Imani’s poetry book ‘Heart Shards and Lip balm’ sitting on my bed for me to read ASAP. I did not know of Imani before but she was such a highlight of the event. She radiates positivity and thoughtfulness, and I think it was so worthwhile having her voice on panels at the event. I can’t wait to see more of her.
I would love to write more, so hearing from people who have written is an opportunity I don’t like to pass up. Whether it be poetry, non-fiction, or something else entirely, I love to hear about other people’s processes and experiences with writing (particularly if their writing is out there in the world, on bookstore shelves and in amazon warehouses). This brings me on to the second bookish panel: Women who write. As well as Hannah and Imani making an appearance again, Savannah Brown, Hazel Hayes, Connie Glynn, and Dodie Clark were there to talk about heaps of different kinds of writing.
Each of them were coming at writing in different ways. Hannah, who was moderating, has written her non-fiction book about sex education. Imani and Savannah both have published poetry books, and Savannah is also in the process of writing a novel. Connie (who you may know as Noodlerella) is writing a series of YA books. Hazel is a film-maker, and has written a number of scripts, but also has a background in short story writing. Finally, Dodie is primarily known for being a song-writer, but also has a non-fiction book being released later this year.
It was so interesting hearing all of their different perspectives and experiences with writing. I was really fascinated by what each of them had to say, and was taking notes on my phone about some of their strategies and techniques. I particularly like hearing women speak on it, and it was really interesting to hear about the prominence of women in the book industry (Especially in contrast to the film industry, which Hazel had good insight into).
I’m really glad to have had the opportunities to hear all of these people speak at both panels. My love and passion for writing, books, and publishing, was well supported at the event, which was really exciting for me. I hope to see more insight into this world in the future, and continue to explore how it connects with online media and personalities.
P.S. Later this week I will probably write a blog about YouTube culture more broadly, and being a ‘fan’. As I have a lot of thoughts I’d like to write down, and as I’ve learned in the last 24 hours, Twitter is not sufficient for sharing those thoughts…
I might be about to alienate quite a large number of my fellow book lovers.
I like dog-earing books.
Now quickly, before you all yell at me, I’m not always doing it. I like having nice bookmarks, with stunning images or lovely book quotes. But sometimes you don’t have one at hand, and folding down the corner is just…not that bad. Like, obviously I’m not going to do it to a library book, or a borrowed book. But with my own books? I enjoy giving them some character.
Recently an event called ‘BookTube-A-Thon’ happened, I wasn’t too involved (because I’m working full time and was in a different time zone and it’s all too complicated) but I liked keeping an eye on what was going on. One of the polls they posted to their twitter was about marginalia. Did we approve of it? Or must books be left untouched? I was surprised at the proportion of responses that opposed it. I don’t write in my books often, but I find my heart lifts a little when a book I pick up from a second hand store has a message inside. No, it wasn’t put there for me to read, but it’s entered my life anyway, and it gives me just a hint of a look into the life that had this book before me.
To me, a book in its original state is far less charming than those with marks and creases throughout their pages. I see my copy of ‘Time Stops for no mouse’ and I see the ratty corner, where I accidentally let it dip into the bath while I was reading. I see the extraordinarily creased cover, and ridiculous number of folded corners in ‘Un Lun Dun’ and consider every moment it has got me through, and how I love it still. Those books of mine that sit perfectly, as though they were untouched since purchase, give me little joy in comparison. I’m sure I loved them, when I read them, but there is nothing to that book that lights a spark in my memory. Without a dog eared page, or a note to google something, the place of that book in my life is not so easily remembered.
And I see why people like to keep their books pristine. For one thing, explaining your book is messed up because you dropped it in a bath is not the best way to impress people. Also picking up a fresh, new book can have its own sense of satisfaction in it. Maybe it has a beautiful cover you want to preserve, or it’s a special edition. I wouldn’t want to cast judgement on how someone else looks after their books, because we all show love in a different way. But to me, a well-loved book shows it has been loved.
It’s like my blanket as a child (named Mussy, because it was made of muslin). By the time I grew out of mussy (far later than I should have) he was a mere few scraps of muslin sewed into a newer piece. I had cuddled that blanket almost every night for ears and years of my life. Of course it fell apart. That blanket dealt with a lot of my emotional turmoil. Books are the same to me. They’ve always been there for me, even when people in the real world couldn’t be. I like to remember that when I look at them. And I like to think when I pass my books on to someone else (not that I’m very good at letting go) they will see a folded page, a scribbled note, a wee message from my grandma, and they will know that this book was something special to someone.
Oh and I also bend the spine back too far a lot… it’s just more comfortable to read it that way!
Let me know if you like writing in your books, or leaving a trace of yourself in it’s pages, I’d love to hear other opinions and why you feel that way…
Annie Miller has a long history in the basic income movement. She’s been doing her work for around 30 years and was a co-founder of the Basic Income Research Group and the Basic Income European network in the 80s (now an international network, as of 2004). It was so lovely to hear her speak about her inspirations and her findings. I found it particularly refreshing to hear someone who could talk about an issue with economic elements, without entirely boring me to death. She gave off such a warm vibe and was immediately likable as she discussed her earlier realisations of some of the daft inequalities that exist.
Basic Income has become a part of mainstream economic and political conversation in the past few years. In the recent general election, the Green Party were particular proponents of the concept. You may have heard of the recently released book by Guy Standing, a colleague of Annie Millers, and another person at the forefront of the movement. Both Annie Miller and Guy Standing have constructed excellent, accessible materials so that more of us can start considering Basic Income, how it could happen, and how it could help.
So what is Basic Income?
I’m a 21-year-old psychology student, I don’t expect my audience to have an in depth knowledge of basic income, particularly because I myself do not know a lot. A Basic Income scheme would be a system where all would receive a regular unconditional sum of money, independent of other income, from the government or a public institution. The goals of this, as outlined in Annie’s book, are as follows:
Valuing individuals for their own sakes
Help provide financial security
Reduce income inequalities and help to heal a divided society
Restore work-for pay incentives, balance power in the workplace, more choice over work-life balance
Simplify social security system
These are very brief summaries and explored much more in the book.
Basic Income is certainly an interesting idea to me in this world of increasingly doubtful equality and respect for individuals and groups throughout society. Where it seems increasingly difficult to work hard enough to keep afloat, and where those who need support are having to jump through more and more hoops to get it, this is exactly the sort of idea we need to know more about.
Which brings me to my talking point of this post (I won’t drag it out, I promise). It seems in politics and policy we are becoming more and more divided on every issue. And while I respect the opinions of others, it scares me to hear people I know blindly support policies they don’t understand because they think it’s the side they stand on. Some people I know seemingly vote directly in opposition to what could benefit them.
I think policy and proposed policy changes need to be communicated better to the general public, and every person needs a better grasp on what is going on when governments implement policies that could change their lives.
Think about the health bill Trump (thankfully) failed to pass just a day ago. No one knows what it entailed. The changes weren’t clear. I’ve seen a thousand tweets about how no one voting on the bill had time to read a thing. Honestly, what the fuck? These are the people that are supposed to understand everything! How are we supposed to make informed votes as members of the public when even our elected officials don’t know what’s going on?
The Basic Income Handbook has a bright yellow circle on the front that clearly states ‘For citizens and policy makers’. Accessible to all. Useful for all. The font isn’t painfully small and everything is so clearly laid out. It might not be the most thrilling read at times, but I get it. I can think about it critically without even one undergraduate degree under my belt. It would be amazing if I could do this with more policies I support (or don’t) so I feel more confident making up my own mind. If I write to or call a representative I can properly offer my opinions and feedback without doubting myself (usually very difficult, as someone with anxiety). Giving the public facts and figures to back up their opinions when Twitter is becoming a source people legitimately use is so important. I hope to see more books like this, or well-referenced pamphlets and articles, that allow me to understand what the actual fuck might be going on in politics these days.
Annie Miller was a lovely speaker and a lovely person. I particularly enjoyed a little dig she made at some of our existing policy makers, though she asked not to be quoted on that – so I’ll keep it a secret. I appreciate the years of work she’s done building her idea and making it available to everyone, and I hope many will consider following in her foot steps. I highly recommend spending some time on her preface, which is wonderfully thought out.
If you want to learn more about Basic Income, make sure to pick up a copy of the book when it is released on Monday. And if you’re interested in your future, make sure to stay educated about policy when you can.
I’m a depressed, anxious, b12 deficient individual who lacks motivation and lacks energy. A 15-minute task will often take me an hour. So maybe it’s not surprising that I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward books that are supposed to give me a different perspective on life.
In late 2015 a break-up and a precarious mental health moment happened to occur at the same time. After a few days of not moving or eating I made a very determined effort to distract myself with, well, life. This was not a route I was accustomed to taking but it was 1 month until Christmas, and fuck being sad at Christmas. So, along with a bunch of other less well thought out coping mechanisms, I ordered a bunch of books to try to help me… find myself… or something.
On December 1st, the following books arrived; The art of pretending to be a grown up, #Girlboss, Made, and You are a badass.
Aside from the fact that not long after I ended up in another weirdly weird relationship, I think they helped. Grace Helbig’s book made me laugh as I recognised way too much of myself in her words. Girlboss was inspiring and intriguing at the time, although since then I’m not so keen on Sophia Amoruso and the concerning tales that surround her business. Made was not so invigorating as it was calming. It felt like a slightly too rich friend having a wee gab about her lifestyle to you, and I still refer to it two years later (although I will never live so glamorously as Millie).
Finally, we have ‘You are a badass’. While I started this that December, I didn’t finish it till nearly a year later – having been generally distracted by university, and abandoning it when I went home for summer. Heading into my 3rd year of uni was the best time for me for me to pick this back up. Somewhere in myself, I found a drive I have literally never had before (Well, maybe back in primary school). My very first week back were some of the busiest days, and for months after that, I was non-stop. For the first time in years, I had energy and motivation. Now I’m not going to put it all down to Jen Sincero’s book (I did get some B12 injections), but ever since I could read I’ve drawn my strength from doing just that. Books written specifically to inspire me, and to sort me out, are no different.
I’m coming up on my fourth and final year of university and I’ve recently picked up two books. How to have a good day, and I want to be organised. While on of these sits in my office, the other joins the pile of Sarah Knight books by my bed. I hope that these, maybe paired with a few more B12 injections, are the boost I need to ace my last year of uni, and finally get out into the real world.
The completely honest reason this book ended up in my possession was that Amazon had a 3 for 2 sale and I liked the cover. When it arrived in the mail (with Everything Everything and How to be Parisian) I was struck by fear reading the blurb on the back. It sounded … kind of trashy. Not at all the kind of thing I’d usually pick up. But I had it now, and I really did like the cover, so I persevered.
Thank goodness I did because it was while reading this book, in Lovecrumbs cafe, that the spark of starting this blog went off in my brain. And so I suppose this is the very first proper reading books in cafes blog post.
Even a little bit into This must be the place I still wasn’t feeling quite sure about it, but I was quickly becoming terribly invested in the story without even thinking. By the end of it, I had laughed and cried and made a ton of weird reaction faces that made everyone who saw me reading rather concerned. This is, of course, the downside of reading in cafes, people do think you’re a weirdo when you burst out laughing sitting by yourself.
I came to care about the characters more than I ever dreamed was possible when I began the story. Even the ones that were kinda a little bit scumbaggy had my attention. One of the things that pained me the most was how, as I closed the book, I still wanted to know so much more about each and every single one of them. You do get a few different perspectives throughout the book, but there were some characters who I would have quite happily read 20 more chapters about.
Normally when a novel is jumping from character to character, and across time periods, I can get a little frustrated. But for the most part, O’Farrell did it rather beautifully. Towards the end, I will admit I felt it fell apart a bit. There was a weird jump, with bits that were glossed over, which took me out of the story I had been so wrapped up in. She saved it, however, and brought me right back. There is something about the way the author looks at so many relationships, in such a unique story, that is a bit magical. It’s the sort of set-up, the sort of tale that could never really happen quite the way it does. But Maggie O’Farrell sells it to you, and it becomes quite jolting every time you have to yank your nose out from amongst the pages.
I ended up falling totally in love with the story. I can absolutely see how it wouldn’t be for everyone. Hell, I didn’t even think it was for me for quite some time. Now, however, I am so glad to have read it, and I think it sparked something in me I hadn’t felt about books for a while. I think I shall be looking into more of Maggie’s work.
Yesterday evening I left work early, hurried along to Blackwell’s, and sat myself down for a panel event exploring the world of publishing as it is in Africa.
Hosted by Dr Ola Uduku, the conversation delved into telling African stories, publishing those stories, and translating them. The challenges of sharing African voices was explored in depth, with the speakers highlighting issues I might never have considered living here in the United Kingdom.
Abdulai Silá was one of the guests. He has written three novels, but the tale up for discussion was A Última Tragédia (The Ultimate Tragedy). He told us of the battle Guinea-Bissau had fought for their independence. He told us of the different kinds of battles that followed. A Última Tragédia is also about these stories, experiences told from different perspectives. It is a work of fiction, but he spoke of it being akin to a memoir. The words that stuck with me the most as he spoke were ‘I did not want it to have a happy ending, because colonialism isn’t a happy thing’.
I had come to the event because I am interested in publishing, but I had also come because for every African experience I read about, or hear, there are ten white people trying to re-tell that story. I want to learn more about the culture and history of countries all over Africa, told to me not by the colonizer, but by the colonized, and those living after colonization. The statement really drove home to me that Abdulai Silá was one of the few of those voices I had heard.
The discussion shifted to Jethro Soutar, the translator of A Última Tragédia. One of the reasons we do not hear stories from those outside of our bubble is because of the time and money that has to be dedicated to producing a translation. Soutar highlighted both poetic and practical challenges of getting the book to an English speaking audience. The very first sentence was an almighty challenge in itself. Across languages there is different meaning, and power, in certain phrases. When a writer chooses their words, they choose them carefully. Soutar shared the struggle he faced to not lose the story Silá wanted to tell, and to not impose a translation on it if it didn’t fit. He then turned to other challenges – for this story he received a grant, but for many translated texts it’s hard to get the investment in the work when the publisher themselves can not even read the original material.
The third speaker, Louise Umutoni, had more to say about the practical difficulties of publishing and sharing stories. Umutoni is the founder of Huza Press, based in Rwanda. She has had an extensive career in journalism and communications, and I immediately felt I was very lucky to hear her speak. One of the areas she spoke of was the challenges of publishing within Africa. She highlighted how when Huza began they had to look at improving the foundation of writing in Rwanda. They began hosting workshops, and they encouraged writers further when they were able to set up a prize. At this point Silá chimed in again. In Guinea-Bissau they had had to break down existing presumptions about writing, and books, in order to make the whole idea feel accessible for the community.
As someone who grew up in a family with books lining the shelves of every room, and as someone who regularly tuns to them for comfort, it was important for me to hear how different communities and different cultures had experiences that meant they haven’t been a position to see writing and literature the way I grew up seeing it. I mean it was a total ‘well duh’ moment in some ways, but it was interesting and educational to hear about the practical and cultural elements that prevent African literature from being established. And it was exciting to hear how these driven people are working to face these challenges.
I learned an incredible amount at this panel, and I am inspired to go out and learn more about this industry and it’s place in Africa. I did not get a chance to read A Última Tragédia prior to the event, so I am excited to start there.