I love the theatre, and if you’re reading this, I know you do too.
Well, as you are already aware, theatres throughout the country are struggling to survive. But yet, the government does not seem interested in saving this beautiful art form. What with the release of the ‘Fatima’ job ad and Rishi Sunak’s comments made during an interview with ITV, it appears that the government considers theatre as nothing more than a prestigious hobby.
Of course, it’s not all negative. Last week, following a stunning theatre medley performed on BGT, it was announced that the concert version of Les Miserables will be returning to the stage. Meanwhile, it’s been revealed that many theatres, museums, and venues will receive part of the Cultural Recovery fund. But it’s still hard to let go of the treatment given to performers from our very own government.
I’m not in the theatre. I can’t sing, or dance, or act. I know that the anger I feel is nothing compared to those who have worked in theatre and spent their lives training for it. And so I feel that it’s imperative to show this talented industry that the UK does care.
With that in mind, here are five ways we can help protect our theatres.
This is the most obvious way to help protect the performing arts. Some theatres take donations directly, as well as charities and organisations that help those involved with the industry. Do your research and see what you can do – here’s a list to help you get started.
2. Spread the word
Social media is a powerful tool and has already proved itself in supporting the theatre industry. The recent protest hosted by artists and performers manipulated social media platforms’ algorithms to expose their work and current struggles, using the hashtags #notlowskilled and #morethanviable. Thanks to this movement, we heard the voices of those who have been disrespected by our government. And we can do the same.
By declaring our support and admiration for the cultural industry, we will continue to bring awareness to the issues at hand, fighting to keep theatres out of the dark.
3. Buy from your local theatre
Theatres may be shut, but their websites are still running, which means their gift shops are, too. Take a look at the merchandise they have available and, if you can afford it, why not treat yourself to a musical-based item? Or purchase a Christmas gift for a fellow theatre-lover? There are some fantastic products out there that will not only make you or a loved one extremely happy, but it’ll also help protect your local theatre.
4. Follow and subscribe
It’s been seven months since theatres closed down, which has undoubtedly impacted those who worked there in one way or another. Our favourite performers, writers, musicians, costume designers, choreographers, and more have all had to deal with not only uncertainty and financial loss, but total disrespect from the government. Show them your support by following them on social media, subscribing to their newsletters – or those sent out by local venues – and let them know that you’re thinking of them. Remind them of how they’ve inspired you.
It might even be nice to send them a letter or leave notes outside of your closest theatre. Showing these artists that we do care and are rooting for them to get back to doing what they love will surely make someone’s day.
5. Keep up to date
These are unprecedented times for the theatre industry, but knowing that tickets will be bought once things are normal again will provide a little more security. Show that you are ready to return to your favourite shows by signing up for newsletters to express interest in supporting your favourite companies. Start planning your theatre trips and booking tickets (once you can afford them), and make sure to let the venue and actors know!
By staying positive and readying ourselves for theatre’s return, we can be sure that our beloved stories will return to the stage very soon.
If you read my last blog, you’ll know that this is my first experience with NaNoWriMo and that my goals were to complete my novel and establish a daily writing routine.
CampNaNoWriMo was more challenging than I anticipated, but I’m so, so impressed with my progress! I documented my progress week by week, including my overall word count, capturing my ups and downs, and why I think every writer should try and take part in a NaNoWriMo at least once.
If you took part this month, let me know how you got on below!
Week 1, 1st – 7th July
I started off this month feeling extremely productive and motivated, determined to smash out my daily word targets. And the first four days in a row, I exceeded my daily goals by decent amounts, earning my 5k badge on Saturday 4th! It’s times like this that make me wonder why I find writing so hard (a few reasons come to mind, but let’s just ignore them for now…)
Sunday, 5th July is the first day I didn’t meet my target; I’ve only written 334 words, but seeing as I’d gone over my target each day before that, I don’t mind so much. Still optimistic.
Update: I’ve made up for this slump by exceeding my daily word count for the next two days!!
Word Count: 7,670
Week 2, 8th-14th July
Started the second week in a bit of a slump. I’m losing motivation as I’ve reached a point in my novel where I’m building up to a major plot point. I’m not sure if it’s the pressure of wanting to create the perfect build-up, or if I’m just losing motivation in general, but I can’t seem to write as much as my first week. I’ve also started my period and work is stressing me out a little, so not helping! Hoping things will be better by the end of it.
Also, I’m finding the website’s word count really depressing. It gives you a daily target, which can be different from what I’ve set myself. It makes me feel like I should be writing more than I am, especially on the days I’m too busy to write huge amounts. Trying to ignore it, but it can be hard to.
Saying that I earned my 10k badge on Thursday (!!!) and I’ve noticed that I’m finding it easier to prioritise my writing over other things. I would always clean and do general adult stuff before settling down, which wouldn’t usually be until late in the evenings, an hour or so before bed. But now, life waits while I get those words down! Just hoping that I can write some more by the end of the week…
Word Count: 16,352
Week 3, 15th-21st July
I’ve just taken part in a live NaNoWriMo Write-In. It was my first one and I loved it! I usually procrastinate so much when it comes to my writing; every 400-500 words, I’ll pick up my phone, start reading blogs, or even stare at the wall! But this time, I was able to stay so focused in the hour, and the short-timed sessions helped me bang out more words quickly. Looking forward to next week.
Also, feeling incredibly happy as on the 17th, I reached 20k words, halfway there!
I am starting to feel a bit nervous, as the last few chapters I need to write lead up to the end of the novel. Only two major plot points are left. That thought just terrifies me. I think it’s where I’ve been writing this novel on-and-off since university, so approaching the end after living with my characters for so long is simultaneously sad, daunting, and exciting. I’m still unsure if anything I’ve written is good or if anyone will like it, and I’m so scared to send it out to beta readers. I know I need to push those thoughts away for now, else it will put me off finishing, but that’s easier said than done, of course.
If you’ve ever completed a novel, have you ever felt this way?
Word Count: 25,176
Week 4, 22nd – 28th July
An awful week this week. I haven’t had the time to write much, and when I do, I’m struggling to put anything down. I think it’s because I’m building up to the climax of my novel, and I want it to be incredible. I’ve concentrated on reading this week too, hoping that will give me a creative boost.
In case you’re interested, I’m reading Pride and Prejudice, an old favourite! What are you guys reading at the moment?
Word count: 31,317
Week 5, 29th – 31st July
So not technically a full week, but there we go.
I can’t believe the end is in sight! I’ve got 9k words left to complete my goal, although I’m still trying (and failing) to catch up with my daily word count. I’ve got a ticket to a virtual event with HarperCollins this week about getting your novel published with an agent, so hopefully, that’ll motivate me to finally finish my book. (Update: the talk was fantastic, so insightful!)
Just completed the final NaNoWriMo virtual write-in, and I think I wrote the most in that hour than I have all week so far! Closing the gap between where my word count should be and what it is right now, only 4,000 words behind, and 8,000 words to go for my overall goal. I’m busy Thursday and Friday, so I will be staying up late tonight and making the most of any spare minutes I can find tomorrow onwards.
Afterthoughts – did I reach my Camp NaNoWriMo target?
Final word count: 35, 311
Unfortunately, I did not reach my target. In the end, I had 4,689 words left of my overall goal, but I was busy the last few days of the month, so I didn’t have the chance to catch up in time.
However, I don’t feel defeated. My main goals for this challenge were to complete my novel and establish a daily writing routine. About halfway through the month, I realised that I need a lot more than 40,000 words to finish my novel, so I stopped worrying about that goal and instead just focused on just getting through the middle of the story. And now, I am past that awkward stage and am almost at the end! The next chapter will be the start of the final climax – I never thought I’d get this far so quickly! I’m so pleased I participated in this challenge as it would have taken me ages to get to this stage otherwise. This challenge certainly gave me the push that I needed.
As for my second goal, I am proud to say that I’ve written every day this month. My writing streak is 31 days, and I’m hoping to continue that for as long as possible! Some days I wrote over 2,000 words, while others I barely wrote 200, but that’s OK because I knew this would happen. Everyone has those days where coming up with over 1,000 words every day can feel as painful as drilling a screw into your brain. All that matters is that I got something down every day.
I will definitely be taking part in NaNoWriMo in November, although I’m already feeling nervous about the target! I’ll be practising a lot between now and October. Will you be taking part?
My next steps are to write the remaining 4,000 words, probably using old NaNoWriMo write-ins to help me stay motivated, and then just focus on finishing my novel.
Did you take part in Camp NaNoWriMo? If so, what was your goal, and did you reach it? Let me know how you did in the comments!
If you follow me on Instagram, then you’ll know that I’ve signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo next month!
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – is a challenge where you need to write 50,000 words by the end of the month. The main event takes place throughout November, but two camps (smaller versions of this challenge) occur in April and July. The difference is that you get to choose what you write and how much – a short story collection, poetry, whichever you prefer.
For my Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to set 40,000 words as my target. The reason for this is because I’m using this event to finish my novel, of which I’m already over halfway through, so I don’t think I need 50,000 words to finish it (fingers crossed).
Obviously, completing NaNoWriMo is going to be tough if you don’t prepare. So I’m prepping as much as I can, based on the advice I’ve been given from other NaNoWriMo’ers and what I’ve read online. I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt so far to help anyone else starting out on their journey.
Set a realistic target
As aforementioned, Camp NaNoWriMo allows you to set your own writing target.
It’s tempting to set a small goal that you know you’ll reach. For some, it can also be tempting to set yourself a larger target that’s more challenging, as it seems more impressive and the reward will be greater.
Set a target that you know you can reach, as long as you put in the effort. You’ll achieve more and meet your word count in no time!
Schedule your time
To complete NaNoWriMo, you need to prioritise writing above pretty much everything else (aside from socialising, and general self-care, of course). It’s recommended that you create a schedule for the month so you can assign individual word counts for each day, based around how much time you’ll have.
I’ve made a calendar using Google Sheets, on which I’ve noted my writing targets, as well as space to fill in my total daily word count. It’s a quick and easy way to track my progress, and it saves automatically so I can access it at any time.
Research as much as you can beforehand
Picture this: you’re typing frantically, your fingers struggling to keep up with the speed of your brain, but then you need to stop. You’ve reached a point in the chapter where more research is required; you can’t continue until you’ve double-checked transport methods from the 1300s, or there’s some war going on but you can’t remember the date of one of the battles.
Research can be incredibly time-consuming, depending on the topic. As I’m writing historical fiction, I’ve made it my goal this month to research as many topics as needed. Earlier this month, I plotted my remaining chapters in more detail. Then, I added another tab in my Google sheet for crucial facts I’ll need when writing next month. This way, I won’t get caught up in finding the info I need to keep writing.
This is especially handy if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands – there’ll be nothing holding you back from getting those words down.
As Stephen King said:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”
The more we read, the better writers we become. Therefore, reading is one of the best ways you can prepare yourself for Camp NaNoWriMo.
Personally, my writing is 100x better when I’ve been reading a lot. The right words come to mind more swiftly and I spend less time imagining how long I need to bang my head against a wall to get my brain working.
Try and read a book that’s related to your writing project; it could be from the same genre, the same author, or it could have similar plot elements. Anything that will keep inspiring you throughout the month will be a huge help.
Check out NaNoWriMo’s site
The NaNoWriMo website is a web of resources for anyone participating at any point during the year. You’ll undoubtedly find something you need from the prepping ideas on their blog, and the forums and local groups.
NaNoWriMo is a community, something you’ll sense as soon as you start exploring their webpages. I personally love the various writing groups hosted by your local area rep. Obviously, we can’t all meet in person at the moment, but your rep will share resources to help you prepare, motivate you as you tackle your writing project, and keep you updated if need be.
You feel like you’re apart of something incredible when you join, meeting new people up and down the country, coming together to write.
Be kind to yourself
Last one, but certainly not the least.
Writing is hard; we all know that. No one will write a perfect chapter every single day next month – it’s impossible. What will happen is that some days we’ll write something we’re happy with, and then on other days, we’ll maybe write five words max, or 1000 words that we’ll want to delete.
I started writing in notebooks over my laptop when I realised that I spent more time editing on my computer than actually putting words down. It would take me half hour to write a paragraph because I kept deleting sentences, hoping I could come up with something better.
But NaNoWriMo isn’t like that. In fact, it doesn’t allow that to happen. This challenge is all about building a writing habit and getting as much down as possible, whether it’s perfect or not. And it won’t be, especially if, like me, you’re writing a first draft.
So don’t beat yourself up if you’re unimpressed with your work so far. Don’t worry if you’re struggling to come up with beautifully-crafted descriptions; just jot down some sentences, and you can work on them later. Nor does it matter if 10 words are all you can conjure one day. It happens.
Just relax, breathe, and remember why you’re doing this. I’ve made several motivational notes to stop me from criticising myself and take a break if I need to, which hopefully will help!
Remember, it doesn’t matter how many words you write in a day. You just need to hit your target by the end of the month.
I cannot count the amount of reading slumps I go through in a year. They’re some of the most horrible things to experience, in my opinion. Each time I suffer, my eyes and thumbs scream at me while my screen time inevitably increases. It’s actually the craving for a digital respite that helps bring me back into the reading world.
Of course, that’s not the only reason. I read books to escape, to travel to different worlds and meet new characters, and, when I haven’t read in a while, I crave those worlds like I’m craving a holiday. But that doesn’t mean I find it easy to actually pick up a book.
We all go through these stages, where reaching out to a book is just too much effort. Sometimes, they’re just too hard to open, too heavy to pick up. So how do we break free and pull ourselves out of these horrible phases of our reading lives?
I’ve compiled a list of tips that have helped me out of reading slumps. Some might not work for you, while others might. If there’s anything I haven’t mentioned, something that’s worked for you, share it down below!
1. Take a book everywhere you go
Now obviously, this is a lot harder to follow now we’re in lockdown. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t carry a book everywhere; just take it with you around the house. Take it with you to your bedroom, kitchen, even your bathroom if you like!
If you’re working from home, keep a book near you for a quick two-minute screen break. Not only will remind you to read, but you’ll also be able to fully relax your mind before slipping back into work mode.
If you’re not working and are staying at home throughout the day, then you have even more time to read. Moving from your bed to your sofa? Take a book with you. Cooking? Read a page or two while your food sizzles away in the pan. Read in your bath or pop it up somewhere in your bathroom while you brush your teeth.
By simply keeping a book near you at all times, you’ll be reminded of your favourite stories, the fact that there’s a whole other world waiting for you. There are literally no excuses for not reading when a book is just seconds away. You’ll be surprised what the mere presence of a book can do for you – it’ll keep you coming back for more.
2. Get someone to read with you
This tip isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it made a difference for me personally. I’m currently reading the LOTR trilogy, which my boyfriend loved when he was younger. He still does now but hasn’t read the books in years (mostly because he doesn’t read -_- ). But his love for the books means that he’s interested in what’s happening, my thoughts on different chapters, so sometimes I’ll read to him while he’s cooking or playing guitar.
This activity connects you to the book more than you realise, and it’ll encourage you to keep on reading as you’re in it together. It doesn’t matter if your reading partner has read the story or not – that’s what’s makes it exciting! You’re both on the same reading voyage, experiencing many lives together.
If you don’t have anyone to read to, maybe try audiobooks instead?
3. Remind yourself why you love reading
We all have fond memories of reading. So when you’re stuck in a slump, relive those memories. Remind yourself why you love reading in the first place.
Did you start reading because you were bored and wanted a hobby? Or maybe you were going through a stressful time and needed a break from your own world? Or perhaps you started because your parents forced you to choose a book from the library when you were little, and you ended up falling in love with the story?
Or was it because of the way certain words made you feel? The images they conjured in your head? Was it because of that one great book that was so perfect it was obviously written just for you?
We all have our own reasons for reading. Use yours as motivation to pick up a book again.
4. Listen to podcasts
I’ve already mentioned audiobooks in this post, but for those who, like me, don’t really get along with them, podcasts are a great alternative.
There are some fantastic podcasts out there that explore the literary world for both readers and writers alike. I find that listening to book reviews, writers’ routines, people’s reading experiences, and more makes me want to snuggle up in a blanket with a book open on my lap. These podcasts remind me of my appreciation for books and the complexities of the literary world, which can make stories more remarkable than I thought.
You feel more involved with the podcast too, sharing the same reading experiences, as part of the community.
If you’re not sure which podcast to start with, I’ve listed my favourites here.
5. Create a reading space – and stick to it!
No matter how small your house or room, you can make yourself a reading nook.
Reading nooks are little spots of heaven, which can be personalised and as open or private as you like. By setting a designated reading space and making use of it as often as you can, you’ll train your brain into switching on reading mode as soon as you sit down in that spot. It’s a bit like setting up a home office – your mind associates the room with work, meaning you’re more awake and motivated than you would be if you worked in bed.
I’ve written a few tips over on UCAS on creating a cosy reading nook – take a look if you’re looking for a place to start.
6. Join a book club
Obviously, right now, you can’t join a book club in person. Still, there are so many ways to connect with fellow book readers virtually.
As a bookstagrammer, I obviously recommend that Instagram reach out to other readers, joining book challenges and hashtags, but that’s not your only option.
You can start your own book club on platforms like Zoom if you know a few people who love reading. It doesn’t have to be a large group – my friend and I literally have our own book club between us, where we read a book a month.
Reading along with other people makes you more motivated, it’s like you have a deadline. I personally cannot work to deadlines set by myself, as I know that I’m the one who set it, so I can extend it as often as I want! So a book club can help keep me motivated and make me pick up a book.
7. Hide. your. damn. phone.
In all honesty, I’m still working on this one. But I am getting better!
Phones are the most distracting things ever, the biggest productivity killers on the planet. How many times have you picked up a book, read a few paragraphs, then became instantly distracted by the sound of notifications coming through?
Yes, sometimes, phones can be useful. I track my reading progress with the Read More app and set an alarm, so I know when I have to get back to work. But usually they just interrupt your reading session more than anything. If you need your phone by you for whatever reason, then make sure to put it on silent or airplane mode. If you don’t need it, keep it in another room, or ask someone to hide it and not tell you where it is until you’re done reading for the day.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get back into reading – if you have any other suggestions, let me know in the comments!
Now that the UK is in lockdown for the next three weeks, which means we’re going to spending a lot more time indoors. Which obviously means more time for reading, of course. But where do we start?
I’ve actually fallen into an ongoing reading slump, so this post should hopefully inspire me as much as you guys.
Here are 21 books to see us all through.
1. The Familiars – Stacey Halls
“Young Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a noblewoman, is with child again. None of her previous pregnancies have borne fruit, and her husband, Richard, is anxious for an heir. Then Fleetwood discovers a hidden doctor’s letter that carries a dire prediction: she will not survive another birth. By chance she meets a midwife named Alice Grey, who promises to help her deliver a healthy baby. But Alice soon stands accused of witchcraft.”
What I love about The Familiars is how engaging it is. I just couldn’t wait to find out next and spent hour after hour reading. For anyone wanting to be captivated for a long period of time, this is the book to go for.
2. Diary Of A Bookseller – Shaun Bythell
“Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover’s paradise? Well, almost … In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.“
This book had me crying with laughter when I first read it. It’s the perfect comforting read right now – trust me, it’ll put a smile on your face.
3. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
“These thrilling adventures tell the story of Lyra and Will—two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living—and the dead—will rely on them.”
Series are great right now as they keep you going through all this uncertainty, keeping you in their worlds for longer. His Dark Materialsis an incredible trilogy filled with a multitude of settings and characters, filling your days with magic and companionship.
4. Librarian Of Auschwitz – Antonio Iturbe
“Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.”
I get that the last thing we want to be reading right now is more doom and gloom, but hear me out on this one. This terrible yet beautiful novel captivates perfectly the magic of books and how they can lift people up, even in the darkest of times. It’s also one you can read in a day, which gives you enough time to quickly move on to something light-hearted afterward.
5. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.”
Listed for the same reasons as above, but with more humour and less morbidity.
6. Macbeth – William Shakespeare
“One night on the heath, the brave and respected general Macbeth encounters three witches who foretell that he will become king of Scotland. At first sceptical, he’s urged on by the ruthless, single-minded ambitions of Lady Macbeth, who suffers none of her husband’s doubt. But seeing the prophecy through to the bloody end leads them both spiralling into paranoia, tyranny, madness, and murder.”
For those struggling with isolation, reading is the perfect way to put your mind at ease for a while. And who better to remind us of that than Shakespeare himself, whose plays are filled with some of the most beautiful descriptions you’ll ever read? And hey, for those who have never sat down and read a full Shakespeare play, now’s certainly the time.
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
“Perhaps the most haunting and tormented love story ever written, Wuthering Heights is the tale of the troubled orphan Heathcliff and his doomed love for Catherine Earnshaw.
Published in 1847, the year before Emily Bronte’s death at the age of thirty, WutheringHeights has proved to be one of the nineteenth century’s most popular yet disturbing masterpieces. The windswept moors are the unforgettable setting of this tale of the love between the foundling Heathcliff and his wealthy benefactor’s daughter, Catherine. Through Catherine’s betrayal of Heathcliff and his bitter vengeance, their mythic passion haunts the next generation even after their deaths. Incorporating elements of many genres—from gothic novels and ghost stories to poetic allegory—and transcending them all, Wuthering Heights is a mystifying and powerful tour de force.“
The Bronte’s novels are filled with mysterious characters, ever-twisting plots, memorable settings, and captivating language. If you’re hoping to read a classic during quarantine, I highly recommend this one.
8. On Writing – Stephen King
“Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.”
This one is for the writers out there. I’ve been struggling to put any words down recently, probably a side effect of my reading slump, and whatever I do write just doesn’t seem to capture the scenes in my head. Stephen King’s book offers some fantastic advice for aspiring authors, including insights to his routine, past rejections, and writing tips. It’s a good way to get yourself back on track.
9. Harry Potter – J.K Rowling
“It starts with Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall and Rubeus Hagrid leaving a baby boy, with a tuft of jet-black hair and a curiously shaped wound on his brow, on the doorstep of number four, Privet Drive. They might have thought that his aunt and uncle would look after him kindly. But ten years later, Harry Potter sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs, and the Dursleys – Vernon, Petunia and their son Dudley – don’t exactly treat him like one of the family. Especially as it becomes clear quite how different from them he is.
As his eleventh birthday arrives, the time comes for Harry Potter to discover the truth about his magical beginnings – and embark on the enthralling, unmissable adventure that will lead him to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, his true friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, powerful secrets and a destiny he cannot avoid …“
Because reading Harry Potter will always be the best way to spend your time.
10. Lord Of The Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
“In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.
From Sauron’s fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.
When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom. “
My current isolation read. Tolkien’s trilogy is one hell of a read, and requires some serious dedication. But his rich writing style makes it easier to ignore the outside world by drawing you into Middle-earth. Plus, Sam is one of the best characters ever created.
11. The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell
“When newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge, what greets her is far from the life of wealth and privilege she was expecting . . .
When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But with her husband dead just weeks after their marriage, her new servants resentful, and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure–a silent companion–that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of The Bridge are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition–that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.”
The Silent Companionsis an atmospheric novel that will stay with you for weeks. It’s ideal for when you want to finish a book in one sitting, as Purcell’s alluring Gothic narrative keeps you turning the pages.
12. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
“Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.“
Lou is one of my favourite characters of all time – I love her quirkiness and bursts of energy. While the book is darker than the film, Moyes’ masterful writing perfectly captures the relief Lou feels when Will pulls her from of her past and thus carries us through the devastating events in the novel, with Lou coming out the other side as a better person.
13. Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.”
This book contains some of the most stylish aesthetics ever, and it’s so vivid it’s hard to put it down. Plus, the film is being pieced together and I. cannot. wait.
14. The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
“On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift:a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .
Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?”
None of the characters in this book are that likable, but Jessie Burton’s compelling plot is like no other and makes a nice, easy read.
15. Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
“Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”
Big Magic is all about pursuing your creative passions, working on your ideas and being able to express yourself freely in your work. It’s a beautiful book and I highly recommend it, especially for right now.
16. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
“Join Alice in Wonderland, where nothing is quite as it seems.On an ordinary summer’s afternoon, Alice tumbles down a hole and an extraordinary adventure begins. In a strange world with even stranger characters, she meets a grinning cat and a rabbit with a pocket watch, joins a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and plays croquet with the Queen! Lost in this fantasy land, Alice finds herself growing more and more curious by the minute…
In the magical world of Wonderland and the back-to-front Looking-Glass kingdom, order is turned upside-down: a baby turns into a pig; time is abandoned at a tea-party; and a chaotic game of chess makes a 7-year-old a Queen.”
This is a light-hearted read that contains many snippets of wisdom throughout the whimsical puns, riddles and rhymes. A great way to escape our boring, adult world.
17. The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle
“Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed… again.
It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…”
This is a book like no other. While I personally found the first three chapters slow, it really picks up and I spent the majority of my time trying to work out who the killer was.
18. Game Of Thrones – George R.R Martin
“George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has set the benchmark for contemporary epic fantasy. Labelled by Time magazine as one of the top 100 most influential people in the world, Martin has conjured a world as complex and vibrant as that of J.R.R. Tolkien, populated by a huge cast of fascinating, complex characters, and boasting a history that stretches back twelve thousand years.
Three great storylines weave through the books, charting the civil war for control of the Seven Kingdoms; the defence of the towering Wall of ice in the uttermost north against the unearthly threat of the Others; and across the Narrow Sea the rise to power of Daenerys Targaryen and the last live dragons in the world.”
Because it’s an epic series that requires a lot of dedication, enough to distract you from the gloom around us right now.
19. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
“Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.”
Little Women is a pleasant read that goes well with a warm fire/blanket and mug of tea. Plus, for all the writers out there who feel like they’re hitting a wall, Jo’s passion for writing will help reignite your imagination.
20. The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte
“In this sensational, hard-hitting and passionate tale of marital cruelty, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall sees a mysterious tenant, Helen Graham, unmasked not as a ‘wicked woman’ as the local gossips would have it, but as the estranged wife of a brutal alcoholic bully, desperate to protect her son. Using her own experiences with her brother Branwell to depict the cruelty and debauchery from which Helen flees, Anne Bronte wrote her masterpiece to reflect the fragile position of women in society and her belief in universal redemption, but scandalized readers of the time.”
Because we all know about Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but what about Anne Bronte’s Tenant Of Wildfell Hall? Now is a fantastic time to explore more of the Bronte’s works.
21. The Great Gatsby
“The story is of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his new love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920’s.”
Cos what better way to celebrate the 2020’s than taking it back to the Roaring 20’s?
If you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I’ve finally started listening to podcasts. I’ve become quite bored with music recently, and anyone who knows me knows that I really struggle with audiobooks, so podcasts didn’t generally seem like my thing.
But I decided to take the plunge. And now I can’t stop listening. I am picky with podcasts, though; they need to be good else I daydream and stop paying attention. It’s, therefore, because of this that this post covers only four podcasts – they’re the few that I’ve become absolutely addicted to.
So, these are the four that have captivated me so far:
I LOVE this podcast – it’s my favourite one so far. Essentially, Dave Warneke, the host, reads a classic novel, so we don’t have to. In each episode, Dave invites two companions to sit down and listen to him tell the story of a classic, including themes and famous quotes. By the end of the episode, you can pretend you’ve read it (handy if you’re an English student trying to read 57548 books at once).
It’s such a simple podcast, yet it’s hilarious. We all know that classic novels are generally long-winded, dramatic, and many events could easily be avoided (cough, Frankenstein, cough). And on top of that, the sharp class and gender divisions just add to the circumstances. The three podcasters pick these out, mimicking their foolishness entirely, e.g., Anne (Persuasion)’s father disapproving of men with self-made wealth and preferring those born into money.
It’s a lighthearted podcast that takes a dive into the canon’s famous works and, in some cases, rips them to shreds while applauding them at the same time. And if that’s not enough, their Australian accents make everything sound fantastic.
Well, Cheltenham Festivals, the masterminds behind the lit, Jazz, Science, and Music festivals, started their own podcast last year, which showcases content from past festivals. There are episodes for readers and thinkers of all sorts, covering topics such as the idea of a gendered brain and the rise of extremism, as well as talks from famous faces like Hilary Clinton, David Mitchell, and J.K Rowling.
I have been inspired by so many talks from the lit festival, so having the ability to relive them brightens my day. As you can imagine, J.K’s talk is my favourite – she even mentions a few places from our home town!
This podcast takes a weekly dive into the world of the written word. Each episode explores the latest trends and movements, as well as recollective discussions of classic works.
Alongside this, authors regularly participate in interviews, focusing on their latest publications and writing routines. My personal favourites include the exploration of The Guardian’s top 100 books, which includes Harry Potter‘s influence on literature, and coverage of the Hay-On-Wye Lit Festival. That episode gave me the closest look at the festival that I’ve had yet.
Some of the discussions that take place on this podcast are so mind-boggling. I do recommend this series as it really makes you think of books in different ways, which you may have not considered before.
This was the first podcast that I got into, and it’s the only one on this list solely dedicated to writing. Run by the National Centre for Writing, each week, we meet different authors and journalists of different specialisms and explore their writing journeys and techniques. If you lack writing motivation, look no further than this podcast.
My favourite episode is Sarah Perry’s Harriet Martineau lecture, where Perry discusses the ‘Essex girl.’ She looks at women from past and present, bringing forward those lesser-known who made a difference. It’s one of the most captivating and beautiful talks I’ve ever heard.
Following this, while I am not a fan of her novels, Margaret Atwood’s writing tips is a fascinating episode. She is interviewed by the Centre’s young ambassadors, and, as one of the bestselling authors to date, provides an insight into her writing life and encourages her interviewers, and listeners everywhere to get writing.
Episodes also include pitching to agents, becoming a productive writer, finishing your first book, and editing guides – there really isn’t anything this podcast hasn’t covered.
I recently saw the most recent film adaptation of Little Women, and I loved it. Greta Gerwig created a pleasant movie that perfectly captured the mental battles that come up with growing up. The casting was fantastic – Saoirse Ronan really brought Jo to life. I found myself crying my eyes out when Amy burnt Jo’s novel, and the same thing happened as the beautiful final scene panned out on the screen, the image of the sisters holding on to each other as they walked through their families to their Marmee.
Saying that, there were a few moments that strayed from Alcott’s extraordinary novel, and some that were omitted altogether. Of these missing scenes, there are three which I consider as extremely significant towards the plot, and so I was surprised when I realised that they won’t be included at all in the movie.
Keep reading to find out what those scenes were, and why I think they should have been left in the latest adaptation of Little Women.
Meg’s Relationship With John
OK, so this point covers multiple scenes, but that’s because many left out of Gerwig’s film. It made me feel like Meg was pushed right to the back throughout the story. My boyfriend (who hasn’t read the book) also proved my point when we came out of the cinema; he asked: “So, is the novel basically about just Jo and Amy then?”
I feel that Meg and John’s marriage was really pushed to the side in this adaptation, which was a shame as Meg learns so much from it. Aside from their money problems, Meg’s battle to conquer motherhood while becoming the perfect wife for her husband is put under no light whatsoever.
One example of this is when their son Demi refuses to go to bed, causing Meg to almost burst into tears as he refuses to go to sleep and leave her alone with John for the evening. John steps in, refusing her to ‘indulge’ him while Meg reproaches herself for leaving her son to wail upstairs alone:
“He’s my child, and I can’t have his spirit broken by harshness.”
“He’s my child, and I won’t have his temper spoiled by indulgence. Go down, my dear, and leave the boy to me.”
Meg must convince herself that their children are not her sole responsibility and that she must not forget her husband. They learn to compromise on how their children are raised, as well as many other matters concerning their family. Megs also discovers how much work can go into small things such as looking after their household and being a good wife, and so she begins to appreciate the simpler things in life – like a happy family.
Alcott uses scenes like this to show that marriage can have as many battles as the Civil War, a refreshing perspective compared to the classic novels that I’ve read. And from these battles, Meg grows into the mature lady we see at the end of the story.
Jo And Amy’s Calls
Jo and Amy’s relationship is notorious throughout literary history. The two sisters bicker constantly throughout Little Women, and for me, one of the most memorable arguments is when Amy convinces Jo to make calls with her.
Jo decides to mess with Amy here. Just before the first call they make, Amy tells Jo to act quiet and modest, and so Jo responds by staying utterly silent throughout their entire first visit. When she is asked a question, she simply says ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Amy scolds her for this, demanding that she acts in a friendlier manner.
So, for the second call, Jo turns on the charm and tells everyone in that social circle stories that reveal their families’ poverty, embarrassing Amy further. She tells Jo to stop messing about, and so Jo finally acts like herself, much to her sister’s dismay once again. She plays with the boys and dirties her skirts.
Finally, it’s on to Aunt March’s house, where Aunt Carrol is also visiting. Jo continues to act like her coarse self, which leads to some devastating results for her later on. She tells Aunt Carrol that she does not speak French as it is ‘a slippery, silly sort of language,’ while Amy states that she is fluent and is grateful to have learned it. This results in Carrol asking Amy to accompany her on a tour of Europe instead of Jo, who is devastated.
Amy finding her way to Paris is hugely significant for Little Women’s plot as it’s where her romance with Laurie begins to blossom, while allowing Amy to showcase to the readers how much she has grown.
The calls she and Jo made present the difference between the two sisters, placing Amy in a stronger light as she is more respectful during calls, which she is awarded for, contrasted by Jo’s curtness.
As Amy is often the most disliked out of all the March sisters, this moment redeems her, which is why I think it’s a shame that Gerwig didn’t include it in her adaptation.
Jo’s Relationship With Professor Bhaer
OK, so this is a repeat of the Meg-and-John point, but there’s no way I can write this blog without mentioning the portrayal of Bhaer in the latest movie adaptation.
One of the most famous debates in literary history is that Jo should have married Laurie instead of Professor Bhear, but I can’t entirely agree. I personally found Laurie too immature for Jo, as demonstrated by his clinginess towards Jo and the years he spent moping because she rejected his proposal.
Meanwhile, while Bhear certainly did not give the best first impression, he allowed Jo to grow into her writing, teaching her that she should write for herself, write the ‘truth,’ not the soppy stories that the publishers told her to write:
“There is a demand for whisky, but I think you and I do not care to sell it. If the respectable people knew what harm they did, they would not feel the living was honest. They haf no right to put poison in the sugarplum, and let the small ones eat it. No, they should think a little, and sweep mud in the street before they do this thing.”
Through this comparison, Bhaer reminds Jo that she is doing what she has always chastised Amy for – pursuing money despite her own beliefs and morals. He also does it in a way that involves a prohibited item, whiskey, which the March family does not touch for abstinent reasons. Bhaer’s bluntness earns him Jo’s most profound respect as he is not afraid to hurt her feelings if it means she learns something from it, helping her achieve in life. This type of affection is such a contrast to Laurie that it’s almost refreshing, and I was all for it.
This blog makes it sound like I wasn’t too fond of Gerwig’s Little Women, but honestly, I loved it. I sobbed silently in the cinema at many moments, was captivated by every character and how they combatted the restrictions placed by society. I’m just slightly perplexed over why the three scenes above were left out.
Then again, I think that every time a book is made into a film – it’s just never perfect, never as good as the author’s story itself.
If there’s one word I encounter over and over, it’s creativity. On Instagram, we’ve all spoken about what makes us creative or how we’re trying to be more so. We even say that Instagram itself is a platform for creatives, and we sprinkle the word throughout our CVs and LinkedIn profiles like #saltbae.
At the agency where I work, we’re currently hiring, and when we were going over the ad and what we’re looking for, we agreed that we wanted someone who can think out of the box – a creative.
But what does that mean? What is a creative?
I personally think that we all stereotype creative people in one way or another. For me, it’s usually someone sat in a coffee shop typing away on their Macbooks, or scribbling in their notebooks or drawing in haphazard sketchpads, all while sipping coffee. When I see that person, I feel a sense of longing – I want to be as creative as they are. Which is stupid because, as a writer, I’m creative.
But I still doubt myself. My job has creative elements to it, and I aspire to live a creative life, but there are days when I feel like I don’t do enough to fit into that category – the elitist club of creatives. They’re the ones who publish blog posts every week, write at least 1,000 words every day (or whatever the equivalent is for non-writers) and have thousands of followers across their social accounts because their content, according to the comments they receive, is ‘creative.’
We all know that creative because we aspire to be like them. We put them on a pedestal, asking them to share their secrets to success: “How do you motivate yourself?” “How do you come with ideas like that?” “How do you write a novel?”
But the problem with these questions is that, while it’s great to see everyone inspiring each other, it can segregate these people into, as I said earlier, the elitist creative club. As if they’re the only people who have ideas ever while the rest of us have none at all. Only the chosen few have creative minds while the rest of us trail behind, never coming up with anything innovative, like someone compiled terms, conditions, copyright, and God knows what else for the whole thing.
But everyone has ideas. Anyone can come up with an idea about anything – it’s not just limited to writers, musicians, artists, and any other kind of content creator, right?
Let’s take a step back and look at the definition of the term ‘creativity:’
“the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness. “
‘Make’ is the keyword here. We’re all capable of making something – it’s practically ingrained in our species. So why do we talk about creatives like they’re a superior breed?
It may relate to the developments in our world right now, and the need to prove ourselves in our working lives. An example of this is the growth of artificial intelligence, how the world is becoming more and more automated. Tech Crunch stated that:
“In a time of high unemployment, when traditional skills can be sourced or automated, creative skills remain highly sought after and highly valuable.”
The segregation is clear as day in this statement, as the word ‘valuable’ rings louder than any other in the sentence.
But then, if we’re all creative, how can some creatives be more valuable than others? Are their ideas better than most?
Not necessarily – we’re all capable of coming up with all sorts of ideas, good and bad. I think that some ideas are valued more than others, which is wrong. What makes an idea valuable anyway?
I believe that it’s not the idea itself that’s valuable – it’s the fact that it’s put into action. Does that mean the idea is good? Not always, but you’re not really going to know that until you’ve tried it out.
And maybe that’s where the elitist club comes from; they’re the ones who are confident enough to try out their ideas, and that’s why they’re admired so much. They see the value of their own ideas – they hype themselves up.
Words have a huge influence over us. If we tell ourselves that our ideas aren’t valuable, that they’re not good because we’re not creative enough, then we’re going to believe it and are then less likely to put any idea into action.
So, while there’s no routine, formula, or magic spell, it’s clear to see that there is a small difference between being creative and being a creative. It’s nothing more than confidence. Not necessarily the confidence in the work you’re producing, because we all have moments of self-doubt, but confident that your ideas are worth trying.
So next time I see someone in the coffee shop typing furiously on their Mac, I’m going to remind myself that I too am that person. I also have an idea to play around with, and I’m brave enough to do it.
Thank you to the team at HarperCollins for gifting me with this novel. I have not been paid for this review and all opinions are solely my own.
WWII has been well-documented in historical fiction, so much so that it feels every aspect of it has been explored in many ways, each so different from the other you still learn something new each time. The Librarian Of Auschwitz, for example, told the tale of Dita, a real-life Jewish prisoner of the notorious concentration camp who risked her life protecting fourteen books that were hidden in the camp. Tales like these bring forward the individuals that suffered at the hands of the Nazis, ensuring victims are being heard.
While the majority of ‘minorities’ come to mind when we think of the lives lost during this time period, one’ group’ that is often overlooked is the Germans. Not all Germans were Nazis, and many became victims of Hitler’s ugly regime.
The Women at Hitler’s Table explores the lives of a smaller group of people who risked everything during the war: Hitler’s food tasters. They were not known until recently when Margot Wölk told her story for the first time in 2012. It is her account that inspired this novel.
Sadly, Wölk passed before the author, Rosella Postorino, had a chance to meet her, and so these events are not entirely accurate. However, what is included helps paint the picture of the fifteen women who risked their lives three times a day as they tasted Hitler’s food before it was delivered to him. He was paranoid about being poisoned, so women were randomly selected to try his food first – they had no choice in risking their lives.
The most appealing aspect of The Women At Hitler’s Table is that it’s an entirely different perspective of the war. Not only does it tell the tale of unsung heroes, it ties in with the current revelation of remembering the women who fought during the war – as this novel shows, in more ways than one. It’s certainly interesting when the protagonist states, ‘Women didn’t die as heroes.’ I feel that this represents Wolk’s opinion of herself and other food tasters, as perceived by Postorino, as the reason Wolk never shared her story until recently is that she felt ashamed and guilty of what she had done. She never even told her husband. Wolk could have possibly felt then that the group of women risking their lives to protect the Fürhrer – or, more realistically, to survive – were not heroes due to the nature of their task.
What I love most about this book was that none of the characters were likeable for me. There was so much conflict surrounding each person, particularly the protagonist Rosa, as she became involved with Ziegler, an SS Officer, while her husband was missing. While this was a blatant act of betrayal in more ways than one, it’s not hard to tell throughout the novel that Rosa is incredibly lonely. Her parents are dead, her husband Gregor is missing, and any friends she has are seemingly absent from the book, aside from her fellow food tasters. She moved to the country from Berlin, an entirely different setting, making her feel more lost than before.
This applied to the other food tasters as well, as they came from different backgrounds and have different opinions, creating conflict amongst the group – the most prominent example being that not all the women were on Hitler’s side. Of course, one can’t agree with every opinion, meaning that I was continually switching sides as they continued to argue over different things. Yet at the same time, a sisterhood was formed as they support each other through their worst times.
The way relationships are handled throughout the novel was interesting. Almost all relationships were strained, not completely relaxed. I think the most prominent example of this was Rosa’s affair with Ziegler, where it’s plain to see that there was little emotion between them. They’re both lonely and stressed, and that’s as far as it goes. Of course, any relationship with an SS officer is going to be complicated, as evidenced by Jewish Elfriede’s deportation despite Rosa begging him to halt it. He threatens her with a gun, strangles her, they’re both married and have gone through unimaginable experiences.
To start off with, I sympathized with Rosa through and through. But her character changed drastically throughout the course of the novel – understandable but still it didn’t do her any favours. I struggled to connect with her multiple times and strongly disagreed with many of her opinions. For example, when Leni was raped, Rosa was mad at Elfriede for informing the Ziegler and making a big deal out of it, causing more trouble. I suppose at this point in the novel she was very out of tune with herself, but I still think that’s no excuse for a decision like that.
Her changing character is further evidenced when she states: ‘The ability to adapt is the greatest resource of human beings, but the more I adapted, the less I felt human.’ These words strongly indicate how degraded she feels as she continues her work as a food taster. Without feeling ‘human,’ she felt a lack of emotion, hence her growing coldness and distance, such as her anger towards Elfriede for informing officers of Leni’s rape.
After a bad batch of honey causes a scare and Rosa collapses, the officers shut the women in a room for hours, sick staining their clothing and unable to leave for the toilet, resulting in them peeing in buckets. These degrading techniques would be enough to drive someone insane, especially when they’re let out the next morning and ordered to carrying on tasting straight away without cleaning themselves up. It’s a degrading treatment of the women that shows they are nothing but workers, not people.
But it’s a job that allows her to eat properly while the public starve.
Rosa’s growing ignorance does lead to interesting considerations that readers are left pondering. At one point, as she continued to put her head in the sand, she says:
‘I could have known about the mass graves, about the Jews who lay prone, huddled together, waiting for the shot to the back of the head, could have known about the earth shoveled onto their backs, and the wood ash and calcium hypochlorite so they wouldn’t stink, about the new layer of Jews who would lie down on the corpses and offer the backs of their heads in turn. I could have known about the children picked up by the hair and shot, about the kilometer-long lines of Jews or Russians—They’re Asian, they’re not like us–ready to fall into the graves or climb onto trucks to be gassed with carbon monoxide. I could have learned about it before the end of the war. I could have asked. I but I was afraid and couldn’t speak and didn’t want to know.’
The final sentence suggests Rosa’s reluctance to care about what’s happening around her, which can relate to the strict regime Germans were living under, her depression, or a combination of both. She is likely using the former as an excuse. There is also the indication that she is unlikely to care whether she lives or dies, seeing as she certainly doesn’t care about any of the prisoners.
Furthermore, the sentence ‘They’re Asian, they’re not like us’ shows her using the beliefs of the dictatorship as an alibi – they’re different from the Germans, so the regime has no excuse but to eliminate them. This attitude frustrated me continually throughout.
The issue with critiquing a book like this is that it’s hard to admit when you’re disappointed with the plot, which sadly I was. I felt like there were many loose ends left untied, like what happened to Ziegler. But of course, this is not through the fault of the author – Wölk didn’t know what happened to her real-life ‘colleagues,’ so Postorino didn’t, so it makes sense that Rosa didn’t either. However, it still left me with an unfinished conclusion.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, as it blended well-researched history with fiction smoothly, I was able to engage with it, following Rosa’s every step. But it’s not my favourite book. While I liked that most of the characters were disagreeable – it shows that the writer has captivated you enough to feel so strongly – Rosa’s ignorance of these events seriously bothered me.
Saying that, it can be said that this possibly reflects the attitude of many citizens who lived through the war, as those believing in Hitler and the regime who knew about the camps likely turned a blind eye (not all of course.) Just a theory, but it’s an interesting thought.