Sunday, 23 October 2016

Recent reads: girl up and get happy.

I recently discovered A Great Read, this amazing site dedicated to selling books to us, the die-hard book lovers, at a significantly lower cost than your local high street book shop. Now, you may wonder why I'm looking at any other book seller at the moment, given that I get mad discount at my workplace, but actually some of the deals on this site worked out as even better than what I could get with my precious staff card at work! 

So this is where I went for the two books I'll be mentioning/raving about in this post; 'Girl Up' by the legendary Laura Bates, and 'The Little Book of Hygge' by Meik Wiking, a guide to the carefree and content way the Danish folk live their lives. 

First, we'll look at 'Girl Up'.
I'll keep this review short and sweet (very unlike me, in terms of writing and physical being) because there really is just this one thing to communicate: READ. THIS. BOOK. (ASAP. PLZ.)
It's safe to say I write my fair share of book reviews in blog posts, yes. BUT I rarely full-on force my readers to grab a book immediately and cling on so hard and never let go. Y'know? So therefore you must all take this instruction quite seriously.

I first discovered Laura Bates, as I'm sure many women did, through her Everyday Sexism project. I stumbled across the hashtag on Twitter, #EverydaySexism, and was astonished. Because whoa, women everywhere are experiencing the absolute worst kinds of hateful and misogynistic behaviour from all kinds of people – it isn't just me.
Of course, I bought that first book. It sits in pride of place on my non-fic shelf, alongside several other excellent pieces of feminist literature. For some reason though, I kept seeing 'Girl Up' at work (on a table in the Smart Thinking section, hell yes) and in friends' Instagram snaps, and not buying it. I genuinely believe that was because I knew I'd love it; I knew I needed it in my life at a time when I could give it the time and attention it deserved. Or maybe I was waiting to come across A Great Read and snatch it up from them... 

'Girl Up' covers everything. I mean it. Every damn thing about being a young woman in today's society. Peer pressure, bullying, mental health, relationships, sexuality, actual sex, pornography, proper genitalia, mass media and SO MUCH MORE.
The first chapter on social media and its influence on us is entitled 'Fakebook, Fitter and Instaglam'. I mean, yes. Sold.

What I really loved was how I was able to read the book in Laura Bates' perfectly unique voice – maybe because I'd recently listened to her interview with Emma Gannon on the Ctrl Alt Delete podcast, but also because the book is written in that way, that awesome way, that makes you feel it's just for you, and a friend has written it. No bullshit, either. 100% real and honest and true. 

The book is also beautifully put together. Blunt and bright cover art is totally the way to my heart. Seeing the recommendation from Emma Watson before the introduction got me even more excited than I already was – and the artwork on the inside cover is, well, sublime. 

I plan on keeping this book close for a very long time, and if I ever decide to have kids you can bet they'll be getting a schooling from it. Of course, by then, Laura Bates will be in some position of supreme power and her messages will be streaming across the globe 24/7 – I hope so, anyway.
So thank you, Laura. Mwah. 

(Whoops, this wasn't as short as I'd planned. It's rather sweet though, right?)

The next book I'll be talking about is 'The Little Book of Hygge (The Danish Way to Live Well)', by Meik Wiking (from The Happiness Research Institute, Copenhagen).
I sometimes cover in The Rye Bookshop (hold on, this is relevant) when Waterstones Hastings doesn't need me, and I am always stunned by the difference in appearance (it's approximately 1/10th of the size of the Hastings store, and quite a bit more chic tbh) and even more so by the difference in customers. Books that hardly ever see the light of day and escape the shopping centre in my usual workplace and out in the front display in Rye, and are snapped up quick. Although the Hygge hype has been big in both stores, to be fair, in Rye it has its own table. One petite set-up near the non-fic shelves there, the Hygge literature sits alongside several hand warmer cushions, scented candles, city guides and 'The Year of Living Danishly'. Hygge is a big deal. And I'm all for it. 

(The table in The Rye Bookshop; ta for the photo, Lizzie!)

Now, I will start with a confession: I, like many others it turns out, at first had no clue how to pronounce 'Hygge'. The phenomenon was coming at me full pelt, and I was welcoming it in, and yet...the pronunciation was the only grey area for me. I assumed it sounded like simply 'higg'. My bookseller friend was convinced it was 'hugguh'. A friend insisted it was how it looked; 'hyyyy-geee'. I of course Googled it to find it is in fact 'hoo-guh'. There are some lovely videos of Danes explaining the term, and I think I got the feeling just from seeing them speak about it. Seeing the true happiness that they possess and we so crave ignite and shine in their eyes.
Anyway, I needn't have concerned myself with the matter of pronunciation. Because here's the first page...

That's right, the lovely author says to us straight away, in the introduction, that we don't need to concern ourselves with the correct way to say Hygge. Because 'you don't spell it, you feel it'. N'aww. 

My personal favourite bits of this book were: the Hot Drinks pages within the fourth chapter 'Food and Drink'; the Danish hair rules 'casual to the point of being borderline lazy'; the Danish home decoration styles which boil down to books, blankets and cushions, ceramics, wood, vintage and above all tactile; the 'Hygge Emergency Kit' on page 134 (see below)...

I also adore the entire third chapter entitled 'Togetherness', especially the 'Socializing for Introverts' stuff. And one cute sub-section within that on how to make memories. And the graphs representing activities happiness ratings vs hours spent doing them (sex gets the highest happiness rating, lowest time spent; work has the lowest happiness rating and highest amount of time...let that sink in, guys). 

Something else I loved in this book: ALL OF THE PHOTOS. My goodness, the photography was warm and kind and gentle, but then there was also some crisp and exciting glimmers in there too. The city of Copenhagen is beyond awesome, as are Danish home interiors, as are the fashion trends, as are the animals, as are the families, and the photos show us all of that.

I implore all of you readers to give these books a spin ASAP. Get educated about womankind, and then bring on the unique Danish happy vibes. 
(And while as a chain store bookseller I couldn't possibly encourage you to use a beautiful discount webby......check out A Great Read, guys. Do it.)

Thursday, 20 October 2016

My mornings.

I unlock the car, sit behind the wheel and wait for the windows to de-mist. I reverse sharply. The neighbours are usually getting in the family cars – I see the mums prepping for the school run. The kids squeal. Little red woollen bullets shoot down the pavements, book bags and lunch boxes trailing behind. 

(Taken in the passenger seat. Never touch your phone while driving, guys)

I drive up towards that roundabout, mentally steeling myself for the 60 limit approaching and reminding myself that the cars edging up behind me aren't trying to hurt me. Maybe just intimidate. They wanna feel big.

Buses pass me. The proper fancy Rambler coaches, and those faded creamy ones that house the eager school kids in their navy uniforms – they're going where I'd go, where I'd walk to. I never got the bus. The gold on their ties gleams through the windows as it's still new, it's only October and all the days are awaiting them. I miss that. And yet I really don't. I should visit again, soon. I should text my friends there. The ones in the staff room.

There are sometimes people running along this road. I would feel so vulnerable if that were me. Not because I could get hit; because people could see me.

There's a girl who always stands right on the edge of the curb, at the bus stop on the flyover, hands in pockets and expression frighteningly blank. I drive past the road my best friend used to live in, with her gang of siblings and messed up parents. I then pass another bus stop – so many buses and stops – packed out with excitable international students. One has a tartan blanket wrapped around her, today. Most likely a private joke – it's not that cold.

Lollipop ladies are a constant hazard, these days. I never considered them before, when I first started driving to work in the summer. It's a cute profession. A bright grinning yellow vision. I always try and smile at one when she stops me. Why are they always ladies, I wonder?

I'm coming up to the rough bit now. That road crammed with tacky one-off shops, where a car comes at you from every angle. I like it, weirdly. I always catch the horribly overweight man, no doubt not as old as he looks, sitting outside that dodgy cafe with a china cup he rests on a green recycling bin. I think the dog is his. That's attached to the bin, too. School kids pat it as they pass. The sun rests on his head briefly and then disappears into the deep wrinkles around his eyes.

It's always as I descend that insanely steep hill to the shopping centre that I am overwhelmed with comfort – interrupted by a brief flash of panic and a need to check I have my parking permit, which I always do. The comfort is born from the sunshine, often. Now it's Autumn I'm noticing that as I drive in the morning, the sun is in my eyes. Then as I drive home in the evening, the sun is in my eyes. The sun won't leave me alone. It's glaring at me, demanding attention. Making sure I make the most of it before it's long gone, hidden behind a mass of thick grey. I do see you, sun, don't worry. You're right at the front of my mind, and in my eyes you are welcome any time. If I'm lucky, sometimes I'll pass that car wash place and see you shimmering in bursts as they hose the vehicles, your light buzzing through the water.

I finally make my way up 6 floors of the car park; I have a spot now, on the 6th floor, as it's handiest for getting to work. My spot is a few bays along from the valet guys. The ones who laugh and chatter in a language I don't understand, and make sure they smile at me as I walk by. I wonder if they wait for me to come in, some days. I wonder what they think when I appear. What they think of my car – and the way I walk as I pass them.

Good morning, guys.
Good morning, world. 

Better find my keys. Don't forget the parking permit. Did I bring my lunch? 
Got 'em. That's in my back pocket, too. And yes, it's in the backpack with my laptop. I'll be getting that out on my lunch break, and sitting in the cafe writing. Looking so legit. Not taking a real break. Don't need to. 

These are the mornings, that become days. They can sometimes be a highlight. Sometimes a prelude. Often a distraction. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Just Some Things #5 : L.D. Lapinski.

This is the latest instalment in my feature Just Some Things!
In case you don't know, here's how it works...
I send a writer an individual email with a series of prompts from the '642 Things to Write About' book – chosen entirely at random most of the time – and then when I get the responses, I dedicate a post to them and their piece. It could be short, long, backwards, in another language, I don't mind. It'll be an adventure whatever happens! And they can use or ignore however many of the prompts they wish. 

When published on the blog, their piece will be put in first and then I'll add in a little piece beneath it, my response to the same prompt. I will always ensure mine is shorter and less prominent, obviously. It's all about featuring my fave writers.

Today my guest writer is the delightful L.D. Lapinski; unpublished author and co-creator of Shift_Zine, the new quarterly online YA magazine. We met through Twitter some time ago, and I can safely say she is one of my favourite online (and now IRL) friends.

Her prompt was: Introduce your long-time imaginary friend.

   ‘You’re going to do great.’
   Cherry plucks at her skirt, trying to stretch it down a bit. ‘It’s too short.’
   ‘Well, that was the one I saw in the shop, so unless you want me to start searching online…’ I raise my eyebrows and Cherry pulls a face at me.
   ‘She might think I’m a bit…you know.’
   ‘I’m always cute.’
   I sit on the bed and watch her check herself over. Cherry’s appearance hasn’t changed much over fifteen years. Her hair is longer, and her features are less cartoon-like now, but she’s always been rosy-cheeked with auburn ringlets. Even when I didn’t know what ‘auburn’ meant, she had auburn ringlets.
   I’m still not sure what ‘ringlets’ are, but she has them.
   ‘Have you thought about what you’re going to say?’ I ask.
   Cherry touches her headband. ‘I thought I’d let her speak, first. She might want to tell me something, or…’
   ‘What did I do?’ I ask, a smile creeping onto my face.
   Cherry snorts. ‘You told me I didn’t exist. As if.’
   I burst out laughing, because that’s so Me. ‘Yeah, well, you stuck around long enough.’
   ‘I had to,’ she reminds me. ‘You were hard work, Jess. You almost imagined me away.’
   The mood freezes over. ‘Oh.’
   She pouts at her reflection, then comes to sit next to me. There are cherries on her dress. ‘Will you miss me?’
   ‘Like a hole in a parachute.’
   ‘That means ‘yes’,’ she snuggles into me, and for a moment it’s like she’s real; I can feel the weight of her in my arms and on my chest. ‘It’s time for me to move on.’
   I shrug, because I can’t think of anything else to do.
   ‘You’ve still got a bit of me,’ she looks at my desk, my laptop. On it are drafts of the novel I’m writing, where a character has auburn ringlets.
   ‘Come on,’ I say. ‘We’ll be late.’


   We get to the milkshake bar three minutes late. I spot the girl immediately, sitting with her mum, nervously plaiting her fingers as she ignores the drink in front of her.
   ‘Hello,’ I say. ‘You must be Isabel?’
   She looks up, her freckles adorable against her bonfire hair. ‘Mm-hm.’
   ‘I’m Jessica,’ I smile. ‘And I’ve brought you someone you might like to meet.’
   Cherry steps out from behind me, blushing, and suddenly younger, and newer, like she’s had a fresh coat of paint. ‘Hello, Isabel.’
   Isabel waves shyly, and her mum looks as me. I nod.
   It’s going well.
   Cherry slides into the booth and a milkshake appears in front of her. ‘Hey, can you do this?’ she inhales and blows bubbles into the drink, making Isabel giggle.
   I feel a slip on my soul, like a tug at the heartstrings Cherry has plucked all these years, and suddenly she is gone, inside Isabel’s mind as she floats away.
   I fill the empty space in my head with sadness, for now.

L.D's Blog : Twitter : Instagram : Zine

Here is my response to the same prompt...

   I can hear my family, calling, searching for me downstairs. Their cries get more and more panicked, more shrill. Dad's running up the stairs, Mum's gasping repeatedly like she just cannot believe what's happening. Nor can I, really. My sister is a little more clued-in; she knows what will have made me do this. More specifically, who. I know it's her knocking on the door to the airing cupboard. I'm actually glad I've been found, the heat is stifling and my forehead is wet. My big, empty forehead. Empty? Naked? Naked. Part of my face is on show now, and part of my head.
   'Tess? You okay?'
   'Mmm,' is all I can manage. A whimper. I wipe sweat from my top lip.
   'Can I come in?'
   My sister opens the door, and light pours in from around her head. Her not-naked head. 'What's going on, petal?'
   I know she's seen, though. She will have seen it downstairs, too. The patch of hair on the living room floor. That must have worried them – it worried me, and I was the one responsible. Or was I?
   I look up at her, and see her taking in my new face – more face, more visible. No fringe covering my eyebrows any more. I cut off the front bits, the strands that covered my ears, too. My hair is closely (and unevenly) cropped to about halfway back on my head now. My sister smiles sympathetically. Then Mum's and Dad's faces appear behind her, either side. They're less sympathetic – more shocked and upset. Understandably.
   I can only be honest. It's the real reason, even if they can't see it. 'Candy made me do it.'


If you'd like to be involved in one of these Just Some Things posts, email me at

(Perfect image by Kayleigh Causton illustration)

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Taking the brain for a walk.

For those of you who don't know – I can't imagine there are many of you as, let's face it, this blog mentions it a LOT – I have a brain tumour. Read all about my diagnosis in 2014, my operations (plural), the hideous aftermath/'slow recovery' and the surprise radiotherapy RIGHT HERE (start at the oldest post!).

It still feels weird saying it. Like, you'd think after 10-15 years of letting it grow (although I was totally unaware, to be fair) and then having 2 craniotomies a year apart to dig it out (couldn't manage all of it as it's in a tricky spot. I have a wee bit left still) I'd be used to and comfortable with telling people. But I'm not. I sometimes hate telling people, actually. Breaking bad news to and bringing up a tidal wave of sympathy from others is not my favourite thing to do. But there are times when it needs to be said. For instance, I recently told a work superior about my condition because the fact that my recovery was still in progress meant I couldn't work full time – that was hard, but I felt better when I'd told her.

So now you know. Or, you knew but have been reminded. Sorry about that. Let's get to the point of this post, shall we?

I could not have got through some aspects of my journey without the amazing people at The Brain Tumour Charity. That is a fact. They have sent me letters (thanks, Jo!) and presents, and added me to their 2000-strong sufferers' support group on Facebook – which has been mind-blowing, hearing what others are going through and giving support as well as receiving advice on certain things. And the virtual group hugs are immense.
I've also had a chance to see around their offices, which was actually really fun and enlightening. The energy in that building was warm and happy – and determined.
Recently I've been helping them out with writing bits and pieces, tweeting, and even recording a little something they could use in promo. I am always excited when an email from them appears in my inbox, and I can always make time for their projects.
So yeah, I love this charity. I really hope that someday I am in a position to donate some of my income to them, because they are attempting amazing things as well as providing support for families and friends of the afflicted, too.

The charity also does Information Days; they are like little conventions almost, when doctors and nurses and patients and their peers – anyone! – is welcome to come along and learn. My neurosurgeon actually spoke at one of these events recently, and I'm devastated I couldn't go that particular day as I was still pretty deep in post-op recovery. I am so desperate to go to the next one, though. They happen all around, but my local one would most likely be Brighton. 

(Training, on the seafront!)

The Brain Tumour Charity puts on this fantastic event called The Twilight Walk. Or rather, walks plural. They gather together volunteers, all of whom raise money individually or in groups, to walk 10km and raise awareness. The hashtag is #walkwithus, and the T-shirts are the charity's stunning trademark red. I was delighted to have been able to sign up this year, as before I've been too weak to participate. This year though, I am bringing it the hell on. I have trained as best I can with my family, my team, and we have got two of our oldest and dearest friends on board to walk with us on the day. We'll be walking in Windsor, which is such a nice thing as it's near where I was born and lived until I was two, and where I made my first friend (see below, us in the 90s. Updated photo to come). 

My team are raising money for the charity RIGHT HERE, and we are astonished and proud to have reached over £1,200. Please do have a look, my friends, and donate a few pennies if you can manage it. I will thank you with hugs, coffee and general happy brain vibes. 

I will be writing about how the event (today) goes, don't you worry. It will be in a monthly round-up soon! Until then, I am sure photos will be shared on my Twitter and on The Brain Tumour Charity's Twitter. AND their Facebook page, too. 

Wish me luck, guys! 
Let's stamp out brain tumours! 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Autumn Reading Tag!

It's happening. The leaves are turning green to golden brown, and then sadly falling to the ground, where they'll sit beneath our feet patiently waiting for frost. The candles are being lit, heating switched on overnight, and the walks to the car at the end of the day are dark and chilly. And the hipsters on Instagram are creaming themselves every time they take a photo on their iPhones. 

So, the delightful Laura N tagged me in her Autumn Reads post! Thanks, darl. Love ya.
I can count on one hand the amount of times I've actually done one of these Q and A posts that circulates but whenever I do they are always immense fun and actually make me think...crazy, I know. Okay. Let's go. 

Are there any books you plan on reading over the autumn season?

I always have books to read, like goddamn my TBR is permanently sky high. I try not to think about it too much,'s stressful af. 

So this season I am searching for a new series I can get into; seeing kids coming into the bookshop and excitedly purchasing (/getting their parents to fork out for) the latest novel in a trilogy has got me wishing I could have that feeling again. The familiarity of characters, scenes and an author's distinct writing style, something I can emotionally invest in for the long haul. I just finished reading 'The Last Beginning', the sequel (/prequel/accompanier?!) to Lauren James' gorgeous debut 'The Next Together'. I loved hanging out with the characters of Katherine and Matthew again, through their daughter Clove. The whole story made my heart race happily. 

At some point before winter sets in I'd really like to polish off my non-fic TBR shelf. I have all manner of beautiful biographies and essays awaiting me in there.

Also I want to get back into my graphic novels. I only buy and read a select few (A fave is 'Sex Criminals', hell yeah, forever grateful to my pal Jack C for introducing me to that wicked world) and I truly love them. Just the other day I was shelving in the kids' section and I came across Raina Telgemeier's 'Ghosts' and after accidentally reading 40 pages I realised I needed to squirrel it away for myself, obvs. 

September brings back school memories: what book did you most enjoy studying? And what were your favourite and least favourite school subjects?

I actually wrote a blog post ages ago about my favourite books that I discovered through school/college/uni. There are so many! 

I enjoyed studying/performing the Simon Stephens play 'Punk Rock' in Drama AS Level. I was properly drawn in by the more gruesome original fairy tales I studied in my second year at uni – specifically Angela Carter, my goodness, that woman...
I remember also loving all the middle grade Phillip Pullman when I was at secondary school; I'd take each one out of the library week by week and devour them (hidden in textbooks during science lessons, usually). And Lemony Snicket was my jam in primary school. I remember feeling so cool and edgy reading his brilliantly depressing stories about the Baudelaire orphans in between classes. (I loved Klaus so much he featured in a post once, too) 

October means Halloween: Do you enjoy scary books and films? If so what are some of your favourites? 

I am the worst with scary films. Like, no thank you. Same with books – while I enjoy a good tingling thriller as much as anyone, I have to really psych myself up and commit to them, not let myself chicken out. 

I used to LOVE 'The Woman In Black'; I saw the play twice in the West End when I was a teenager and I actually never read the book but would love to. I saw the film as well, on Valentines Day in fresher year of uni, with the guy I fancied who kindly held my popcorn bucket when I was busy screaming into my hands.

(The play was still scarier, btw) 

With November it’s time for Bonfire Night and firework displays. What’s the most exciting book you’ve ever read that really kept you gripped? 

I properly LOVE my home town's bonfire celebrations. They are always magical – a huge event for me, my family and my friends. My town. I couldn't give a shit about fireworks though, tbh. Once you've stood outside in the cold and watched them for about 5 minutes, it gets dull and samey in my opinion. Sorry. 

Books that are more exciting for me than fireworks would be... 

  • 'Viral', by Helen Fitzpatrick. Recently read and am only slightly ashamed to say I loved a bit too much...
  • 'The Last Beginning', by Lauren James. I just finished this book and it made my brain short circuit a few times. (If you wanna read this guys, read 'The Next Together' first, yeah?)
    (Just realised I mentioned this book at the beginning of this post, too. I JUST LOVE IT, OKAY?!)

  • 'Only Ever Yours', by Louise O'Neill. The whole way through I was screaming internally with maximum excitement and mild horror.
  • 'Paper Butterflies', by Lisa Heathfield. And 'Seed', by Lisa Heathfield. Holy shit, Lisa Heathfield tho. Read her words and be enchanted and weirdly unsettled. Thank me later.

What book is your favourite cosy comfort read?

I've actually been thinking about re-reading 'One Day' soon. It never fails to warm me up and get the feels out. That's my go-to cosy fiction. 

I also have always enjoyed curling up with one of my many PostSecret books. There's nothing as warming and lovely as relating to others; seeing yourself in their secrets and knowing you are not alone. 

Curled up with a good book, what is your hot drink of choice? 

I am always up for coffee. OR if it's early in the morning, a green tea. OR if it's late at night, a peppermint tea. Mmm. 

Any plans you’re looking forward to over the next few months? 

SO MANY. Book launches and panels, shows, a house warming (on Halloween), my town's bonfire night...

But the plans I'm most excited and yet terrified about? Lecturing at the University of Winchester. About blogging. *squeals*

This was mad fun. I now nominate... 

...Because if I tag enough people, at least one of them will do it, right?! 

Friday, 7 October 2016

Just Some Things #4 : Laura Tilbrook.

This is the latest instalment in my feature Just Some Things!
In case you don't know, here's how it works...
I send a writer an individual email with a series of prompts from the '642 Things to Write About' book – chosen entirely at random most of the time – and then when I get the responses, I dedicate a post to them and their piece. It could be short, long, backwards, in another language, I don't mind. It'll be an adventure whatever happens! And they can use or ignore however many of the prompts they wish.

When published on the blog, their piece will be put in first and then I'll add in a little piece beneath it, my response to the same prompt. I will always ensure mine is shorter and less prominent, obviously. It's all about featuring my fave writers.

The star of this post is Laura Tilbrook, a Teesside gal with a heart of gold and a raw, honest form of writing. It is a pleasure to have her as a guest.

Her prompt was: Write about the last city you fell in love with which she has ingeniously combined with another I gave her: Your favourite drink.

London: A Drinks Menu to Fall In Love With

July’s Special: Jager & Ginger £2.50
Like my hair, gettit? Used to be a great line, before my new start.

August’s Special: Cider & Black £1.50
Couldn’t pass it off as an eyeliner smudge, but hey it sure takes the edge off.

September’s Special: Southern Comfort & Lemonade £5.50
He was mine and that’s what you should make with all those lemons.

October’s Special: White Wine Spritzer £9.50
Sophisticated writer types probably don’t drink this, but the shy ones do.

November’s Special: Mountain Dew & Vodka £7.50
That juice will keep you making a fool of yourself all night, in the best way.

December’s Special: Gin & Lemonade £1.50
So good it tastes like home, best served with a few tears.

January’s Special: Red Wine £12.00
Stains on my lips & singing on the streets. relief relief relief.

~ Laura's blog & Twitter ~

And now here is my response to the one of the same prompts; write about the last city you fell in love with. 

   I never would have found this city if it weren't for you. Well, maybe my restless feet and mind would have got me here eventually, but I like that you're the reason I went there when I did.
   Coffee is 1,50. And that's the priciest kind. The kind that can be found in bakeries on the corners, the ends of streets. In Prenzlauer Berg district, specifically Schonhauser Allee. That means 'beautiful house road', apparently. It sounds about right. I love being in your beautiful house – flat, even. I enjoy being woken up by the bells in the red brick church outside your curtain-less window, although I understand why that could get somewhat old day after day.
   I like trams. Cities everywhere should have them. Preferably free trams, or at least ones that aren't militantly policed – the other day we made it halfway across town without being checked. It felt naughty. I also enjoy the underground. Sorry, the U-Bahn. It's all blue tiles and yellow metal; simple silvery illustrations of that gate and other tourist delights printed on the windows.
   I love the people. No two people look the same. There are no trends, no styles, at least not that I can see. Tattoos and dreadlocks pass by with no comment, save for maybe a nod of approval, appreciation. Heavy fur-lined jackets obscuring figures, woollen beanie hats, sheer and bright tights and socks pulled high, unwashed jeans that could be from the present day or decades old.
   I adore the overall feel. The vibes pulsing through the city, between the gorgeous buildings old and new, racing down the side streets with the cyclists, ringing out over the gates and memorials. This place is harsh, cold, grey and yet vibrant, luminous, exciting. It's like neon paint has been splashed on the ancient crumbling ruins. I can see why you're home, here. I'll be back for sure. I'm not done with it yet.
   Berlin, ich liebe du.

If you'd like to take part in this series 'Just Some Things', email me at
(Perfect image here by Kayleigh Causton Illustrations)

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dyslexia Awareness Week : An Interview with Ryan.

It's Dyslexia Awareness Week, folks. It's the perfect time to consider our dyslexic friends and their very different reading abilities – and in my case, interview one of them! 

I must start by saying how much I feel for – and admire – those with more limited reading capabilities. I cannot imagine struggling to read, in fact, I suffer from the opposite...

Below is a transcript of a nice chat I had with my friend, Ryan. He is one of those unusual humans who does not have any social media accounts BUT his girlfriend, my little sis, does. Here is her Instagram and Twitter (he features a lot in her photos, obvs!).

To begin our little chat, I gave Ryan a copy of Non Pratt's 'Unboxed' (my review can be found here!), a recently released shorter novel published by the utter babes at Barrington Stoke – a fantastic publisher who call themselves 'the home of super-readable books'. They work hard to make sure those with differing reading abilities are able to enjoy literature as much as possible. They use simpler fonts, wider spacing, tinted pages, and even thicker paper in order to minimise the confusion for dyslexic readers.
Ryan immediately noticed the thicker pages, saying he sometimes finds it difficult when he is able to see through pages – the lettering and sentences can get muddled.

My first and most burning question was how Ryan actually saw words printed on a page. I felt so awkward asking, but he was kind enough to describe as best he could.
   'It's like...a block. Just a solid block. The words are all crammed in close together. Yeah, it's hard to separate.' 
   This is easier, though. This book [Unboxed]. The line spaces are good, and the page thickness helps a lot.' 

I then asked, as he had his phone nearby, if he finds it easier maybe to read off a screen. 
   'It's easier, I think. I do sometimes take longer texting--'
   This is where my little sis interjects: 'yeah, he does.' 
   '---but generally it's okay. Like, I can read a page of something on my phone.' 

I was interested in something I'd heard about certain colours being better to read - as in, if a word is written or typed in a different colour, it's easier for some dyslexics to read. I asked Ryan if he found some colours more readable. 
   'I don't think I did, but when we were asked in class if anyone was dyslexic and needed the lessons written on the board in a different colour, that was good. I know it helps others.' 

Touching on the topic of school made me think back to when I first realised dyslexia was a thing, like, at all, and that it was actually quite serious. This realisation came about when some of my peers in classes would be excused during a test - they'd sit outside the classroom at a separate desk, or sometimes in another room/office altogether, and take their test with a supervisor of sorts. I asked Ryan if he ever had that, a special consideration and appropriate allowances made. 
   'Yeah, I took tests separately. You could choose if you had someone with you, too. Like a teacher or an assistant - they'd read out questions for you if you wanted. And then I got extra time as well. There were a few of us who got put in another room.' 
   'So was that nice?' I asked at this point. 'Like, a little crew? I'd like that.' 
   'Yeah, we all knew each other. We all got on.' 

As we wrapped up our chat, I had to ask my friend when it was he discovered he was dyslexic. And then how long it took to be properly acknowledged. I personally know of one girl at my school who was considered a bit batty because she claimed, at 14 years old, that she couldn't read. She would actually cry at times because we'd all be storming ahead with the assigned texts and she'd still be stuck on the first page. Nobody knew what it was that held her back, that troubled her - then she was effectively diagnosed as dyslexic. And it all made sense! 

However, I know that for many it is not that quick. Sometimes it takes years to figure out what's up. A somewhat scary example can be found in Henry Winkler, the beloved Fonz - he only found out that he was dyslexic because his step-son needed help reading and writing as a teen. 

Ryan had this to say about finding out... 
   'Okay, so I found out I was dyslexic in, I think, primary school. I remember being taken out of class by some people with my teacher and they said I had to do some tests and then that's when they just said I did have it. 
   'I got a bit of help in primary school but when I got to secondary school they didn't really help me at all; they said they were more concerned about the kids that had it and misbehaved all the time, whereas I just kept quite quiet so they didn't really bother with me...
   'The teachers knew in primary school so I'm guessing my family knew at that point, too.' 

Thank you so much, Ryan, for letting me get nosy about your dyslexia. It's opened my eyes even more to how it affects some people - and how we must help! 

The heroes this week are Book Life, the school books publishers, and of course a big shout-out to Barrington Stoke once again. Another loving holla at Amber @ The Mile-Long Bookshelf for getting me involved in this, she's a bit of a superstar tbh. See her vlog about this week! 

Posters for Dyslexia Awareness Week, like the cute one below, can be found right here

Also, for your chance to win a free copy of Julia Donaldson's book 'Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door', just tweet @BookLifeSocial and use the hashtag #booklifedaw2016