Monday, 29 February 2016

The Reading List #36

The speed at which I’m getting through books has reached new levels with my daily commute. A 35 minute tube journey at each end of the day is a decent amount of time for me to get completely absorbed in a book, and as a fast reader anyway I‘m speeding through titles. Here’s my latest round-up:-

The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt

Olive writes a private book bound in different colours for each of her five children. Each family in the story has its secrets, and the sons start to rebel as daughters dream of their independence in this Edwardian setting. The writing was stunning, as I’ve come to expect from Byatt, and it was a well-written family saga with stories and fairytales woven in. There were so many layers, and the whole book is just gorgeous.

The Somnambulist, Essie Fox 

Mr Samuels offers 17 year-old Phoebe the role of companion to his reclusive wife, and sobbing noises in the night lead her to discover she was not chosen by chance. This is a story of lost love, murder, and madness, within the confines of Victorian family life. There were some beautiful moments and links between characters, and it was a nice read, although I wasn’t overly wowed.

Daphne, Justine Picardie

This is a fictional account of du Maurier, dwelling on the inspiration for Rebecca taken from her own life. She becomes fascinated with Branwell Bronte and begins a biography of his life, which leads to correspondence with scholar Alex Symington. In present day London, a young woman is writing her PhD thesis, and gets caught up in a literary mystery shrouding du Maurier and the Brontes. This is a great book for avid readers, as there’s some beautiful intertextuality at play. It flits between the third person and first person letters, which worked well. It was well-constructed, and I enjoyed reading it.

The Disappearance of Emily Marr, Louise Candlish

Tabby arrives in France heartbroken and penniless, overhears an access code and enters a stranger’s house. She walks into the world of Emmie, a friend with a past, which Tabby begins to investigate. This was surprisingly good! I don’t know what I expected, but there were some great twists and turns, and an overall gripping storyline. A nice, light read.

What do I need to add to my reading list next?

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The importance of escaping London every now and then

I love living in London. It's so different to where I grew up (Cheshire) and to where I went to university (York). There's so much to do in terms of work, culture, socialising and the opportunity to see this amazing city. In many ways, London is great.

But London is busy. It's pace is like nowhere else, and nobody slows down. 

Which is why it can be so important to press pause.

Sometimes, you need to escape the city for the weekend and press the refresh button.

Fresh from a weekend away recently, here are the top five benefits of that weekend escape:

  1. Pause. We're not designed to run at full speed 24/7. Sometimes you just need a break.
  2. Reassess. Time away allows time to think about what you're doing and when you're doing it, 
  3. Reflect. A break from the day-to-day allows you to re-order your priorities, and think about what matters most.
  4. Refresh. Unwinding properly is like hitting the reset button, allowing you to return to London with renewed energy.
  5. Enjoy. Experiences and memories are the most important things to collect, and doing something different from the norm is important to add to those memories.

When you then return to the city, ready to re-join the hustle and bustle and slot back into the everyday, you can fall in love with the city all over again.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Dissertation survival tips

All over Twitter at the moment I’m seeing people moan and fret over writing their dissertations. Some are proud of themselves for powering on through and some are in that period of despair where you think you’ll never possibly be able to write enough words, or make them make sense.
I feel your pain.

I handed in my dissertation almost three years ago now, in May 2013, and thought I would share five of the lessons that writing process taught me.

I was studying English Literature, and my topic was a prize for short stories by African writers. I was proud of the final piece, but my goodness it took hours upon hours of work, and I know if I tackled it now I would approach some elements differently.

ONE. Planning is everything. I know this may not help for those of you approaching your deadline, but for people with it coming up over the next year or so, please prepare. You have a long time to write it because you need a long time to write it. The process of coming up with a topic, developing it, researching it and then writing about it is hard work, and requires huge focus. There are so many elements to the task and to the final piece that you need to give yourself time to do it properly.

TWO. Research, research, research. For me personally, my essay-writing style was always to do tonnes of preparation before actually sitting to write. When it then came to the writing, I preferred to then do that in one sitting, before coming back to edit. Of course a dissertation is much larger so the writing process is longer, but I would stick to the same theory of research first. Without having collected and filtered through all that research, it’s so hard to plot out a structure that makes sense.

THREE. Split it down. Break your dissertation down into smaller chunks. Different parts of the research. Writing the introduction. Writing up one particular element of the topic. Whatever those chunks are, write them into a list so you can tick them off. This allows you to plan your time, but also to feel like you’re getting somewhere as you move through the list, rather than just looking at the daunting task: ‘write dissertation’.

FOUR. Be proud. For every task and section you complete, be proud of yourself. When you finish a draft of a section, give yourself a pat on the back. When you’ve had the final thing bound and you’ve handed it over, celebrate. Dissertations are a huge piece of work, and they’re supposed to be a real test and as such are a real achievement. Be proud of what you’ve produced.

FIVE. Don’t panic. It’s easier said than done, I know. The thing is that panicking wastes time. Try to stick to lists and routines that let you know where you’re up to, and remind yourself that you’re at university for a reason: you earned your place. You’ve worked hard through your course, and this is one of the final things you have to do to receive that degree. You can do it and you do know your stuff, so show everyone that.

So good luck! I don’t envy any of you who are writing or about to write, but you’ll be proud when you’ve done it. I look back in slight disbelief at the blurred months in which I wrote mine: the days ran into each other and I couldn’t think of anything but the stories I was writing about, but the final result did happen. I wrote it, I handed it in, and my degree was complete.

It’s your go. You’ll be great.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Podcasts are my favourites

Podcasts are my new favourite things.

I’m late to the podcast game, I know, but over the past couple of months I’ve become mildly obsessed.

I get a bit bored just listening to the radio, as I get fed up of ads or certain songs on repeat, and I don’t like the pressure of having to choose songs from my iTunes or Spotify accounts. My music choices cannot simply be played on random, as you’d end up with some Phantom of the Opera followed by cheesy 90s followed by something that might feature in the UK Top 40 if I even knew what was in that coveted list right now. That’s all just too confusing for my brain.

So podcasts have won.

I’ve got a little selection of my favourites as a newbie podcast-listener.

Here they are:

Of course. Who doesn’t love Serial? Series one followed a murder case where there are a lot of unanswered questions, and the current season is about a Taliban abduction, and a survivor who is remaining quiet. If you’ve never listened to a podcast, listen to Season One immediately.

The production of this podcast is less slick, but it continues the story of Serial Season One and delves even deeper. Pretty addictive if you were obsessed with Adnan’s case.

ASOS My Big Idea

The ASOS podcast chats to young women who are running their own businesses and acting on their big ideas. They're really motivatonal, and I love hearing people's success stories.

There have only been 4 episodes so far, but Kat Molesworth is the most wonderful presenter, and interviews creative who I respect and admire. A must for bloggers, writers, photographers, and others in creative industries or with creative hobbies.

Start Up
Following the evolution of a new start up, from pitching for investors through to employing people and making mistakes. I also loved season two, which followed a new dating company and offered another perspective of the start up world.

Call your girlfriend
I have to admit to having gone back and listened to every episode of this one. The podcast ‘for long distance besties everywhere’, it is basically just two close friends catching up every week. They discuss what’s been going on in the news, in pop culture, and in their own lives, as well as answering reader questions. I would like Amina and Ann to be my best friends, please.

Stuff mom never told you
This is quite nice, almost like a topical news show with a clear focus each week. They cover everything from health to advice to feminism to current affairs, and I like to dip in and out of the archives.

Women of the Hour
A mini-series from Lena Dunham, this covers topics from body image, to work, to friendship. Dunham talks to her closest friends and chats about the topics that matter to young women today.

Shout out any I’m missing, as I am well and truly hooked on the podcast world now.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

That Sunday feeling

I’ve got that Sunday feeling.

If you work Monday to Friday, you know what I mean.

Or you might remember it from your school days.

I’d understand it more if I didn’t like my job or something, but I do!

So it’s not that there’s any real reason for the Sunday dread, other than the fact the weekend is almost over.

Even though there will be another one in a week anyway.

I feel it like a physical reaction, that moment when my brain realises it’s Sunday afternoon.

It’s almost a panic feeling, telling me I’m running out of time.

I watch the time tick over, and it seems to move so quickly in that final part of the weekend.

I’m running out of time.

My free time is almost over.

I’m running out of time to…. What?

Usually, my Sundays are empty.

I have a bit of a thing about keeping them free, or at least the afternoon free, to relax and do nothing before a new week starts.

So I’m not really running out of time to DO anything, because I purposefully set aside the time to DO nothing.

What is it that causes this Sunday feeling, when we know that the week ahead will again follow the same pattern and have a lovely old weekend to round it off again?

Why do you get the Sunday dread when you’re lucky enough to not hate what you spend your weekdays doing?

I don’t even really have a problem with Mondays, it’s Tuesdays I dislike the most but that’s a whole different story.

I wake up on a Monday morning feeling pretty normal, pretty happy. I mean, obviously we’d all rather not wake to an alarm and be forced out of the house, but in the grand scheme of things I’m fine.

But still every Sunday is the same, and I’d love to know how to shake it.

Do you get the Sunday dread?

And if you don’t, tell me your secrets!

Friday, 19 February 2016

Ashford International Hotel

Last weekend I headed off on a little escape from London, to Ashford in Kent.

The Ashford International Hotel was my home for the weekend, and what a beautiful home it was. Part of the Q Hotels group, it's situated just off the motorway and a perfect hub for business or for relaxation.

Everything looks brand new and clean, and the reception area is huge and nicely furnished, complete with a warm welcome from the staff.

The room was hidden down a maze of corridors, but although the hotel is pretty huge you certainly don't feel like it's busy. It's not often you bump into anyone in the corridors, and the shared areas such as all the seating in the lobby were always comfortable and quiet.

The room was far more spacious than I had expected, and the red and pink decor felt plush and luxurious. Everything was spotlessly clean and the bed was unbelievably comfortable. The bedding was also really soft, and didn't have that starchy feel you get at some hotels.

I was slightly obsessed with the bathroom, which was beautiful, warm and bright. The shower gets top marks for its power, too.

I didn't have any evening meals at the hotel itself, but late night hunger led to the order of a delicious chocolate fondant. Breakfast both mornings was fantastic, with a huge range of foods, hot and cold, to choose from.

The one slight disappointment at the hotel wasn't the fault of the hotel, but to a conference group staying at the same time. There was a conference of student teachers who stayed on the Saturday night and were loud in the corridors. Breakfast on the Sunday morning felt crowded and a bit like being in a school or university dinner hall, as they were dragging extra chars over to tables and calling across the room to one another, which slightly ruined the calm atmosphere of the previous morning. However, when mentioning this on checkout the hotel kindly took care of some of the bill as an apology. It certainly wouldn't stop me returning.

I had expected to enjoy the weekend, but wasn't prepared for just what a lovely stay it would be. The hotel was just beautiful, and somewhere I would definitely return to if I had a reason to be back in the area.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Wahaca, Westfield Stratford

Before moving to London, I'd never set foot in a Wahaca. After being introduced by friends, it's now reached my favourites list.

The concept is Mexican street food - lots of small tapas-like dishes, which arrive to your table and and when they're ready. Always fresh, the food is of delicious quality.

I've been to the Oxford Circus and Covent Garden branches, but recently headed into the Westfield Stratford branch for the first time.

The Westfield branch was much quieter than the other two usually are, although it was a Friday evening, and we were seated immediately. It has the usual colourful, distinctive decor and huge menus on the table.

Drinks-wise, they offer a huge range from the bar, but  personally always go for the apple juice. They juice about 5 apples there and then in front of you at the bar, and it tastes amazing.

Time for what we ordered.

On this trip, our list was made up of:-

  • Grilled British steak tacos
  • Pork pibil tacos
  • Tender marinated chicken taquitos
  • Chilli quesadillas (V)
  • Chicken wings

The food always comes out piping hot, and is full of flavour. My personal favourite is the chilli quesadillas, which are oozing full of sauteed onions and feta cheese.

I always leave completely full, and so far haven't had chance to taste a dessert - I need to learn to leave a bit of room for the amazing-looking churros!

If you've not been before, and certainly if you're already a fan of Mexican food, I'd get yourself into a Wahaca pronto.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Let's talk about Instagram

I was really late to the Instagram game – we’re talking 2015 – so am still a newbie and finding my way around.

But I think I’m getting my head around it.

And as so many people had warned me would happen, I’ve fallen in love.

I love Instagram.

One thing that sticks out was an ex-colleague, Sarah, who told me she loves it because ‘it’s really hard to be negative via an image’.

Now of course there are exceptions to this, and I’m not going to go into the whole discussion of real vs fake here, but I agree.

It’s hard to moan or slate anyone or anything with a picture.

When I log onto Twitter there are rants and moans and sadness, and I’m of course guilty of these things too.

But on Instagram, I’m greeted by beautiful images.

Instagram has made everyone a photographer.

With simple edits and filters, the most ordinary of photos take on a gleam of professionalism, and scrolling down my Instagram feed is lovely.

I follow friends, I follow bloggers, and I follow people who inspire me.

I’m greeted by photos of amazing food, of stunning outfits, of beautiful landscapes from all over the world, and of fitness inspiration.

I see Instagram as an inspiring place, and one that lifts my mood.

I follow accounts I love the images on, and of people that inspire and motivate me.

We’re all human and jealousy creeps in sometimes, but 90% of my Instagram reactions are to do with motivation.

Whether it’s meal ideas, outfit ideas, or a kick up the bum to do the workout video I’ve been trying to avoid, I come away inspired.

So I may have been late to the craze, but I get it.

I’m on board.

I’m taking part.

Send me your Instagram names so I can have a nosy!

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Time to Talk Day

Today is Time to Talk Day.

I've written and deleted this post so many times over the past month.

There are things I want to say, and things I'm not ready to.

So today I'm just going to talk about the need to talk.

When you suffer with any kind of mental health problem, one side effect can be that you become secretive.

When my anxiety first began, I was embarrassed and didn't know what was going on.

Once it had been diagnosed, I remained embarrassed and confused.

Nobody had explained to me how I would feel day to day.

That some days are bad, and some days are brilliant.

That sometimes you can cry for hours because you just need to get out that frustration that's an invasive ball of emotion in your stomach.

That sometimes you'll feel nauseous for days on end, and nothing will shake it.

That logic doesn't come into it and your thoughts are in a constant battle.

That talking helps.

Sometimes, I want to be quiet and alone. But sometimes, being alone is the last thing I want and need.

When I was open with my family, they joined in the fight with me.

When my mum and I went to the doctors, my GP gave me confidence that anxiety would not define me, or continue to ruin days and experiences forever.

When I was open with my friends, I learned who was really there for me. Some were more patient and more helpful than I could ever have imagined.

I make it a policy now to be open about my anxiety.

About the days when it ruled everything, and about the fact some days it creeps up on me.

About the fact that I'm doing a lot better.

I'm learning techniques that help.

When I meet new people, I like them to know it's a part of who I am.

But it is not WHO I am.

That I have some weird little quirks and coping mechanisms, and sometimes I need them to just laugh along with me.

Talking helped me and continues to help me.

When I am open about my past and my present, I find it easier to be myself, and to cope on days when I struggle.

The people around me know how to deal with those times, and I don't have to try and explain myself when I'm in no state to do so.

The worst thing you can do is suffer alone. Please talk. Whoever you need to talk to, talk, and know you're not alone.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Reading List #35

It’s reading list time again, and there are a few here which I’ve recommended multiple times already.

Mini-reviews lie ahead…

Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Set in 1960s Nigeria, against a backdrop of civil war, this tells the story of Richard, an English university lecturer, Olanna, who has left a life of privilege to be with him, and Ugluu, Richard’s houseboy. The horrors of war touch each of these individuals and those around them, and loyalties are tested. I knew very little about Nigerian history, including this particular period, and it was a fascinating, if brief, insight which made me want to research a little further. The characters and writing were stunning, and this is a novel I will recommend again and again.

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Maud keeps forgetting things, but the one thing she is sure of is that Elizabeth is missing. Her scraps of paper and fragmented memories lead to an investigation into a 70 year-old mystery. This book had an interesting premise, and I loved the first half to two-thirds of it. It was heart-breaking being inside that forgetful mind, and you can see how it is affecting those around Maud, too. However, towards the end I thought the convincing nature of the voice was lost in order to neatly round up all the loose ends of the mystery. I think I would almost have preferred an ambiguous ending, as that would have kept the whole novel and voice much more believable.

The Rubbish Picker’s Wife, Elizabeth Gowing

*Copy sent for review*
Travel-writing is not normally a genre I lean towards, but I was pleasantly surprised with this one. Whilst Gowing is in Kosovo, among the Ashkali people, she finds a community, a purpose, and a home from home. Although this was billed as a story of the blossoming friendship between two women, to me that was not the focus of the book at all. Gowing’s relationship with Hatemja certainly opens her eyes, but for me the bit of the book to shout about was the power of education and community, and a woman finding her purpose. It was easy to read and fairly fast-paced, and would certainly fuel wanderlust for those with a desire to travel and discover something different.

Wool, Shift & Dust, a trilogy by Hugh Howey

The landscape has turned hostile, and those who survived now exist as a community in an underground silo. There are strict rules and a defined hierarchy, but some dare to dream of a different world. I was impressed by this trilogy - it was a well-constructed world with some good characters, although I thought parts could have been taken further. There were some characters, ideas and confrontations I would have loved to explore further. I’ve not really read anything else quite like this, and definitely enjoyed it.

Let me know what I should move onto next!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016


Happy birthday, little blog of mine.

I couldn't believe it when I realised that my blog started three years ago today.

I've certainly not been consistent, and I've fallen in and out of love with it, but it's been mine for three years.

This year, that consistency is going to improve.

I find writing so relaxing and am determined to do more of it and document my year.

In January, I posted on this blog 28 days out of 31. I'm not saying I will continue to post almost daily, but I wanted to really commit to making the content on here more regular.

So that's what I'm doing.

I have so many posts planned for the next month and beyond and can't wait to continue this routine of writing and sharing more often.

A lot has happened over the last three years, and I want to make sure that the years ahead are ones where I collect even more memories.

The fourth year will be a good one.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Hello, February

Hello, February.

You've waited patiently; January seemed to last forever.

There's a quote on Instagram at the moment which says '2016 starts on 1st Feb. January was a free trial month'.

This made me laugh, and part of me agrees, but then I realised the miserable month of January was quite a positive one.

I've overhauled my eating habits and am getting more healthy. I've started exercising daily before work. I had the most wonderful weekend away. I went to two brilliant theatre productions.

It could have been a lot worse, let's put it that way.

February, I love the fact you start on a Monday.

There's something so neat about a new week and a new month coinciding, it's always a favourite day of mine.

I feel like this is the month to try and learn to like pancakes.

The month to continue eating better, and working on my fitness.

We're moving towards Spring, and the lighter hours are making a huge difference to my mood.

I've got a weekend away in Kent this month which I couldn't be more excited about.

February, you've taken your time, but I'm glad you're finally here.

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