Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 is dead. Long live 2013!

This year has been a wonderful, traumatic and steep learning curve. 2012 got off to a good start when I went to America for the first time, hitting Los Angelos and San Francisco. It's a country I've read so much about and I wondered if it would live up to my expectations. The people I met were lovely, the sun shone most of the time and I become quite addicted to Trader Joe's vegan chocolate chip cookies. Yet I found it hard to ignore the large homeless population I encountered in both cities and the slight obsession with ethnic backgrounds. I'd go back to San Francisco in a heartbeat: it reminds me so much of Glasgow with its vibrant arts scene and the temperamental weather. 

My good self posing on the Golden Gate Bridge on Martin Luther King Day

What else happened in 2012? My career became extremely important. For the first time I was doing a job that I was qualified to do and that I wanted to do well in. Previously, all my jobs were stepping stones towards a Career and were there merely to pay the bills. I have been in my current job since 2011 as a temporary post which became more permanent in June this year. 

June is the month that can sum up 2012. I completed my only goal of 2012 (more about that later) by running the Race for Life 5k; I bought a house; a family member became seriously ill and I thought I might lose someone I love very much; I applied for my current job and was kept on, much to my relief. Yes, 2012 was a very bumpy year. 

Let's have a quick look back to January 2012 - how frightening that was almost a year ago. 

1. To start running again and enrol in a 10k event - HALF COMPLETED 

Halfway through the year I re-assessed my goals and decided a 5k was more within my reach. I enrolled in the Race for Life 5k and began following their training program. I cannot begin to describe the elation I felt as I crossed the finish line at 45 minutes. Unfortunately I did let my running slip after June but all is not lost. In December I re-joined the gym and I have been pounding the treadmills in preparation for the return of spring. Then we can talk about that 10k. 

Unfortunately, my remaining four goals did not work out as well. They were:

2. To continue doing morning pages every day 
3. To stick to my weekly schedules 
4. To avoid getting into music ruts 
5. To keep track of the books I read and participate in the Sunday Salon once a month 

I learnt some harsh lessons this year, including that I am an extremely bad procrastinator and that I find it hard planning in advance. This has impacted on my Career so it needs to be worked on, otherwise it affects my productivity in work. I have been pondering on this whilst working on my 2013 goals and my planning should help. When I planned my 2012 goals, I thought "Oh well, they'll just happen." Sadly they won't unless I do something about it. 

Therefore, I will be spending the last day of 2012 making plans for 2013 and making some vegan Irish Cream. Start small and work your way up - a little drink helps as well. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

NaNoWirMo: Report Card Two

It was all going so well. As you can tell by my first report card, I was soaring through my first week of NaNo. Heck, I was even steaming ahead with my word count.

Then Week Two hit.

The excuses for writing built up: the Mothership's birthday meant a whole evening out of NaNo time whilst a bad day at work meant I lost the will to do anything beyond stare at the television in a grump. Add to that a planned night out plus an unexpected shift at work and I was am behind in NaNo. Way behind - over half the suggested word count. That is one of the main disadvantages of NaNo (and one of the reasons it works) is that more than two days off means you're lagging behind.

I started to lose interest in my plot and my characters. I tentatively finished off sections of text I was not entirely happy with. On the plus side, I did manage to draft this month's submission to Write in for Writing's Sake when I was taking time off from NaNo. Although I was not sitting down and writing, I was still thinking about my plot and which direction to take it in.

So I've decided to let my characters wander. Using Scrivener means I can write scenes and move them around when I wish. Today I have been writing about my MC's first day at their new job. Tomorrow I might switch back to their 'flashback' scene that takes place seven years earlier. It makes the story feel more exciting especially if I'm dashing about and gaining a different perspective.

I have a week off work and I am determined to be back on track by Thursday. Instead of doing twenty minute writing sprints, I have been setting the timer for thirty to forty-five minutes. It's a trick I picked up from Unfuck your Habitat and it makes the task ahead feel much easier. As I write this blog post, my word count is sitting on 18603. Cross your fingers and wish for me to hit the thirties by Thursday evening. Bring on the pretzels!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

NaNoWriMo: Report Card One

When left to my own devices, I find it very easy to procrastinate. This very lunchtime I switched on the very *ahem* informative programme Don't Tell the Bride to have on in the background during my break. An hour later, my wraps eaten, I found myself still watching this programme. It's hard to kick those habits but I'm getting better at it. For instance, I switched off the programme instead of telling myself to watch the last twenty minutes.

Now if I had a method of holding myself accountable, I doubt I would have wasted an hour on a stupid television programme (especially as I slept in this morning). That's the danger I can see arising with NaNoWriMo. This morning I was over 3000 words behind the official target. After some writing sprints (more about those later), I had clocked up 2000 words and I'm only 1200 words behind today's official target. A quick note about targets: in order to complete NaNo on time, ideally you need to be hitting 1666 words a day at the absolute minimum. I took yesterday off NaNo to spend time with my family which was lovely. My story has taken an unforeseen dark turn and I did not want to burst my happy bubble returning to it last night.

How is my story going? Not the way I planned at all. As part of my NaNo prep, I made a list of what makes a 'bad' novel. Please note, this is what makes me put down a novel. My list of what makes a 'good' novel will not appeal to everyone, just as my 'bad' list might leave some people outraged. So here goes:

What makes a 'bad' novel according to Laura Stevens:

  1. Boring and poorly developed characters
  2. Long passages of inner monologue that are dull and don't move the plot along
  3. Confusing narratives that jump around
  4. Overly complicated language or jargon
  5. Repeated scenes of sexual abuse that do not add to the plot
  6. Cruelty to animals
  7. Overuse of exclamation points!
In No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty encourages us to make this list so we can avoid these elements creeping into our novels. Alas, he also warns that it is very easy to fall into these traps especially when writing to a deadline. I am ashamed to admit that points nos 1, 2 and 3 are alive and well in my NaNo story. However, I'm willing to let them slide. Why? Purely because, excluding yesterday, I have been writing every single day this week. That was not happened in years, quite possibly the first time since I have left school. Instead of finding excuses, I'm working my way around them. Can't take my laptop on my work commute? Then use a nice A5 pad and a pretty pen instead. Not sure what to write? Doesn't matter, sit down and let the words come. This morning, I broke through the 10000 word barrier and I gave myself a little cheer. The last piece of work I finished clocked in at 3000 words with the re-writing process taking the finished story up to 3500 words. I should also add that 3000 story took me a month to complete, even with a submission deadline looming. So 10000 words in a week is not to be sniffed at. 

This has left me extremely happy with my NaNo progress so far. Yesterday I did have my first plot crisis due to Sunday's writing session. Out of nowhere, my second main character was killed off page  but it has thrown up some interesting routes for my main character. I now have a much more interesting plot lining up for them than my original idea that I am much more excited about.

There are three things I am attributing to my current NaNo cheer:

  1. Reading the daily blogs from Vikki at The View Outside. I've known Vikki through Bookcrossing for a number of years, although I have not bookcrossed for a very long time, I still keep in touch with people through the wonders of social media. Her updates on Twitter and Facebook are a good way of giving me a gentle prod to get my writing bottom in gear. 
    1. 1 Ali at 12 Books 12 Months is an old hand at this NaNo business - she loved it so much that she did NanNo every month in 2011. That means she's written over 12 books thanks to NaNo. Her blog is a great pit stop in between writing sprints. 
  2. Writing sprints. I've been setting my timer for 20 minutes and writing furiously without stopping to think. Then I give myself 10 minutes as a reward for doing what I want like filling up my coffee mug or other essential tasks, like peeing. NaNo does host official sprints on Twitter if you like the idea of competing against other novelists. They also suggest prompts if you're struggling to think of where to take your novel during the sprinting. 
  3. Rewards of pretzels, humous and salsa. Mmmmmm…..

Thursday, 1 November 2012

NaNoWriMo: Third Time Lucky?

It's sad to see 2012 almost slipping away. The nights are drawing in and everyone is talking in hushed tones about this winter being a bad 'un (read: lots of snow and panic). Still, all is not lost. November is an exciting month for the wannabe writer. I love this time of year when the trees start to change colour and the leaves crunch under your feet as you walk the streets. My birthday is in February which might factor into my enjoyment of winter i.e. lots of presents are starting to come my way!

First things first, I have November to get through. This time I have decided to have a third attempt at NaNoWriMo (or NaNo for short). For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo is a scheme designed to help you write a 50, 000 novel in a month. It started with humble beginings in San Francisco with a gent called Chris Baty and his group of friends. Now, thousands of people across the world take part in the wonderful task of making up stories whilst sticking to a deadline. It's a lovely thought that other people are hunched over their notepads, writing furiously to hit the end of month target. I took part in NaNoWriMo in 2010 and 2011 and gave up both times. This year I feel more prepared.

I spent most of October re-reading No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty, as a guide designed to get you through November and across the novel writing finish line. This book helped me realise that NaNo is supposed to be fun. Who cares if a giant squid suddenly appears in quite a serious story about real life superheroes (I'm looking at you, Alan Moore) ? I realised why I had failed in my previous attempts at NaNo. The trouble was I took my stories too seriously and worried too much about how sensible some plot developments were. The aim of NaNo is quantity not quantity. Having a finished draft is the goal and you can edit that giant squid out of the narrative on the 1st January (it's recommended that you leave your manuscript alone for a month after NaNo).

Also, I've managed to persuade a friend to do NaNo with me. We met at a writing class a couple of years ago and have kept in touch. There is a possibility we might meet up to do some write ins together which should help keep me on track. A little bit of friendly competition never does you any harm. Him Indoors is embarking on a similar project in November called National Game Designer Month which will help spur me on at home. Unfortunately I don't know who is going to end up doing the hoovering (probably Him Indoors). I can see a lot of vegan chilli being consumed in this house in November. It's one of the few recipes I can chuck in the slow cooker and not worry about. Apologies for anyone that comes to visit!

Finally, I have my secret weapon: Scrivener. This is a program designed for individuals that are working on a writing project. It's primarily aimed at those writing works of fiction but it could work for non-fiction books as well. I have been using various word processing applications to write stories for almost twenty years and it is, by far, the best piece of kit I have used. Each writing project is organised into a binder that includes everything: research, notes, character cards and your actual writing. You can move pieces of text around with ease. Does that fight scene belong in Chapter Five, rather than Chapter Three? Drag and drop and hey presto! it's done. Much better than scrolling through X pages in Open Office or MS Word. You can purchase the software for £30 in the UK and I would heartily recommend it.

What are you writing about? I hear you cry. I have some plans afoot but I'm a bit wary of how events are going to play out. For the moment I'll keep quiet. However I promise to let you all know immediately when the giant squid turns up.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

October Mini-Readathon

It's 1pm which means it's time for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon! This time I'm doing a mini-readathon and will be taking part 1-5pm this afternoon, instead of the full 24 hours. The kettle is boiling and I'm looking forward to my first cup of coffee of the day. The house is empty as Him Indoors is travelling back from an overnight stay in London and the animals are asleep. I'm ready to kick back and begin a good reading sprint.

Based upon my experience with the readathon in April, I have chosen some shorter reads to indulge in this afternoon. Here's a (badly photographed) glimpse of my reading pile:

Louise Welsh was my first read for the April readathon and it was sheer luck I managed to add her to this one. I have been waiting for her latest book, The Girl on the Stairs, to come into my local library. It arrived on Thursday which I was rather excited about. The other reads on my pile include:

Monkeys with Typewriters - Scarlett Thomas
Negotiating with the Dead - Margaret Atwood
On Writing - Stephen King

I'm using this afternoon as an opportunity to catch up on my 'self-study' into the craft of writing. It's a change from my last readathon books which included memoirs, feminist theory and novels influenced by the Women's Liberation Movement.

Ah, I hear you cry, what's the orange envelope? All in good time, it wouldn't be a readathon if there were no surprises along the way. Good luck everyone and happy reading!

Comments moderation has been switched off for today so please stop by and say hello!

Almost 4.5 hours into the readathon 

It has been delightful losing myself in a book this afternoon. Once again I have been reading in my shared office with Him Indoors on our lovely new futon. The view from my new house overlooks dense woodland and I can see the forest turning a golden shade of autumn. It's a perfect backdrop to the sinister tale Louise Welsh has crafted in The Girl on the Stairs.  Jane Logan has relocated to Berlin with her partner, Petra. At first you sense Jane's bewilderment of being in a different country (as most people would do) and unable to communicate in German. On her first night in a strange new apartment she hears a violent argument from the occupants next door. Before long Jane becomes mildly obsessed with Dr Mann and his teenage daughter, Anna. To add to the danger Jane is pregnant and, as the plot speeds on, I keep finding myself appalled at the situations she keeps putting herself and her unborn child in. I flinch each time she lights up a cigarette (she's determined to give up) or when she goes wandering the streets at night. I'm starting to wonder how much I should judge Jane's interpretation of events.

I decided to take a little break at 4pm to explore the contents of my orange envelope. I have recently joined a zine subscription service and my first packet arrived this week. The zines have a real mix of visual styles and they have been a good distraction from the density of text from a book.

Him Indoors will be returning home soon so I will put my reading aside. All the best for those still reading and I'll see you in April. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

October Already

As the year rumbled into October, I felt rather cheated when frost started appearing on the ground. At the train station, I watched the smoky breath from my fellow commuters that comes with the drop in temperature. Everyone has been hoping for a late summer, especially as most of this year was a washout. No such luck. On Tuesday I stepped into the cold air, wrapped in my new winter coat.

It's hard to believe that almost six months ago I was preparing for the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon. For those that don't know, the Readathon is a glorious opportunity to spend an indulgent 24 hours reading for pure and utter pleasure. April was the first readathon I participated in, after cheering on from the sidelines, and I had a wonderful time. You can read all about my experiences by clicking on this summary blog post

Like the unexpected frost, October's readathon has crept up on me. It was Alex in Leed's post last week that reminded me that a readathon was coming up. Unfortunately I have made plans for part of this weekend but there is a gap on Saturday afternoon. It's a nice little reading slot that I shall spent lying on the futon in the home office (the room that catches most of the afternoon sun), mug of tea beside me and a good book to keep me company. 

Good luck to all those embarking on the full 24 hour marathon. I will be cheering you on in spirit. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Reflective Tuesdays: Failure

Failure – it's not a nice word, is it? It's a word I've struggled with for years. As a child, failing was not an option. One vivid memory I have is hiding in the bathroom, copying out words I got wrong in a spelling test. I was too ashamed to let my parents see that I had only got one word right in the entire test. Another memory was when I received a lower grade than expected for giving a speech in my English class. Horrified at being awarded a dreaded grade 3 (with grades ranging from 1 – 8), I insisted I be allowed to give the speech again. The teacher obviously sensed my desperation and gave my pitiful performance a grade 2. I sat down and breathed a sign of relief.

The point of these anecdotes is that I always have been afraid of failing. A tango partner to fear of failing is setting high standards for one's self. When I was praised for doing well, my eye would pick out the one piece of criticism. That is what I would remember over and above everything else.

At the grand old age of 27 I am tentatively trying to learn from failure. Rather than seeing it as a reflection of my character (which I'm sure many people are guilty of doing at least once in their lives), I try to see it as a learning curve. Fear of failure has kept me from doing basic things such as speaking up in meetings or trying a new approach to an old task. My inner daemon is still good at heaping on the guilt when I have an idea shot down in a meeting or no-one signed up for an event I had spent weeks preparing for.

Again Psychologies magazine has been a great help in this area. I'm still reluctant to pick up a self help book – perhaps it's because I (still) view admitting I need help as a sign of failure. However Psychologies has interviews with admirable women, fashion tips and a problem page so my self-doubting can perceived it as entertainment rather than self-improvement. Each month I'm reading small chunks of articles that are going towards building my self-esteem. Once I've worked through some of the exercises, I'll share them here.

Having an amplified sense of failure does not help when it comes to writing. Using statistics from Duotrope, one publication I recently submitted work to has a 3% acceptance rate. That leaves a staggering 97% of submissions that are rejected for a number of reasons. Despite the vast numbers of writing publications out there, not everyone gets work published. Does that mean they are all failures? No, it simply means that their work was not suitable for that particular issue. It is rare to get any critiques back from rejection letters – the volume of submissions means editors do not have the time to provide such as service. However, it does lift my spirit when I read a small tid bit of praise within a rejection letter. That is what I need to focus on, not the rejection itself.

In my next post, I'll talk about what I've learned through embracing failure.  

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Reflective Tuesdays

I'm thinking of trying something new. As I'm learning and growing to be (hopefully) a better person, I'd like the opportunity to record it somewhere. Perhaps my naval gazing thoughts might even help someone else out there.

Starting from next week, I will deliver a blog post on the theme of 'Reflective Tuesdays.' To be honest, who wants to reflect on anything on a Monday? Wednesdays might be taken up by another themed post and Thursday and Fridays are too close to the weekend. Be honest, who actually does anything on a Tuesday? It's a perfect opportunity to take stock of what's going on.

I'm looking forward to this and I hope you guys are too.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The wheels on the bus go round and round.

© Wandering Naval Gazer 

Looking back over this blog I noticed a recurring theme: I get the urge to write when I'm travelling by train. My new home means I can choose either a thirty minute train journey or a hour long bus journey to get to work. Way back at my first writing class in years (June 2009 for those interested) the tutor encouraged us to find a way to chip away at writing. One recommendation he made was to try and write whilst commuting. At the time I tried writing on the bus and all I was successful at was making my handwriting look even more messy than usual. It made me feel a little sick - the journey, not my handwriting.

Last week, I decided to throw a small notebook into my work bag. As the train clattered through the suburbs, I pulled out my pen and started to scribble down a story I had been tossing around in my head for some time. OK, the writing was not 'brilliant' but whose first draft is? Each morning last week I battled for a seat on the train, got my breath back and then opened my notebook to a new page. At the moment I'm working on a potential story to submit to this upcoming roller derby themed anthology. On Friday morning I started working on a piece for the current Write in for Writing's Sake  topic. The best time for me to write has been on the morning trek into work; strangely my brain seems to be rather awake before I've touched coffee.

On the return journey, I have been dipping my toe back into reading. Currently I am making my way through the magnificent Look At Me by Jennifer Egan on my Kindle. The equation is rather simple: if you want to write, you have to read. No wonder I could hardly pick up a pen when I was avoiding books. Last month, reading felt like too much hard work. Instead I channel hopped, filling my brain with whatever crap was being broadcast (apart from the Great British Bake Off which is allowed simply because it concerns a lot of sugar).

Some of you may remember my pancake person post . At the end of that post, I still had not decided which route I was going to take. However, I appear to unconsciously have made the choice to pursue writing. It is still one of my biggest regrets that I let my writing self slip away for ridiculous reasons (read: a boy paying me attention who turned out, in the end, not to be very nice) and my confidence took several knocks because of that. Anyway, enough of the pity party.

I am in the process of submitting my writing to various outlets using this nifty website called Duotrope. The site allows writers to search a vast database of publications that are looking for contributors. You can create an account which helps you track your submissions. In turn, Duotrope uses this data to create statistics for these publications such as submission acceptance stats and turnaround for feedback. There really seems to be a publication out there for almost every writer: the ocean is vast.

I'm rather looking forward to it :)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Another rebirth

Another break, another roll call of excuses to justify my lack of blogging. Quite possibly I've had the three most stressful months of my life: I applied for a job, was interviewed and awarded the post; a family member had a very frightening illness that is still making its effect known and I took my first tentative step on the property ladder. Next weekend I will move into the first home that I have actually owned. No more renting fears about daring to put picture hooks on the walls or waiting over a week for the landlord to authorise repairs.

Lately I have been indulging in my favourite pass time: naval gazing. Recent events have left me mulling over bad habits I have picked up over the past decade. Motivation has been a running theme throughout these musings. One example is the looming New House. Him Indoors and I had very different ideas about home decorating. Being renters, I had developed a habit of not caring about my living space. Who cared if the sofa matched the curtains? Why should I own a 'good' set of dishes? Does one really need to hoover every weekend? After all, it wasn't my space. Unwittingly, this habit was the driving force behind the Painting Issue.

Luckily, the New House is in very good condition and does not require a lot of work beyond a cleaning spree. Him Indoors wanted to paint various areas of the house. I did not see the point; why create all this extra work before we've started? Him Indoors made some very good cases which is how I found myself painting a room for the first time in my life. Heck, I even enjoyed it. This afternoon I was sitting in the room I helped to paint and I was proud. I did that, I thought as I took ten minutes off from the cleaning.

I am coming to realise that motivation does not grow overnight. It needs to be looked after, feed, watered, like any other living creature. Motivation is not sitting on the Internet all evening, reading every LOL Cat ever created.

One website that has really worked for me has been Unfuck Your Habitat. Setting a timer for twenty minutes seems such a simple idea. Having a cheeky wee ten minute break every twenty minutes appeals to me. So far I have used the 20/10 rule to:

  • Clear out my bathroom cabinet
  • Clean the bathroom in my new house
  • Sort out and pack up my books
  • Putting away washing loads of clothing
  • Tidying the kitchen most evenings before bed

Now I'm using it to write this blog post. As per my last entry, I'm still working out which path I want to take with this blog. Ultimately I am writing this blog for myself, to keep track of my development as I hurtle towards my thirties. You are more than welcome to come along for the ride.

Some readers may noticed that I have changed the title of my blog to Wandering Naval Gazer. I have not retreated from my opinions but I feel that this blog has become more personal in nature. I am a Woman with many opinions, many of which are still be formed. One day I might be brave enough to post them again.

© Wandering Naval Gazer

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Salon: May Check In

The Sunday

Sunday Salon May Check In

Oh dear, I appear to be making a nasty habit of this. It’s almost mid June and here I am updating about May. Last Sunday I was taking part in the Race for Life 5k in Glasgow. I’ll talk about that more in another update but it did leave me rather tired last Sunday. This week has been rather chaotic one way or another. Work has been crazy (when is it ever not?), my writing classes finished and there was a family emergency to take care of.

Anyway, onto the books I read in May, bringing my total up to twenty-three books read in 2012:

The Submission – Amy Waldman (Library)
Run Fat Bitch Run! – Ruth Field (Library)
Tales of the Mall – Ewan Morrison (Kindle)
This Road is Red – Alison Irvine (Library)

I do enjoy getting books out of the library but most of their stock is comprised of robust hardbacks. Obviously this is to ensure that the books last longer but they’re not good for carrying around. Most of my reading was done at home where there are other distractions. Should I be sitting reading when there’s a pile of washing up to be done?  

This month I had to travel due to work and my Kindle was a godsend. One commute involved getting the 16.49 Dundee to Glasgow that started its journey at Aberdeen. A carriage full of hen parties and offshore workers meant I was firmly plugged into my iPod and my Kindle. I spent the journey traipsing through the first book in the Game of Thrones series. Fantasy is not my usual cup of tea but I can understand why it has become so popular.

I put Games of Thrones on the back burner because the library delivered a copy of the brilliant And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson. I should devote a full review to this book, simply because I enjoyed it so much. The Scottish political scene (and elsewhere) is buzzing over the question of independence. Robertson takes readers back to the Scottish political scene in the 1970s to the present day whilst interweaving the lives of seemingly unrelated characters. Actually this book dispels the idea that hardbacks are part of my ‘time to read’ problem. It weighs in at well over six hundred pages yet I managed to finish it in a week and a half. That was without the book leaving my house.

At the moment I’m in that horrible stage of finishing a fantastic book and wondering what to read next. I may have to retreat back to an old classic like Stephen King’s Different Seasons to kick start my reading thirst again.  

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Sunday Salon: Are you a pancake person?

The Sunday

(Copyright: Hironori Akutagawa)

From time to time I indulge in the guilty pleasure of reading 'women's magazines.' I developed the addiction whilst working in a call centre. There was a lot of down time on the shifts I work on and a lack of admin work to process. Colleagues used to bring in magazines that included stories of the 'I had sex with my mother's brother's sister in law's dog' or 'I force feed men cake for money!' ilk. I felt like I was part of a reading circle; we'd take turns reading out stories and shriek 'I can't believe someone did that!'

The habit continued after I left my job. I'd buy the cheap and nasty magazines to consume whilst I was on my lunch breaks. As time went on I realised how miserable some of these magazines were making me. The publications aimed at my then age group (18 – 25) could be especially despressing. They made me wonder if I should be more interested in fashion, make up, celebrities and sex. Was I boring for preferring staying in on a Saturday night once I hit my early twenties? Should I be spending more money on eyeliner?

Last year I decided to ditch those magazines. Occasionally I would pick up a glossy, high end magazine such as Company or, the good old favourite, Cosmopolitan. Then I would start feeling miserable again ('I'm 25 and still a student. Am I failure?!') so I would stop buying the magazines.

Then I spotted Psychologies on the news stands last summer. I was heading off to Prague for a mini break and could not resist W H Smith in the departure lounge. The articles looked interesting – they appeared to be about improving physical and mental wellbeing, not which new crappy handbag you should buy. I try not to buy Psychologies every month but I've been travelling around for work. Once again, I could hear the siren call of the magazine stands.

This month, Psychologies had “pancake people” as their word(s) of the month. I read the definition and I felt myself identifying with the words. The emphasis is my own:

These are people who read widely but not in depth. They can tell you about everything – the latest films, the next big fitness craze or the subject of last week's Prime Minister's Questions. But ask them to explain any of these in detail and they struggle to find an answer.

I do have a reputation as a bit of a 'know it all' amongst my friends. As I read I pick up tid bits of information and tuck them away for later. However I am also a 'scanner' which means I can read fast but I don't always take everything in. Do not confuse this with speed reading: that is a useful technique and a skill to be admired. As I read the article, in depth for once, I realised that I was a pancake person. Sometimes I can struggle to recall events that happened in works of fiction, even though I remember reading the books. This perhaps does not matter as much when reading fiction but it can impact on my personal study.

The article ends with

It's OK to be interested in different topics, but try picking a few that really interest you and read around them.

And that's my problem. I'm interested in so many topics: feminism, sociology, history of the world, politics, easy economics, cooking, veganism, animal rights, media representations, information rights, creative writing, poetry, most 2.0s you can shake a stick at, films, pop art, the changing status of China, North Korea, zines, graphic novels, spoken word art, Scottish nationalism... and that's a list that I came up with after just five minutes! Furthermore, I know that I don't have a deep knowledge of any of those topics above. I can bluff my way through feminism, sociology and certain eras in history. I could tell you my method of draining tofu, why I don't eat eggs or how much I love the pop art exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Art. However ask me to explain in detail the pop art movement and I'd be stuck, rattling around Elizabeth Taylor and tins of tomato soup.

The next question is: what topic(s) do I choose? That's something I'll need to ponder on and, hopefully, reflect by my reading choices.

Are you a 'pancake person'? Leave a comment below.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Sunday Salon: (Late) April Check In

The Sunday

A somewhat belated check in for April. Below is a list of the books I read in April, including the books I read during the readathon:

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
Tamburlaine Must Die – Louise Welsh
Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
Red Dust Road – Jackie Kay
The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penny
The Equality Illusion - Kat Bynard 
The Second Coming – John Niven (library read)

which comes to a grand total of nineteen books read in 2012 – so far. I've found that the readathon has re-ignited my passion for reading which has been sadly lacking this year. In unrelated news, Him Indoors and I are flat hunting which has become an incentive to read as much of Mount TBR before we move. The last time we moved, almost two years, we had eight boxes – sixty of those boxes contained my books. Oh and I forgot to mention we were moving from a second floor flat to a top floor one. I really don't want to have to go through that again.

One of my recent reads have been borrowed from my local library. For all Glasgow's faults, the library system really is fantastic. It is free to request any books from the circulation stock and you can have as many active requests as you like. There is a cap of nine requests if you're using the online catalogue but I can live with that. The acquisition librarians seem to be good at ordering multiple copies of books and maintaing the stock at realistic levels. As a result I never usually have to wait more than a month for a book.

I have been keeping an eye on the reads at A Year of Feminist Classics. I'm still ploughing through April's read Whipping Girl which I'm loving and disliking in equal measure. It has been a while since I've read a book classed as 'feminist theory' and it has been tough to wade through some of the academic language. It has also confirmed my suspicions that British and American feminism can be two very different stances. My experiences of British feminism has been very action based, such as the fantastic Fawcett Society, whilst American feminism is very concerned about definitions. Semantics and linguistics are important however actions can engage people more than a debate laden with 'new' words. The two can clash, such as the Slut Walks which took place in Britain and North America last year. Feminism itself is a loaded word for many women I encounter, let alone introducing terms such as cissexist or trans-mysognotis.

Today is a dreich day in Glasgow so I'm going to spend it catching up on some reading. What a surprise. 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sunday Salon: Reflections of a Readathon

The Sunday

Yesterday I took part in my first 24 hour readathon. I have been aware of this event for a couple of years but I've not been able to take part before. The start time of 13:00 on a Saturday (to reflect the official starting time in America) was no good to me when I was a student and when I began working in a 'proper' weekday job.

Then I noticed that some participants were bending the rules. Yes, they were reading for 24 hours but they started at 00:01 according to their time zones. Now this I could sign up to. You can read my blog posts about the day here:

I admit that I found the first 10 hours quite hard. On Friday I was working a very long day and included travelling across the country and back (it doesn't sound too bad when you consider that you can do it in 45 minutes on the train). However it got better as the clock moved around to the official start time of the readathon. Twitter certainly got busier and was a welcome help when I hit a reading block.

These are the main lessons I learnt from the readathon:

Don't worry if you fall asleep
I nodded off 05:00 – 08:00 and woke up in a major panic. How could I miss three hours? Did that mean I would be kicked off the readthon? Of course not. No one expects you to be superhuman. If you find yourself nodding off, give in to the snoozes. Your body will thank you for it as you head towards Hour 19.

Snacks are very important
I should have guessed that any event involving books would make snacks a very important topic. On my Friday commute home, I was horrified to realise I had no snacks in the house apart from some sad looking bananas. A mad dash to the shops left me with some bags of pretzels and hummus which disappeared rather quick. On Saturday Him Indoors very kindly made a dash to the shops to pick up some vegan sushi and crisps. Next time I plan to be better prepared and not run out of snacks at Hour 14. 

Keep hydrated
This week I have been trying to cut down on coffee for health reasons. It did leave me a bit concerned that I would not be able to consume coffee to get through the 24 hours. In the end my total coffee intake amounted to one large strong mug of cafeteria coffee at 10:00 and a top up coffee at 17:00. One big difference is that I had been drinking more water during the readathon. So more water, less coffee!

Check the pages of your books
I thought I had made a very careful decision about which books I chose for the readathon. Not careful enough. I decided to leave The Golden Notebook because it came in at over 600 pages and had tiny, tiny print. This decision was made at Hour 18 of the readathon which was not the best time to make this discovery. At Hour 22 you do not want to be screwing up your eyes, trying to read the smallest typeface known to human kind.

It's OK to give up on books
I decided to give up on Sexual Politics in the early hours of Saturday morning. Whilst I was enjoying the book, the readathon is perhaps not the best place to be tackling quite heavy feminist theory. My two favourite reads, Tamburlaine Must Die and Red Dust Road, hit the right notes of being engaging and amusing whilst raising some interesting questions. Tamburlaine Must Die made me want to run off and do some research into Christopher Marlowe (which I resisted from doing). Red Dust Road made me think about the experiences of mixed heritage women in Britain as well as the experience of discovering your biological family.

Breaks are good for your sanity
People who work with computers are advised to take a five minute break every hour. This is to give your eyes a rest and, more important, your brain a break. During the readathon, I tried to take a 10 minute break every hour to move around. I used the bathroom, topped up my water glass, loaded the dishwasher and checked into the readathon conversation on Twitter and on the homepage. As I finished each book, I took five minutes to jot down any thoughts into my notebook for reviews at a later date.

Due to circumstances, I alternated between my living room and Him Indoors's study during the 24 hours. The physical breaks between space really helped my concentration and I did feel more alert when I settled back down to reading.

I've thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the readathon. Many thanks to the organisers and all the hard work they put into making the readathon happen. I had a fabulous time :) Roll on October!

Readathon: Hour 24

Here we are then, at the end of the readathon. I finished The Tenderness of Wolves just before 23:00 which left me a bit unsure about starting a new book. I decided to tackle another feminism book The Equality Illusion by Kat Baynard. I'm a little bit jealous of Baynard who wrote this feminist call to arms in 2010, when she was only 25. Kat interviewed hundreds of women from a range of backgrounds and she includes some of their stories in this book. Some of it brought back hideous memories, such as the chapter discussing sexual harassment women face from high school right into the their workplaces as adults. There's something not right in a world when a young woman can expect to be paid less than a male colleague for doing the exact same job.

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to finish The Equality Illusion but something tells me that I'll be returning to it quite soon.

To end, let's have some lovely stats:

Tamburlaine Must Die - Louise Welsh 149 pages

Sexual Politics - Kate Millet 108 pages (did not finish)

Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy 378 pages

Red Dust Road - Jackie Kay 288 pages

The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney 450 pages

The Equality Illusion - Kat Baynard 102 pages (did not finish)

comes to the grand total of 1475 pages read since the readathon started.

When you put it like that, I think I deserve to go to bed. Good luck to all those still taking part. Remember, lots of snacks and micronaps are the way to go.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Readathon: Hour 20

I can't quite believe I have been up for almost 20 hours! In 4 hours it will all be over and I can get some kip.

I finished Red Dust Road, a touching memoir by the writer Jackie Kay. This is probably one of my favourite reads of this readathon. Kay raises so many questions about identity, culture and how that all adds up to create an individual. I'm also cheered by some of her references to archives on her searches. The archivist she meets at Aberdeen University Archives tells her that they are "afraid of pens and bottled water." I may consider incorporating that into my day job when I have to tell researchers to hand over their contraband ink.

The next book I picked up was The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny. Some of the reviews described it as a 'real page turner' and I felt that would hurry me along. I did toy with picking up The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. Unfortunately I did not realise that it clocks it at over 600 pages and the typeface is microscopic. Lesson learned for the next readathon: do not choose books that are over 400 pages withs small letters.

For the remainder of the readathon, I have retreated back to Him Indoors's study. He's finished work for the day and it seems unfair to expect him to sit in silence in the living room whilst I read. The study is quite cosy and it seems a fine place to spend the last four hours of my first readathon.

Soon I'm going to tuck into vegan sushi, curtsey of cutely named Jo Sushi and polish off some more beer.

Readathon: Hour 16

The afternoon has been full of stops and starts. I finished Woman on the Edge of Time and felt rather disturbed by it. The book was originally published in 1976 in the US. The Women's Press published this book in the UK and it's easy to see why. Piercy covers issues such as domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, prostitution, racism,  women within the psychiatric care system, gender boundaries and motherhood. I've made some notes and I'll write a more detailed review after the readathon has finished.

At 13:00 GMT, the readathon kicked off in the US which has resulted in more traffic on the Twitter #readathon. Mini challenges have also popped up on the official readathon blog. None have ticked my fancy so far but there's still 7 hours left to go. I read this great blog post from Irish/Gail about surviving your first readathon. Sadly I forgot stock up on snacks but Him Indoors kindly went on a snack run for me. I now have vegan sushi and Kettle crisps to look forward to later. 

I have been having Twitter chats with AlexInLeeds, a readathon veteran. Do pop over and have a look at her posts.

I'm hurtling through my fourth read, Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay. It's a humorous and touching account of Kay tracing her biological parents. Kay was born in Scotland and adopted by the Kay family: Communists living in Bishopbriggs which is just outside Glasgow. The Kays beliefs meant it was difficult for them to adopt children. Many adoption agencies in Glasgow in the 1950s and 1960s were run by religious organisations. Prospective parents were expected to provide proof that they attended church on a regular basis. I have so much admiration for John and Ellen Kay for refusing to compromise their beliefs. Kay's mother remembers taking Jackie and her brother Maxie, also adopted and from an African background, to Mull and being asked if the children knew any English. Ellen's response was 'Bloody cheek seeing as half of them still spoke Gaelic and not a word of English!'

On a side note, it's 16 hours in and I'm only on my second cup of coffee. However I'm suspecting the two hour nap I had earlier this morning helped!

Readathon: Hour 12

After some strong coffee and vegan porridge for breakfast, I have been feeling a lot more alert for the past 4 hours. Only 12 more hours left to go! I have been thoroughly enjoying Woman on the Edge of Time. It's a great book to read in one sitting. I suspect if I had been dipping in and out the book, say on my commute to work, I might have given up on it. Connie has started travelling to a Utopia-esque future in 2137 which comes with a whole range of made up words and changes in language. The strong coffee has helped me charge through the book!

I hijacked Him Indoors's office for the first half of the readathon. Our kakariki is kept in the living room and I felt it was unfair to keep him awake for 24 hours. He likes us but he still sleeps with one eye open when we're in the room with him. It was quite pleasant sitting in the office and taking advantage of the monster sound system Him Indoors has set up in there. Alas, he was to work today (the scourge of being self-employed) so I have retreated to the living room.

The readathon starts in one hour for the America participants so I imagine things will start getting busy. I'm hoping to finish Woman on the Edge of Time just after 13:00 then get started on my next non-fiction read. Jackie Kay's memoir about searching for her biological parents, Red Dust Road, has been silently calling me so I'll move onto that.

Readathon: Hour 8

You might be wondering why I did not update a bit earlier. The embarrasing truth is that I slipped into a nap around 05.30 and only awoke half an hour ago. It was very odd to be aware of the darkness of the night and wake up, well after dawn.

Before I started my slumber, I began reading Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy. It's not the cheeriest of books.The story opens with the lead character's neice, Dolly, arriving at her door after being beaten by her pimp/husband. Connie tries to protect her but when the husband arrives, a scuffle breaks out. One more thing - Connie has been previously admitted to a psychartic institution which is why she ends up by the end of the first chapter.

I did think this was an appropriate book to pick up after dipping into Sexual Politics. Both Connie and her neiece have been protrayed as 'weak' and almost like posessions that belong to Dolly's husband. Once Connie has been admitted to the psychartic ward, everyone stops listening to or believing what she says. I'm hooked on Connie's story and what will happen to her next.

Readathon: Hour 3

Here we are at Hour 3 of the Readathon. I decided to start with a short book, Tamburlaine Must Die by Louise Welsh. Welsh writes from the perspective of Christopher Marlowe, an Elizabethan playwright and apparent rival to Shakespeare, in his final days before his mysteriously death in 1593. It was a gripping read and a real page turner. I finished the book by 01.30 and it was time to choose my next target.

I toyed with continuing with my 'light' theme but decided to go for Sexual Politics by Kate Millet. Although I studied Sociology at university, very little class time was given to feminism. The (mostly male) lecturers treated feminism as a necessary evil: not something they believed in but part of the curriculum. Millet's work was published in the 1970s and, I suspect, one of the first calls to arms for women. She hangs her analysis on literature but uses that to analyse the patriarchal society we live in. What bothers me is that this book was written over forty years ago and women are still having to deal with the same bullshit. My inner rage is keeping me going through what is a very informative book. I cannot wait until the chapter where Millet analyses D.H. Lawrence. She has a very funny, tongue in cheek way of writing whilst tackling some 'big' theories. 

Only 20.5 hours left to go. 

Readathon: Hour 0

Here we are at Hour 0 of the Readathon. I feel a bit like a renegade because I'm starting 13 hours before the 'official' start time. You can read my rather boring and obvious reasons for doing so here.

Choosing books for the readathon has been a tricky task. On Tuesday I went through my bookshelves and removed books that fitted the following criteria. One: books were written by a 'woman'. Two: books I could contemplate finishing during the readathon. For example, Gillespie and I has been teasing me from my bookshelves. However it does weigh in at 624 pages and I already had the tome of The Tenderness of Wolves sitting on my book pile. I'm due a holiday in June so I reluctantly put Gillespie and I back on the pile. Until the summer, my friend. 

Here's a group shot of my long list (please ignore my cluttered sofa, complete with a polar bear blanket!):

Him Indoors originally thought these books were for the charity shop box. Oh dear, how misinformed was he?

It was interesting to see my tastes venture towards fiction written by women. Out of the thirty six books I chose for my long list, twenty four were fiction, four were autobiographies, seven were feminist theory and one historical analysis of London in the eighteenth century. I had planned to alternate reading fiction with non-fiction but it might not be as simple as that. I've decided to keep the long list to hand, just in case I find I'm not enjoying some of my reads. So here's my short list that I'm planning to tackle today:

The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy
The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penny
Tamburlaine Must Die – Louise Welsh

Stand by books:
The Complete Stories – Flannery O'Connor
The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Sexual Politics – Kate Millet
Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to why Feminism Matters – Jessica Valenti
Red Dust Road – Jackie Kay
The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet – Margaret Wertheim

Stand by books:
Cancer Vixen – Marisa Acocella Marchetto
The Equality Illusion - Kat Baynard

I am under no illusion that I will finish all books on this list by midnight tonight. However I'm going to have a good crack at it. Let the reading commence!