7 Ways to Break Out of a Reading Slump

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!

21 Books To Read During Quarantine

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

The Familiars book cover

“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 Materials is 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, Wuthering Heights 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 Companions is 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?

4 Podcasts I Can’t Get Enough Of

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:

Book Cheat

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.

FestCast

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’re likely aware of my love for the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

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!

The Guardian Books Podcast

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.

The Writing Life

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.

Three Key Scenes Left Out Of Little Women

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. 

Header image from Empire

The Difference Between Being Creative And Being A Creative

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. “

Google

and according to my Collins dictionary:

“make, cause to exist…imaginative and inventive”

‘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.

And I hope you remind yourself of the same thing.

Review: The Women At Hitler’ Table

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.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

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.

The Thoughts Of A Bookstagrammer

When I started my bookstagram account, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. It’s simultaneously exciting, motivating, stressful and intimidating – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve scrolled through my feed and thought ‘Why can’t I take photos like that?’ or ‘Wow, this person just reached 5643789 followers. My account is moving so slooowly.’ And I know from conversations and many Insta captions that I’m not alone here.

So, I’ve compiled a list of things I, a bookstagrammer, typically think in a day in the hopes of finding more people that share the same thoughts. And I’ve only included 10, but I’m pretty sure I could write about a lot more

That book sounds incredible…

*adds to the many other books in my online shopping book*

It also looks stunning. Perfect for my feed.

We are all guilty of simply ordering a book for the ‘gram.

I have an idea for a photo but it’s going to take so.much.time.

#bedofooks photos anyone?

WHY CAN I NOT TAKE GOOD PHOTOS?

Fairy lights won’t twist the way I want. The colours don’t match. The arrangement looks off. My cup of tea is an awful colour. *574833 shots later* Great. It’s been hours, still not great and now the lighting is gone.

Finally! The perfect shot. Do I reaaaly need to put all of these books away now?

And the lights, leaves, bedding, teddies, and whatever else I’ve brought from downstairs.

Why does it always rain when I need to take an outdoor photo?

My theme is suffering for it.

This setting is not the setting that I need.

It’s Autumn – where are all the brightly coloured leaves?

People are coming. Be cool. It’s only a photo.

But they don’t stop staring!

THEY WON’T LEAVE.

How dare they use a public space and interrupt my photo session?

You know what, just do it. You’ll never see them again.

Could be worse – I could be doing drugs right now.

Right, done. GO GO GO

Never do I pack anything as quickly as my books and props.

Now, let’s check the photos…

I’ve done it again. My finger is covering the title.

ffs.

Not even worth it. My photos are terrible.

WHY CAN’T I TAKE GOOD PHOTOS

Wonder if editing will make a difference…

This needs to be darker, this bit needs to be lighter, this needs to be straighter, and my entire face needs improvements.

Omg. It actually looks good!

Maybe I’m better at this than I thought.

HOW DO I WRITE GOOD CAPTIONS???

Seriously, how do people do this?

Ok all done. Now let’s see what everyone else is posting….

Like…like…like…like….WHY CAN’T I TAKE GOOD PHOTOS LIKE THAT???

*450 hours later* Time for some reading now I think.

I think I’ll read that book that everyone is talking about on Instagram.

So the last five books have been featured on my grid, and I’ve read two of them.

I have a LONG TBR. It’s cool though, I’ll read them eventually.

Wow. This book is insane. I can see the hype.

Thank you to the person who recommended this to me.

Oh.My.God. I can’t believe he’s been killed off.

I wonder what *insert bookstagrammer’s name* thought of this?

Finished. Wow. Insane.

And so begins the stage where I mourn every character in the book.

I should totally review this for my blog.

Because everyone needs to know about every book I ever read.

I also need to take a photo of it for the ‘gram…

Way too dark now. I’ll do it tomorrow.

*wakes up* *takes photos*

WHY CAN’T I TAKE GOOD PHOTOS?!??!

A 5-Day Trip To Rome 2019

In September, I travelled to Rome with my boyfriend for the first time, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most beautiful and eye-opening experiences that I’ve had so far.

Rome is a city that has always stood out to me for many reasons. For one, it’s always looked so so beautiful (turns out, it’s even more so in real life!), and secondly, it’s a city that is full of culture and history, and I knew that I would come away feeling breathless and enlightened.

I can confirm that I did leave the country feeling both of those things and more. I was undoubtedly tired – if you ever go to Rome, be prepared for a lot of walking! But I would happily suffer from aching feet all my life is it means I get to explore the beautiful cobbled streets and small neighbourhoods again.

So here’s what we saw on our trip to Rome.

Our First Evening

So we landed in Rome Fiumicino airport – also known as the Leonardo Da Vinci airport – and it took us just under an hour to get to our Airbnb, located in Roma Nomentana, which was pretty good going. We selected our BnB because it was in a local area away from the bustle of the city centre so that we could experience true Rome without so much of the tourist traps. The first thing that captivated us was the clusters of pastel-coloured flats, each window accompanied by a pair of dark green shutters, some with small balconies, a few of which shelving potted plants, some buildings even had ivy twisting up the walls. It looked quaint, and the streets were quiet as it was a Thursday evening.

Admittedly, we did get lost. But when we finally found our BnB – a basement apartment tucked away on a small street – we dumped our bags and listened to our host Luigi’s restaurant recommendations as we were both starving (we almost missed our flight so did a runner and missed our chance to grab some food!).

He suggested The Trap, a small restaurant that was cheap yet so so good. As it was not a tourist place, there were no English translations, so the waitress had to help us work out what some of the dishes were, but she was lovely and willing to answer all of our questions. However, I misheard her at some point, because I ended up ordering a pizza that had streaks of ham adorning it – and I hate red meat! Whoops. I tried it anyway as I felt bad but still wasn’t a fan. So my boyfriend picked the ham, while I ate the rest, which was one of the best I had on our holiday. My boyfriend thought the same about his pizza too.

Once we were stuffed, we headed back to our BnB for the night.

The Colosseum, Palatine Hill & The Forum

We woke early the next day and got the metro into the centre of Rome. Our first stop was Castel Saint’ Angelo as we needed to collect our Roma Passes from the tourist info point just outside (highly recommend getting one of these if you’re going to Rome). This was easy to find, and the Castel itself looked so intriguing that we visited a few days later.

So, once we collected our passes, we were off to the Colosseum.

The only thing is, it takes 40 mins approx to get from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Colosseum, which usually is fine for my boyfriend and I as we don’t mind walking long distances. But, Rome’s streets are quite uneven, we weren’t 100% sure of the route, and it was 27 degrees. So it actually took us longer to get there than we anticipated.

However, this walk also presented us with its advantages, as we got to see more of Rome than we would have if we got a bus or taxi. It was so beautiful, diverse, and the architecture was breathtaking. You could see snippets of Rome’s history on every street, the remains of the buildings and constructions that showcase the city, spanning across centuries.

We spotted the Colosseum a few miles out, the top of the curved infrastructure peered out to us over the central courtyard and the herds of huge tourist groups wearing walkie talkies attached by a green cotton string, all blocking the way. After a long walk, it sure was a delight to see the Colosseum at last.

The Colosseum

After an hour’s wait in the skip the line queue and navigating through security, we were finally walking inside the Colosseum. And I’m struggling to find the words that explain how incredible and insightful it was, so I’m just going to leave you with some photos.

Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill was a refreshing place to visit, as, other than the remains of Ancient Roman palaces and houses, there were old vineyards, gardens, and fields stretching around the marble and stone buildings, a nice break after the bustle of the Colosseum. It also gives you the chance to take in some of the most beautiful views of Rome itself.

The Forum

The Forum was high on my list of places to visit, but I can safely say that we spent more time there than I imagines as it is bloody massive. It’s one of the few sites where you can feel history coming alive as you walk through the ancient remains of temples and palaces, including Nero’s. Our feet were screaming by this point, but it was so extraordinary that we had to explore every corner here.

After an incredibly long day (35,000 steps on a scorching day!), my boyfriend and I got a train back to our BnB for a quick nap before getting dinner at a local restaurant nearby.

The Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

Seeing how busy the queues were for the Colosseum, we knew we had to get to the Vatican early. We had booked tickets for 11.30, so we initially set our alarms for 7 (shower, food, train into town, queues) but didn’t get up until eight something whoops. Where our BnB was a basement flat, the lights were dim, and it was dark and cosy inside, making getting up early quite a challenge throughout this holiday!

When we were back into the Roman centre, the first thing we did was hunt for a coffee shop (we lived off coffee during our time there). We found a small one on a little cobbled street slightly out of the central piazzas that were quiet that morning. After conversing with the charismatic host, we sat down outside with a cappuccino and pastry each.

This is one of my favourite memories of Rome, as the warming sun was still fresh and slightly crisp, and sitting there observing the daily life of Italy was just so charming. In a way, I didn’t want to leave for the Vatican!

But I’m so glad that we did, though. The Vatican Museums are breathtaking, full of a wide variety of art collected from around the world across centuries. My favourite was the tapestry room, where intricate religious scenes were sewn and hung from one end of the dark room to the other.

And let’s not forget about the Sistine Chapel. Standing underneath Michaelangelo’s infamous ceiling was undoubtedly an unforgettable experience.

The only negative thing I have to say is that the Vatican is so overcrowded – we were all huddling along like eccentric penguins, stretching their necks to see the architecture and artwork. I will admit that it did take away from the experience for me as it made the tour more tiring, and, as a very impatient person, I did get frustrated at the tour groups who kept stopping in the middle of the walkways!

Castel Saint’ Angelo

After the Vatican, we were both starving, so gave in and stopped at a tourist trap restaurant (we promised ourselves we’d try and avoid as many of these as possible!) located around the corner which the worst moment of the holiday in all honesty. The coffee wasn’t right, and our sandwich fillings only covered half the bread.

We wandered around the city, which was becoming insanely busy as it was a Saturday. The sky started to turn burnt orange, and the buildings lit up. We noticed more tourists emerging and being targeted by the salespeople on the streets and felt excited by how busy it was. After discovering a few small areas that we hadn’t seen before, we found ourselves by Castel Saint’ Angelo and decided to use our Roma passes and explore.

This is by far one of my favourite moments of our holiday. After walking through the labyrinth of winding staircases, stately rooms, and ancient structures, we reached the top of the building. We discovered that there was a small cocktail bar – ten tables at most – that provided views overlooking the city. The river curved underneath the bridges, places that we hadn’t seen illuminated by the setting sun, and St Peter’s Basicillia towered over it all. It was breathtaking. We ended up staying there for hours (it was European Heritage Day, so sites remained open until 9/10 pm), drinking an Aperol Spritz while watching the sun fade into the river while the moon slowly took its place. It was beautiful, and it allowed us to see Rome in its full vibrancy – many shops were still open, the toys that salespeople were selling flashed neon lights, the sounds of conversations merging into the air. I teared up at the sight!

After finally tearing ourselves away from the view, we headed down to the ground on the hunt for food.

The Pantheon & The Trevi Fountain

Sunday had a bit of a lazy feel, as we hadn’t planned anything for this day – we were going to explore the things we’ve noticed but hadn’t had a chance to look at yet. We had our first lie-in, drank our 34738th cups of coffee for our time here, then headed out to grab lunch (pizzaaaa) and see the Pantheon.

The Pantheon

If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, I’m sure you can remember climbing this temple and purchasing it in the game – I did, and I didn’t know much about the Pantheon other than the game, so I was looking forward to learning more about it. We had attempted to visit this monument the night before as it was open later for European Heritage Day, but we got there just as it closed, so it became our priority this morning.

Now, if you go to ever go to Rome, make sure the Pantheon is at the top of your to-do list. Because wow.

When we turned the corner, the ancient temple loomed over Piazza Della Rotonda, so the square was a hub of activity as touristy restaurants lined the square and an incredibly long queue made its way around, all waiting for to see the Pantheon. The building itself is an architectural marvel – constructed in 120AD after the original burnt down, it’s survived wars and earthquakes, and so the unique structure stands.

The Trevi Fountain

After wandering around, buying gifts for family, and stopping in the Lindt cafe, we headed off to the Trevi Fountain.

Like the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain made my boyfriend, and I gasp as we turned the corner. Its fantastic marble depictions of sea horses, mermen, and the water crashing into the base of the fountain come together to personify the sea itself. I thought we’d only spend a few minutes there, but we ended up staying for around half-hour as there were so many intricate details to marvel at.

Our BnB Date

When planning out this trip, my boyfriend and I decided that one night we wanted to stay in and cook our own food using fresh Italian ingredients – we cook pasta a lot, so we wanted to do so but in the most authentic way possible. So we purchased fresh pasta, parmesan, ingredients for a tomato sauce, and even a loaf of bread to make garlic bread (I also popped into a bookshop!). I just wanted to share a few photos of this because it tasted so good, a vast difference compared to what we make at home. We even styled up the table with a rose we’d purchased the day before and prosecco (Italian prosecco tastes 1000x better than the stuff we get back in the UK, FYI).

An Italian Picnic In Villa Borghese

My boyfriend’s friend’s girlfriend is Italian, so we arranged to meet her in Rome (there were a lot of ‘friends’ in that sentence :L ). She took us to Villa Borghese, armed with a suitcase of food (not exaggerating), we laid out a picnic mat and tucked into the food and drink that she and her family had prepared for us – Italians certainly love to please!

We had cannelloni, tiramisu (the best out of our holiday), small almond parcels (never found out what they were!), and wine. It tasted amazing, some of the best food we had during our entire trip. She explained some of the things that we had noticed throughout our stay, such as a few cultural differences that took us by surprise, the constant harassment of salespeople, public transport, and just caught up with what was going on with our lives.

Afterward, we walked around the park – a refreshing break from the bustle of the city – and my boyfriend and I rented a boat on the enchanting artificial lake.

A bookstall we passed on the way to Villa Borghese

Once we said goodbye, we wandered around the surrounding high streets and then headed back to our BnB to get ready for dinner.

Our Final Night In Rome

Again, I wanted to take a moment to share our meal this night as it was our final night in Rome, and we went all out with our food.

We dressed up – as in he wore a suit and I wore a dress – and went to a more expensive restaurant in the city. We originally wanted a three-course meal, but as it was a Monday evening, everything closed earlier (10 pm), so we had a bottle of prosecco, calamari and pasta course each. One of our best meals out of our holiday. Then, after the restaurant closed, we wandered the uneven back streets, taking in the quietness of it all, and bought gelato at one of the 478394732 gelato places in Rome. I had tiramisu and Nutella! We ate in front of the Pantheon, then got a bus back to our BnB.

The morning after, we packed and stopped at a coffee shop near where we stayed, our wheelie cases announcing our entrance. It was nice to end in Nomantana as we got to savour calm, quaint Italy with its sunset-coloured flats, motorcyclists weaving their way through the school traffic while drinking cappuccinos that tasted better than what we had in the centre. Feeling tired and slightly blue about leaving, we got on the train to the airport and started our journey home.

23 Things That I’m Grateful For

I’m the type of person who is just not willing to settle. I have a sort-of plan for my future, and everything I do contributes towards that. When I start something, I’ll keep going until I’ve mastered it, become confident in it, then move on to the next challenge and utilise my newly-found skills. So, I try really hard to remind myself to be grateful for the things that I already have.

I say that like it’s a hard thing to do, but that’s because it is. I’m always looking for the next best thing (I sound so horrible when I say that!). So this blog is my reminder of every amazing thing in my life.

  1. I can read

There are so many adults and children – particularly women – who cannot read and do not have access to books. I’d hate to live in a world like that, as reading is an essential skill and books are one of the best things in life.

2. I can write

For same reasons as above.

3. I work for myself and make my own money

My first job, I was in the last year of secondary school and it was a paper round. I made hardly any money from it (£10 a week at most) and I absolutely hated the job but loved the fact that I had my own money to spend on whatever I wanted. I’m now even more grateful to be working on creative projects and making progress with my career goal, and, even though right now is not what I plan on doing forever, I’m happy to actually have a job that I enjoy.

4. I have ambition

As I said earlier, I know what I want to achieve in life and I have a rough idea of how I’m going to do it. Without a goal in life, I’d feel lost and like everything is pointless. I’ve known people who don’t have any particular aims or goals and are content working in a job that doesn’t mean much to them, who’ll then go home, watch TV and go to bed ready to live the same day over and over. Ambition is what pushes people to break out of that cycle and do something that they love, and I’m so so grateful to have it.

5. Creativity

Because I would not have achieved half the things I’ve achieved without it, nor would I be able to push myself further.

6. My ever-growing pile of books

Books inspire me to write, try new things, stand up for what I believe in, and pull me up from the ground whenever I feel like I’ve fallen.

7. The forest

Or any nature in general. While I love cities, it is the forest that inspires my writing, my book photos, and helps clear my headspace when needed.

8. The internet

Without it, my job wouldn’t exist neither my bookstagram account, and I wouldn’t be able to have my work published on different sites for people to see. Without the internet, I’m not sure where I’d be!

9. My confidence

Ok, so I’m not 100% confident yet. But I’m so so much better than what I used to be. I never had many friends and I had strict parents so I never went out until quite later than everyone else did – guess I just never learnt to socialise properly. There are still times when I’m barely speaking as I have no idea what to say, or I’d rather just hang back and listen, but I’m definitely speaking out more than I used to.

I remember putting off starting this blog and my bookstagram because I didn’t want people to read my writing or hear my opinions. And when I started my Insta, I refused to upload any pictures that showed my face. I didn’t introduce myself until about six months after starting my account as I didn’t want anyone to know anything about me.

Now, I still stutter and panic while my face turns into the colour of a tomato whenever I have to stand in front of people and speak, and I still don’t know what to say to people who I haven’t long met, but I now ask for help when I need it, can book appointments on the phone, and confidently tell people what I like to do without apologising for it. So yeah, I’m quite proud of myself.

10. I had the chance to go to university

I say this because it was during uni that my confidence really grew. It had to, else I wouldn’t have made any friends!

But it’s not just that. University is disgustingly expensive, and I know that there are so many young people who would love to go but can’t afford to. So I’m incredibly thankful for the amount of crippling debt I now have (which I probably will never pay off), as it meant that I got to further my education and expand my skills.

It is also because of university that I got to experience many new things. I lived without my parents, rented two houses, went on so many day and nights out (I held owls for the first time ever!) I joined societies and tried out new activities, learned to balance my work without my parents there to help (even though many of my deadlines were completed in the early hours of the morning they were due, whoops), realised exactly how much drink I can handle (a very important skill in my opinion, even if I ignored it most of the time), took up work experience with a magazine company, and I tried a long distance relationship for the first time (and we’re still going strong insert sunglasses emoji)

Without university, I would not have done even half of those things.

11. My mind

Ok, so this one is going to sound so stuck up, but I’m grateful for my mind’s ability to wander away and take me places with my thoughts, then come back again to this world with new ideas. To me, our minds are weapons, and I love that it keeps me thinking, dreaming, and helps me overcome any obstacles that I encounter.

12. Our generation

Our generation are currently fighting for so much. Equality, our planet, better working lives, mental health awareness. We’re working to for the houses, we want despite the rising prices, the kids that we’ll have once we’ve found a steady job and a suitable living space, we’re starting our own businesses, we’re working to make a difference in our world.

I love that I’ve witnessed movements such as #metoo and Black Lives Matter, the climate change protests. I love seeing us all take a stand, especially now that Trump and Johnson are in power, abortions have been taken away in America and there seems to be violent acts committed everyday. I am therefore thankful for the progressive thinkers who emerge from the hate and controversy and encourages us to do the same.

13. Water

For when you’re tired, hot, on the move, too drunk/hungover, sick, having a bad skin day…water fits every situation. And there are many out there in the world without a clean water source which affects their health.

Plus, that moment when you wake up in the night parched and neck a whole glass like it’s come from the Garden Of Eden itself is one of the best moments ever.

14. Cheese

Put this in because I’m writing while I’m hungry. And cheese really is the best food there is, especially when it’s on a pizza.

15. The fact that I’m not as self-conscious as I used to be

I used to shave my legs as soon as I saw one hair. I would never leave the house without make up. I wouldn’t even take my make up off before I went to bed because I hated the way my eyes looked without it.

At school, I received a few comments about my looks. I have tight tendons in my legs, so I walk funny, and I once heard two girls standing behind me trying to work out why I ‘walk funny’. A few years later in secondary, the same two girls were sat behind me in class laughing at how hairy my neck was. There was another time when we had to do an activity with cameras in class, and a boy took a photo then took the mick out of my smile. Girls would find it strange that I did my make up in the toilets and take it off at the end of the day, because I wasn’t allowed make up at home. I didn’t have a boyfriend until I was 18. All of these things made me so so self conscious, and I’d constantly be worrying about what I looked like.

Now, I wear dresses even if I haven’t shaved my legs. I can leave the house without make up and my curly hair on show. I don’t care that I walk funny and I’m not afraid to smile. I don’t cover up my spots.

I’m not perfect. I hate when my stomach is bloating or I worry if I feel too hot and get sweat patches. I worry that my hair looks greasy when I know it isn’t. But I’m nowhere near as bad as I once was, and I know that I’ll get over the remaining insecurities that I have. Because they’re normal – everyone has them.

16. The people who didn’t believe in me

As mentioned earlier, in school I was surrounded by comments and remarks about my appearance. Well I was also judged for what I wanted to do in life.

I remember the first time I told someone I wanted to be an author. Her exact words were ‘Have you ever written a book?” and when I said that I had, she snorted and said “Right,” and didn’t want to speak anything of it.

After that, I stayed quiet about my dream career. When I told another girl that I loved English, she said that it’s a pointless thing to be good at because ‘we can all read, what else do you need?”

One of my English teachers gave me a target grade lower than the rest of the class because she wasn’t sure if I’d improve by the end of the year (guess what – I did).

There have been many other comments in between and after that. And there have been many that weren’t just about writing and reading. The first memory that comes to mind is when I was in a group for a Science project (one of my worst subjects) and I had an idea, and the response was ‘Shut up Chloe’ and that I was being annoying. That was the first time I had spoken up, as I didn’t really understand anything else about what we were doing.

But these comments made me determined to prove people wrong. All these comments just add fuel to the fire, as I’m too competitive and stubborn to let them get to me. So to all those people, thank you.

17. The people who did believe in me

While I was motivated by the ones who didn’t believe in me, there were still moments when their words did get to me and I broke down. Without the people who helped put me back on track, my boyfriend, my friends, family, etc, I think I’d spend at least a week hiding away too afraid to do anything as I’m scared it won’t be good enough. I need those people around me to keep me going.

18. Coffee

Because I wouldn’t have got through uni without it, nor would I be able to get a train at 7 everyday.

19. Summer

I write this because it’s just started pouring down with rain, accompanied by thunder and flashes of writing. I hate the cold with a passion. Autumn is my least favourite season – it’s pretty, but cold, rainy, I don’t like wearing 5054789 layers and I most certainly do not like pumpkin lattes.

Sunny weather, longer days, summer dresses, beer gardens, picnics and writing outdoors. Now that’s what I get excited for.

20. The things I got to do before technology took over

Being a 90’s baby, my childhood consisted of days out in the woods, Haven holidays in the UK, Disney films, books and cheesy pop legends like Backstreet Boys. My youngest sister listens to songs about getting high, doesn’t really have any hobbies, and won’t let us sing happy birthday to her until she has had a photo taken. And she hasn’t watched every Disney film that exists.

That’s not a childhood to me.

21. A cup of tea

Especially in my favourite mug, brewed to perfection.

22. Sleep

Because 90% of adult life is spending the day thinking about your bed.

23. The little things that can really make my day

Someone’s reaction when they receive the perfect present. Making the train just before it leaves. Lazy Sunday mornings. Feeling proud of something I’ve done. Comfort meals and chocolate when I’m having a bad day. When I realise my period has finished. The times when my friends make me laugh so much I can’t breathe. Seeing my boyfriend. Shoes that don’t give me blisters. Catching the scent of my favourite candle. Baths. Having something to look forward to. And so much more.

So that’s me. Tell me about you – what are you grateful for?

Why The Order Of The Phoenix Is The Best Harry Potter Book

Whenever you ask someone what the best Harry Potter book is, it’s usually Prisoner Of Azkaban. Now, I’m not saying it’s a terrible book – I can see why some deem it the most significant. It’s a lot darker compared to the first two Harry Potter books, the characters come into their own, whereas in the previous two they are still finding themselves and their way around the wizarding world, and we meet Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather and a key character in the series.

But, Order Of The Phoenix speaks more volumes for me. While many say that it’s a challenging read – I mean it is 766 pages, a vast amount compared to Philosopher’s Stone (223 pages) – and that it’s not as fun as the previous installments in the series, I personally liked it because of those reasons. Order Of The Phoenix is a major turning point for Harry and his friends, so it only fits for the book to carry a different tone.

So, here are just some of the many, many reasons why Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix is the best book in the Harry Potter series.

It contains one of the most significant moments in the series

Think back to the prophecy made by Professor Trelawny to Dumbledore:

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives… the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…”

— Professor Trelawny

This quote is spoken during Trelawny’s interview for the position of Divination teacher at Hogwarts, and while Dumbledore was giving the interview, Snape overheard the first part of the prophecy which he then reported to Voldemort. This resulted in James and Lily Potter going into hiding once Dumbledore warned them, but, after trusting Peter Pettigrew with their location, Voldemort killed them while trying to kill Harry. After this, one of Voldemort’s aims was to find out the end of the prophecy.

He believed that the last part of the prophecy would tell him how to kill Harry, and so a large part of the Order’s work was to prevent this from happening. In the end, Voldemort never got to hear the rest of the prophecy, but Harry did, which also led to Dumbledore’s explanation of why Voldemort is so obsessed with him. This conversation was one of the big moments that we had been waiting for – after reading the first four books and waiting for the reason to be revealed, it finally happened, setting up the premise for the last two installments of this series. The Harry Potter franchise rests on that explanation.

The Breaking Down Of Harry Potter

Ok, I’m not saying that Harry’s meltdowns are a good thing because they’re not. However, it makes him a more relatable character and gives him depth.

There are many darker themes throughout this novel, and truths are revealed about a handful of characters which shows them in a new light. And one example of this is James Potter.

During Harry’s Occlumency lessons, he watched James act like an arrogant bully towards Snape when they were at Hogwarts, a glass-shattering illusion for Harry, and readers everywhere, as a character who we thought was a hero wasn’t all that we thought he was.

This can even be said for Dumbledore. As Harry grows throughout the series, his relationship with Dumbledore becomes slightly strained and frustrating, especially in this book when he abandons Harry during one of the worst years of his life. Because of this, he then feels more alone than ever and is thus vulnerable to Voldemort.

These revelations throughout the book, mourning for Cedric, the pressure of leading Dumbledore’s Army, the death of Sirius and that fact that, at the end of the novel, Voldemort is still alive and well, all add up to this feeling of hatred in Harry. It all comes together as a weight that makes him feel alone and like nothing more than a pawn in an extremely dark game.

We’ve all experienced these feelings (obviously we’re not being hunted by the darkest wizard of all time, but you get what I mean), so to see our hero break down, constantly feeling tired and broken, can kind of create a somewhat reassuring feeling inside us readers. Like Harry comes to realise at the end of the novel, we are not alone, even though it feels that way sometimes.

Realistic Themes

Yes, this is a book set in a wizarding world, but several themes are incredibly relevant right now.

One of the most central themes is the abuse of power, as illustrated best by the most hated character in the wizarding world: Professor Umbridge.

It is clear to see that Dolores Umbridge loves power more than anything else. As she rises from the Defence Against The Dark Arts professor to a leading role in Hogwarts, she continues to exert her authority in cruel ways, even going as far as firing Trelawny (until Albus Dumbledore intervenes).

She, along with the Ministry, uses Voldemort’s return as a campaign for continuous political power, worrying that if everyone sides with Harry and Dumbledore, people will attempt to overthrow the Ministry. The fact that Fudge has that much control that he succeeds in creating an active campaign against Harry that detriments the public’s safety without anyone realising, apart from the few people who do, is terrifying, and shows the extent leaders will go through to maintain their power.

Another theme that features strongly in Order Of The Phoenix is the rise of youth activism. Right now, our generation is protesting against global warming, unequal rights, causes that will significantly affect our future. In the book, Dumbledore’s Army rises against the restrictions that the Ministry imposes by practicing defensive spells and learning to defend themselves against the dark forces that roam free. It was a protest against Umbridge and her tight reign throughout Hogwarts. They fight for what is right.

Through this, J.K Rowling is teaching her readers to not settle for injustice. And, going by the movements that our generations have created such as #metoo and Black Lives Matter, her readers are listening.

It Shows That J.K Rowling Stopped Messing Around

The first three Harry Potter books were fun and light-hearted, full of wizarding delights, owls and Quidditch games. The way that death is treated in these books prove this; Quill’s death was nowhere near as saddening as Cedric’s death in The Goblet Of Fire, as Quill was a villain. We all loved Cedric. It broke us, as it suddenly took away the belief that the good characters will survive.

Rowling then decided to really rub it in by killing Sirius.

Harry had only just found the family that he had wanted all his life. His father figure, someone to look up to. He was Harry’s chance to escape the Dursley’s home. So Rowling decides to rip all of that to shreds.

The fact that she does this just as a small glimmer of happiness is entering Harry’s life tells us that no one is safe, evil, or not. It is from this point that we started to worry about our favourite characters.

Secondary characters come into their own

As mentioned earlier, in Prisoner of Azkaban, we see Harry, Ron and Hermione come into their own after spending the first two books sussing out the wizarding world.

Well, in Order Of The Phoenix, more of our favourite characters came into the spotlight. Moody, Tonks, Lupin, Fred, and George (to name a few), all become prominent characters. We learn more about Ron’s parents and how they’ve previously battled Death Eaters and are ready to do it again. We get an insight into Snape’s life, turning him into more of a three-dimensional character. Harry’s relationship grows with these characters, which they all benefit from.

What is your favourite Harry Potter book?