One Month Review

Please don’t let fear be the thing that stops you from pursuing your passions. Do you know what is even more scary than failure? Inaction. If you try and fail, you’ll survive, but if you never even dare to take that step, then you’ll never know what you could have achieved. Inaction is the biggest risk of all.

Adrienne Herbert, The Power Hour: How to Focus on your Goals and Create a Life You Love

On the 16 April I published my first two blog posts: one was a little introduction about myself and the second was a book review. I was so nervous about the prospect of people reading the first post (as it was personal and about my confidence issues), that I published the second immediately after as I thought might be a distraction technique. To this day, my first post has been my most popular and has had the most interactions.

I set up my WordPress site back in January 2020 (thinking it would be a travel blog as I had lots of trips planned for 2020…) and it took me until April 2021 to actually be brave enough to press publish on anything I had drafted. Since then, in one month, I have published nine posts and between twelve and two people have read each of them. This might not sound a lot, but to me, it is incredible. I only thought my mum and dad would read them (hello, you two!) but with each new post I have felt myself grow in confidence and I now look forward to the two days a week when I post (Tuesdays and Fridays).

I decided to write this mini-post to firstly celebrate my first month of blogging, but also to talk about some of the women who have been inspiring me to actually get out there and do it.

So, in January 2021, after the year we had all had, I’d found every excuse under the sun as to why I shouldn’t be posting on a blog. It wasn’t the right time, I was too stressed with work, no one would want to read what I had to say. But when January rolled around I felt a real internal drive to change my attitude. I was fed up of constantly feeling too tired or too stressed to read or write and I was fed up of feeling like it was other people that needed to change in order for me to feel better about myself. I looked back at times in my life when I had felt my most carefree and confident and realised that was a few years ago when I was a regular gym-goer. So I decided to set up a new exercise routine, which did feel a bit of a New Year’s Resolution kind of cliché, but I started it and it has stuck.

Alice Liveing (pic from her website https://alice-liveing.co.uk/)

I began Alice Liveing’s January Give Me Strength challenge on her Instagram lives. Four mornings a week Alice had me up at 7am in my little front room to lift some dumbbells, squat, lunge, and begin to work up the strength to do a full press-up. I love Alice’s bright and happy personality, her honesty about how she’s feeling, and her general give-it-a-go attitude: she told me to give 100% of what I had to each workout and that’s what I did. Alice also has a great podcast if you need a bit of inspiration called Give Me Strength where she interviews women like Dame Kelly Holmes and Nicola Adams about fitness but also about all aspects of wellbeing and looking after yourself.

Through Alice, I found Adrienne Herbert who’s podcast and book, both called The Power Hour, have had such a huge impact on my mental health and wellbeing. Adrienne introduced me to the simple yet powerful concept of getting up an hour earlier each morning to do something I enjoy and purely for myself, before work starts to kick off my day in a positive way. Whether that be exercise, yoga, meditation, or an hour reading in bed with a cup of tea, it has revolutionised my mornings. Since I started working from home, it had become so easy to set the alarm later and later and giving in to the temptation of the snooze button, then logging on still in my dressing gown. Well, not anymore. By the time I log on I have already had a great start to my day.

Adrienne Herbert (pic from her website http://adriennelondon.com/)

Adrienne also has some really inspiring speakers on her podcast. They are quite often business owners who talk about what they have done to get themselves to where they are today and the routines they have developed to protect their mental health and keep them productive. Liz Earle, Ella Mills, and also Phoebe Greenacre, who is my next inspirational lady, have all been guests.

On her episode with Adrienne, Phoebe talked about being in a well-paid London job but feeling like she was “so much more than her little desk.” She quit her job at 30 and went travelling, came back to no home and no money, and has worked slowly but steadily to set up her own (now hugely successful) businesses.  Phoebe set up The Self Care Space during the pandemic as a place for women to go to find guided meditations and yoga practices to reconnect with themselves. As a woman who wants to set up a yoga-base business, I found this very inspiring.

Phoebe Greenacre (pic from The Self Care Space https://theselfcarespace.co/)

I was able to ask Phoebe for her advice recently (as part of her business coaching course), on how to move past being so afraid of failure that you struggle to start; she said to think back on other times when you’ve felt afraid doing something, but you’ve done it and survived – let that inspire you. It gets easier and one day you will look back and see the journey you’ve been on.

Feeling the fear is also something that Chloe Brotheridge talks about in her book The Confidence Solution. This book I’ve been reading in my power hours and I cannot recommend it enough for women who have ever felt short on confidence – I have had some real ‘a-ha’ moments reading it. In the book, Chloe explains how to retrain your brain to overcome fear. One is example is go into a situation that scares you and don’t die. Your brain will then learn that you won’t die, and you are in fact safe to go into another situation. Repeat and celebrate all the small wins.

Now when I am feeling the fear I have tangible experiences to look back on and see that I’m still well and truly alive: I joined a business coaching course and spoke up, didn’t die. I set up a WordPress site and posted some content, didn’t die. Now, I am celebrating that I have nine posts out in the world (and lot’s more being drafted), by writing this.

Confidence comes from taking brave action. Fear shrinks when you walk towards it, so start planning… It’s time to act.

The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence, Chloe Brotheridge
Chloe Brotheridge (pic taken from her website https://calmer-you.com/)

Chloe also has a podcast called The Calmer You, and it is a lovely listen about quietening the inner critic and generally being calmer in life.

Well, this turned out to not be such a mini-post after all! But I wanted to write it in case it finds its way in front of someone else who has been hesitating over that ‘Publish’ button, waiting for “the right time” to press it. Now is the right time! But if you feel you need a little boost then please do check out Alice, Adrienne, Phoebe and Chloe (I’ll put links below) – I cannot tell you how much of an impact they have had on me.

Links and resources:

For Alice Liveing’s website link: https://alice-liveing.co.uk/ also for Alice’s workouts, please search for her Instagram: @aliceliveing(app coming soon)

For Adrienne Herbert’s website link: http://adriennelondon.com/ and please do read her book The Power Hour: How to Focus on your Goals and Create a Life You Love and listen to her podcast The Power Hour

For Phoebe Greenacre’s website link: https://theselfcarespace.co/ and her business course is called Conscious Business Coaching

For Chloe Brotheridge’s website link: https://calmer-you.com/ and please do read her book The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence and listen to her podcast The Calmer You

Book Review: Ghosts, by Dolly Alderton

‘I got ghosted last week.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘It’s when a person just stops speaking to you instead of having a break-up conversation.’

‘Why’s it called ghosting?’

‘Number of schools of thought,’ she said, with the command of an academic. ‘Mostly commonly, it is thought to have come from the idea that you are haunted by someone who vanishes, you don’t get any closure. Others have said it derives from the three grey dots that appear ten disappear when someone is writing you an iMessage and then doesn’t send it. Because it looks ghostly.’

Ghosts

It’s been a while since I’ve stayed up into the early hours to finish reading a book (I need my beauty sleep!) but then along came Dolly’s Ghosts.

Dolly Alderton is two years older than me (two! WTF have I been doing with my life *shakes head and sighs into the keyboard*), and in her writing I have seen some of my life experiences reflected back at me. I wanted to put ‘voice of my generation’ there but it felt too cliché. You get what I’m trying to say. This is also a perfect demonstration of why she is an award-winning author and I’m not. Even though she’s only two years older than me. Why did I look that up.

A friend lent me Everything I Know about Love and when I read it I felt some things in my life that I hadn’t fully understood up until that point fall into place. If you haven’t read it, I cannot recommend it enough. Her mantra at the end of “I am enough. I am enough” resounded through my body as I read it and settled deep within. Even now, in moments of self-doubt I will repeat “I am enough” to myself.

I’m also a huge fan (was a huge fan, I should say as it has now finished running) of her podcast The High Low with Pandora Sykes. I’ve bought many a book on their recommendation. I’d say it’s been struggle knowing what to read now that the podcast is no more but it hasn’t at all, thanks Twitter.

Safe to say, Dolly has a special place in my bookish heart.

So, to the book. Ghosts follows Nina Dean who meets a guy called Max on a night out; they have a great time and she starts to find herself falling for him when, with no warning, one day he just completely vanishes. Nina is also facing challenges in other areas of her life: her father has become ill with dementia, she is trying to write a new cookbook for her publisher, and a new noisy neighbour has moved into the flat below her (ruining her beauty sleep). Nina is also seeing her friendships change as those close to her start getting married and having babies. Ghosts is about love and relationships but it is so much more than that. It’s a story about the strange kind of pressure of being surrounded by what appear to be perfect couples and feeling like everyone else has their lives together.

For me, the book so perfectly portrayed the shifts within our social groups as we start to transition from our twenties into our thirties. The way the book encapsulated some of the experiences I have had reminded me of a line in The History Boys by Alan Bennett: The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. There were so many scenes I read and thought: yes, that’s what it’s like! For example, one scene where Nina visits a friend who has just had a baby, it not only captured a discussion about perineum massages that I had actually just had with my own friends, but also how I feel looking to the future and noticing these shifts taking place:

Five years ago, I could barely have differentiated between a one-year-old and a one-day-old baby. Now, I knew about Braxton Hicks and mastitis and pre-labour perineum massage. I know about sleep training, growth spurts, teething and potty training. The lexicon of our peer group morphed on every decade. Soon I would know about school-catchment areas, then university applications, then pension schemes. Then care homes, then the name of every funeral parlour in my postcode.

Ghosts

Honourable mentions in the Yes, that’s what it’s like! category must also go to Dolly’s agonisingly perfect descriptions of hen-dos (the games, am I right? the bossy lead bridesmaid, we all know one) and the wedding itself, which almost floored me. The conversation topics at the wedding breakfast were so on the nose and had me laughing such as the way married couples talk about being married (y’all definitely do that, by the way). The other observation that made me laugh out loud was how men’s conversational techniques at social gatherings change as they get older:

Time and time again I observed that most men think a good conversation is a conversation where they have imparted facts or information that others didn’t already know…. or given someone tips or advice on an upcoming plan, or generally left their mark on the discourse like a streak of piss against a tree trunk. If they learnt more than they conveyed over the course of an evening, they would feel low; like the party hadn’t been a success or they hadn’t been on good form.

Ghosts

That spoke volumes to me. VOLUMES. I cannot tell you how often I have observed my boyfriend’s friends do this at gatherings when they try to explain politics, economics and trigonometry to each other with all the seriousness of news-readers (I say this with love, in case they ever read this… which, let’s be honest, they probably won’t). It’s worse now that it’s all on zoom because you can’t slip away and have a side conversation.

I loved that the book just so accurately portrayed the sensations that come when friendships change uncontrollably and irreversibly, and how we adapt with them because… well, it’s time to change.

One of the most poignant parts of the novel is Nina’ relationship with her father, who is slowly losing himself to dementia, especially a scene where the two of them visit a Hungarian bakery together. Dolly also looks at Nina’s relationship with her mother as they try to rockily navigate their way through the new challenges. Nina makes mistakes and shows her flaws but it also made me think about how I would react in that situation.

The moment when Nina is ghosted by Max caused a physical reaction from me. It is shown in the book as a transcript of messages which start off between the two of them and then becomes a one-sided conversation from Nina apologising for bothering him, asking what is going on and why he isn’t responding any more. My goodness, I felt it. I felt it to the point that I had to ring my boyfriend to check that he was still there.

I want to finish this post with a personal story of being ghosted because sharing is caring guys and gals. A few years ago, I fell hard and fast for a guy at the gym. We spent a lot of time talking and getting to know each other over the dumbbells. I began imagining, as you do, the life we would build together, the holidays we would go on, the house we would live in, if only he didn’t have a girlfriend. And then, one day he told me the words I had been waiting to hear: they had broken up. All of a sudden we became friends on social media and started talking about non-gym related topics. We went out for a drink and curry and then I never heard from him again. He literally quit his membership at the gym the next week without saying a word. On the one hand, the curry wasn’t a good one. I wouldn’t recommend the place we went to and I was sorely tempted to blame it on that: I had to really chew a piece of chicken whilst also having a deep and meaningful conversation. I found out later that he had started a relationship with one of the employees at the gym. At least I came out of it looking well-toned, if crushed.

Book Review: The Sound Mirror, by Heidi James

All the knowing and wisdom, the habits and curses. Superstitions and protections, charms and jinxes.

The Sound Mirror

“She is going to kill her mother today.”

I’ll be honest, I read the opening sentence and considered putting the book straight back down again. I had just finished another book that focussed on complicated mother-daughter relationships and I wasn’t sure I was ready for another, but, by Page 10, Heidi James had me enthralled in such lovely language that I couldn’t help but stay.

It is said, she was told, that if a pregnant woman gazed at the Himalayas and wished for a beautiful child, it would be so. But now she is far from the mountains, thousands of sea miles from her ayah, from the crumbling brick of the bungalow where spiders hang like Christmas ornaments, far from the furious heat of the summer and pure wet of the monsoon, peacock blue and elephant grey, dust and cow dung, the mean hunch of vultures, tea cups and pearl inlays, the smell of engine oil and burning sugar, ghee and sandalwood…

The Sound Mirror

Is that not one of the loveliest things you have ever read? I could have lost myself in such beautifully long and descriptive sentences that flow throughout the novel. So gorgeous, I felt transported away.

But, wait, what is it about?

The Sound Mirror has three narratives: Tamara, Claire and Ada. Three different generations of women each with their own journeys and challenges. All three narratives are hard to read at times; the women face harsh men, tough choices and a lot of loneliness. Tamara is on her way to “kill” her mother and, as she drives, their complicated and sometimes abusive story unfolds. Claire found herself pregnant before she was married and was made to leave home by her father: she loves her children but struggles with what her life has become. Ada came to England from India. Experiencing racism and sexism, she marries a man and finds out very soon that marriage isn’t what she thought it would be. The plot is so full of detail and sometimes the most normal and everyday things are so imaginatively captured.

I’m also trying very hard not to give anything away because there are so many surprises!

It is a hard book to read, there is no getting away from that. It depicts incidents of racism, violence and abuse. Each of the characters also have moments where I found them intensely unlikeable. But there’s also such strong flashes of love and passion. And Heidi James’ use of language, as I’ve said, makes the book so extraordinary to read.

Holding hands they dig their toes into the pebbles and climb up the bank. The shingle shifts, tips and rolls under them, inching them back as they struggle forward. At the top they turn to see the others in miniature, still sat behind the windbreak in their deckchairs drinking tea. The sea has been dragged out, as if trapped by its own tide. Today has been a brilliant day.

The Sound Mirror

One of the other things I love about this book is that it’s one that I know I will read again and see different things in it. New imagery that I missed the first time, comments that went over my head. And that’s exciting, and quite rare for me, I don’t normally want to re-read things (too many on the TBR pile).

So, I’m sorry if this was a bit of a rubbish review: there’s so much I wanted to say but I was worried it would divulge too much of the story! And, while I recommend it, I know it’s not a book for everyone because of the subject matter. But, if you can read it, I think it is incredibly well written and that it is a story that will stay with you long after you have finished it.

Vienna: The Land of Music and Cake

It has now been over a year since I was last on a plane to go abroad and I miss it (I’m very lucky to have been able to travel so much, I know). I love everything there is about going abroad: from the planning, to moment you leave your house, to pottering around the airport, never mind when you actually arrive somewhere new and exciting! Covid-19 has given me the opportunity to reflect on some of my favourite trips and one that keeps coming up in my mind is my trip to Vienna with my friend Isobel.

Vienna hadn’t been on my list of places to go; we went because there were cheap flights available. Maybe it was because it felt so spontaneous or maybe it was because I didn’t know much about Vienna before we booked it, but I was blown away by how much I liked it!

Vienna is compact and full of life. Head up the tower of St Stephen’s Cathedral as soon as you arrive for lovely views out over the city (who doesn’t love to look out over rooftops). I also adored the cute little traffic light systems which show LGBT couples holding hands with little hearts above them.

The sun shone the whole weekend and made the place feel so warm and special. Vienna has been voted ‘the most liveable city in the world’ at least ten times and I’m not surprised: it’s lovely.

I had christened it The Cake Tour before we even set off: one thing I did thoroughly research was where we should eat cake. I had big plans to savour such delights as sache torte, strudel, mousses (in all the flavours you can think of), and all other little cakes so light and beautifully decorated to look like works of art on a plate. A cake tour is exactly what it turned out to be. One of our first stops was Hotel Sacher for their famous chocolate cake which was so decadent, so delicious and so rich and chocolatey. You might think you don’t want to queue to get a table here but trust me, you do. I regret not eating more cake while we were there – if I go again, I will have cake for every meal and have no regrets about it. Why not, it’s Vienna and there are so many lovely places out on the cobbles for your breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, and then at least three more cake stops throughout the afternoon.

There are cheeky Mozart references everywhere (I suppose there would be given that he was Austrian and lived in Vienna for part of his life). We visited the Mozarthaus, the museum based in what was his apartment, and of course, we went to one of the daily concerts the city puts on. When in Vienna… It is a city of music. We also visited the Opera House, which was as beautiful and ornate as you would expect. We took a tour of the building that allowed us to go backstage – I’ve never been backstage at a theatre before and I was surprised by how big it was! The tour was very fun and I highly recommend it.

We also got tickets for the hop-on-hop-off bus which I love to do if I’m short on time in a city and want to see as much as possible (touristy, I know). We went out of the city to Schonbrunn Palace, which we didn’t visit, but we got off and had a little walk around some of the seriously cute little streets and stopped to sit in the sun and have a drink. Everything seemed so bright and glorious in the sunshine. We wanted to stop at the Schlumberger Sparkling Wine Cellar but it was closed! But, as I always think, it’s good to have some things left on your to-do list for when you come back another time.

As part of the bus ticket, we were able to take a river cruise on the Danube. The boat might not have been the most glamorous, but I liked seeing Vienna from the water – so much street art!

I think I’m also thinking about Vienna so much because I’m thinking about Isobel. It’s been over a year seen we have seen each other in person, stuck at opposite ends of the country to one another. It’s one of those clichéd things to say, but I’m sure that when we do get to meet up again it will be as though we only saw each other last week. I miss you, Iz!

We were meant to go to Tallinn last year but the trip was cancelled, which was a shame, but at least that means more time to plan! Anyone have any Tallinn recommendations for me? Please put them in the comments and also let me know if you have been to Vienna and how much cake you ate while you were there!

Book Review: The Push, by Ashley Audrain

The first night in the hospital I didn’t sleep. I stared at her quietly behind the perforated curtain that surrounded the bed. Her toes were a row of tiny snow peas. I would open her blanket and trace my finger along her skin and watch her twitch. She was alive. She came from me… I was physically numb from the painkillers but inside I felt lit on fire by oxytocin. Some mothers might have called it love, but it felt more to me like astonishment. Like wonder. I didn’t think about what to do next, about what we would do when we got home. I didn’t think about raising her and caring for her and who she would become. I wanted to be alone with her. In that surreal space of time, I wanted to feel every pulse.

A part of me knew we would never exist like that again.

The Push

Let me set the scene. It was a Monday night: I’d had quite an enjoyable day and in the evening, after my yoga practice and a delicious chicken casserole, I decided to have an early night. But before that, I thought, I’ll start The Push. Just a chapter or two…

Three hours later, my early night a thing of the past, I came up for air.

The book, which I raced through to find out the ending, is written in the form of a manuscript from Blythe to her ex-husband (Fox) regarding their marriage and their daughter Violet. “This is my side of the story,” Blythe writes.

The novel opens with Blythe sat in her car watching Fox through the window of the house he now lives in with his wife and their son, and Violet. Blythe describes seeing Violet notice her, return the stare, and then slowly reaching down to kiss her younger half-brother. It immediately sets the tension for the rest of the novel, as the story of what happened to break that family apart slowly unfurls.

Your house glows at night like everything inside is on fire.

The Push

Throughout the book you are questioning Blythe’s version of events. She describes how she witnessed or sensed Violet’s role in the different things that happen, her responsibility, and Fox telling her otherwise. Is Blythe imagining things? Is the poor connection between mother and daughter her fault, or is Violet actually orchestrating these events?

She didn’t want me near her. Most days she was irritable and troublesome when we were alone and nothing could soothe her… When we were in public, at the grocery store or the park, other mothers would sometimes ask in a sympathetic voice if there was anything they could do to help. I was humiliated – they pitied me either for giving birth to a child like Violet or for being the kind of mother who looked too weak to survive her.

The Push

This is a book about mother-daughter relationships: not only Blythe and Violet’s, but also that of Blythe and her mother Cecilia, and also Cecilia and her mother Etta. Blythe is so determined to have a different relationship with Violet to the one she had with Cecelia and show her all the love they both deserve. But yet, each generation has their stories of strain, abandonment and abuse. The book asks: is this darkness inherited?

‘She’s four, Blythe. She can’t even tie her shoes.’

‘Look, I love her, I’m just saying -’

‘Do you?’

The Push

Throughout the book, Audrain keeps the sense of foreboding and tension. It’s shocking in places to see Blythe’s unravelling sanity, the lengths she will go to, and how much she questions her young daughter’s actions.

I love twisty thrillers with unreliable narrators, where you don’t know who to believe or what is really happening. I enjoy trying to decide whether a character is imagining something or if they are the ones behind it. I find them addictive to read, whether I end up being right or wrong about the character’s motives (in this case I was wrong!) This book will keep you wondering… right to the

Very

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Book Review: Last One at the Party, by Bethany Clift

Should you read a story set in a pandemic when you are living in a pandemic? Where will we be in 2023? How do I predict I would fare in a dystopian world? I answer all these questions and more!

It’s 2023 and a deadly disease starts in a small town in the USA. It quickly spreads over the continent causing the collapse of the federal government, the death of the president, total silence.

Then it spreads.

Japan and Russia start reporting cases. Eventually it arrives in the UK, where we meet the heroine of our tale. Her husband dies, her family dies, her friends, the whole of the country is dead. In Last One at the Party we follow her on a journey across the UK with a rescued dog called Lucky to find out if she is the last person alive.

Why did James get 6DM and I didn’t?

Was it because he went out in those three days? Did I miss some weird contraction window? Maybe we both had it, but my disgusting hangover symptoms had expelled it from my body? If doctors had induced extreme vomiting in the early stages of the virus could they have purged it from everyone?

Maybe I really am the ultimate anomaly, the only person with immunity in the whole world. Maybe I am actually the cure.

Last One at the Party

6DM: short for 6 Days Maximum, because once you have contracted this disease that’s the most you have left to live. For me, that the disease is given such a macabre name really set the tone for the novel. No ifs, no buts: it packs a punch or two. There’s lots of squishy, squeamy, visceral descriptions of the dying, the dead, and the various stages of bodily decomposition. It made me squirm to read in places:

The floor was already covered in all manner of bodily fluids and by-products. There was a group of bodies to the left of the counter and they had been leaking copiously for some time. It was like I had stepped into the money shot from the world’s worst torture porn movie.

Last One at the Party

But our lead is an ace person to see the end of the world as we know it through. She accidentally puts her hands through corpses, vomits, and reports back how they feel (*welp*). She sees the maggots and the beetles moving around inside dead people and smells the rotting bodies: and it’s all told so vividly that we feel, see and smell it all too! It’s definitely not for the faint of heart but, also, well worth the read. It’s a darkly funny novel that had me laughing and it is also has some very uplifting moments.

I also thought that there were some lovely observations about writing to record life and how important it is. We learn about the character’s background through flashbacks and how she always wanted to write a novel but didn’t. It’s an encouragement to follow our dreams and be creative. The flashbacks also had some great twists and reveals about her life pre-6DM: I now want to go and write about ships and ports because of her.

Is it a bit weird when she refers to Covid-19 and the 2020 pandemic? A little, but mainly because I’m at the point where I’m wondering if we are still going to be in it in 2023… But, I liked the references, they were like little electric shocks coming through the pages.

‘Your a killer f****** c***. I hope you die in agony.’

Imagine spending four days dying from 6DM and saving all your hate up for one final message only to have it ruined by bad grammar.

Last One at the Party

It made me laugh.

Do y’know, when I’ve read dystopian novels in the past, or watched films set in a post-apocalypse world where there are only angry dogs and deer left to roam the streets, I’ve thought to myself: I would die straightaway. In the first wave I would either be eaten by whatever zombie or catch the deadly virus. There’s no way I could learn to hunt for my food, fight off hungry animals, find shelter and make a fire. Like, it’s a lot. And that’s not to mention the terror associated with being the last remaining human on the planet. I just couldn’t – I know this about myself and I’ve accepted it. I watch and read the stories and I think but how did you know how to do that? So I very much enjoyed that the first thing the main character does in Last One at the Party, is go and find herself a luxury hotel with a fully stocked bar and uses all the mini-toiletries. That’s going to be my plan now, should I ever need it.

So, should you read a story set in a pandemic when you are living in a pandemic? Yes! Have a giggle and prepare yourself for 2023; it looks like it is going to be much, much worse.

Kayaking, Hiking and Camping in Norway

When you’re just about ok at being outdoorsy

Also known as the Tale of my Beleaguered Boots

Many moons ago (around March 2018) I found myself targeted with ads for travel companies offering kayaking adventures in Norway. There was one company in particular that kept popping up: Much Better Adventures. Eventually, I gave in and tapped on the link and within minutes I knew I was going to go. So there you go, algorithms do work.

I saw myself, a person who had up until that point never been in a kayak, out on the glossy fjords, dipping my oar to paddle with ease and grace. I found myself desperately wanting to camp by the water’s edge, spending the evenings sat on a log by a camp fire, drinking hot chocolate out of a tin mug, breathing in the smells of smoke and nature.

This is where I wanted to be

I messaged my friend Helen: we had drunkenly discussed going on a trip together. Something that involved a bit of adventure, we had said, something active. ‘I’m thinking about doing this…’ I wrote, sending her the link. ‘I’m in’ came the reply. I’ll say right now, I’m so glad she said yes – it would have been a very different experience without a pal by my side (and I say that as someone who likes travelling alone).

We booked to go in September 2019, catching a plane from Manchester to Oslo and then changing to go on to Bergen. Lovely Bergen with its beautiful streets and harbour (of course we didn’t see any of it until we got back from camping). For now, it was straight on a train to Voss. Apparently the train ride from Bergen to Voss is one of the most scenic journeys on the planet, and it was unfortunate that by the time we arrived in Bergen, it was already dark and so we couldn’t see anything out of the window. Note for next time!

We stayed the night in a hostel and woke up to birds swooping across the surface of the water outside our window as the sun came up. We met our fellow campers (a small group and a mix of solo travellers, couples, friends), and we set off to the base point where we would collect our kayaks and the adventure would begin.

Bergen harbour on our last night

The plan was: kayak to our campsite on Friday and have a short walk around; then Saturday would be a hike up to the summit of the fjord and back; and Sunday would be another paddle. I can do this, I thought. I’m reasonably fit and I have been known to go on a long walk at the weekend. The website assured me that beginner kayakers would be fine.

Well, I didn’t drown. I wasn’t the duck to water I had imagined I would be. Graceful? Certainly not. I was in a double-kayak with Helen steering us like a champ (thank goodness, I dread to think what I would have been like on my own).

It rained quite heavily on our first kayak outing and my hand almost instantly blistered from where the oar rubbed. I peered out from under the hood of the rain jacket provided by the company, the one that kept slipping down allowing water that I was somehow flicking up from the fjord with my oar to run down my back, and wondered if this had been a terrible idea.

To be honest, I was amazed that the kayaks could still float. When we had arrived at the base point the tops of the kayaks were taken off at either end and in the middle to reveal impressively large storage holes (my technical kayak knowledge didn’t improve much on this trip). Reader, this may not be news to you that a kayak has a lot of storage room, but to me it was pretty wondrous. We filled each kayak with all the pots and pans we would need, food for the trip, drinks (beers, hello) as well as our belongings placed in dry bags and stuffed and punched into the kayak, our hiking boots slotted in beside the sleeping bags. The tents and sleeping mats were slid under the elastic on outside. But there we were, still floating.

The camp site was pretty incredible. It had been sold to me as ‘wild’ camping and it certainly did feel remote. We perched our tent just up from the pebbled shore of the fjord and listened. You’d be surprised how loud a fjord can be!

The thing that surprised me the most about the trip was the food. I had imagined that it would be standard barbeque stuff: burgers, white bread buns and bright yellow cheese, maybe a weirdly textured porridge for breakfast. Oh no, my friend. The food was fabulous and plentiful. We had the choice of pork chops, hot dogs or salmon the first night, with baked potatoes and selection of vegetables. We had picnic lunches made up of three different kinds of meat, cheeses, spreads, soups and condiments. Smoked salmon was everywhere. Also a copious amount of carrot cake and chocolate. Maybe not quite ‘wild’ camping, then. On the last morning, we had pancakes. Real thick, fluffy, American-style pancakes with a selection of toppings. It was a gourmet experience and I don’t remember having the chance to feel hungry before the next snack was offered.

The hike on Saturday was the hardest day, I was right to have been nervous about it. I soon discovered that my legs go a lot slower than everyone else’s. They seemed, like springboks, to bounce up the side of the valley to the top. Oh, and my boots were falling to bits. My loyal walking boots that had been around the globe with me, chose that weekend to come apart at the soles.

The incline at the start was manageable, I was at the back but not too far behind, and I was distracted by the beautiful views around me, the greenness and the clear blue skies. I was also powered by blueberries, collected from the side of the path on our walks. It was the final push up the ‘hill’ that got me and put the greatest distance between me and the main group. In the end I cheated and stuck my headphones in and blasted out some Adele (whose albums, it turns out, are the only ones I have downloaded to my phone) as motivation.

The view from the top was incredible and I’ve never felt prouder of my little legs for getting me somewhere (even if I did feel guilty about being the last one to the top). And hey, there was yet more carrot cake and hot chocolate to enjoy whilst looking out over the fjord.

The way back down was a killer: so hard on my knees. But somehow, I managed to get myself in the middle of the pack and in front of a couple who were using the trip as a warm up for trekking across the Himalayas. They were powering me on telling me stories about previous travel adventures and plans for the future. I love hearing people’s stories about travelling and will happily sit with you while you go through hundreds of hours of photos. Tell me everything! So that was fun for the way back.

It was tough, though, my legs by the end of the day were in pain. My feet and knees hurt so much. On the last little bit back to camp, where it was in sight (and so was everyone else because they were already back) but were still so far away, I could barely pick my legs up to get my feet to move. I finally crashed into the tent to unsucker my boots from my feet and peel away the socks to inspect the damage. No lost toenails, really? Helen brought me bacon flavoured crisps to the tent to help aid my recovery.

That night the guide made us a coconut curry packed full of chicken and vegetables that was better than any curry I have tried to make at home. It almost, but didn’t quite, manage to keep me warm that night in the tent – I wish I had packed extra layers! Who knew Norway in September would be chilly? And despite all the fresh air and my aching legs, the sounds of the fjord also kept me awake: but there is something about lying in a tent and listening to the weather on the outside that is a magical experience.

The kayak back to base the next morning was much smoother (ha, no it wasn’t, I was just more determined to get back to use a flushing toilet). We stopped on the way to climb up a waterfall (hadn’t my legs experienced enough!) and have a cup of tomato soup, followed by a full picnic lunch. As I say, food really was plentiful and a highlight of the trip.

There was also a really lovely moment where we stopped while we were out on the water to just enjoy being there. I felt the kayak bobbing on the water and tilted my face up to the sun, the sides of the fjord rising up so dramatically around me. The blues and greens of the water, the wondrous depths, up the hillside to the sky. I was there: in Norway and I had camped, paddled, hiked to the top and back down again, I had eaten, I had laughed and I had enjoyed it.

It was an amazing trip, one that I never thought I would do, until one day I spontaneously asked my friend and, together, we did it.

Book Review: The Cactus, by Sarah Haywood

‘I’m doing a charity pub crawl next month, and wondered if you’d sponsor me,’ he said. ‘I can email you the fundraising link direct, seeing as you’re not joining the twenty-first century any time soon.’

‘What charity is it for?’ I asked, throwing down my pen.

‘I haven’t decided yet. I just need to do something meaningful with my life. I might do it for pandas – I love pandas – or I might do it to stop global warming, ‘cos that’s something I really care about at the moment…’

Boy, oh boy, did I enjoy this book.

There, that’s the review. Thank you for stopping by.

Ok, I’ll elaborate.

45 year-old Susan has found herself in an inheritance battle with her brother, Edward, after their mother’s death. She has also just found out that she’s pregnant. Susan would be described as quirky and unconventional, by some, and as rude and condescending by others. She has her walls up and lives according to strict rules that keep her distanced from others. And she would appreciate it if you followed them too, thank you very much.

As we learn more about her parents and childhood we get to understand why this is, but she sure can say the wrong thing in a situation.

If you read and enjoyed ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine,’ you’ll know the kind of character I mean. Her socially-awkward responses made me cringe for her but I never thought of her as mean-spirited, just as someone who was unaware of the impact of her words: she had to learn to look out for herself and she wants the same from others.

In the novel we also meet her family. Her aunt and cousins who are so vividly depicted through wonderful side-eye comments from Susan who can’t, for example, understand why they would want to meet up on a spa-day.

There was so much humour spattered throughout the book that it really felt a joy to read. The initial quote for this blog post was taken from an encounter at Susan’s workplace and I thought it captured the tone of the book, with her refusing to join social media and be part of the office’s social side, throwing her pen down at the annoyance of the interruption from her work, and the silliness of the request. Seeing these encounters through Susan’s straightforward and no-nonsense eyes really added to the humour.

There is a budding romance in the novel that you can see coming from the moment a certain male character is introduced; yes, maybe it was a bit far-fetched. But, even that made me smile. I think with everything that is going on around us, I liked that Susan, in all her scathing bluntness, had her foundations rocked. Stories can be made out of pure pleasure, however unlikely or unrealistic the plotline, they can just be read as a lovely escape for the imagination.

I say this because when I finished the book, as I am sometimes known to do, I had a quick look at a book review site to see what others were saying about it (surely everyone must have loved it as much as I did, right?), and there were lots of bloody awful things being said with the author being tagged in. I’ve been a lurker on Bookish twitter for a while and one of the things that I see crop up time and again from established book bloggers is: if you don’t like the book, you don’t have to review it. Writing books ain’t easy and an author doesn’t need to be brought down by a keyboard warrior. So, I just wanted to say that I loved this book for the time it took me out of my own life and into someone else’s.

The Cactus made me smile, made me wince, and it made me very nearly cry. I loved Susan and I’m praying for a sequel because, Sarah Haywood, you have left me wanting more.

Book Review: Lone Wolf, Jodi Picoult

I know I should refuse, make a clean break. Start driving back to the airport and book the first flight to Bangkok. But my head feels like it’s filled with flies, and regret tastes like almonds on the roof of my mouth.

Lone Wolf

My best friend knows me well: as part of my thirtieth (I know don’t, thanks for saying!) birthday present, she subscribed me to Foster’s Little Bookshop who sent me a ‘blind date’ selection of four second-hand books. They came, each individually wrapped in brown paper with their genres stamped on the front as a little teaser of what was inside. I received ‘Cosy,’ ‘Romance,’ ‘Feel Good’ and ‘Chick Lit.’  

I decided to open Cosy first and found inside Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf – a book I never would have picked up off the shelf (also, cosy, wolves?) and even though I’ve heard of Jodi Picoult, and know she is a well-loved, very well-read author, I’ve never read her books because I always assumed they would be a bit too, well, soppy. I could not have been more wrong! This book was packed with tension and drama. It had me reading late into the night to find out more about the family at the heart of the story but also to learn more about wolves.

Lone Wolf opens with a car accident: Luke and his daughter, Cara, are found after hitting a tree – Cara has suffered broken bones that require surgery but Luke is now in coma that he is unlikely to wake up from. His son, Edward, is asked to return home from Thailand where he has been living for the past six years, and his ex-wife, Georgie, is summoned to the hospital. As Cara is only seventeen, it is up to Edward to make the final decision about Luke’s life support. Cara is desperate to keep her father alive and give him the chance to wake up; Edward believes that his father would want to be let go.

Each new chapter changes which character’s point of view, and so we see things through Cara, Edward, Georgie and, later, Georgie’s husband Joe’s eyes, as they come to terms with what has happened to Luke. We also uncover the secrets within the family, including why Edward left in the middle of the night to go to Thailand.

Threading in between their chapters is Luke’s narrative. To say that Luke works with wolves would be an understatement, he lives, breathes and eats with them, even choosing to leave his family for two years to track a wild pack in the Canadian wilderness to see if they would accept him. The book contains some really interesting information about wolves – I even think that Jodi Picoult avoided the ‘wedged’ in feeling you sometimes get when an author has really well researched a topic and wants to get every detail in. The chapters from Luke felt natural and they added a grit and real bloodiness to the story.

So, I am converted and I would recommend this book to people wanting to get lost in the wilderness of Canadian forests.

I would also recommend Foster’s Little Bookshop. I haven’t looked to see how much this bundle would have cost my friend, but I love the idea behind it. I wonder what journey this book has been on to get to me: what hands it has passed through before mine (how many? did they enjoy it as much as I did?) I love the idea that it went to Foster’s who wrapped it, stamped it, and posted it to me to enjoy.

So, where is Lone Wolf journeying on to now? It’s going to my friend to keep passing on the story of Luke, his wolves and his family.

Who am I? (Without wanting to sound too existential)

Hi! My name is Lucy and I want to write about books and travel.

Why do I want to do that? I like books and travel!

I am shy, quiet and I find it hard to make conversation. Wow, that felt a bold thing to go just straight on out and open with, but I have to get it out there. It’s taken me years to accept that I am a quiet, shy person, who overthinks every single social situation that I’m ever in. Unless I am merry to the tune of three gin and tonics, I will never be the loudest person in a group. I think too much about what I should say to say it. Even right now, I am really wondering if “Hi!” was the right opener to this blog. Was the exclamation mark too much? Will that have put everyone off, will they read that and be like, hell no exit this page. I have to carry on though, or I will never get past the first post.

There is nothing wrong with being quiet. It is who I am. However, it can play havoc when I’m with friends and I have a real cool anecdote but no voice to say it with. As a result, a lot of my stories go untold. And I do have stories. I can just never think of them at the right time, or if I do think of them, I don’t have the confidence to say them. Sometimes I even go so far as to pretend I haven’t visited a city or a country, so that another person can proceed to do all the talking and list off the things I should do and see when I get there.

Ever been to Paris?

Oh no, it’s on my list, though.

Reader, I have been to Paris. More than once, actually. I have been and done all the things you should do there to collect your tourist stamps. Notre Dame? Yes. Shakespeare’s book shop? Yes: I panic bought a collect of P.G. Wodehouse stories so I could get the famous stamp in a book (where is that book now? No clue). Napoleon’s tomb? Yes, I got lost within it trying to find it. The Eiffel Tower? Been to the top and realised I’m not at my most comfortable when at a great height. I’ve had all the classic tourist experiences. Why not say all these things? Lack of confidence and a fear of failure? Does anyone else feel like this?

So here I am, putting pen to paper. Once I can get my head around how WordPress works.

I also want to submit to the universe some book reviews. I love being a part of Bookish-Twitter as an observer, but now feels like the time to put some of my own thoughts out there. Please feel free to send me suggestions of what I should read next (cue groaning noises from my TBR pile).

Another thing you should know about me; I love travel stories. I love travel stories. I want to hear everything about your trip away. Good or bad, what you would recommend, what you ate, how did you travel? All of it. By starting this blog, I am hoping to become part of a community of travel-lovers and book-readers who take part in sharing stories and experiences.

I’m also hoping to learn a few things. I’m not always great at budgeting, I think I can safely say I have definitely spent more than I should have in certain countries, on accommodation, food and experiences. Folks, any tips on recognising when and where I can spend less are welcome.

I have also been very touristy in my travel. I hit up the places my Lonely Planet guide tells me, and the rest of their readership, to see. Which is great, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to the places I have, but I’m trying to learn more about getting away from the crowds. I want to be more independent in finding experiences, and I like to see how other people approach their travel and itineraries.

Being shy, and I’m sorry to circle back to it again, I often find that I feel at my most comfortable in a brand new place. The opportunities it offers to be in a completely different setting and to be free of the things that restrain me mean I don’t have to worry about being awkward – I’m new here, it’s ok to be a little lost. Sometimes it’s that feeling of isolation that can really make you feel a part of a new place. You can embrace feeling nervous. So tell me more about where you have been and how that place made you feel.

Finally, I am starting this because I used to be so passionate about writing. It was my dream growing up to be a writer and travelling the world to find my stories and settings. I loved the process of thinking and imagining, researching and planning, and creating characters and plots. When I was 25 I travelled across the USA to research and plan out my first novel. And then I got scared and lost my drive to get up and do it. Maybe I realised I wasn’t very good, or the thought of a stranger reading my work overwhelmed me (it still does), or maybe I just wasn’t that committed. But I love reading and I want to feel that way about writing again. I want to tell my stories.

I am hoping to use this time, a global pandemic when none of us can go anywhere, to work on something that used to mean so much to me. Then, when all this is over and we can hit the road again, I’ll have some new places on my list and a few new tricks up my sleeve.

So, there we are: this is why and what I am hoping to achieve. Please do feel free to comment but know that I may be too anxious to reply immediately. I once saw a tweet commenting that there should be a word for the feeling you get when you receive a message that is so meaningful and important to acknowledge that you can’t acknowledge it. That’s probably what I will be doing! It’s all a work in progress.