Lockdown Reads – Pt 1.

Earlier this year I decided I was going to start writing book reviews – lockdown had helped me get out of a huge reading rut and I’ve read (and more importantly enjoyed reading) more this year than I have in a long time. Unfortunately, life and other responsibilities meant that suddenly this intention was relegated to a handful of half finished posts in my drafts – I’m not in the habit of doing anything much other than thinking/feeling about whatever book I’ve just finished in my head, rather than writing about it… With that said I’ve collated a few lil reviews/reflections on some of my lockdown reads below and there’ll (hopefully) be more coming soon…

Lanny by Max Porter – I’d had this on my to read list for a while because it sounded wonderfully strange/intriguing and I loved it even more than I expected to – it was both familiar and otherworldly… and utterly brilliant.

Not far from London, there is a village. This village belongs to the people who live in it and to those who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. It belongs to families dead for generations, and to those who have only recently moved here, such as the boy Lanny, and his mum and dad. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, who has woken from his slumber in the woods. Dead Papa Toothwort, who is listening to them all.

Lanny, Max Porter.

I feel like any attempt at a review couldn’t quite give a sense of this novel – its use of language, its magic, its rhythm and its unpredictability. It really stuck with me and was such a joy to read – I passed it onto my boyfriend afterwords and he loved it too, finishing it just as quickly as I did. Whilst it’s a short read, it’s also one that brims with sensitivity, with the mythical, with the bitterness and the hopefulness of human life and somehow Porter manages to make all this feel effortless. A new favourite that I’m sure read again and again.

Sally Rooney’s Normal People feels too obvious to even talk about, but it was something I finally read early on in lockdown, after the hype for the new BBC series became unavoidable. I fell in love with everything about it – the soft, tender and understated portrayals of emotions that can feel so huge, the settings, the characters themselves (which were portrayed absolutely incredibly by Daisy Edgar Jones, Paul Mescal and the rest of the cast)… So many people have already articulated why far better than I will here, but briefly I’ll say that I loved the way in which Rooney writes dialogue, the way that she explores and expresses those moments that get inside of us and shape who we are as we grow up, and how closely bound that is with where we grew up and the world we thought we knew. Connell’s feelings of being out of place both back home and at University were something that really resonated with me and were probably the moments that made my heart ache the most within it all – that familiar feeling of everything seeming to unravel, leaving you scrambling and rootless is something that will always stick with me.

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld – Set across three different periods of history, from the 1700s to the modern day, the novel follows Sarah, Ruth and Viv as their lives are shaped by the violence of the men surrounding them. The book is not an easy read, it is filled with brutality and violence and brimming with anger. Men are mostly cruel within its pages, in a relentless way which almost loses impact after a while (though that’s relevant to the ways in which we become desensitised to a constant stream of tragedy in our every day lives). Women aren’t the only ones to suffer at the hands of men in the novel and I really appreciated the explorations of the ramifications of war and of childhood abuse – I actually felt like the characters of Michael and Christopher were the most touching in the book in many ways. The narrative following Sarah did not materialise in the way I anticipated, but there are clever echoes and plays upon history throughout and its impact is there in a subtle way. My favourite thing about the book was the way that Wyld captured the fragmentary nature of the way in which we and our families and our pasts all exist together… Part of me definitely felt frustrated by the ending – though I’m not entirely sure that this is a bad thing… Ultimately, this novel felt like a remembrance, an act of defiance against the way in which suffering is so often erased from society, rather than simply a tale of multiple narratives woven together in a necessarily satisfying and palatable way…

A rainy day in the Lakes

Recently it’s felt like the world doesn’t go much further than the stretch of canal near my flat and the handful of shops/cafes I’ve been venturing into as the world begins to open up again. I’m so lucky to live somewhere where I can wander to my favourite bars, bakery and coffee shops (and to have spent the majority of lockdown elsewhere with access to a garden and lovely woods), but the city centre completely lacks the kind of green spaces that always calm me down and make me my happiest. A few weeks ago we had the dreamiest weekend away near Hardcastle Crags and this weekend whilst feeling restless and bored on a Saturday evening booked train tickets to Windermere for the next morning.

It was such a wonderful lil day trip, despite being rather busy – just to see different people boarding or leaving the train and to get that feeling of going somewhere or arriving home again made me feel so much more hopeful and content. Seeing the countryside and different towns and villages through a train window, clambering up a hill and feeling the satisfaction as you reach the top and heading out onto lake Windermere on a lil boat was all just so so lovely. We had the best ice cream at The Little Ice Cream Shop, which I’d definitely recommend making a trip to if you’re either in Windermere or Hawkshead. Windermere is a busy town and doesn’t quite have the same kind of charm as more rural areas of the Lakes (it definitely feels more like a lil holiday seaside village) so I was worried we wouldn’t be able to get any walking/exploring in but we stumbled across a route out up to Brant Fell View Point – a wonderful lil walk that wasn’t too exhausting (after months of very minimal exercise…).

I’m feeling very grateful to have been able to see more of the world again – it’s so easy to get caught up in feeling restless, especially without a car to get out exploring with but getting back to Piccadilly station feeling exhausted, in a satisfying leg achey kinda way, yesterday evening has left me feeling so much brighter!

Books For Bad Days

Hello! With grey rainy days and the mixed feelings that come with lockdown easing, I’ve seen lots of people on my timelines feeling a bit down or struggling at the minute. With this in mind, I thought that I’d quickly share a few reads that I’d recommend for those days when you need a pick-me-up, some perspective or an escape from whatever is going on in your head. Whilst they’re three quite different books, they’re all ones you can dip in and out of and (along with a sugary cup of tea) help me to feel a lot calmer on those days when your mind feels like an overwhelming place to be.

First up is Liv Purvis’ The Insecure Girls Handbook. I truly can’t recommend this book enough for those days when you’re feeling a bit shit about yourself, whether it’s to do with your career, body image or the FOMO that comes from too much time scrolling on Instagram. Liv chats with women who are doing amazing things to empower women across the globe and these varied perspectives and insights mean we can all find a bit of ourselves within this book’s pages. With a relaxed and friendly tone that never veers towards preachy, this book is one you’ll be grateful to have on your shelf on those days when you need something other than your inner critic in your head.

Next is Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. You’ve probably seen Charlie’s beautiful illustrations over on Instagram and it’s not surprising at all that this book won Waterstones Book of the Year in 2019. I can’t quite convey how lovely this book is to own – its’ pages are filled with the most beautiful drawings and it’s just so soothing to flick through and to read. The messages inside are hopeful and keep a childlike feeling of curiosity. On a difficult day, it can be just the kind of thing you need to be reminded that there are gentle and wonderful things in the world.

Finally, I’m finishing up with Emma Mitchell’s The Wild Remedy. Emma talks openly about her struggles with her mental health and beautifully conveys the ways in which nature helps to ground her and keep her going on the difficult days. Her drawings and photographs are the perfect antidote to city living, if you’re craving a bit of green space, and the little details of life on her daily walks or drives through the countryside always give me a brief but lovely escape from whatever’s going on in my own world.

If you end up picking up any/all of these books I really hope they make the rough days a little softer for you. And remember to support independent bookshops as much as possible with your purchases, as they need our support now more than ever.

Self Care and Activism

**edit: after writing this piece I found Yomi Adegoke’s “We need to rethink our ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ approach to activism” piece for Vogue which is absolutely brilliant and essential reading on engagement and mental health for black people and which perfectly expresses what I briefly alluded to regarding Instagram activism – please read it here https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/performative-grief-online **

**edit: I provided a brief personal experience at the top of this primarily for context, not to take the discussion away from the issue at hand – I hope it comes across this way but if you have any constructive criticism about this please let me know.

Last week I took part in a ‘Act For Change’ campaigning workshop as part of my work as a ChangeMaker with 42nd Street. We talked about the importance of self care and maintaining boundaries and I felt reassured about my own struggles with burn-out and the emotional vulnerability that comes with engaging with emotionally charged issues. When it comes to being open about my mental health and advocating for greater accessibility to support and awareness I’ve often found myself feeling completely mentally drained and useless to anyone, including myself. And it’s usually because I’ve failed to have vital boundaries in place whilst relentlessly pouring all of my emotional energy into being vulnerable and advocating for something that feels deeply personal. After the huge spike in awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement, following the horrific murder of George Floyd on 25th May, the importance of having those conversations surrounding self care within activism feels all the more relevant.

If you’re struggling with finding the balance between engaging and taking time in order to mentally recharge, you’re not alone. And you’re not a bad person. Our feeds are, rightly, filled with emotionally demanding content and we are all encouraged to use our platforms to promote awareness and avoid switching off. But we should all distinguish between ‘switching off’ and having healthy boundaries. Taking some time to not go on your phone, to not share every infographic on your newsfeed, to breathe and focus on your personal needs is vital to both your own wellbeing and your capacity to contribute to a cause. And the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been gaining momentum for years, needs us functioning enough to engage long term – this can’t be a spike of engagement with no follow up. I personally failed, upon reflection, to do the work I could’ve done to continue to engage with the Black Lives Matter movement due to emotional burn out in the past – I failed to create boundaries and therefore began to disengage from an issue I really cared about and had been advocating for. It’s a part of privilege to be able to do this and I’m aiming to do better going forward. A brilliant article I’ve found really helpful surrounding this issue is Advocacy and Self Care by Nova Reid on Restless Magazine which I’d encourage everyone to read – she discusses the topic brilliantly and has lots of helpful advice to share. Try to implement the boundaries and self care practices Nova discusses in the article and remember to reach out to friends and family if you’re struggling. And remember you can make a difference without having to perform it on Instagram – your activism doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. You can contribute by choosing where you choose to shop, what you choose to read, the way you stand beside others within your educational or work spaces/your community. Put the work in, use your platform for good, be reflective and conscious of your actions. And take time to breathe and know you’re enough, even when the world feels like it’ll never listen/change.

Things to be grateful for, though I’ve lost track of the weeks.

Books/TV: Everyone’s already talking about it, but the wonderfully tender Normal People BBC series. I put off reading the book until after the series for some reason and regret it very much now because it was one of those novels that just seems to take all of your feelings in it’s hands and squeeze them out and I wish I’d read it so much sooner.

Online Content: A lovely newsletter full of nature and poetry and recipes by my friend Amelia, who always writes beautifully and shares the dreamiest photos of life in Winchester (sign up here if you’d like!).

Moments and people and memories: Watching sweeping rain across distant hills, the view of the cathedral from the garden, clear skies and stars that make me feel more at home in the universe, wonderful poetry in a lovely zine, wrapped up in pink tissue paper by an even more wonderful friend (Thank u so much Skye!!!), further ventures amongst the bluebells, animal crossing tucked up in the loft together with pizza and Louis, gold or pink in the distant sky, eagerly awaited book post, the sound of rain from the loft and the way it drops amongst the trees in the wood, the way a street lamp looks as the day light fades…

My Dark Vanessa – A Review

Hello! Today I thought I’d give writing a book review a go – this isn’t the kind of post I’m used to writing but I’m mainly doing so to see if it’s something I’d enjoy – reading and writing are my favourite things to do so maybe writing about reading will end up being something I do more of!

I’ve had my eye on ‘My Dark Vanessa’ since peach covered proofs started to hit my Twitter and Instagram feeds months ago. Exploring protagonist Vanessa Wye’s relationship with her English teacher, Jacob Strane, and its ongoing impact on her life as, many years later, accusations of sexual assault towards him and others begin to role in, it’s definitely a jarring read. Part of me was admittedly sceptical about whether the novel would bring anything new to conversations regarding abusive relationships, consent and current movements and I steered away from reading about the author or the novel’s controversies, not wanting anything to influence my initial reading. But ultimately, I found a novel that tackles issues of victimhood, consent and how this all fits into the #MeToo era in a nuanced and incredibly emotive way.

One of the things that struck me most about the novel was Vanessa’s struggle with the idea of victimhood – her painful inability to reconcile her expectations of what a victim should be with her own perceived agency and consent in her relationship with Strane. It’s something I think anyone who has ever been in abusive or toxic relationship might be able to identify with – that uncomfortable feeling that something bad has happened to you but that your own behaviour must surely negate from the validity of any resulting trauma. This, combined with Vanessa’s vulnerability during her years at private school left me feeling, in some ways, more connected with her character than I expected to.

That vulnerability and it’s complete exploitation, which Russell expresses so well, is what makes the novel truly devastating. Vanessa, like so many of us when at high school, struggles with feeling unseen and disconnected from those around her. The cruelty of the novel is that, not only is it this very human feeling that allows Strane to groom her in the first place, but it is his manipulation of this feeling; always creating the illusion that Vanessa is in control, able to consent, possessing agency, that not only results in a feeling of ‘otherness’ throughout Vanessa’s adult life, but leaves her feeling as if she is to blame – as if it is that ‘difference’ that means such a relationship could happen to her. The way this manipulation drips through the novel, happening slowly and becoming increasingly apparent as the relationship progresses, leaves you feeling all the more empathetic for Vanessa. The nervousness, the excitement, the familiarity of having a crush portrayed alongside the sinister and increasing cruel behaviour of Strane makes the situation feel truly heartbreaking.

The #MeToo movement’s involvement in the novel fit well with the overarching plot and I found the portrayals of what the movement means for different women to be really well expressed – the opportunistic journalist using awful experiences as a ticket to some sort of woke success, the victim empowered by identifying and exploring her experience, the woman just trying to get through and build her life up and away from abuse. The awful ramifications that women suffer through when they come forward were something I wish any sceptic of the #MeToo movement could read – because this novel is not just a blanket ‘believe women’, it’s an exploration of the ways in which they are failed by the institutions with a duty of care towards them and the way in which their experiences, and their coming forward, are painful and conflicting and far more complex than whether they are a victim or not, whether they are empowered or vilified.

Part of me often felt a little frustrated with Vanessa’s character, though this is no failing of the book at all – whilst it might have been easy to add in traits that would have made her more endearing or likeable, it would’ve also undermined one of the messages of the novel itself. Vanessa should not need to be a palatable character, one who is always easy to empathise with and pity (though she is often that, too) – she should be a human, just trying to understand herself, her experiences, what they mean for her and how she can go on to live a life she is content with. And the public aren’t to own victims, to lay claim to their lives.

I’ve been wondering if, after finishing My Dark Vanessa, I should re-read Lolita for the first time since high school, and how a second reading might impact my perception of both books. It still feels deeply unsettling to hear the occasional reference to Lolita as a love story, and I’d hope that a copy of My Dark Vanessa falls into the hands of any who perceive it so… Not only is it challenging, but My Dark Vanessa is thoughtful, devastating and nuanced – a brilliant sit down and devour kinda’ read.

Making sense of the world in lockdown

Somehow it’s almost been three weeks since my first post written from a time of social distancing and isolation. Time seems to have taken on a dazed, scattered quality where everything feels as if it’s both slowed down and sped up. This week has been perhaps the most difficult in a way – the reality of what’s happening sunk in, the uncertainty over the future settled in my stomach and life began to feel much more overwhelming. I struggled to feel motivated to work and felt too anxious to think for much of the week. But slowly I am beginning to feel more contented again – letting those feelings in and sitting with them for a few days was important and, after a long lie in and breakfast in bed this morning with a copy of Leena Norm’s Poetry Zine ‘Doom Rolled in Glitter’, I’m feeling a little more awake and with it than I have in days.

This is the first week of isolation where I’ve found the energy to sit and read and soak in all the wonderful, creative work people have been sharing and making. Leena’s zine arrived this morning (something I’d been meaning to buy for ages and was prompted to finally do by Skye, whose writing is shared further on in this piece!!) and finding an old favourite poem of hers within it felt like a reassuring greeting from days past – if you haven’t already give How to Find Yourself a watch/listen because it really is the loveliest piece.

Whilst feeling a little lost and homesick I’ve spent time writing lots in my journal, which is always therapeutic, but also eagerly awaiting everyone else sharing words and moments from their own lives. It’s been something perfectly expressed over on Man Repeller in ‘I’m Clinging to Personal Writing More Than Ever Right Now‘ and I’m so grateful that, despite being so far away from everyone I care about, I can get glimpses of the moments people are content in, the things they’re afraid of, all the ways in which they are living and feeling and trying to navigate this new version of the world, just like I am. My lovely friend Skye wrote A love letter to Instagram Poetry over on her new blog and perfectly expressed the importance of celebrating platforms that, right now, are all the more important to connect and inspire us, whilst Charlotte (who you may know as Girl On Film) perfectly expressed how important it is to avoid pressuring yourself into turning such a huge upheaval of normal life into an opportunity for productivity over on Restless Magazine.

Outside of reading, this week has also had some lovely moments thrown in. A roast dinner on a Sunday with the fire crackling away, longer, lighter evenings and the excitement to unwrap a package containing the roller skates I’ve dreamed of owning for ages and finally treated myself to. The world feels so different right now, but I feel so lucky to be making sense of it with lots of lovely words and people and the distraction of trying to stand upright balanced on pretty pastel wheels.

The first week

It’s been just over a week since I made a terrible attempt at packing (forgetting all of my makeup and most of my clothes) and left our flat in Manchester. The evening of my last blogpost, where I decided I’d write weekly about what I’m grateful for, saw the U.K go into lockdown. In the days following we’ve seen case numbers and deaths due to Covid-19 continue to rise and so many have lost both financial security and key support systems. Being away from those I care about, particularly if they’re going through a rough time, has been difficult. But I also feel so lucky that there has been so much to be grateful for mixed in – it’s both strange and reassuring that those realities can sit side by side. I know everyone who is sharing on the internet is grappling with the uncertainty of what to post – the good can feel almost insensitive right now. But, as so many have pointed out, looking for and feeling that good is all the more important when everything feels so uncertain. The celebration of the small things by others has really helped me to feel less alone in the midst of everything that’s going on – glimpses of people’s afternoon walks or the cakes they’re baking or the books they’re curled up with…

Over the last week there’s been so much to savour – there’s the obvious things, like evenings filled with bird song and wood smoke and skies that drip gold. There’s the message notifications from friends, sharing a poem they think I’d like or checking in to see how I am. There’s the way people all over my timelines have opened up and showed kindness to each other and the reassuring ways in which working from home has kept an element of the familiar, even if it’s the relief of finishing up for the weekend and staying in bed for longer on a Saturday.

There’s still the pangs for friends I won’t see for a while, moments when my chest is tight with panic and I just want to be with the people I worry about the most. There’s sadness that I’m not going to see the blossom in Didsbury Park at all this year or have the birthday party I’d hoped for or explore Amsterdam with my favourite people… But there is still so much good.

Wearing your vulnerabilities on your sleeve

I didn’t get around to blogging yesterday, but I did have a post published on one of my favourite websites (!!!!) – it’s talking about something I’d originally written about on this blog – hair loss. I was so proud of myself for opening up about something that’s really impacted my self esteem over the years (you can read the piece here), particularly because when I last tried to talk about on this blog I’d really struggled to fully be open about my experience/feelings – it’s hard to open up about the most vulnerable parts of yourself and put them out there for the world to see.

I’ve always wanted to be a writer – I’ve just always written for as long as I can remember and I struggle to express things properly in conversation, am pretty introverted and just can’t quite see myself doing anything else and being truly content. And I’ve always been as open and honest as possible in my writing, whether that made the writing seem lazy or overdramatic or angsty as hell. But when I started sharing stuff online I suddenly became self conscious of that. In some ways, this is definitely something I need to work on – it comes with wanting to be a writer to put yourself out there, expose yourself and your insecurities and your emotions to others. But I also think there’s this sense on the internet that you must bear your soul when expressing opinions and I struggle with it – it can be so emotionally draining and I don’t always have the energy to share my perspective on issues because the place that that perspective comes from is so deeply personal. It’s something I’m trying to get more comfortable with and figure out my boundaries surrounding and I hope I’ll get there in the end. But until then, I’ll try and keep reminding myself that I don’t have to expose the rawest, most vulnerable moments in a quick tweet responding to the news of the day. I don’t have to share anything I’m not comfortable with. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not honest or that I’m less of a writer.