New Year’s Resolutions Part One – Reading and Writing Goals

2017 was a big year for me. I turned 30, moved back out from my parents’ house into one I partially own, and completed the final part of my Masters, including a 15000 word dissertation.

You may have noticed that one of the things to take a back seat in the last year was this blog, as I while I was studying I just did not have the time to spare on writing for fun, and since finishing my course in October I have needed to give my brain a rest. But I miss all the writing, the stringing together of words in new and meaningful ways. So one of my goals for 2018 is to get back into good writing habits. I intend to post on here a lot more frequently than last year – I’m aiming for at least once a week. I’m also working toward more variety in what I post. I want to practice more creative writing, but also review more books and films, to share some of what influences me creatively. I would like to share some reflections from what I learnt from my course, and get back into blogging my Bible studies. So look out for a more eclectic mix of posts from me in the future. I hope you enjoy what I have to share. I recognise that some of that might not appeal to you, dear reader, but I hope you find something that you like and stick with me for the rest, as there might be something that surprises you. I don’t know. I am still trying to find my voice and work out what kind of a writer I am.

Outside of the blog, I also had several novels I was working on before I had to put them on the back burner while studying, so I will be reviving them. I’m aiming to finish a first draft of at least one of them before the summer of 2019 (as per my #Next5 goals from 2014) so I will be dedicating time to work on them too.

I haven’t quite worked out exactly how to make myself more disciplined in my writing yet, but it will probably involve setting aside an hour a day for a certain number of days per week for focused writing, on whatever topic. One thing I am definitely going to do is not put off writing reviews – when I read a book or see a film that I want to write about I will aim to get my thoughts down that week while it is fresh. Earlier this year I read a book that meant a lot to me and I really intended to review it, but before I knew it months had passed and I couldn’t really remember all the details that I wanted to share. So no more procrastinating. (On which note, I feel proud of myself as I have already written two reviews today, which I will be sharing here soon! Go me starting my resolutions early!)

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One of the delightful aspects of having my own place again was that I was able to unpack all my boxes of books that had been in storage for three years. Unfortunately this has also lead to an explosion of my TBR list, not helped by my addiction to buying books (I bought over 50 books this year, and was given around 30, not to mention ones I’ve borrowed from the library. My Goodreads to read shelf currently has 549 items on it). So, as I am severely running out of shelf space, I recognise the need to not buy more books next year.

The slight problem with not buying ANY books (other than that I don’t think I could cope with going cold turkey) is that one of the greatest joys of my life this year has been discovering the #Ninjabookcommunity – I subscribe to the quarterly #Ninjabookbox and have loved discovering more great independently published books through #Ninjabookclub. Of my top three books of the year, one was from a #Ninjabookbox (Star Shot by Mary Ann Constantine, published by Seren books) and one was our #Ninjabookclub pick for November (How to Be a Kosovan Bride by Naomi Hamill, published by Salt). The third I received from my partner in the #Ninjabookswap (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James, although I don’t know if the publisher Walker books are independent as that was not a requirement of the swap and I can’t find the list at the moment).

So instead of cutting out bookbuying entirely, I will be attempting in 2018 to only buy ninja-related books – as in, they are in the #ninjabookbox, for #ninjabookclub or bought on a #ninjaorganised bookshop crawl (which I am hoping to take part in). I’m aiming for less than 20. The ONLY exception will be if I can stick to this until December I will treat myself to J.R.R. Tolkein’s Letters from Father Christmas as 2018 is also going to be my year for re-reading Tolkien and it will be Christmas.

This means that I am kind-of accidentally taking part in #Ninjabookbox’s #IndieChallenge – to buy more/only independently published books in 2018. I have discovered so many great books this year that I would not have come across otherwise through the Ninja influence that I am now a firm supporter of Independent publishers and want to help promote their books to a wider audience.

I have set other limits for myself as to how many books I am allowed to borrow or reread, but my main goal is to get my TBR list down to a more reasonable amount. I know that one year is not going to make a great deal of difference so I will have to see how long I can stick to this…

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So there you have it, my Writing and Reading goals for 2018. I have a couple of other things I want to work on for myself, which I will share in the not-to-distant future.

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A ‘sorry-it’s-been-so-long-general-life-update’ post…

 

Hi. So. Things got a little crazy for a few months there, with my final project for my Masters basically taking over my life from July to October, and I have essentially spent the last month and a half recovering. To be honest, having written a 15000 word dissertation I struggled to want to write anything for a while afterwards. I also found that coming to the end of something that had been the biggest part of my life for three years was quite hard on my mind and soul, and I found myself getting down and anxious, particularly until I received my results. But God is faithful, and keeps holding us close, even when He can feel far away.

And it was worth the wait to get my results, it was worth all the time, money and effort I put into the course. I found out my dissertation mark a few weeks ago, and I’ve heard this week that I have officially passed my Masters with Merit. Graduation is not until next summer, but it feels nice to be adding a few extra letters after my name!

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You may remember that I had a list of thirty things I was trying to do before I turned thirty at the end of September, and you may be wondering how I got on with that. Well, it may not be a surprise that with the Diss taking over my life for a few months I didn’t actually achieve everything on the list, but I didn’t do too badly (and finished a few things off since, and added a few extra). I do intend to write in more detail at some point about the items I have completed, but for now I will just list them and give a little explanation about the ones I didn’t manage… (If I have previously posted about an item I will link to it, I now realise how bad I have been at writing these up…!)

 

Completed

1) Finish Masters (finished 5th October)

3) Watch Star Wars

5) See a play at the Globe

6.2) Meet someone famous (ish)

9) Get another tattoo (aquired 30th September)

12) Reach 30 on the Shakespeare list

13) at least partially own my own home

15) have a herb garden

16) finish writing ‘The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress’

19) Climb Winchester Cathedral Tower

21) Become a patreon

22) Get a new job

23) Finish Susannah jumper (completed 3rd November)

24) Visit the Hundred Acre Woods

25) Grow Sunflowers

26) Visit Hay-On-Wye

28) Get a Jolly Roger Shipping Co. tee (or other fandom shirt)

29) twin my toilet

30) get Netflix in time for the new series of Star Trek

30.2) join a book club

30.3) become a Goodreads librarian

30.4) get National Trust Life Membership

22 items completely completed

 

Completed with slight modification (I may write in more detail about these later too!)

6) ‘join Neo-natal knitters’ became ‘find a charity knitting project’

– this was a project at a local hospital to knit items for babies born early. Someone gave me a flyer but when I contacted the number I didn’t get a response. I subbed in a different item for the challenge, but then was asked to make items for Christmas and Easter parcels my church was giving to people in need.

8) ‘sponsor another child’ became ‘support an awesome charity’

– I currently sponsor two children through Compassion, and wanted to support another one, through them or someone else. When I looked into it, however, I struggled to find a programme that would fit with my budget. Then I found out about Hope for Justice, an anti-trafficking charity. I was so inspired by the work they do, that I decided to support them monthly instead of taking on another child sponsorship.

14) ‘go on a date’ became ‘find a way to meet new people and not let being single be an excuse for not doing things’

– (quite a long new item, I realise!) The problem with going on a date is it requires someone to go on said date with, and I realised the difficulty with that is finding opportunities to meet said person. So I thought this could just become ‘be less of an introvert’ or ‘be less socially awkward’, neither of which were actually going to happen, let’s face it. So I settled for ‘try to meet new people’. My friend Rhi told me about this cool app called ‘Meetup’ which helps you find groups of people in your area who share interests. A lot of the groups I joined on the app have seemed too intimidating to actually meet up with, but I did join a lovely writing group, which sadly fizzled out after a few weeks, and I am hoping to join a local craft group in the next couple of weeks.

3 items completed in modified form!

 

Partially completed

4) Finish Wheel of Time

– this is Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic, with the last three books completed by Brandon Sanderson. At time of writing, I am on page 674 (of 909) of the fourteenth and final volume. At this stage, however, it is mostly long descriptions of battles and I am struggling (it’s taken me five months and counting so far). I’m sure I will get there someday, it just may not be this year…

7) try every recipe in a cookbook

– I probably should have chosen a very short cookbook, seeing as I didn’t have my own kitchen until June, but I chose one I was given for my birthday last year: Bake a Difference (a fairtrade cookbook). At time of writing, I have managed 31 out of 77 recipes, which isn’t bad going. My colleagues have greatly assisted in the eating of all the cake.

18) learn how to budget

– I wrote a budget out and stuck to it for about half of the year, with a few adjustments from when I moved into my own place to account for the extra bills and whatnot. When disstertationing took over, however, I didn’t have time to keep track of my spending and I haven’t started again since. But I know now that it is possible, and my New Year’s resolution will be to create a budget and stick to it.

27) finish Poldark books

– of all the items on the list, I think this is the one I’m most sad about not completing. I was trying to finish Wheel of Time first, which turned out to be a stupid plan. I still have three books to go in the Poldark series.

4 items partially completed!

 

Not going to happen this year/unattempted

2) visit Northern Ireland/Ireland

– I’m sad I didn’t manage to fit this in this year, as Northern Ireland is the only one of the home nations I’ve not visited. But I did make it to Edinburgh, which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. And I’ve just got back from Barbados, which was my first time in the Caribbean. So I don’t feel too bad. Maybe next year.

10) Ride in a hot air balloon

– this one made the list because one of my friends had told me we’d be doing it for her birthday, which is before mine. But we didn’t. By the time I realised it wasn’t going to happen I had too much else going on and quickly worked out I couldn’t afford it with everything else I’ve been doing. Maybe this can go on the 40by40 list?

11) learn to make macarons

– macarons are my absolute favourite treat. I got as far as buying a cookbook, but haven’t managed to actually attempt these yet. But I have eaten A LOT of macarons anyway…

17) make a Moldova scrapbook

– last summer I went to Moldova and took loads of photos and I have been intending to put them in an album. I just haven’t had time.

20) get Dashner off of my Goodreads Most Read Author list

The Scorch Trials was hands down the WORST book I’ve read in recent years. It made me rethink my Goodreads rating policy. Goodreads ranks authors by how many books you have read, and my ‘Most-read Authors’ list currently includes authors if I have read two of their books. I assumed it would list the top 20 authors, but I currently have 29 authors at joint 35th,, on two books each. If anyone can enlighten me as to what ranking it goes up to, I would be most grateful!

5 items not attempted/completed

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So there you have it, I think we’re all up to date. And hopefully I’m going to get back into the swing of writing more often again now…

#30by30 number 30.2 – join a book club

This item didn’t make it onto my original list because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make time to fit it in. But with the wonders of modern technology I have found a lovely online bookish community (which counts, as far as I’m concerned). And I fear that a couple of my other tasks may not be quite achievable so adding extras will hopefully cover the ones that get missed…

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I came across a blog talking about ninjabookbox late last autumn – it originated in a Kickstarter campaign which I was immediately gutted I had missed out on. Ninjabookbox is a book subscription service – every quarter subscribers receive an independently published book and a number of related gifts – the amount of gifts vary depending on your level of subscription. I was intrigued by the idea and so I signed up for the mailing list. Shortly before each box goes on sale its theme is announced, so as soon as I heard that the next box was ‘A Shakespearean mystery’ I couldn’t resist ordering the mini box (the book and one gift), you know, just to see. I was so enamoured when I received it that it wasn’t long before I signed up for a recurring mini box subscription. I also found out that there were a few of the original box left, so I quickly got myself one of those too…

So I have now received three of the quarterly boxes and have loved all three books – my first was The Bookman’s Tale, the Shakespearean mystery in which an antiquarian bookseller is launched into a complex tale of bribery, forgery, and danger when he comes a cross a Victorian watercolour which looks exactly like his late wife. The first book (and the second one I received) was Star Shot – an instant winner with me because it is set in my favourite city of them all, Cardiff. The story is a bit surreal, and follows various characters who stories beautifully overlap as they try to make sense of a web of silence that slowly seems to be seeping across the city. The third box came in May and I just finished the book this weekend – Dragon’s Green – a fantasy novel for children in which the main characters find their hidden strengths and learn the power of friendship, bravery and books. I also gave into temptation and bought the summer special box – A Grand Adventure – which contained three books, and I have just started the first of these.

 

Part of the idea of the boxes is that there will be a chance to discuss the books with other subscribers, this has yet to find its best format, but I’m already enjoying the engagement with other readers I have found through the forum on the website and on twitter. And its not just about the books in the boxes, for our Summer Reading Challenge we have each picked our own books to read over the summer and encouragements and recommendations have abounded.

My two favourite things about the ninjabookbox are:

  • The books – I have loved each of them so far and they are not books I would have found on my own.
  • The charms – each book comes with a small charm (like for a bracelet) which is linked in some way to the book. For some the link is obvious (the Shakespeare book was a quill) but for others it is only in reading the book that the link becomes clear.

 

So, hopefully I’ve succeeded in recommending the ninjabookbox to you. If you would like to find out more, head over to their website at www.ninjabookbox.com where you can sign up to their mailing list or buy lots of lovely bookish things in their shop. The August boxes go on sale soon too! (I think there may even be a few summer special boxes left). If you do want to buy anything, you can get a 15% discount by using the code CERI15 – this can be applied to anything except the quarterly recurring subscriptions.

 

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Book Review: Izevel, Queen of Darkness by Kate Chamberlayne

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I picked this book up a couple of years ago at a youth camp, mainly out of intrigue. It is from a series called Dark Chapters, which is aiming to provide an alternative for teenagers and young adults to the more horror based YA fiction that is out there, and get them to look to the Bible and consider how God views those things.

First of all, I really admire what the books are trying to achieve. I have read a fair amount of young adult fiction – although I lean more towards the dystopian and fantasy genres rather than the supernatural/horror ones – and they can get quite dark. As I have a teaching/youthwork background, I do sometimes worry about books, TV shows, and films that romanticise the occult, however, the vast majority that I have read/seen do present a battle of good vs evil – with the good generally winning, but also showing the shades of grey. But I do think that a series like this is needed. I dislike when Christians criticise what they see in popular culture without offering alternatives.

So to the book itself. It is a retelling of the story of Elijah taken from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 9. The narrative is well constructed, and all the main points that I remember from the biblical account are there, but with some artistic flourishes, of course.

My main question mark about this book is down to perspective. The story is told (in third person narrative) almost entirely from the perspective of Jezebel (who is renamed Izevel in the book). This did make sense as she is the title character, but actually as the novel progressed it left me feeling rather confused. First, the story covers her childhood – the distant, unloving relationship with her father, the loss of her younger brother etc – all of which evokes sympathy for her. But as the story goes on and she becomes Queen of Israel and starts to do all the horrible things she is remembered for I found it hard to dislike her because of the way she had been introduced. Generally when a book focuses on a central character, it is because the author wants you to see the world from their perspective and understand them, which this book did do, but at the same time it felt like the author was trying to push me really hard into disliking her, which left me feeling conflicted. At the end of the novel, I didn’t know whether I was meant to feel relieved or upset that she got her comeuppance. Maybe I just dislike novels when the protagonist is not meant to be likeable.

Also, because the story is told from Jezebel’s perspective, the prophet Elijah is presented as the antagonist and does not come across as very likeable, which also seems counterintuitive as he is the hero of the biblical account. In fact, most of the characters you feel you should like are presented unsympathetically, or are underdeveloped.

So, generally I feel that the concept of this book and series is good and needed, but I’m not entirely sure it has been carried out successfully in this edition. Although if it encourages a teenager to pick up the Bible then it has done well. I would be interested to read the other books in the series to see if they are executed in a similar way, and I would also like to hear the opinions of some young people who have read the series, although I’m not convinced it is one I would rush to recommend.

Rhi’s Fundraising Challenge

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One of the best things about having a blog is getting to tell some amazing stories, even when they are not my own… I have some pretty awesome friends and this week I want to share the fundraising exploits of my friend Rhi. I’ve asked her to tell you all a little of what she’s up to in the next few weeks:

‘As a part of a charity apprenticeship that I’m completing this year with the charity Child.org, I’m running a challenge fundraiser at the end of April. The challenge is called ‘Survive on Five’ and I will be living on £1 a day for 5 days to raise funds and awareness of children living in poverty in Ghana and Kenya. Child.org works to empower some of the world’s most vulnerable children by providing them with access to quality health care, education, water and food. Key projects include HealthStart which teaches life skills, provides family planning information and provides malaria nets and deworming treatment as well as school feeding programmes which consistently provide nutritious meals, helping children not to have to worry where their next meal will come from. As well as my fundraising challenge, I am currently creating a product called Mystery Books which I hope to take around local fayres and events. I will also be running an event in the autumn as well as other fundraising ideas so watch this space’

I personally am very excited about the mystery books, being such a bookworm…! Rhi describes this as: ‘Mystery books are wrapped up books with clues on the front – buy a literary present for yourself and helping children at the same time!’ I understand that Rhi is parting with books from her own collection so they will all come with her recommendation. If you fancy a blind date with a good book you need look no further!

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If you want to support Rhi, you can donate here: http://child.org/me/food-fiver-challenge

The Girl in the Electric Blue Dress – Part Three

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Here are parts 1 & 2 if you missed them 🙂

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In the morning, he walked me home. I had so many questions, but didn’t know how to ask them, so we walked in silence.

As we approached the street my house was on, I could sense something was wrong. There was a tension in the air. We turned the corner and I stopped dead. There was my father, shouting orders at the guards.

“He wasn’t due back until tomorrow,” I could feel the fear spreading through my veins like ice.

Jack took my hand, “we’ll figure something out.”

We started forward slowly, hand in hand. My father didn’t see us straightaway, too busy berating the guards for my absence. We stopped behind him and Jack coughed politely. “Mr Mayor,” he began, “I have come to request permission to court your daughter.”

My father turned and grabbed me by the arm. “My daughter,” his voice was low, cold, hard, “knows she will marry only who I tell her to marry. She also knows better than to leave the house, unchaperoned,” he added, almost as an afterthought. He stabbed a finger at Jack, “I should have you arrested for kidnapping her. And I will, if I ever see you again.”

He started pulling me toward the house. Jack made as if to follow, but I shook my head. I’ll be fine, keep yourself safe, I tried to tell him with a look.

My father dragged me into the house. He had such long strides, my feet could barely keep up. He slammed the door and then the yelling came, about my lack of regard for his reputation, leaving the house dressed as I was, staying out all night in the company of someone of a lower class and a known revolutionary. “And you let That Woman into the house, when you know I have forbidden it.”

I stopped cold, “how did you know about that?”

“The servants, at least, are loyal to me,” he snapped, yanking my arm to get me moving again. He dragged me to the basement, flung open the door and pushed me down into the darkness. “You’ll be down there until you learn some obedience.” I heard the door slam, and the lock click shut.

I sat in the cold and dark. I pulled my coat tighter around me. It was Jack’s that I had borrowed the night before. It made me feel safer, knowing he was outside, even though he couldn’t help. I hoped he wouldn’t try anything stupid. This was the angriest I’d seen my father since that night long ago, the last time I’d seen my mother. I had just turned six. She told me to stay in my room, and I had hidden under the bed, afraid of the shouting and crashing I could hear through the floorboards. When I had crept downstairs in the morning, she was gone. Even at that age, I knew better than to ask where she was.

It made me shudder to think of it. I tried to conjure up memories of her, but they were elusive. I put my hands in the pockets of the coat for warmth and found something tucked inside. The photo from Jack’s mantelpiece. My mother smiled out at me. Whatever happened, she had never been afraid of my father. As I looked at the photo, a faint memory drifted into my mind of a lullaby she would sing to me as a child. I hummed it softly and gradually drifted off into a fitful sleep.

A storm broke in the night and I was woken sharply by a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. As the thunder died, I realised I could hear the melody of the lullaby faintly echoing around the room. I suddenly knew I was no longer alone. I could feel her presence next to me.

In the next flash of lightning I could see her, the same blue dress, pale skin, dark hair styled elegantly. She leant forward to kiss my forehead and then looked deep into my eyes, as if she were memorising my features. I felt rather than heard her say she would make things right. And then she was gone.

 

I don’t know how long I was in the cellar. I wondered what punishment my father had in store for me. But when the door eventually creaked open, it wasn’t him but my Godmother who was standing at the top of the stairs. She gently drew me up into the house, settled me on the drawing room sofa, gave me water and sent a servant to find me some food.

“He was found this morning,” she was saying. “He was slumped over his desk, gun in his hand.”

She showed me the note he had left. It said, simply, “I killed my wife.” But the writing wasn’t his.

I held up the photo I was still clutching tightly and showed my Godmother.

“I saw her,” I whispered. “She did this, she rescued me. It’s her writing.” And then I wept, not for him, but for her.

My Godmother held me until the tears subsided.

When I had recovered, she told me that soon she would help me pack what I needed to move in with her family, as she would now be my guardian. “But first,” she said, “if you are up to it, you have a visitor.”

I nodded, curious, and she went to open the door. Jack was sitting out in the corridor, but now he jumped to his feet. As I stood up to greet him, she whispered in my ear, “Guess who gets to arrange your marriage now.” She had that magic twinkle in her eye again.

 

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Thanks for reading! I’d love to know what you think of the story – feel free to leave comments below or connect via my Facebook or Twitter