A Tolkien Collection

9:39 am

Yes, that is half a bottle of prosecco in the background that I forgot to move.

If I'm ill for a prolonged amount of time, I'll rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If it's Christmas, I'll rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I'm procrastinating, I'll rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There's an odd comfort in that series for me, perhaps reminding me of my teenage years when I first watched them, perhaps the enveloping nature of such a well-built fantasy world that removes you from your reality (and the near-hundreds of hours I spent playing Lord of the Rings Online when I was supposed to be revising for my A Levels). I realised the other day that I do not own all three books of the trilogy (sorry), but I do own a ridiculous amount of additional material for someone who isn't well-versed in the literary versions of these stories. Reading the series is on my neverending list of things to do in 2017, but I thought today I would show off my lovely little collection of Tolkien literature. 

Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day - This was a Waterstones gift card purchase, (faux?) leather-bound, with beautiful illustrations throughout. It really does feel like a book from another world.

The Shaping of Middle-Earth by J. R. R. Tolkien - I don't care what fantasy world it is, I always want the backstory. I always want to know how it was made, who the gods are, some sort of timeline of creation, the history that shaped it. That's probably why I love the Legend of Zelda series so dearly. This was a pre-work Amnesty purchase, which you can hear more about here.

And then for Christmas from my family Secret Santa I got the one present to rule all presents...

The Tolkien Treasury including The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Farmer Giles of Ham, Roverandom, and Smith of Wootton Major by J. R. R. Tolkien - This is the most gorgeous little set (quite literally, they are adorably small books) of Tolkien literature, complete with illustrations, maps, and notes on the creation of their stories and their amendments over time. If you know a Middle-Earth fan, this would be a wonderful present for them as it both looks good and contains all of the fantasy information their brain could possibly handle.


Two current non-fiction reads

10:20 am

2017 so far has been basically all non-fiction. I can deduce no reason for this so I'll just go along with it. I picked up Oliver Sacks' The Mind's Eye midway through a first aid course I recently undertook as I think my brain suddenly decided that it was fascinated by the human body, in particular the peculiarities of the brain. This is one of Sacks' many, many popular science and psychology books, this one focusing in particular on our brain's relationship with the visual world. The first chapter is about a woman who suddenly cannot sight-read music as she could before, and letters on a page no longer create words for her. It's an interesting read, but I'm currently very distracted by Nic Compton's The Shipping Forecast. Yes, this is a book about the Shipping Forecast, one of my favourite things in the world. Can't sleep? Shipping Forecast. Want to pretend you're at the seaside? Shipping Forecast. This book outlines the history of the programme, its origins, and goes into detail on each area discussed. Never before have I concurrency wanted to passionately be a a sailor and not want to be a sailor. Steer clear of those 11s.


Things that are making me happy... #2

12:55 pm

Photo by @theglasspassport

Introducing my boyfriend to the wonders of Sherlock. We're about to finish season two AKA the beginning of the end of the show's quality. 

A nostalgic girls night in with my best friends. Prosecco in mugs, old videos of us as teenagers, and face packs that do nothing to your skin.

Decaf coffee not actually tasting that bad.

Becoming a qualified first aider. I keep quashing the achievement but it's definitely something to be proud of (and I now keep dreaming about open fractures).

Crisp winter mornings. But only if I've sufficiently layered up. Otherwise they're shit.

'I'd Be Waiting' by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, 'Hawaiian Air' by Friendly Fires, 'Take Me Home' by Phil Collins, and anything off Paolo Nutini's first album.

Good people achieving the good things that they deserve. My friends are inspiring.


Hints at a thesis

12:00 pm

Although wary at this early juncture to say anything about the content of my thesis considering the fact the chances of me getting accepted and funded are very slim, here is some book post that came today that gives a little hint as to what I'm planning on researching...


A new release from an old favourite

12:47 pm

If you've been following me for a while, you'll be well aware of my love for Rebecca Mascull, in particular her 2015 release Song of the Sea Maid*. Since then I've been eagerly anticipating her new release which she gave me a handful of details about when I interviewed her a few years ago, which you can catch up on here if you missed it. So naturally when a proof for The Wild Air* popped through my letterbox, I was absolutely over the moon. This time Rebecca is writing about Della Dobbs, a young woman in Edwardian England with the burning passion to fly during a time where female pilots were unheard of. I cannot wait to get started with this book and become enchanted by another of Rebecca's headstrong protagonists.

For my reviews of Rebecca's previous novels, see here and here. The Wild Air* is due to be released on 6th April by Hodder & Stoughton.


Like a rolling stone...

8:31 pm

Photo by @bonniekdesign

The PhD application has been sent in. I got an email from one of my previous tutors in the week stating her interest (!!!) in my proposal and saying that she would be happy to be put down as my potential supervisor. So, that's all sent off now. I know one of my references has been completed and also sent off. One down, one to go.

I'll hear back within four weeks as to whether I've been invited to interview, need to submit more work, or have straight away been offered a place (highly unlikely). How scary. Then I'll have to go through the procedure to apply for funding, which sounds hellish, but there's no way I'm doing this without funding. I don't have £12,000+ to fork out on yet another degree, however much I wish I did.

The wheels are turning, things are happening. More updates to come.


The Smiths: M Train by Patti & Autumn by Ali

12:00 pm

Just Kids was one of my favourite reads of 2016. Utterly absorbing and dream-like, yet completely everyday in its themes. I'm surprised it took me this long to pick up my copy of M Train (my first read of 2017 and a very good start indeed). I feel like Patti's world and way of seeing things has been in the back of my mind ever since closing that last page of Just Kids. M Train certainly fulfilled that craving for more. In fact, I may have even liked it more than the previous. Hearing about Patti's travels around the world on her own, writing, meeting old friends, taking part in bizarre, artistic events that only Patti could be a part of, was glorious. Her descriptions evoke so many emotions, it's hard not to believe that you're also there. The way she writes about her late husband, Fred, makes him feel like a constant companion, despite the majority of the book taking place long after his death. Patti has such a love for him, for art, for literature, for beauty in the everyday, it's hard not to latch onto this and start looking at things in the same way. Her ephemera is art. Her morning coffee routine is art. Her long black coat is art. Patti's memoirs make me want to go on adventures in my own neighbourhood and across the world, finding inspiration and beauty in all that I see. I'm going to plough my way through her poetry collections now, in hope that I find more of these feelings.

With the other Smith we have fiction, the first in a collection of four novels based on the seasons of the year. In Autumn, the perspective shifts between Elisabeth and Daniel, close friends, confidantes, and next-door neighbours since Elisabeth's youth. Daniel is now 101, living in a care home, spending most of his time under induced sleep. He dreams of youth and freedom and nature. Elisabeth argues with post office clerks about her passport, muses on the controversial art of Pauline Botys, and lives in a world leading up to the Brexit vote. Despite this glaring look at an issue of contemporary society, the book feels timeless, maybe through its Keats- or Dickensian references, like most things Ali Smith writes. Even the scenes outside of Daniel's sleep feel dream-like as Elisabeth floats through the world in a daze, researching art and art history (another theme prevalent in Smith's work). Like Patti's books, I would love to live in Ali's world. There is art everywhere, and all art has a story. It just takes a bit of digging to find it.



12:00 pm

After walking past the Amnesty International shop for the sixth time that week, I decided I really just needed to go in there and by the copy of Last Exit to Brooklyn I looked at longingly every time I passed. I was feeling a little haunted by Alt-J, listening to their first album on repeat for the first half of the week on my record player, seeing their keyboard player on University Challenge, and then this, glaringly obvious, through the glass. For a little clarification, their song 'Fitzpleasure' is based on a character from this book, Tralala, and there's been an itch in the back of my brain since finding that out to buy the book. And then it appeared.

Amnesty International seemed like that sort of place where they would have a minimum card payment, so I decided to spend a tenner, just in case. Of course I didn't ask. That would ruin the fun. I grasped The Shaping of Middle-Earth to my chest as soon as I saw it, with a Gollum-like growl. I'd recently marathoned the original film trilogy over Christmas for the millionth time, naturally, so it was still at the front of my mind. My Dungeons and Dragons DM played the music from the Shire as my character set out on their final journey. Everything seems to be working in themes at the moment.

I still wasn't quite there on the minimum card payment front. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction stood out to me, as did The Silent Woman, a biography on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. By the time I had got to the counter and rummaged swiftly through the £1 records as the lady was pricing up my purchases, I had hit a comfortable £11.50, Rossini/Dukas vinyl in hand. Now I can listen to 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' on repeat, rather than Alt-J. A new theme, perhaps?


Writing Extract #2

12:00 pm

Photo by @adamexcell

An extract from the backstory of one of my Dungeons & Dragons characters. She's like a tiny Artful Dodger and I've only really had the chance to play her once. Maybe she'll come back. Maybe she won't.

Rowan Narvanmyr wasn’t your average half-elf, if there is such a construct as an ‘average half-elf’. The entire concept of being ‘half-‘ anything brings the whole idea of being into existence. Are you really ever half or whole of anything? But we’re getting off-topic. Rowan Narvanmyr was half-elf, half-human, her pointed ears and stubbornness coming from her ethereally beautiful mother (it’s an easy way to remember someone as ethereally beautiful when they’re dead) and her freckles and passion for adventure from her grubby father. Now just to give the game away to you, reader, Rowan Narvanmyr is an orphan, and your typical Oliver Twist one at that. Fingerless gloves, crinkled nose, and quick eyes. She’s a rogue. A thief. A cutpurse. She’ll steal your silver and give you a bow as you wander past, continuing with your day unaware of anything going awry. The important point is that she wasn’t your average half-elf, and that’s where our story begins.

Picture a cold and stormy night. This isn’t the cold and stormy night her mother died, or the cold and stormy night her father went missing. It’s always cold and stormy somewhere, so weather is unimportant. This was the cold and stormy night Rowan learned that there is more to the world than grubby humans, mysterious elves, and lots of trees to climb. This was the cold and stormy night Rowan met her first gnome, and this was the gnome who saved her life.

Now the thing that goes hand-in-hand with a cold and stormy night is snow. There’s a lot of snow in the North, particularly when you’re living on a frozen bit of glacier that’s broken off from the mainland that only connects to the coast on, you guessed it, cold and stormy winter nights. Everything is constantly in flux when you’re temporarily living in a frozen wasteland, the scenery shifting with each gust of wind, the ground constantly cracking under your feet. It only takes one shudder to force the walls around you to cave in and send you to an early (very early when you’re barely sixteen) frozen grave. Nobody would find her here, she thought, as the avalanche rolled towards her. But somebody did. Now it is important to note that for gnomes, food is the most important thing in their life. Food and spreading joy. They’re basically the more-friendly hobbits of this fictional universe. Small, hungry, occasionally hairy. Tolen Gakas was hunting around for a winter delicacy: ice turnips. He worked in food delivery, a common job for a gnome, and was famous for his high-quality produce. Every few weeks in winter he would venture out into the frozen wasteland with his pick, his rope, and his grapple all tucked away in his knapsack, hunting for the finest in root vegetables. ‘Who doesn’t love a root vegetable in winter?’ he thought to himself as his thick boots trudged through the ice.


Turn and face the strange ch-ch-changes...

12:00 pm

Photo by @cant89

So, I've applied to do a PhD. That's new and unexpected.

I had wanted to do a PhD since I was in sixth form, really, but the idea had left my mind by the time I had started my masters. Studying was getting a bit tiring and I just wanted to start work. Nearly a year and a half into working, I miss studying like there's a part of me that's disappeared.

My initial plan for doctoral research, way back when, was always to do with comic books. My MA thesis was going to be on comic books, but through my research I discovered feminist utopian fiction, and here we are. I've contacted the academic I'm praying will be my supervisor (the same as my MA at the same university, because they were both incredible) and now we wait. My application and funding forms are all filled in and ready to go. The deadline is the 16th of this month.

This could actually happen. And if it does, my diary is basically rammed until Autumn 2020. If the world still exists then.


2017 Reading Challenge

12:00 pm

This may be the first year I ever fully commit to the 'POPSUGAR' reading challenge. Below are a selection of books I'm going to try and read in the year of 2017, but I certainly won't be limiting myself to only these. Happy New Year, folks.

  • A book that is a story within a story - Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A book with multiple authors - The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
  • An espionage thriller - The Chemist by Stephanie Meyer
  • A bestseller from a genre you don't normally read - The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
  • A book by or about a person who has a disability - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • A book you've read before that never fails to make you smile - The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • A book from a nonhuman perspective - Holy Cow by David Duchovny
  • A steampunk novel - Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
  • A book with a red spine - A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood
  • A book by an author from a country you've never visited - A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  • A book with a title that's a character's name - Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen
  • A novel set during wartime - The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  • A book with pictures - Nelson by Rob Davis and Woodrow Phoenix
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you - Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
  • A book set in two different time periods - Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • A book with a month or day of the week in the title - Saturday by Ian McEwan
  • A book written by someone you admire - M Train by Patti Smith
  • A book that's becoming a movie in 2017 - Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach
  • A book recommended by an author you love - Tampa by Alissa Nutting (recommended by Miranda July)
  • A book about an immigrant or refugee - Little Bee by Chris Cleve
  • A book from a genre/subgenre that you've never heard of - (Cli-Fi) Solar by Ian McEwan
  • A book with an eccentric character - Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
  • A book that's more than 800 pages - Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  • A book that's been mentioned in another book - As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  • A book about a difficult topic - Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


2016: A Book Odyssey

8:56 am

* I was fortunate to receive some of these books for review via their publishers, but all thoughts are my own. *

Reading in 2016 became a bit of a chore towards the end, with the majority of the amazing books I consumed being read before and during summer. My autumn and winter are usually spent curled up with a good book, but this year I was busy. Like, actually busy. Freshly springing into January, I'm looking forward to getting my head down again and reading what I want to read. No pressure. But before that, I'm looking back on what books I enjoyed the most during the tumultuous year that was 2016.


Dear Fang, With Love* by Rufi Thorpe - Far and away my favourite fiction read of 2016. This book has stuck with me every day since I finished it in July. You can read my full review of Dear Fang here and my interview with the lovely Rufi here.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle - A longer review of this book can be found here. Very atmospheric, an unusual structure, and incredibly haunting. A lot of fun for lovers of science fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, and fantasy.

The Gunslinger by Stephen King - I finished the first book in King's The Dark Tower series absolutely ages ago, and for some reason haven't continued on, despite how engrossing this volume was. 2017 will be the year I pick up The Drawing of the Three.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl - A very inventive, dizzying book from Pessl. A short review can be found here, but to summarise: a creepy, intricate, multimedia experience.

The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby - As someone who likes to pick fantasy books or something with an inventive element, this was a very 'normal' choice for me after being loaned a copy from a work colleague. This story ended up being beautiful and you can read my thoughts from the time here.  Leaving Murasaki's world behind was a real struggle.

Autumn by Ali Smith - A very late entry into the list, but one of the best pieces of fiction I read in 2016. I'll be writing a full review of this soon as I have a lot to say about it. Ali Smith is a stunning wordsmith and her worlds, although everyday, seem so mystical.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth - I was moments away from making this post live when I realised I forgot about Bitter Greens. Holy hell, how could I have forgotten about Bitter Greens? My full review can be found here. It says it all really. A gorgeously tragic book about three incredible women.

Young Adult

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - Another book I'll be reviewing in full soon. Take 2001: A Space Odyssey, throw in some Portal, The Hunger Games, Moon, and you'll get Illuminae. A hefty tome of chat logs and records, this book could simply get points for originality, but the characters and story take this even further. I've already picked up Gemina, ready to enter back into the darkness of space.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab - The world building. The magic system. This book was close to being perfect. Schwab has created something so compelling and unique, I couldn't get enough of it whilst I was reading. Even though I personally feel this book serves ideally as a standalone, I will be picking up the rest of the series soon.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - If there is one book on this list that wins the award for 'book that made me throw a tantrum the most', this would be it, no argument. Do not read about about this book and just buy a copy. It's a journey.

Blue Lily Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater - The third book in the Raven Cycle, and certainly full of drama. This series is probably one of my favourites, even if I didn't love the last installment as much as I would have liked to. I still miss Blue and her family and all of her Raven Boys. My full review of the series as a whole can be found here.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas - I honestly did not expect to love this book as much as I did, after hearing some less-than-lovely things about it. Sarah is really known and loved for her Throne of Glass series that I haven't yet touched, but feel to after enjoying A Court of Thorns and Roses. This book was dark, and I couldn't get enough. Roll on, A Court of Mist and Fury.

Winter by Marissa Meyer - The final installment in The Lunar Chronicles, and I basically cried from beginning to end. This series boasts some of my favourite literary characters, and I can't praise Meyer enough for her ability to write realistic, flawed, loveable people. And androids. There is a deep void in my life where sassy-fairy-tale-retelling-science-fiction-action-adventure needs to be now the series is over. Still not over it. My full review of the series as a whole can be found here.


Becoming by Laura Jane Williams - Hot damn am I glad this amazing woman is publishing a second book in 2017 because I need to be hooked up to her writing like an IV drip. See my full review here. I love her.

Just Kids by Patti Smith - My first read of 2017 is M Train, also by Patti. Just Kids was like swimming in a fantasy world that I couldn't let go of. The woman knows how to use her words.

Girl Up by Laura Bates - I bloody loved this book. My full review can be found here. Basically required reading for all people, ever.

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki - If you're into architecture, aesthetics, or just art theory in general, this is the read for you. Wonderfully atmospheric, Tanizaki talks through the importance of darkness and shadow in Japanese culture. Very eye-opening being read by someone who lives in a very bright, light world.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson - Throw a book about internet culture at me and I'll be right there to eat it up. Plus I love Jon Ronson. This book certainly made me look at Twitter in a new way and I'm now very hesitant before retweeting something that shames someone else. There's always a backstory.

How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky - I've been a fan of Watsky's music for years now, so when I found out he was releasing a book of essays, I preordered in an instant. I'm happy to report that reading his words on paper is as smile-inducing and introspective as you would expect. If you haven't heard any of Watsky's music, I would recommend you listen to some right away. He has an incredible way with words.

Artful by Ali Smith - I wasn't sure whether to put this down under fiction or non-fiction. Smith uses the backdrop of a grieving lover going through the desk of her previous love to present to us the notes she finds on art and literature lectures. As always, her work reads like an absolute dream and I found myself, once again, taking notes on everything she mentioned so I can experience them myself. I think 2017 is going to be a very Ali Smith year.

101 Artists to Listen to Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo - The latest entry in this list as I finished reading it a few days before the end of 2016. This was an off-wishlist Christmas present from my dad (very brave). Cavolo details the 101 artists that have shaped his life, coupling them with gorgeously intricate illustrations and personal anecdotes. I can see myself coming back to this time and time again, reliving his engrossing writing. The way he describes music is unlike anything I've read before.


Things that are making me happy...

8:38 pm

Photo by @umbe

Alt-J, An Awesome Wave, on rotation on my new record player. Partying like it's 2012.

This cosy and soft as holy balls blanket my Nana got me for Christmas and I've started wearing like a cape.

Patti Smith books, M Train in particular.

Very therapeutic zombie killing sessions with my lovely boyfriend, followed by peppermint tea and catching each other up on our favourite films.

The end of festive coffee shop drinks because really my skin needs a break from all of that sugar, hot damn.

The prospect of a shiny new year and the adventures about to unfold.

Having tickets to see six amazing artists ALREADY this year. I mean, I'm going to see Pixies, for crying out loud.

Weekly swimming and running. I finally get that 'exercise makes you feel good' thing.

A dotty dress I found in Topshop that makes me feel like Stevie Nicks/Kate Bush and I wore to three separate events in December.

Re-watching Rick & Morty and The IT Crowd for the gazillionth time.

Seeing family and friends over Christmas and being reminded that we're all absolute weirdos on this planet and we should never expect any different.


Writing Extract #1

4:11 pm

Photo by @jeremydgreat

A little extract from a short story I've been on-and-off working on. It's a sort of magical realism fairy story, but where the fairies are kind of scary, violent, and six feet tall. 

After a couple of circuits of the tree, she spotted it: the key. It was hanging from a high branch, disguised as a decoration. Now was the perfect occasion to practice her sober tree-climbing skills; she had only ever climbed trees drunk before, but she was damn good at it, a fact that can be backed up by a handful of friends and her friendly neighbourhood Community Support Officer. She could spot foot supports and handholds a mile off, and was swiftly halfway up the tree, shimmying along a narrow branch. Now, she wasn’t afraid of heights, not at all, but this time when she looked down, she was surprised by how much higher up she was than she expected. A shimmering veil seemed to flutter before her eyes, like she was tearing up after watching too many family ancestry programs, but when she went to wipe them, they were dry. She blinked, but the veil remained. Now, she was uncomfortably high up, but also within arm’s reach of the key. The roots below her shifted, contorting through the veil, looking less like a trip hazard and home for hedgehogs, and more like a gaping abyss. Out she stretched, fingers expecting to touch the copper, but the contact wasn’t there. The key shimmered into nothingness before her eyes, and the forward momentum sent her down towards the ground, her stomach in her throat. She tumbled towards the roots, towards the gaping abyss, but the ground never came.