Time for a Creative Rebirth!

Sitting on Books
In the last few months, there’s been an abundance of cultural trips, copious amounts of reading, and plenty of fun…but no blogging. Although I could provide a whole string of excuses for this, the truth of the matter is simply this- when it comes to sitting down to write, I am a terrible procrastinator.

PoetryMad Hatter's Tea Party

Budapest

Some of the most exciting events of the last few months: going to Latitude; taking part in the Children’s Literature Festival at work (which included a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in the Enchanted Woods!); and a little trip to Budapest!

Daydreaming, checking Facebook/texting friends, and making more cups of tea than necessary are all large elements of my procrastination. I know I am not alone; it seems the majority of the western world indulges in the same time-wasting antics, yet that knowledge does nothing to appease my frustration at my own lack of motivation.

Strangely, however, it seems that my passion for writing has been reignited today. Besides penning a few lines of poetry, the first in quite a while, I also got the urge to write a blog post. Generally, this time of year does tend to have a transformative effect on my levels of creativity, so I can only attribute my desire to write to the gradually changing light and striking colours of the season. After being tired and devoid of creativity for the last few months, I feel as if someone’s flicked a switch and I’ve finally burst back into life!

This sudden outpouring of creativity will not result in me frantically posting numerous 30 Before 30 book reviews, however. Whilst the challenge continues- I am now on book 23 with 10 weeks to go and more optimism than I had a month ago! -, it would be difficult to catch up on documenting all of the books I’ve read through individual reviews. I will endeavour to write short reviews of each in due course, but for now I’m just pleased to be feeling motivated again!

September may be the start of the season of death, yet for some of us, it’s (hopefully!) the catalyst for creative rebirth…

Autumn Celebration!

Banishing the Blues

Last week, I felt as if the dark days of winter had manifested themselves across my face.

Besides having dry skin, an eruption of spots, and dark circles under my eyes, a glance in the mirror at work one day revealed what I had already suspected- that I was wearing a perpetual grimace. Despite all my best intentions, I’d once again succumbed to the dreariness of January and allowed myself to feel as if the apocalypse was imminent. Like so many people throughout the northern hemisphere, I was experiencing a serious case of the January blues.

After a few days in hibernation mode, I felt that it was time to force myself into some action. Although getting plenty of rest can be a good thing, I’m the type of person who thrives on positivity, creativity…and a project. So, in addition to my 30 Before 30 reading challenge, I decided to start a Positivity Project. To be honest, it’s not so much a project- rather a short list of things to do in an effort to help me maintain my sanity until winter is over, and endeavour to embrace some metaphorical sunshine. It’s all quite obvious, but as it seems to be working, I thought I’d share it…

           The Positivity Project

           1. Visit a new place

January can be a difficult month to visit somewhere new; generally it’s the time when we have the least amount of money, and are most reluctant to enter the outside world due to our tendency to slip into ‘snuggle’ mode.

Travelling to a previously unexplored place really lifts my spirits though; it reminds me that there’s an exciting world outside of my mundane existence, and the change in scenery energises me in a way that nothing much else can. Last weekend, I visited two new places: Lincoln, a quaint city with an amazing cathedral and castle, and Penistone, a lovely little town in Yorkshire with some cute cafes and plenty of countryside. Though they were very different experiences, both contributed to a much more positive mood; clearly I just needed to escape!

Lincoln Cathedral Lincoln Castle

            2. Plan things to look forward to

Generally, nothing much happens in January- everyone’s waiting for their bank balance to recover from Christmas and/or for spring to blossom. Planning things to look forward to is, therefore, a necessary way of ensuring you don’t descend into craziness. Without the prospect of future fun, how are you supposed to endure the seemingly endless bleakness?

Focusing on the fact that I have numerous 30th birthdays, a hen do, a wedding, and some potential trips away on the horizon has definitely made me feel much brighter. It may be a bit monotonous at the moment, but it’s definitely going to be an eventful year overall.

     3. Spend time with people who make you happy

It’s pretty obvious, but sometimes we become so immersed in our own misery that we forget that the simple answers are often the best.

Catching up with the people who make me smile, including some friends that I haven’t seen for months, has been conducive to a much happier state of mind over the last week. Though it’s easy just to cancel in favour of an early night/a day at home at this time of year, we can’t allow SAD to win!

4. Get creative

What works for me is not necessarily always going to be effective for others, but as a creative type, I find that a session of focused creativity every once in a while really enhances my spirits. Last year, I started a Craft Club with a friend in a conscious attempt to be creative more regularly and try to develop new skills. Whilst I’m definitely not the world’s best seamstress (and believe me, there have been some disasters!), getting creative with my sewing machine allows me to indulge a passion and feel like I’ve achieved something (providing it goes to plan!). To banish the January blues this week, I customised a bag. It was a simple task, but it instantly brightened my mood.

Customised bagCustomised Bag 2

5. Be positive!

So many people don’t actually realise that the language they use is really negative. Until I had some professional coaching, I’d never noticed that I was constantly saying things like ‘no’, ‘don’t’, ‘won’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’- words that, ultimately, have a detrimental impact on our state of mind.

Anyone who’s ever read Danny Wallace’s Yes Man (one of the funniest things I’ve ever read) will understand the power of ‘yes’. Being positive opens your eyes to new experiences and can have a magnetic effect on the people you meet. I appreciate that many people don’t believe in the effects of positive thinking (and even find it annoying), but relatively new research does show that happiness and health are linked, therefore the more positive you are, the more likely it is that you’ll live through many more days of January…oh joy of joys!

Wherever you are in the world, I hope you’re enjoying a positive January!

An Altruistic Advent

Advent Calendar

A month of multiple birthdays, November always passes me by in a bit of a celebratory blur. Although having a birthday season is fabulous, it always proves quite detrimental to all the good intentions I have for the festive season, with my dreams of creating handmade Christmas decorations and gifts slowly evaporating into the ether. Once the chaos of December begins, there’s generally no hope; my creative visions disappear, and, like so many other people, I get caught up in the race to be ready on time.

The fact is, the ever-growing commercialisation of Christmas means that we are often so absorbed in the idea of buying the latest gadget/must-have present for our loved ones, that we forget the true spirit of the season. As lovely as the sentiment in John Lewis’ ‘Bear and the Hare’ advert is (yes, I did shed a tear at it!), it is ultimately just another marketing tool, the gift of an alarm clock from a hare to a hibernating bear acting as a subtle reminder to consumers that the crazy countdown to Christmas has indeed begun.

The Hare and the Bear

What the advert positively highlights, however, is the notion of thoughtful gifting- giving the people we love the things they most desire/need to make them happy. As someone who tends to appreciate sentiment and consideration over material things, I always believe that Christmas is a time to show others that we care in whatever capacity we can- even if it’s just by wishing someone a happy Christmas. Yet I also get sucked into buying unnecessary gifts for the people I love because it’s quick and easy, rather than giving something more meaningful.

Without sounding like too much of a philanthropist, what I really want to advocate this year (and every year really) is not just buying or making thoughtful gifts, but being thoughtful per se. In a world where so many people can’t afford to purchase gifts from shops like John Lewis, it’d be wonderful if every person/family could do something kind for others, or for a cause they feel strongly about, during Advent. Whether you ask an elderly neighbour if they need anything from the supermarket; buy some charity Christmas cards; do some fundraising carol-singing; or give a couple of tins of dog food to your local animal shelter, any act of kindness will be appreciated by others.

Carol singers 2

There are a multitude of good deeds that people can do without breaking the bank or committing too much time. After doing a little research, I actually discovered a blog (named the same as my post) in which there are reams of amazing ideas to help you have your own altruistic advent, so consult this if you require a little push in the right direction:

http://altruisticadvent.tumblr.com/

You don’t need to do something outlandish or expensive; you don’t even need to mention it to others if you don’t wish to. Just remember to try to spread some festive joy this Christmas, and put a little bit of sparkle back into someone else’s existence-  even just by smiling at everyone you see.

I certainly intend to.

Gothic Reads

After indulging in a bit of Halloween fancy dress this weekend, followed by a seasonal Tim Burton offering (Sweeney Todd, to be precise), I decided it was time to spook myself out with some gothic literature. Here are some brief overviews of a few of my favourite scary reads, in no particular order, if you want to fire your imagination on these dark nights…

Wuthering Heights- Emily Bronte

wuthering-heights

A gorgeously atmospheric ‘love’ story based on the gothic tradition of the late eighteenth century, Wuthering Heights is eerie rather than terrifying, and strangely hypnotic- haunting you with questions long after you’ve read it. Featuring implied necrophilia, possible incest, and a myriad of other gothic characteristics, it is memorable on the basis that the mysteries it presents to the reader are never truly solved, remaining instead, like the ghosts of the characters themselves, at the heart of the dark and dramatic landscape that Bronte created.

nb. If you find the passages of Joseph’s dialect a bit hard-going, don’t worry…even those of us who are native to Yorkshire struggle to understand it!

The Turn of The Screw- Henry James

Turn of the Screw

Horror stories are always much creepier when they involve children…

This story of a governess and her two wards, set in a secluded old mansion, is unsettling not just because of its supernatural elements, but because you’re never quite sure who to believe, and, as a result, remain on edge at all times. Is the governess experiencing a mental breakdown, or are the ghosts of former members of the household really haunting her? Are the children as sinister as they appear, or has the governess become obsessed with the idea that evil forces are at work, corrupting their innocence? Whether you read it as a psychological thriller or as a ghost story, the Turn of the Screw is an indisputable gothic gem, destined to make you ponder the reliability of both the narrator and the human mind.

The Little Stranger- Sarah Waters

The-Little-Stranger

When I first read this, on a dreary night in the dead of winter, I eventually lost all sense of reason (not that I had much in the first place!), finding myself terrified of even going to the toilet alone!

Based around the fading fortunes of a formerly wealthy family in 1940s Warwickshire, The Little Stranger is the story of a series of strange and spooky happenings that eventually lead to their downfall. Characterised by the traditional gothic tropes of decline, decay and decrepitude, this contemporary horror slowly builds up momentum, the tension becoming tighter and tighter, until you feel as though your nerve, like the once beautiful house that the novel centres around, is beginning to crumble!

As in The Turn of The Screw, much of the horror comes from the idea that a child may be at the root of the supernatural goings-on. Like most ghosts stories I’ve read, it is uncanny rather than overtly scary, but the creation of a wonderfully tense atmosphere is what makes The Little Stranger so utterly compelling!

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories- Angela Carter

Thebloodychamber1

A series of gothic narratives inspired by traditional fairytales, which, in turn, inspired my own fancy dress attire! Little Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, and Beauty and the Beast all feature here, though in a slightly different form to the conventional tales. To categorise Carter simply as a ‘feminist’ writer would be doing her a disservice; this collection of short stories is sensual, dark, and dense with the most opulent imagery. Yes, her writing is undeniably feminist in tone and plot, but it also rich, abstract and enlightening, encouraging you, whatever your gender, to explore the many nuances of human nature. Whilst fairytales are conventionally quite black and white, Carter’s stories are a vivid array of colours, constantly presenting you with alternative perspectives, catalysing multiple questions, and often offering no definite answers. They may not terrify you, but these stories are perfect for creating a suitably gothic atmosphere for the season of darkness.

Of course, there are lots of other options to explore; these are just my personal favourites. As a fan of the gothic, I’ve read the majority of the classics- The Castle of Otranto; The Monk; Dracula-, but am always on the lookout for more spine-tingling spookiness, so recommendations are welcome, whatever time of year it is!

To finish, I’ll leave you with my version of Little Red Riding Hood:

Little Red Pic

Happy Halloween!