Books

What I’m reading

I read pretty much every day. I think it’s one of the best things a writer can do – read as often as you can, and read widely. Over the strangeness of the past half year, my reading routine has been a bit off. Sometimes I’ve lacked the energy or focus, but fortunately I’ve still regularly found myself lost in other worlds for blissful hours.

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading recently.

books

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

More novella than novel, this is one of my all time favourite books, and earlier this year I decided to reread it. Which is a rare thing for me – I’m not a big re-reader and it takes some real passion to delve back into a book I’ve already read. I kind of have the mentality of there are so many books out there to read, I can’t keep rereading when there’s so many I haven’t read yet!

I love the effortless gothic writing of Shirley Jackson, and how instantly you’re grabbed by her characters. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is told from the point of view of a young woman called Merricat, and there is instant intrigue into her life in a small New England town in the 1950s. Why does Merricat hate the townspeople so much? Why does she live such an isolated life with her sister and uncle? What’s the story behind the death of the rest of her family?

Reading it for a second time, I picked up on details and hints that I didn’t before, and loved being drawn back into Merricat’s strange and alluring story.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The first book in the seven that make up Maya Angelou’s autobiography, this memoir explores her life growing up as a black woman in 1930s southern America. Angelou’s writing is so evocative of her childhood in Arkansas and I got such a strong sense of the people in her life, her family, the places she lives, all told in beautiful, engaging prose. Her experiences of racism are shocking, and the historical and political context of her work makes this a particularly vital read.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Confession: I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this book. I’ve read Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife over the past couple of years and… they didn’t grab me. I could tell they were good, but I didn’t feel the love for His Dark Materials that I knew others do.

Taking the final novel of the trilogy off the shelf, I almost felt I was reading The Amber Spyglass because, well, I’d read the first two, it’s such a famous series, etc. etc…. It almost felt like an obligation, which is not a good way to feel before you read a book. But soon I was up late engrossed in Lyra and Will’s story. Perhaps it was how the many threads of the narrative were coming together and the sense of satisfaction that brought, perhaps it was I just found the events in this last story in the series more interesting – whatever it was, it clicked, and I finished The Amber Spyglass a Pullman convert.

Dear Life by Alice Munro

I love short stories – writing them and reading them. Despite this, I’ve rarely read a collection of stories by a single author cover to cover, instead just dipping in, but decided to give it a go with Dear Life by renowned Canadian short story writer Alice Munro. Some of the stories were wonderful, and I was grabbed by how Munro tells of the small extraordinariness of ordinary people, beautifully observed. “Gravel”, “Train”, and “Night” in particular stayed in my head for a while after, which I think is a sign of good writing, where you find yourself mulling over a character or detail or just the overall ambience long after you’ve put the book down.

Just Kids by Patti Smithpatti smith

After enjoying rereading We Have Always Lived in the Castle so much, I’m currently rediscovering another book: Just Kids by Patti Smith. I first read this memoir when I was working a job I wasn’t particularly enjoying, and my bus would often get me there way before my start time, so I’d get a coffee and sit and read for half an hour, which became something to look forward to when my alarm went off each morning.

Just Kids is one of the books I read during that time, and it made me imagine another life, the life of artists in New York City, and I got a vicarious enjoyment and also a wistful pining as I read, and then I’d look at the time and realise I needed to finish the page I was on, slip the book into my bag, and walk the five minutes to the office. I’m only about 50 pages in so far, but already I’m remembering why I loved Just Kids so much the first time around.

What books have you been enjoying?

My Writing

Looking back at 2019

It’s that time of year where we aren’t quite sure what day it is, have eaten far too many mince pies, and are asking each other about our New Year resolutions over yet another glass of prosecco. As I think ahead to what I want to achieve in 2020, I find myself reflecting on this past year.

This time a year ago, I decided I was going to make 2019 the year that I really push with my writing. And I’m so happy with all that I’ve managed to do. I’ve had several articles commissioned and published in a range of places, including most excitingly the Guardian; I’ve had short stories long and shortlisted in competitions; I’ve edited my YA novel; I’ve begun work on a new novel; I’ve graduated from my MA; I’ve begun a copywriting job. I’m pretty happy with all that!

Another big thing has been around how I organise my writing. I now keep detailed spreadsheets (can you tell I used to work in admin?) of ideas and where I’ve sent my work to help me keep track, which has been a huge help. I’ve also been updating this blog more regularly, uploading examples of my work to my portfolio, and engaging with the lovely writing community on Twitter more.

One of my highlights of 2019 was my week at the Arvon writers’ centre. It really cemented my feeling that writing is what I want to do with my life. It also helped me feel more connected to the writing community. I’ve been looking on the Arvon website at all the courses they have next year and trying to decide which to book onto!

Another highlight is that I’ve been mentored by the wonderful author Kate Mallinder for the past half a year, as part of the Artist Development Programme support I’m getting from disability arts charity DaDaFest. Her guidance and encouragement has been so valuable and has helped me not only develop my writing but feel more confident about my abilities. I really enjoy our chats over coffee about all aspects of creative work and feel she’s been a huge help in me making progress.

I don’t know what 2020 will bring. I know I have a few articles due to be published which I’m excited to share with you and many more I plan to pitch. There’s a few things that I’m waiting to get decisions about in the coming weeks and months, which I’ve been trying not to worry about too much over the holidays but of course have been. Whatever happens, I hope that I build on what I’ve achieved this year and continue to develop as a writer.

My Writing

Flash fiction in Ellipsis Zine

Today I have a flash fiction story, “Two Weeks After The World Ended”, published by the wonderful Ellipsis Zine.

An earlier version of the story was long listed for the Flash 500 award at the start of the year, and I’m glad the story’s now found a home.

Take a read of it (and great stories by other writers) on the Ellipsis Zine website.