Book Diaries Receives the Liebster Award!

Liebster AwardI’m very excited today to announce that my Book Diaries blog has received the Liebster Award!

The Award is presented to blogs by other bloggers and is a great way to discover new voices and fresh topics. I was happy to be nominated by Marie Anne Cope (thank you Marie!), who is a horror and dark fantasy author; her books include the novels Bonds and Broken Bonds and the collection of short stories Tales from a Scarygirl. If witches and vampires are your thing, you can find lots of great stuff on her blog Scary Ramblings.

In accordance with the rules of the Award, I have to write several things. Read on!

Ten random facts about myself…

  1. I am a professionally qualified librarian.
  2. I once posed in a ‘Calendar Girls’-style calendar for my old amateur dramatics group.
  3. I went to the same Oxford college as the Rev. W. Awdry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine.
  4. I am half Welsh, half English.
  5. In the Myers Briggs personality test I am an INTJ.
  6. My favourite book of all time is The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
  7. I have travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
  8. I passed my Grade 7 piano exam.
  9. The tables at my wedding were named after all the actors who have played Doctor Who.
  10. I played Olivia in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Answers to the questions posed by Marie…

1. When and why did you start to write?

I used to write a lot as a child, but haven’t done so for years. The Book Diaries is kind of my way back into writing (as well as reading), and it has been quite inspirational in that regard: instead of writing about other people’s novels, I now want to write one of my own! I have a story in my head that wants to get out, and, being a fan of fantasy, the idea of creating my own world has a huge appeal. I’ve started making copious notes about the plot and characters, and have determined that next year will be the year I finally do it!

2. What is your chosen genre and what was your motivation for choosing it?

My novel will be a fantasy novel, specifically a supernatural novel, and most of the other ideas that I have in my head for further creative projects are also sci-fi and fantasy (SFF). I’ve always enjoyed those sorts of stories myself, I think because it enables me to escape from the mundane worries of daily life and imagine how the world could be improved – or at least made more interesting – on a much larger scale. I also find myself asking ‘what if?’ quite frequently: what if some aspect of nature or civilisation was different in some key way? How would that affect the way we live? I guess I’d like to explore those thoughts further and see what develops; and SFF is the perfect place to do it.

3. Is your blog in the same genre as your writing and, if not, why did you decide to make it different?

My two responses above probably answer that. Although I want to write creatively in SFF, I also want to write about books (and the joy of reading) more generally. I’m interested in having ideas and pursuing them, and while SFF certainly offers a great deal of space for that, I also firmly believe that any book (or any story in any medium, come to that) can inspire you to think differently and create change in your life. So what I’m trying to do on this website is both indulge my own need for speculative storytelling, and offer support and encouragement to people who want to use books to pursue their dreams.

4. What came first – blogging or novel/short story writing?

I wrote short stories as a child, I’m now blogging, and I have at least one novel lined up for the future!

5. Do you think a blog is a must for a writer and, if so, why?

I think it’s a great way of (a) honing your writing and editing skills and (b) building up a relationship with your readers. People are always keen to know about the person behind the book cover, and blogging is a fab opportunity to talk about the things that make you tick. You can go into more detail about elements of your books that readers might find interesting, give them sneak previews or behind-the-scenes reports of projects and events, ask for feedback on work in progress, or just chat about your daily life. Of course, if you hate the very thought of it, then don’t force yourself! But it’s definitely worth trying: set yourself a manageable schedule and you may even end up enjoying it…

6. Describe your writing routine and why it works for you.

At the moment I write a blog post every fortnight. I try not to set specific dates for posting, as it makes me feel too tied down, but I do try to get the posts published by the Wednesday of each week in which they’re due, so that I’m ready to talk about them on our community radio show, Calon Talks Books! While I can fit in a blog post around other tasks in a day, when it comes to writing my novel I think I’ll need to set aside larger chunks of time: half days or whole days, depending on my schedule. My freelance work tends to be busier in the summer, so I may end up doing my writing during the winter and earning money during the summer! Time will tell, though.

7. Do you have a special place to write and, if so, where is it and why?

Not really! I have a back bedroom that functions as a study, and that’s where I do all my work. It’s comfortable and free from distractions, which is all I really need. Having said that, I have taken myself off once or twice to Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, so when next year rolls around and I want to dedicate more time to my novel, I may just use that as my ‘special place’. It’s got a magical vibe for anyone wanting to settle down and concentrate on writing – and being surrounded by all those books is certainly inspiring!

8. If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself as you embark on your writing journey?

Just do it! Make time for writing, and keep at it: the more you do, the better you will get and the more you will develop. You also don’t know what you’re capable of before you start, but there’s only one way to find out…

9. What is your favourite genre and is this the same as the one you write?

See above – I love reading sci-fi and fantasy, and am looking forward to writing my own stories in this genre. The Book Diaries introduces me to a variety of books across genres, and this is both interesting and hugely valuable, but it’s SFF I’ll turn to when I want to indulge myself or take it easy. I’m currently trying to finish Shadowmancer by GP Taylor, which I’ve been struggling to fit in amongst Book Diaries reading and a busy work season – but when that’s done, I have plenty more to choose from!

10. What do you feel the advantages and disadvantages of blogging are?

The advantages I’ve mentioned above, but there are admittedly downsides. Firstly, it can take up a fair amount of time, and if you’re already struggling to find time for your creative writing, it may not seem very sensible to eat into that time further by blogging. I guess blogging should come once you’ve got a regular writing routine up and running, or when you want to start reaching out to your readers a little more. The other downside is that it can sometimes be difficult to know what to say in a blog post. Particularly if you’re an introvert, talking about yourself, your thoughts and your feelings can be quite challenging. Ultimately it’s a matter of striking a balance, finding what you’re comfortable with and ensuring that the blog supplements your creative writing rather than detracts from it.

11. What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I’m going to quote Polonius from Hamlet here: ‘To thine own self be true’. We are surrounded by advice both good and bad; but bear in mind that what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. I have realised that I would rather fail in my own way than succeed by imitating someone else. It’s not that I don’t listen to words of wisdom or take on board practical suggestions, but if something feels wrong for me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to heed my own intuition and figure out how *I* would do something.

My own nominations for the Award…

My 11 questions for my nominees…

  1. What book would you take to a desert island, and why?
  2. Tell us about a favourite book-related memory from your childhood/youth.
  3. Has a book ever changed the course of your life?
  4. Pick a favourite quote from a book and tell us what it means to you.
  5. If your life was a book, what genre would it be?
  6. Who is your favourite fictional character, and why?
  7. What is the best film adaptation of a book you’ve seen?
  8. What is your favourite place to read?
  9. Which book is next on your ‘to-read’ list, and why?
  10. What is your favourite medium for consuming stories: books, film, TV, theatre, other?
  11. If you could only read one author for the rest of your life, who would you pick?

The official rules of the Liebster Award 2016

If your blog has been nominated for the Award, and you have chosen to accept it, you need to do the following:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. Try to include a little promotion for the person who nominated you.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a ‘widget’ or a ‘gadget’. Images you can use for your 2016 Liebster Award can be found at http://theglobalaussie.com/the-official-rules-of-the-liebster-award-2016/
  3. List these rules in your post.
  4. Answer your nominator’s questions.
  5. Give 10 random facts about yourself.
  6. Nominate 5–11 small blogs (preferably below 200 followers) that you feel deserve the award.
  7. Create 11 questions for your own nominees to answer.
  8. Once you have written and published it, you then have to inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

Happy reading (and writing)!

A New Page: from 2015 to 2016

Book and flowers

And so we’re into a new year, and I have a new set of books to challenge myself with! (Check out my Pinterest board or see below this post for a sneak peek at the titles.) But I can’t just launch myself forward without taking stock of what has gone before, can I?

When I started the Book Diaries blog last year, I was struggling to make time for reading. It seemed like an indulgence when I felt I ought to be spending every waking moment working on my freelance business and drumming up new sources of income.

Yet at the same time, I knew that my freelancing alone wasn’t giving me the life I’d always dreamed of. I needed something else, some creative input, some project to give me alternative views on life and help me see things differently – and so this blog was born.

I decided to actively seek some new way forward as a result of every book I read. I would use each story to tap into my subconscious and let it inspire me, give me fresh insights, help me move forward when I was feeling stuck, by forcing myself to take action – any action.

I had no idea what kinds of changes I’d implement after any of these books, but, looking back, I can see that they largely fall into three categories:

  • Changes in my attitude to the world: making an effort to become more understanding and tolerant of those different to me.
  • Changes in my attitude to myself: determining to feed the good and starve the bad in me, in the hope of becoming a better person.
  • Creative inspiration: pursuing ideas for new creative projects and exploratory adventures.

What I’ve also been doing, unseen by you, is writing updates around three months after each blog post, reporting on whether I’ve actually implemented the changes I said I’d make. I realised that promising something on a blog wasn’t the same as actually doing that thing – and so I decided to make myself accountable.

This has actually been one of the most meaningful parts of the whole experiment for me. I’m finding that, as I approach each three-month ‘deadline’, I suddenly remember that I was supposed to have done something (anyone who has even worked in an office and attended regular but infrequent meetings will probably recognise this feeling!) – and the prospect of having to report back is enough to galvanise me into actually getting on with it, if I haven’t already.

Sometimes I find that the actions I intended to take are no longer relevant, or I’ve achieved something else which fulfils the underlying need, if not the letter of the intention. Ultimately, whether or not I succeed in each aim is itself a learning experience: a reminder of how quickly life can move on, as new priorities overtake old ones. But the key message always remains the same: do something.

(The updates, along with their original blog posts, will be collected into a book I am self-publishing this year: The Book Diaries, Volume 1: A Trip Through Time. Stay tuned to this site and my Facebook page for more information!)

And so, as I move from one year’s books to the next, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on what overall changes have happened to me this year as a result of my reading – and where they’ve got me heading in 2016.

Essentially, I’ve gained clarity on what I want to be doing with my time.

I’ve become accepting of the existing freelance work that I do. Even though it isn’t the most creative of businesses, I still enjoy it and have come to terms with its inherent unpredictability. It also brings me a decent income, which saves me a lot of mental anguish fretting about bills; and I don’t spend every day on this work, which frees me up for more creative endeavours.

Speaking of which… I’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about things that I’m going to do, not things I’ve actually done. This is probably due to the random nature of the inspiration I’ve received from my reading! I’ve tried one bright idea after another, only for some to stick and some to fall by the wayside. It’s been a bit frustrating, as I’ve realised that sporadic creativity isn’t particularly satisfying for me – I don’t just want to create stuff, there needs to be an underlying purpose that connects everything together.

Which brings me to… the ethos behind the Book Diaries themselves. If there’s one thing I have stuck with for the whole year, without fail (if occasionally slightly behind schedule), it’s these blog posts. I’ve realised that this is my WHY: the reason I want to do all the random creative things that strike me at odd moments of the day (and night). It’s to feel that I’m taking action, changing my life and constantly moving forward.

And the point is: I don’t just want this for myself. I want to share my enthusiasm for action with all of you, and encourage you to do the same. It’s too easy to feel stuck in a rut, but with just a few small (but regular) changes, you can get your brain into the habit of thinking – and doing – differently. And who knows where that might lead?

I’ve been talking recently about writing up my ‘method’ for creating change from stories, and I’m still working on this. At times it feels almost too simple for an actual book, but then I remember all the things I want to say, and the practical exercises that I really believe can help kickstart you into action, and I am determined to keep going. I don’t quite know when it will see the light of day – but it will happen.

And lastly, all those random creative ideas just bursting to get out? I’ve found the perfect home for them. If you’ve followed my newsletter* for a while, you might recall me mentioning a zine I wanted to create: well, the time has come! I am currently collaborating on a spin-off zine from our radio show Calon Talks Books, which will include my own stuff as well as contributions from other writers. We intend to print the first issue by the end of January, and subsequent issues will come out quarterly. Initially we’re aiming for this to be print only, but we may get it online at some point too: it’s all a bit of an experiment at the moment! Stay tuned for more news… (*You can sign up for my newsletter here if you’d like to but haven’t yet done so.)

Not only this, I may just be inspired to start up a zine of my own, for all the slightly more niche ideas that are perhaps a bit too wild, weird and wonderful for the space I have to spare with others. Exciting times!

So there you have it. At the start of 2015 I was:

  • working too hard
  • not reading enough
  • not producing anything creative

… and now, as I enter 2016, I find myself:

  • still working hard – but smarter
  • reading plenty – and enjoying it oh so much
  • committed to producing two books and two zines this year at a minimum

I feel I’ve finally found the balance between necessary work, creative work with a purpose, and creative work just for fun. 2016 is already shaping up to be busier than ever, but – I hope – full of joy.

What about you?

Have you transformed your reading habits during 2015?

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions to be more creative during 2016?

Please share in the comments below!

Why Having Ideas Is Like Chasing Butterflies

ButterflyI’m making good progress on my book challenge. Three months into the project means I’m a quarter of the way through, which is slightly scary: I’ve gone through 50 years of literature in what seems like no time.

It’s been incredibly illuminating. As I mention in my rationale for the challenge, my aim is not to write standard book reviews; it’s to see what immediate, practical changes I can make to my life as a direct result of reading each book. I’m trying to catch myself right at ‘The End’ and reflect on what has stayed with me; to ask myself each time, “in what way am I now a different person?”

I’m finding that, for every thought that stays with me, there are hundreds more that simply fizzle out. By the time I reach that final page, I know that, drifting out there in the universe of unfinished things and unformed plans, are the wraith-like remnants of once-important flashes of meaning that, ultimately, didn’t have the stamina to make it through and fix themselves in my brain.

For me, this is part of the fascination of my project. I’m aware, as I’m reading, that every page holds some new wonder, some new connection, some new insight into life – and yet, I also know that the human brain is only capable of retaining a certain amount of information at any one time.

I’ve deliberately set out to make this a ‘real-life’ rather than an academic scenario. No matter what crops up that I might want to remember in future, I’m not making notes; I did enough of that at university, and the point of this challenge is to get me up to speed with simply reading again. Not over-thinking, not sucking every last nuance out of a sentence before moving on to the next: just reading, enjoying the story, and moving on.

And yet this isn’t proving to be as easy as I’d hoped.

The problem is rather unexpected. It isn’t that I spend time mulling over the meaning of a bunch of words. It’s the fact that practically every paragraph gives me a gaggle of new ideas of my own that I want to run off and pursue.

Imagine doing the gardening: pruning, weeding, planting, all according to plan, all in tune with the seasons. Now imagine being distracted, every time you bow your head to the soil, by a flight of rare butterflies, colours blazing, wings a-shimmering, sailing past your head and somehow, all as one, breathing a tantalising melody that hints at the strange, far-off places they inhabit – and which you too, if only you put down your tools, can find if you follow them into the wild blue yonder…

Yes. This is what it’s like inside my head when I’m reading. And I can’t believe I’d forgotten that this is what books do to me. They transport me to all sorts of strange places by means of my own creativity, which takes what I’ve just read, feeds on it, and rebirths it in my mind as something new and totally unique to me.

And these newborn babes of my imagination, they scream and they cry and they wail for my attention – and how can I not give it to them? I may not write down notes on what I’ve learned, for I can always read the book again to pick up the sense of it. But I can’t ignore the calling of my inspiration, for she is an erratic little madam and, if neglected, may well choose not to grace me with her unique revelations again.

And so I am not making the progress with my reading speed that I’d hoped – but it is not for the reasons I might have assumed. I am giving in to the lure of the ideas and letting them take wing – much like those imaginary butterflies – and I am following them wherever they might lead.

The last ‘practical change’ I made to my life as a result of reading a book was not something serious or worthy. It was to open a new vein of creativity, specifically with regard to my cat’s blog. It wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’m certain it won’t be what others were expecting either.

That’s the joy of reading. Books can take us to places we never even dreamed of. I’m only three months in to my book challenge, and already I’m beginning to notice a difference, to see the world that is opening up both within my head and without. I can’t begin to envisage where I might find myself come December.

But I am feeling very excited at the prospect.

24-Book Challenge

Pile of booksI am a great lover of reading, although you wouldn’t know it if you’d spoken to me over the last few years.

When asked, ‘So, what have you read recently?’, I usually mumble something about not having had much time, or – only marginally better – maybe having achieved the grand total of one chapter in a book I’ve had on the go for three months…

Reasons for not reading

Why is it that I haven’t made time for reading? I think there are two main reasons:

  1. Over-thinking. I studied English Literature (and French) at university. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t stop me being able to read for pleasure – but it has left me with a terrible habit of needing to fully absorb, digest, and understand every last point before moving on to the next sentence/page/chapter. This means it can take me a veeeery loooong time to get through a text – and this makes it difficult to maintain any kind of momentum with my reading, as I feel I’m wading through treacle.
  2. Guilt. It feels like an indulgence! Something I’d love to do more of, but can’t, because I should be doing other more productive things instead. This has got worse since I started freelancing: now that I’m wholly responsible for generating my own income, I feel that every minute of every day should be spent on something that could lead to work. The idea of settling down for an hour to get lost in a book feels like something I simply can’t justify doing.

What a dreadful state of affairs for a book lover to get herself into, eh?

Reasons for reading

And so one day I sat down and gave myself a talking to. I reminded myself of all the reasons why reading books is one of the best things I could be doing with my time. To pick just a handful, and in no particular order:

  • It sparks new ideas of my own.
  • It keeps me informed about the world.
  • It makes me feel I’ve treated myself / enjoyed some ‘me time’.
  • It exposes me to different uses of language.
  • It gives me an insight into how other people think and feel.
  • and much, much more.

Last, but not least, reading makes me realise that life can be different; that the life I’m currently living is just one path; and that there are many more paths open to me if I want to take them. Reading about other characters and their life choices reminds me that I too have options, and can act in a multitude of ways in any given situation.

For example:

  • Would I follow the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, stay safely at home, or join battle?
  • Would I give in to the power of Big Brother, revolt against it, or dope myself up?
  • Would I accept Mr Darcy’s proposal, Mr Collins’, or remain unmarried?

Once I started thinking like this, I realised that, far from being an indulgence, reading was in fact a vital necessity. I’d got into a rut, trudging along familiar tracks, feeling as though I wasn’t in control of my own life’s direction – and I wanted to break free, wrest back my autonomy, and start striding out on paths I’d positively chosen for myself.

I realised that the best way to do this was to start reading in earnest again. Reading would show me the possibilities and choices open to me, and give me a much broader field of experience to draw on for making changes.

And so the seeds of my 24-book challenge were sown…

The 24-book challenge

The specific books chosen for this challenge were an unintended consequence of an advent calendar I’d published on my old website, Curious Pathways. I’d decided to run a countdown of books from the past 24 decades of literature, and (fairly randomly) selected one book per decade. I then realised that this was a pretty good overview of the history of literature – and a good place to start my new reading habit.

I will be reading one book per fortnight, which takes me more or less to the end of the year, and I’ll publish a ’round-up’ post right at the end. I will blog about the books in reverse chronological order: the most recent first, and then going back in time.

My specific aim is to tell you how each book affects my worldview and what changes I intend to make to my life as a result of reading it. I won’t be making notes as I read, as I want to make this as ‘real’ a scenario as possible: I want to read each book in a normal way and then see what stays with me when I’ve finished.

I hope that, by doing this, I’ll be able to show you the difference a book can make to your life – not in a theoretical, academic way, but in a way that can genuinely help you change things for the better.

Are you ready for the ride…?