Books that raised me

Revisiting a book from my childhood has made me reflect on which books stayed with me, in fact shaped me.

I was recently rereading Ballet Shoes, a book that was such a favourite from my childhood that it was a gift from my mother, who knew it would give me great comfort to reread it. I think I was surprised to learn how much I remembered, including what was said and also how it made me feel as a child. These earliest books stuck with me, and affected me deeply as a child.

Ballet Shoes is a book about three adopted girls – the Fossils, – who get the chance to go to stage school, Noel Streatfield wrote many different stories where little girls achieve their dreams, including White Boots which was another favourite book of mine all about an ice skater. Though the story maintains the desire that these little girls: Pauline, Posie and Petrova maintain their ladylike qualities, they must learn certain manners from the inimitable Academy head Madame, for example, it still spoke to me. A product of a different time that valued propriety more highly, it is quite dated on a reread. But it is also empowering. Unsurprisingly for a children’s tale, they overcome their obstacles and achieve what was certainly my dream as a child: to act, to dance.

Another few book series from my childhood, helped my obsession with the theatre including Dream of Sadler’s Wells by Lorna Hill and The Swish of the Curtain and the rest of the series by Pamela Brown. These books shaped my life because I was obsessed with theatre. My aunt had been to ballet school and these books were remnants from her childhood that got passed down to me along with a make-up box with real greasepaints. I went to numerous dance classes growing up, and performed in contemporary dance pieces as a teen. I was part of a theatre group and was in musicals during each summer holiday. These books seemed like my destiny.

As it turns out, I didn’t end up pursuing my dream of drama school. Of course I know a handful of people who did make it to drama school and even made careers from our shared childhood start, but in the most all-singing, all-dancing children don’t all “make it”. Boring reality is that not quite so many doors open in real lives as the children in these books. But even though I didn’t end up a ballerina or a musical theatre star, revisiting these childhood memories help tap into something that can bring me joy.

Rereading these books has opened that part of my heart that dreamed big, even if it was unlikely. That childlike quality to see possibility should never leave us. Being an adult is so uninspiring if we don’t sometimes at least indulge in the dreams of the things that could happen. Now I know that the only way to make dreams a reality is real actionable goals, but I also believe that the creative adult, is the child who survived. These books remind me of that but also prompt me to take action.

Time to dust the dance shoes?

At the back of my wardrobe is a pair of ballet shoes and a pair of tap shoes. I have promised myself as I get better I will reach for them again this year. Reaching for them because your old hobbies are languishing in their hiding place collecting dust is a good enough reason. But really I know that reaching for a part of myself from my childhood sparks for me the creative and expressive person I really am.

Anniversaries are a time to reflect

It is certainly a big year in my life to reflect upon and find a way forward from this week on

With an unnerving sense of head-shaking disbelief, I am about to meet two anniversaries this week.  They feel both momentous and give me a short burst of existential depression. I have experienced these waves of insignificance since I was a child, and it took me until a few years back to find out what it is called. The New Year and birthdays are particularly bad for me : feeling a true sense of time and my existence and my irrelevance in the universe.  The coming week I am commemorating two anniversaries and I can’t help feel a little strange about it.

My blog is three years old, it has been growing slowly and steadily and I have plan to make it more of a place to talk about writing, as I had originally intended, as 2022 continues. But as I reflect on what I have achieved, I also reflect on how much of my life has been swallowed up by the pandemic years, it has become both my blogging topic and also invaded my home and time in ways we could never have known when I first wrote about my anxieties in March 2020.

This leads me to the other anniversary that I have to mark in this coming week. It is a year since I caught covid. At times, I still can’t fathom that I have not yet got over the infection. I have been recently taking an online course Pamela Rose’ Fatigue Rescue and one important part of a journey to recovery is to understand and accept your condition. The main thing that I have been doing (in addition to seeing doctors, attending therapy and a variety of wellness helpers) has been that I have believed myself. I do have a fatigue condition. I will get better. It will take time.

And it’s the time that feels so unbelievable to look back on, this anniversary will probably not be one that I have to look back on again (it might be, but this time next year…) But despite doing a lot of work around mindset and taking this condition seriously, I have some sadness to be marking a year this week. I am seeing it as an opportunity to change my life and prioritise what is important. But in doing so, I have to acknowledge that there is loss too. The loss is not as momentous as that many have experienced and I still say that I have been lucky. But it is ok for a moment to grieve a little of what has been lost in the last year.

I am looking forward

What I want to do now is get through this week and then look forward. I have been working out the kinks in a story that has taken my interest and will report more often about how that is going. I have planned some more reviews to share on the blog as these remain my most popular posts. I will probably write a little less about my health journey from this point. But for now I want to acknowledge that this is a moment where I can reset Mum Write Now, a little and look forward to what I expect to be a much better year.

In defence of audiobooks

As an English grad, I am horrified that I hardly read a physical book this year but audiobooks have been an essential in my life this year

Earlier this year, I shared how I have started to count audiobooks as reading. It still seems wrong to say but despite the fatigue and brain fog of long covid, I have read just shy of 50 books this year. Most of them are listens rather than read and some are also re-reads. But I have now fully convinced this is the best way to really appreciate a text and I am sad I have waited so long to consume books in this way.

The main reason I want to defend the audiobook is this is the year I finally “read” Anna Karenina. Now, I have battled through most of War and Peace and knew that I liked Tolstoy’s knowing narration, grand settings but until this year, I never made it through Anna Karenina. And I must admit I had missed out. The first modern novel, obsessed with it’s own modernity, attempting to understand the psychology of it’s tragic heroes as well of of course the new age dawning with trains and the death of feudal farming, I find this a deeply fascinating novel. I did know the ending, but I was deeply shocked when I got there. The depth of my investment in the relationships and the complexity are so rewarding for the reader. When I am reading a novel twenty minutes at a time, holding all the characters in my head, switching between the town and countryside is confusing to follow, particularly when my brain is fogged. Having a voice actor peform the audiobook, we gain so much in their characterisation and can more easily follow the changes in voice and place in the novel.

Finally read Anna Karenina

It has also been an amazing way to reread books. I’ve listed before books that I think it is worth rereading. I have enjoyed the comfort of revisiting Jane Austen and the Northern Lights series by Phillip Pullman. Though I know these books so well, you pick up extra elements on each reread and this was very much part of my enjoyment of revisiting these books on audio. The performance is adding to the nuances that you pick up on as you revisit favourite places like Pemberley or characters like the villainous Mrs Coulter

A friend recently asked me how I concentrate on audiobooks as she tends to realise she has drifted off. Well this is a danger and with the relistens is matters less because you know the story but as I have managed brand new books this year too, I think I must be able to concentrate. My secret if anything is that listening to the book is the activity rather than have it on in the background. With my fatigue condition I have been bone tired enough to rest for great parts of the day. Not always thankfully but I lot of the time I have needed to give my brain a break and as I wrote before, audiobooks have formed an important part of my active resting.

So as I go forward with a bit more energy and a lot of hope, it may be that audiobooks were just the thing that got me through 2021 and ill-health. But even if I don’t get this time again to rest and “read” I will forever now advocate for audiobooks as a great way to tackle books, particularly ones that you have put off for years.

Are you an audiobook fan?

Having a Reading Holiday

School’s out so it’s time for me to take a little break from the blog to rest and read

Wishing everyone a very happy holiday season. I’ll be back in the New Year which always gives me a new season of writing motivation. If you want some reading inspiration, I have shared my Winter reads and favourite Gothic fiction.

In the meantime, I am taking what time to read that I can and have picked up a fun mystery to complete my Goodreads challenge.

Shh! I’m reading!

Hope you get some reading time in too. I’ll be back in January to share more about my journey to explore creativity, hone my craft and write NOW!

It’s Always Possible to Write Something

If you are feeling uninspired, or held back by life, then you can always do just a little bit on your creative projects

I thought it was time to review what I had managed to achieve in 2021 and whilst I would like to say that I have finished the damn draft (that one has been on the list going back to 2019, you can see here) I can’t. And life has really got in the way. Though the imperative Mum, Write NOW shouts from the title of my blog, the order doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I believe in a wondrous future when I will have all the time and energy I need to write. And other times I remember to just do a little bit of what I love.

So despite at times crippling fatigue, I have spent slivers of time working on the creative works-in-progress this year and got maybe somewhere along the way. I think it is a good idea to review each project. And I hope to keep up these tallies on my work going forward on the blog and Instagram to hold myself more accountable.

The largest project I have worked on is a comic novel that occurred to me last November which I even plotted a bit – a miracle – since November 2020 and September 2021 I managed to write just over 20, 000 words on this project. I got a bit stuck because I reached the beats of the story a bit early and I am wondering whether this could be a short novella or it is worth developing into a larger novel. To find comedy in some of your own foibles and also laugh at the pressures of motherhood has been a light relief and I think suited the brain space I have had available this year.

The unwieldy work-in-progress without any ending still has been languishing in my proverbial bottom drawer. I can see that I tried to write missing link scenes in April and May this year and managed just a few hundred words. But I took the chance to challenge myself to re-read it over the Autumn. It is not as bad as I had remembered, so that seems like a positive. I am just deciding whether it is time to “kill the darlings” and start over the story now. It has been going on so long that a pandemic happened in the mean time. It feels that writing about a woman living all alone and closed off from society was a bit too heavy to face this year, even when I had some energy back.

Trying to get back to that cafe life

The final piece of the puzzle of my writing projects are the pieces I have written by hand, I decided in planning my Autumn refresh that I also needed to get back to notebooks. There is something about slowing the brain enough to write by hand that helps with my creativity. I have done some research notes, some short stories and ideas about my characters. As my strength is building up, I really hope that I can take more trips out, notebook in hand, to enjoy cake in cafés and at least pretend I am being creative.

So, despite living with fatigue for eleven months now, my creativity has still happened. I am taking a resolution into the new year to value the time and energy I have by using at least some of it for these projects. And even if this time next year I am not a published author or a millionaire, I will be able to understand that it is imperative that I write now.

How was your writing year?