Monday, 23 October 2017

What I've Been Reading #22 - I'M ON AUTUMN BREAK HALLELUJAH

Hello, everybody!


Today is the first day of my autumn break, which I'm SO HAPPY about! I started my A2 work mid-August and I haven't had a break since. So, as you can imagine, I'm super happy I have a mini-holiday. 

I'm hoping to get a lot done this week. 
I want to plan some of my NaNoWriMo novel; read the Steelheart series by Brandon Sanderson; and write a ton of blog posts then schedule them. I was planning on writing three blog posts today and finish The Call by Paedar O'Guilin.
 Do you know what I did today? NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Okay, that's a lie. I exercised, I went to town, and I bought books (BOOK HAUL COMING SOON, MY LOVELIES). But it was a super unproductive day blogging/reading/writing wise. I'm trying not to feel guilty about it as I am on holiday, and surely it's fine to spend one day doing absolutely nothing, right?

Tomorrow I'm hoping to accomplish slightly more. I want to:
  • finish my review of The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles
  • write my holiday tbr post
  • read. Just read some of a book. I've read a lot today, but it's all been theology articles on the internet. I have a stack of fictional books to read, yet I'm so interested in theology at the moment, I just want to read up on that. TOMORROW, I SHALL READ FROM the stack.

Last week I read The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles and I DON'T KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT. AT ALL. There were some parts I really liked and other parts I didn't. There were also a lot of parts that I felt very "meh" towards. I should have my review up on Wednesday. It'll probably have no structure and be slightly incoherent - kind of like my thoughts towards this book. 

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?The Call

I started The Call a few weeks ago and I read nearly 100 pages in one sitting; I haven't picked it up since, as I've been too busy reading other books! I absolutely loved the pages I did read, so I'm looking forward to reading the rest this holiday. 

I also picked up Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey, as I have a lot of questions about praying and it looks like Yancey answers a lot of the questions I have in this book. I think I'm really going to enjoy it and, hopefully, I'll find the answers I'm looking for.

Ballet Shoes for AnnaSeraphina (Seraphina, #1)
After reading Bunheads by Sophie Flack last week, I really want to read more fictional ballet books! I haven't ever read a Noel Streatfeild and I've heard this isn't her best, but I'm still looking forward to reading it because BALLET.

I'm also so excited to read Seraphina! I tried reading it a couple of years ago and I just couldn't get into it. However, after reading the first couple of pages in the library last week I found myself really enjoying it, so I took it out! I'm hoping I actually finish it this time and that I end up loving it.

What books did you read last week? What are you currently reading? Have you ever DNFed a book then gone back quite awhile later and found yourself absolutely loving it?

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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine is my new favourite thing

Title: Ink and Bone
Series: The Great Library #1
Author: Rachel Caine
Publication: July 7th 2015, Allison & Busby
Pages: 410 Pages, Paperback
Source: Thank you so much to Allison & Busby for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review!
Rating: 5/5 Cupcakes!
Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn. . . .

Ink and Bone is a richly imagined novel that takes place in a world where the Great Library of Alexandria never perished. A world where nobody can own an original book and knowledge is strictly controlled and monitored; if a book is found in your house, you risk death. Featuring a dangerous, compelling world complete with characters who pursue knowledge and are comprised of ink and words, a spellbinding story line, blood-tinted plot twists and's no wonder this book - it's world, it's characters, it's entire composition - sneaked into my heart. Underneath the fantastic dialogue, the terrifying world Caine so masterfully crafted and the cast of characters who I fell in love with, it reveals itself to be an ode to books, libraries and literature. Depicting the splendour of libraries, literature and knowledge, Ink and Bone is a must-read for anyone who has been captivated by the written word. I was utterly spellbound.

There's so much I love about this book that I'm not entirely sure where to start. Perhaps I'll start with the characters, as I think they are what made me fall so completely in love with this book. In Ink and Bone, the main character is Jess Brightwell and guys, I am in love with him; he's definitely at the top of my book boyfriends list! I've read Ink and Bone twice now and I found more things to love about him with each chapter I reread. He's not a perfect person and he doesn't pretend to be. He's varying shades of morally grey but he has a heart of gold and I loved him. He's gloriously sarcastic, in love with books and he's the perfect balance of a little bit of toughness and more than a little bit of sensitivity, care and kindness. I loved how I, as the reader, got to see the sensitive, caring side of Jess from the first few pages, when he didn't reveal that side of himself to many people very often. Reading a book is quite an intimate thing, isn't it? It's seeing to the very depths of a character's soul; that's how I felt about Jess. I felt like he allowed me to see the darkness and the lightness that swirled together in his soul, painting him the beautiful hue of grey that he is. I loved how there were startling moments that showed me he would fight and he would be cunning in order to protect himself and those he loves; I loved how there were small things he said and things he did to show how much he cares - things I never noticed until rereading the book. I'm just incredibly in love with Jess Brightwell. He's clever, he's kind, he's cunning, he's tough and strong and so incredibly complex.
I absolutely love him. 

You want to know which other character stole my heart? Thomas Schreiber. Extremely tall and utterly enormous with Superman's strength; bones composed of kindness and sinew laced with gentleness; extraordinary intelligence and the ability to make anyone smile. I absolutely adored Thomas. He was the purest, kindest, gentlest, most beautiful character. He did so many wonderful things for his friends, he invented so many incredible objects and he did all he could to make sure he was improving people's lives. I may be in love with him too. 

Image result for proud crying gif

I adored the other characters, too. They all had incredibly diverse, colourful, vivid personalities. Initially, there was an edge of mistrust and lingering ferocity clinging to each of them (except Thomas because he's a pure, precious angel) and I loved that. I loved how they could turn from being funny, kind and amusing to secretive and simmering with a myriad of feelings as sharp as a double-edged sword in the next second. And then after awhile, it wasn't like that. I adored the evolving dynamics between the group. How they started out weary and mistrusting of one another, viewing the other as only a competitor; or if they got close to another, as someone to lose. I absolutely loved watching their weary suspicion of one another morph into friendship, care, loyalty and respect. The dialogue between the characters, the initial mild hostility (looking at you, Dario), the evolution of feelings and the spectacularly executed dynamics made the cast of characters feel like flesh and bone and not just ink on paper. 

I adored Dario with his egotism, his arrogance and his charm. I loved Khalila with her incredible intelligence and her devotion to knowledge. I loved Glain with her bravery and candor. I loved Wolfe and Santi and the complexities of their characters. The only character I didn't feel vastly connected to was Morgan. Perhaps because she appeared later on in the book so I didn't have as much time to form a bond with her. I'm hoping to get to know Morgan in the next book, though as I don't feel like she revealed much of who she was in this book!

Another thing I loved about Ink and Bone was the world-building. It's beautiful, original and heart-stopping in its terror. I love how, at face value, the library is presented as a prestigious, perfect protector of knowledge and books; but page by page, Caine crumbles the gleaming facade of the library. It was horrifying and brilliant the way Caine sets up this beautiful image of the library, then with fierce vigour she tears down the reader's perception of it and reveals the brutality, the blood and the injustice writhing under the surface. The library was a terrifying place rife with high stakes, tension, cut-throat officials who will do anything to control the masses and deathly situations. I got chills on several occasions as the dark, blood-tinted underbelly of the library was brought to light. I guess I should've have been as surprised as I was by the system's violence due to all those vicious automatons that lounge outside the libraries' doors and who will not hesitate to kill. Seriously, they terrified me. 

So yes, I adored the world-building. The intricacy of it was further demonstrated by Caine's inclusion of politics and the murderous tension between the populace and the Burners, with their "radical" ideals. It was terrifying, thrilling and horrifying when Caine introduced the Burners - rebels who oppose the library's view of a book being worth more than a life. The tensions between them and the rest of the population provided for an intense read and enriched the world-building.  

Another reason why I loved the world-building was because of all the glorious descriptions of libraries and books interspersed throughout the pages. I feel like Ink and Bone is an implicit love letter to books, libraries and knowledge. I fell in love with the sprinkling of quotes dispersed throughout the book that lyrically expressed the wonder of literature, the scent of books, the comforting feel of books in hand...there were stunning quotes that were an ode to books. I think if you're a book lover, you'll feel a kind of kinship with this book. You'll connect with the characters who are comprised of ink and paper, passion and heart.

The writing is fantastic. I adored the lyrical, melodic rhythm of the writing. The words flowed beautifully into one another to form a dazzling combination of silken words. The pacing was executed superbly as well. I absolutely love Rachel's writing and I'm so excited to read more of her works. I love the way she phrased things and the way she formatted her sentences and paragraphs to emphasise shocking, beautiful and heartbreaking moments. I just really love this book. 

All my favourite quotes!
Another way in which Rachel Caine displayed her phenomenal writing abilities was through the dialogue between the characters. The humorous conversations radiate throughout the novel and add a fun, lighthearted element to add chinks of light to the bloodshed and tension that acts as the landscape of Ink and Bone. The dialogue was so natural, the banter was brilliant and the sarcasm was devastatingly artful.

I adored the romance between Jess and Morgan, as well. Jess had these subtle ways of showing Morgan how he cared for her and loved her; their teasing made me smile and clutch the book to my chest more than once; and I loved how they both originated from complicated backgrounds and felt as if the other one was the only one who understood them. To put it simply: I ship them. 

Ink and Bone was a riveting read that snatched my breath away and stole my heart in a single swipe. I fell completely in love with the characters, I was swept away by Rachel Caine's harmonious writing; I had my heart broken and stitched back haphazardly together again. I can see this becoming one of my all-time favourite series. It's an action-packed steampunk adventure filled with dangerous, sass and books!

 Read it, it's incredible.

I give it: 5/5 cupcakes!

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

What I've Been Reading #21 - I've been so productive this week and it's fabulous

Happy Tuesday! 

How has your day been?

Mine has been really good, actually! Yesterday was an awesome day because I was super productive. I’m actually understanding (therefore enjoying) maths at the moment so I did more maths than usual; I did a physics section AND the revision notes; I made notes for three English essays I need to write, AND I FINISHED IT ALL BY 13:30. If only school could be like that every day!

I then went to town with my mom and I managed to write some of this blog post and finish a book! When I got home I was in this mood to organise my life (I don't know if you guys get random urges to just sort out EVERYTHING? Well, that's what happened to me!). I printed revision checklists, past papers and revision notes; I organised my files, my pencil bags and my stationery cupboards; and I tidied my room, my bookshelves, my wardrobe/drawers and I organised the boxes that were on my bookshelf. I only managed to get to bed after midnight, but it was so worth it because I feel like my life has some semblance of order now! 

Because I went to bed late, I woke up late this morning and as a result, my whole schedule went awry; so I didn't get as much done today as I did yesterday. I did get quite a lot of English done, finished a maths exercise and watched some maths videos to help me better understand some topics! I also went to The Works and got a super cute calendar for next year. When I own calendars and planners it makes me feel organised, which is a wonderful feeling. 

I've also managed to read two books the past two days - go me! 

BunheadsDenton Little's Deathdate (Denton Little #1)

As of writing this post, I’ve just finished Bunheads by Sophie Flack and I really enjoyed it! I had a copy a few years back but I never read it. I’ve been on something of a ballet reading kick lately though, so I impulsively reserved a few ballet books and they finally came in! HAPPY DAYS. I started it a few hours after I got it out from the library, and a couple more hours later I had finished it! 

By the time I closed the book I had a goofy grin on my face and I was hugging it to my chest. There were moments that made me roll my eyes but there were many more moments that had me eyes widening at the amount of sacrifice, pain and determination needed in the ballet world. It’s a book about the sacrifice needed to succeed in ballet - in its purest form. There’s no melodramatic antics, there’s no’s an honest, authentic portrayal of being a dancer in one of the top ballet schools in America. Sophie Flack danced with New York City Ballet for many years so I appreciated that she wrote the book with so much honesty and accuracy. I really enjoyed this book, a lot more than I thought I would! There were times I found the girls to be quite...problematic. There could be quite a lot of girl hate, slut-shaming and terrible comments made about so-called friends, which I didn’t enjoy so much. I also didn’t ship the romance a lot but I still enjoyed the book. And I loved the ending. It wasn’t what I was expecting, which is always nice!

I also read Denton Little’s Death Date which I LOVED. Denton is such a likable, idiotic character - I loved him. He was hilarious, the other characters were hilarious, the one-liners were brilliant; the friendships, plot twists and writing were excellently crafted as well. I NEED the next book, but it’s only available here in the UK from February. EXCUSE ME WHILE I CRY.

I’m currently reading The Taste of Blue Light; I’m only 30 pages in and I’m not sure how I feel about it. The main character takes drugs (including cocaine) and drinks a lot. I hate reading books with characters who use recreational drugs as it’s so irresponsible and I just can’t comprehend the stupidity of taking them. The writing is gorgeous, if a little bit abstract so I’m hoping the main character has quite an impressive character arc throughout the book. Fingers crossed. 

I’m most likely going to read The Treatment next as it’s release date is fairly soon! It sounds chilling and dark and creepy - the perfect Autumn read.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you currently reading and what did you just finish reading?

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Saturday, 14 October 2017

Stacking the Shelves #108 - #BatKidsLitFest Haul & Recap + Surprise Book Mail!

Hello, everyone!

I hope you've all had a lovely week. Did you get up to anything exciting?

I thought I was going to have a very small haul this week...but it ended up being not-so-small.

I attended a YA literature event last weekend (I'll talk about that more later on) and I picked up quite a few books there - more than I thought I would! 

Also, thank you to Harper Collins Children's Books for sending me books to review; I can't wait to read them! 

This past week has honestly been one of the most lovely weeks I've had! It was filled with blogging (I just feel so inspired to blog lately - I LOVE THIS FEELING), making new friends and lots of bookish fun. It's been great, truly.

So last week Saturday and Sunday I attended the Bath Children's Literature Festival which is one of my favourite things ever. I met Lara Williamson (author of A Boy Called Hope, The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair and Spaghetti-Hoop Boy) on Saturday which was so much fun! A lot of the people attending the event were a lot younger than me as she writes middle-grade books; so I felt super old, but I had a great time! She played "Pass the Parcel" with the audience and really interacted with them which was lovely. But, I'm not going to lie, I was super terrified that the parcel would reach me and I'd have to speak in front of everybody (yes, I'm that shy) but luckily it didn't. 😂

On Saturday evening, I went with my friend to the Brian Conaghan & Sarah Crossan event, where they discussed their new book, We Come Apart. One of the audience members asked the authors about the ending of their book (which I believe is quite sad) and we just saw this young girl's head flop onto her mom's shoulder after Brian and Sarah answered the question, which clearly wasn't what she wanted to hear. Later on, the mom answered a question that another member of audience had asked and she said she'd never seen her daughter cry so hard in a book. Sarah Crossan hugged her afterwards and apologized for making her cry, which I thought was really sweet! Poor kid, nobody must've warned her that the book nerd life is a painful life.

Then Sunday (THE BEST DAY EVER) happened. Sunday was a very, very good day. It was the kind of day I hope I never forget; the kind of day that elicited feelings I wish I could store in a bottle. It was also unseasonably warm with actual sunshine, even the weather wanted to make it a good day! 
So on Sunday, I kicked off my literary day by attending the Emily Barr Creative Writing Workshop which was incredible. I felt so inspired to read and write, I was brave enough to read some of what I'd written out loud (who even am I?!) and I got two story ideas during the class! Emily gave such wonderful advice and I adored the writing exercises she set us; you can read my in-depth recap (and read some of my writing) here! 

After that I had to rush to the Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison and Lauren James event, which was on the other side of Bath. It was chaotic and rushed but I MADE IT. I absolutely loved the talk! I was grinning and laughing for the entire length of the talk and I had so much fun listening to them speak. The discussion was also in a really nice comedy club. There were tables set out with red cloths draped over them and on each table, for each different event, there were different books/swag you could take! FREE BOOKS. 

After the event I met TWO BOOK BLOGGERS - I've never met online friends IRL before! I met Lucy from Queen of Contemporary who I've known for nearly six years. It was so surreal meeting one of my first ever blogging friends! She's so lovely and I'm so happy I finally got to meet her! 

I also met Alice from Married to Books and she's so sweet; she lives quite near to me so I'm hoping we can hang out more often!

After I'd gotten my book signed by Lauren James and chatted to Lucy and Alice for a bit, my friend and I went to Waitrose to go get some lunch. My parents were there with a friend, so Matthew and I sat and chatted to them for a bit whilst we had lunch. After replenishing my energy levels with a beautiful chicken sandwich, we hurried down to the comedy club again to listen to Gemma Cairney, Sara Barnard and Amy Alward! Sara sadly couldn't make it due to illness, but it was so much fun listening to Gemma and Amy speak! They talked about the importance of writing books that deal with difficult topics (Gemma), the importance of including girls who are interested in STEM in their books (Amy); the spoke about their writing processes, books they are currently reading and a whole lot of other fun stuff! I haven't read Gemma or Amy's books but I had my copy of The Potion Diaries with me, so Amy was kind enough to sign it! 

Matthew and I then went back to Waitrose to buy a chocolate and hang about in the cafe for a bit (there was a 45 minute break between each talk) and then we were off to the last event! When we got the comedy club Alice waved us over, which was really nice of her! So we sat by Alice, picked up some new books off of the table and ate chocolate - IT WAS MUCH FUN. The last talk was fandom/cosplay themed so the authors on the panel had dressed up and there were several people in the audience also donning cosplay outfits, which was so cool! I absolutely loved listening to Frances Hardinge, Maggie Harcourt and Lucy Saxon chat about their favourite fandoms, the books they're reading, the books they're was SO FUN. I laughed so much and I, again, had SO MUCH FUN. I really want to try to get Frances's and Lucy's books now - they sound so good

After the event I got my books signed and then THE MOST EXCITING THING HAPPENED. Okay, so. At our table, a woman and her daughter were sitting and she had an arc of Renegades by Marissa Meyer that she gave to Alice as she didn't want it. I was like, OH MY GOSH THAT MUST MEAN THERE ARE COPIES OF RENEGADES AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE. So I was craning my neck and popping my head up like a meerkat but it's dark inside the room so I couldn't see if there were any other copies. ANYWAY, fast forward to after the event. I'm standing in line to get my book signed by Maggie Harcourt, and one of the stewards enters into the signing room. She holds up a copy of Renegades and says the most glorious words I've ever heard, "Does anyone want this book?". I waited half a second to give someone else a chance to put their hand up (how polite of me) but no one did so I shot my hand up. And I got a copy of Renegades. I nearly DIED I was so excited.

It was a fantastic way to end an even more fantastic day! I then went home with my parents and I got some nice pictures of Bath. The sun was shining, it was so warm and I had a bag full of books. It was truly such a wonderful day!

Tuesday was also a super good day for me. I had my book club meeting and it was so much fun. We discussed books, I was thoroughly convinced to pick up Throne of Glass. We talked Harry Potter houses, French bulldogs and health insurance (sometimes we go off on tangents, you may have noticed). And there were biscuits. I love biscuits. It was such a lovely day and I had so much fun at the meeting! The one librarian who runs the book club also gave me some arcs and swag that she had lying about SO THAT WAS AWESOME. Again, I nearly died of excitement. 

Other news...
  • I also FINALLY got a response from a publishing company I've emailed a few times and who I've been desperate to work with. They've put me on their mailing list so YAY, LET'S DO A CELEBRATORY DANCE!!! 
  • I got a stunning notebook to start planning my NaNoWriMo novel in! I have several ideas for it but no idea how to string them all together. Here's hoping this notebook will (magically) help me. Wishful thinking? I HOPE NOT. 
  • Next week is my last week of term and then I have a week off school! I CAN'T WAIT. 
Life update over, now, onto the books!

I emailed Harper Collins two weeks ago to ask if they perhaps had any copies of Forever Geek to send to me to review! I didn't get a reply from them (I did actually, but it went to spam. Best "spam" mail I've ever gotten) so I assumed they didn't have copies left. BUT THEN a few days later, the postman left a huge parcel by the door. A Harper Collins parcel. After flapping my arms like a demented bird and shrieking more than a little, I opened the parcel. There was not one, not two, but THREE books inside. *runs around screaming*

They sent me a copy of Forever Geek (IT'S HARDCOVER), The Thousandth Floor and The Dazzling Heights! They're all so pretty and the colour combination looks gorgeous together. ANYWAY, I have read The Thousandth Floor and I have a copy, so watch this space for a giveaway! I wasn't a huge fan of The Thousandth Floor but I am keen on picking up the sequel. I hope I love it more than the first book!  

My book club also organised us review copies of The Taste of Blue Light. We're one of the book groups chosen to read this book and I believe the publishing company will be selecting three reading groups to visit the Hachette publishing house in London to see how the publishing process works etc. It sounds AMAZING; I hope my group gets selected! 

I bought The Loneliest Girl in the Universe before the literature festival and I was hoping I'd get around to reading it, but sadly I didn't have time. It sounds like an epic sci-fi thriller; I'm so excited to read it! ALSO, LOOK AT THAT COVER.

Jess Butterworth was one of the authors I listened to on Thursday evening, so I bought her book at the event to get signed! It was literally such a hard decision deciding whether I should buy Running on the Rooftop of the World or Sea by Sarah Driver. I eventually went with this one because I do have Sea out from the library! This book sounds super cute and I'm so excited to read it. 

I also purchased a copy of Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I'm so excited to read it! It sounds SO, SO GOOD

These were the three books my library gave me! I mentally shrieked very, very loudly when I saw If Birds Fly Back in that pile, as I've been wanting to read it for ages. I hadn't heard of One Silver Summer before I got it on Tuesday, but it sounds like such a cute read and I'm so excited to read it. I have read Windfall so I'll also be giving this away on my blog or Twitter! 


LOOK AT RENEGADES, ISN'T IT BEAUTIFUL?! AH, SO BEAUTIFUL. I'm SO excited to read Renegades and The Fandom! I saw a lot of buzz about the latter on bookstagram/Twitter a few weeks back and I was super interested in it. So excited to read it! 

I also got a copy of Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell (which I forgot to include in this photograph) and it's so pretty! It's also set in South Africa which is the coolest thing ever. Would you like to know how many books I've read that are set in South Africa? 


ONE. I've read many, many books and only one has been set in SA. 

Image result for not amused gif

I didn't actually read the blurb properly when I picked the copy Kaleidoscope Song off of the table because I was so distracted by the pretty cover (and the fact that the event was starting); however, I read the blurb when I got home and I realised it contains sensitive subject matter and other things that I don't particularly enjoy reading about. It's gotten really good review and I a lot of people have loved it, so I'll also be doing a giveaway for this on my blog or Twitter, so keep an eye out for that!  

I'm so excited to read all of these! Which one should I read first? Are there any here that you're particularly interested in reading? How was your week? Did you buy any books this week?
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Thursday, 12 October 2017

#BathKidsLitFest Recap #3: Love, Literature, Life with Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison and Lauren James

On Sunday, as I mentioned in my other post, I had a day filled with YA events. It started off with the Emily Barr Creative Writing workshop and ended with a cosplay panel featuring Maggie Harcourt, Lucy Saxon and Frances Hardinge. In between those two events were the Amy Alward, Sarah Barnard and Gemma Cairney talk and the Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison and Lauren James one...the latter is the event I'll be recapping in this post!

I was several minutes late to the talk as I had to rush immediately from the other event which was in a different area. I'm kind of sorry I missed the first several minutes as it was such a brilliant event -I had a stupid, goofy grin plastered on my face for the entire duration. I loved that Tom, Lucy and Lauren chatted to the audience as if we were all close friends. I meant to take detailed notes like I did in the "Learning to Write" event but I mostly forgot to. I was far too busy laughing too much, chortling at all the rapid fire banter between those on the panel and listening, rapt, to the anecdotal stories the authors were telling us. I got completely swept up in the conversation - it was entertaining, witty and touching. All the authors seemed so nice and genuine and I felt like I wanted to be their best friend by the time the event was over. 

Like I said, I utterly adored the talk and I had so much fun listening to all the things the authors had to say; including personal anecdotes (a few involving hair straighteners), writing strengths and weaknesses, writing realistic YA fiction, writing processes and advice they'd give to their younger selves.

One of they key things they discussed that I found very interesting was writing realistic teen fiction. I haven't read any of Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison's books (MUST CHANGE THAT) but after hearing them talk, I'm convinced I need their books in my life. Their books sound so real and I think it's so important to have realistic YA fiction. I mean, I love contemporary books featuring finding your soul mate who happens to be gorgeous (complete with abs and a jawline that is sharp enough to cut) and who simultaneously is a sensitive soul who whispers poetry in your ear. I love those books as much as the next person does, but I also think it's really important to have YA books that are realistic. 

One of the things Tom and Lucy spoke about is how rare realistic teenage boys are in YA and all I can say to that is YES, ALL THE YES. I have read a lot of books and I've known several guys (not a lot, though, my life is sadly deficient in the boy department) and not one of the guys I've met have resembled Will Herondale, Four or Jace in any way at all. Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong place, but I doubt it. Those boys are fictional (tragically) and real guys aren't. Real guys aren't all super nice, super sensitive, super gorgeous people who are constantly showering you with romantic gestures and who will stay with you for eternity. I really liked the fact that Tom and Lucy want to incorporate realistic teen guys into their books. I feel like the romanticised ideals of love interests in books can, in a way, negatively affect our relationships in real life because we go into them with completely unrealistic expectations. I really like the fact that Tom and Lucy are setting out to write contemporary books that are realistic. 

Some of the ways in which Tom and Lucy make their books realistic are by including things that have happened to them, taking a "gamble" by writing about things that people don't want to be reminded of (such as falling out of love and the everyday humdrum of real life) and dialogue that feels real. If the dialogue in their books is anything like their dialogue in real life...I VOLUNTEER AS A TRIBUTE to read all their books ever. Lucy stressed several times the importance of writing a diary throughout your life to really help preserve how you felt and thought and to remind yourself of what you did at a certain age - it could give you fodder for a book at some point! I felt really inspired after hearing that piece of advice. I've kept a journal several times throughout my life but I've never been consistent with it. Her advice reminded me how helpful it is to keep a journal and how wonderful it will be to read my old entries and see how I've grown as a person. I may even get some plot ideas in the process.  

Lauren James has written YA sci-fi books (I'm so excited to read them, they sound amazing) and she also expressed the importance of including small, every day things in her books as it makes it feel real. She spoke about how in one chapter her character experiences bad period pain and I applaud her for including that in her latest novel, as YA female characters seem to never be ailed by period cramps ever. It's these small, human experiences that can make a book that more authentic, that more relatable and that more easier to fall in love with. 

I also enjoyed listening to Lauren speak about how she studied physics and chemistry at university and how the things she learned during her course has helped her shape the sci-fi books she now writes. As an aspiring astrophysicist, it was so inspiring listening to female scientist talk about how she could meld science with YA literature. Due to it often being seen as two completely separate things, I found it really encouraging to see that you can combine writing and a science degree - and how they can benefit one another!

Another interesting thing that was discussed was including pop culture in books and how it can be quite difficult to do this. I don't know about you, but I absolutely love it when books reference musicians that are currently popular, current fashion trends, social media etc. Again, it makes the book more fun and in a sense more intimate, as the level of being able to relate to the characters' lives increases drastically. Tom, Lucy and Lauren brought up some thought-provoking points regarding the subject that I'd never considered before. One of them being that social media and pop music change at such a rapid speed.  Since writing a book can take a year or two, you could very well include artists/apps that are popular when you first start writing a book that, by the time it's published, the then-popular things you included might no longer be relevant. I never actually realised the danger of including popular trends whilst writing a book: it could make your book seem outdated when it's just been released. For an instance, I'm pretty sure less teenagers are using Facebook now than they were a few years back, Vine - something that was extremely popular - no longer exists; there are musicians that aren't that relevant anymore who were extremely well-known a few years back...the world and its interests are evolving at rapid speed. How can we keep up with that?

I also enjoyed listening to the three authors' varying writing processes. Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison write together and I found it so fascinating listening to how they write their books! With emailing each other their chapters back and forth, reading out the dialogue to one another to make sure it sounds like something people would actually say, and how with dual writing you get things done in a timely manner. 
Tom Ellen was saying that if he knew Lucy had finished her chapter and it was his turn to write, he would feel an increased sense of urgency to write and get his chapter done so that she could start writing her section. Lauren James - whose one WIP is being written with another author - said that when you're co-authoring with someone it helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses. I think that is so wonderfully helpful and can really, over time, help a person grow as a writer. Hopefully I can co-author with someone one day - I think it would be such an enriching experience!

I absolutely loved hearing about all the fascinating things that were discussed. Lucy from Queen of Contemporary (who was chairing the panel) asked such brilliant questions and I loved listening to the oftentimes hilarious - and always genuine - answers to the questions. I can't wait to read all of their books as they honestly sound incredible! It was a fabulously fun event. 

Have you read any of these authors' books? What do you think about realistic YA contemporaries? Do you think it's important to include things that we deal with on a day-to-day basis in books? Would you ever like to co-author a book?
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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

World Mental Health Day 2017: How Literature Helps, the Importance of Accurate Representation, and Harmful Stereotypes that Need to Stop

Today is a very important day. It's a day where we acknowledge that not all wounds are visible, it's a day where we give a voice to individuals who have been told to bite the bullet, keep it in, man up and stop worrying. It's for the people who have been silenced after hearing that what they're experiencing isn't actually happening, who have had their feelings undermined and had outsiders dismiss the inner turmoil that seeps into every day of their life by saying it's "just in your head". Just because it's happening in your head, doesn't make it any less real. That's one of the key things I wish people would understand about mental illness - it happens in our heads, you can't see it but that doesn't detract from the devastating impact it has on our lives.

Today is a day where we unlock our rusty voices and scream until our throats are raw, a day where make the invisible visible and the day we fight even harder for more understanding, more compassion and more helpful resources. Too many people have been silenced in their plight to enlighten and it's time that comes to an end.

If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll know that I've suffered with a severe panic disorder since I was ten. I'll leave the link to last year's World Mental Health Day post where I detailed how my mental illness started here, if you're interested in that. I won't go into detail on this post but I'll say that since 2009, I've had bad days. Really, really bad days. Days of barely been able to eat because I felt like I couldn't swallow, days where I would wake up with my heart pounding like I'd just sprinted and go to sleep feeling just the same. I'd feel lightheaded, get super bad chest pains and feel as if I couldn't breathe, I could've leave my house, I couldn't see was bad. 
And it's been on and off like that for eight years. 
I'm happy to say that I've reached a stage where I'm a LOT better. I don't get anxious as much, I hardly get panic attacks at all anymore (I think I've had one or two this year, I used to have panic attacks around the clock so that's a HUGE improvement), I can do stuff by myself (to an extent) when a few years back I couldn't even go to another part of the house by myself... so it does get better. It does. It takes awhile and I still don't feel 100% and I might not feel like that for a long time (does anyone ever feel 100%?) but I'm so thankful that I've reached a point where I'm not spending every second feeling like I'm about to die. 

There is so much I want to write in regards to mental illness but I'll focus on three main things in this post:
  • the importance of representing mental illness accurately in fiction
  • Negative stereotypes and misconceptions that need to stop
  • How literature helps in regards to mental health

The first thing I'd like to talk about is the negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness and, honestly, just the general lack of compassion and ignorance I've had to face when speaking to people about my anxiety. When I first got my anxiety I was living in England and I'd just started year 6. None of my friends knew what anxiety was, none of them could understand it and as I got older, I found people still didn't really understand it. It's only now that I'm reaching a point where I can speak to people about it and they're not harmfully ignorant of my situation. I definitely think social media has had such a positive impact on raising awareness for mental illness and it makes me so happy to see it get more coverage. Also, through Twitter and blogging, I've found people who are also going through it and it makes me feel not so alone.

I didn't know too much about the negative stereotypes people with mental illness face, instead I knew more about the misconceptions about anxiety that I've personally experienced. I decided to do some research and I was so saddened by what I found in regards to stigma surrounding mental illness. It just made me realise how much more we need to talk about it. We need to help people understand.

One of the negative stereotypes that NEED to stop (and one that I've actually noticed when watching the news/series/movies) is that mentally ill people are dangerous and out of control; this stereotype is perpetrated predominantly by media/news outlets and movies/TV shows. Not only is it grossly inaccurate but it's presenting people who suffer with mental illness as breaks my heart that people with mental illness are being viewed in that way and having their illnesses used as a plot device to cause conflict and terror in movies and television. Whenever there's been an act of violence, news teams are quick to conclude it's because that person is suffering from a mental illness. I remember when I first got my anxiety and for a few years after, I never used the term "mental illness" because that was a term that had always been linked to scary, "crazy" people and I didn't want people seeing me that way. The media and the movie business need to stop portraying people with mental illness in such a negative way as that's where people form harmful, false opinions about someone suffering from depression/anxiety etc. It could potentially really affect the way people view and treat us and how we treat ourselves. 

Another harmful stereotype is that people with mental illness can't ever live a normal life and can't recover from their illness. Another thing I've seen in books and movies is people being admitted to psychiatric wards and then they never seeing the light of day again. They remain there for the rest of their life, never getting out. NO, JUST NO. I personally haven't been admitted to a psych ward but I know people who have. You get help, you reach a point where you get better, you might be admitted again at a later date but you won't live your life constantly in a hospital. At my low points I thought I'd be stuck in a rut forever, have to be admitted at some point in my life and that I had no hope for recovery. I wish I could go tell myself that it does get better and there IS help available. Therapy has helped me and I went to natural homeopath as I didn't want to go on prescription meds and it has helped me SO MUCH. The past few months I've seen vast improvements in my mental health - all due to natural remedies. I just wish this positive attitude towards recovery and unconventional methods were given more coverage in media/movies/literature instead of negative stereotypes like the ones I've just listed.

I have also had to deal with a lot of misconceptions about anxiety over the years. Things such as...

Misconception #1: There's a reason for it
There can be, but anxiety can also happen completely out of the blue. A lot of the time something has triggered it but there are also times where it happens for seemingly no reason at all. There are tools to prevent and reduce it (CBT helps with that) and help you manage it more, BUT there was also a point when my anxiety was so bad I would get panic attacks completely out of the blue. I'd be fine and then the next second I couldn't breathe, I was dizzy and my heart was racing. I received comments from people saying "try not to worry" and "what's making you anxious?". Nothing was making me anxious. It just happened. An important thing to understand is there isn't always something obvious triggering us and that oftentimes there's nothing at all that's causing it.

Misconception #2: It's just your standard worrying and everyday stress. 
It's not. An anxiety disorder affects every aspect of your life. Your mood, how you feel physically, your social's not just normal worrying and stress. It's a severe kind that brings a host of physical symptoms that you can feel 24/7 and which, in turn, affects your ability to make friends, go out, engage in your normal's not your standard stress. It's much worse than that. It feels like an unstoppable monster tearing through your body causing you to feel like you're about to lose consciousness, be sick, lose your mind...I could go on and on.

Misconception #3You're not trying hard enough to get better or you don't want to get better
When I was 13, my friend invited me to her birthday party. Going to that party would've felt like I was walking to my death. I was terrified and I felt sick and I just couldn't do it. You might not understand this if you haven't been through it but it's like you physically can't. My friend then proceeded to tell me that I needed to try harder and just do it. I said I can't. It was like there was this huge, sky-high wall stopping me from having a normal life and I couldn't see a way to get past that. I wanted to and I want to get better and I try, but you don't understand how hard it is when your mind feels like a train wreck and your body feels like one too. Everything just seems so insurmountable. It's hard to explain. But NEVER say we're not trying hard enough or that we don't want to get better. It takes a whole lot more than simply wanting to feel okay again.

Misconception #4 - That you can't control it 
Mental illness is often shown as incurable and that you have to live on pills for the rest of your life if you want to have some kind of normal existence. That isn't true. We can get better; be it by learning techniques to manage it or, in my case, taking natural remedies and doing EFT, WE CAN GET BETTER. I honestly never thought I'd reach the point I'm at now...but I did it. I did it without prescription pills because I was really against going on medication so I had to find alternative methods and they're working. If anxiety medication doesn't work (and for a lot of people it does), there are other options. And they can get you back the life you want. It takes time. Also, people need to realise that therapy can really help so much as well! If you find the right therapist, they can help you so much!

Misconception #5 - It's purely a mental thing
I think a lot of people view anxiety as purely a mental thing: you stress and worry a lot. But it's so much more than that. It's utter mental and physical exhaustion, tight chest, chest pains, tingling and numbness in hands and feet, tension headaches, palpitations, stomach name a few. Anxiety can make a person feel absolutely terrible - mentally and physically. Yes, it starts in our heads but it is not confined to it.

This brings me onto the next point: accurate mental health representation matters! SO MUCH. It's so disheartening when you suffer with a mental illness and you read a book/watch a movie that gets something really wrong about mental health, therapy and the recovery process. It can make you feel isolated too. When you're lucky enough to find a book with mental disorders in - you want to see it represented accurately. You want to feel like you're understood. It can be quite terrifying when you see something incorrect in the book and you know that people who aren't mentally ill reading that book are going to be misinformed about what you're going through. Cait did a fabulous post on why representation matters for the Shattering Stigmas event, so I'll link that here. I wholeheartedly agree 100% with everything she said.

We need accurate representation to know that we aren't alone, to give others a voice who are afraid to speak up in fear of being shunned and stereotyped and to enlighten others who are ignorant on the subject.  haven't read a lot of mental health books as there don't seem to be many published that deal with anxiety disorders (and reading about other mental illnesses makes me worry) but I have read good ones that make me cry and say SAME SAME SAME YOU UNDERSTAND ME...and then there have been others that have left me feeling more than a little bit frustrated. One of the best ways to address mental health and make information on it accessible is through literature. This leads me onto my next point of how literature helps those with (and without) mental health problems. 

Literature dealing with mental illness has helped me, personally. It's aided me in understanding my illness better, it's given me some relief to know that what I'm feeling, as a person with anxiety disorder, is normal; it's helped me know that I'm not alone and it's made me feel understood. Having my anxiety understood is really all I want. One of those books was Underwater by Marisa Reichardt. There were times reading it that felt as if I were being punched in the gut because it took me back to a time that I had felt exactly like that. The character thought things and felt things that made me say "Thank goodness, it's normal". Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne is also an INCREDIBLE book. I don't suffer from OCD but there are several things that Evie, the protagonist, feels and thinks that exactly mirror what I've experienced in the past. I remember crying several times whilst reading those books because they got me. I just felt so relieved that what I'd gone through, the things I'd felt and thought were normal for people suffering with mental illness. 

Literature can also help people understand other mental illnesses. Before reading Am I Normal Yet? I knew nothing about OCD. I only (thought) I knew the (stereotypical) cleanliness obsession some OCD sufferers have. After reading AINY? I understood OCD so much better. After reading the book, I knew what not to say to people with the illness, what not to helped me understand them and their situation and see beyond the stereotypes the illness is laden with. Do you know how absolutely wonderfully incredible it would be if mental health was included more in books? Everyone who read the book would be several steps closer to understanding, empathising and helping those suffering with it. I sincerely believe literature could be the key to making the world a more compassionate, empathetic, better place.

Of course, there have also been books I've read that frustrated me slightly. I know this might be considered an unpopular opinion but I wasn't pleased with how Audrey's recovery in Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella was represented. There were things I loved about the book such as the inclusion of anxiety symptoms that I've experienced quite a lot, but I wasn't pleased with how fast her recovery was and how dangerously far it strayed into the "love cures all" territory that I've seen a lot in YA books. I really hope that more authors will STOP using romance as a cure to mental illness. A person can't cure you and books NEED TO STOP promoting this grossly false notion. Like Am I Normal Yet?, I wish mental health books would include positive therapy sessions, realistic recoveries and no romantic cure. It's absolutely vital that we get mental health books right as literature featuring these disorders may be the only source of information for some people. Literature gives us a voice; it may only be a breathless whisper in the beginning but I hope that some day soon, there will be enough exposure of mental health, that that voice will reach a beautiful crescendo. Books gently understand, kindly teach and speak up for the silent - they can change the world. One story at a time can, I believe that. 

What mental health books have you read that you thought had superb representation? Have you faced negative stigma and misconceptions surrounding your illness? Do you also think literature could be key in helping more people develop understanding on certain topics such as mental illness? Let's talk! 
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