My collection of Barnes & Noble leatherbound books began with this gorgeous copy of The Arabian Nights. It is still my favourite of all of them, though of course Anna Karenina and War and Peace come a close second!
You can get them here:
These Barnes & Noble leatherbound editions are among my favourite. The glorious colours, intricate designs and golden highlights make them a must on any bookshelf.
This beautiful Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is (at the time of writing) almost half price here.
It may be common knowledge for some that Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was named after his son, Hamnet, who died from the plague when he was a child. I didn’t know this, though. So I immediately started the book from a point of learning something new – which is always a delight when reading historical fiction.
From the very first page I continued learning, about Shakespeare’s family and wife (who is not remembered fondly by history, but who is given a voice in this novel), about the plague itself, about the life they lived. The book is very well written, and Maggie O’Farrell has a talent for keeping you captivated and immersed in another time.
The story is well-rounded and we visit the point of view of many characters, giving insight into their way of life. The book is clearly exceptionally well researched. Given the current situation, it was also very interesting to read about the plague and how it affected them. Centuries pass but perhaps not much changes!
I loved this book in the way that I love all beautifully written historical fiction. It is escapism at its finest.
I would rate this a strong 7/10.
I’ve included a link to order below:
by Harriet Young
“We’re just two souls in a fishbowl, bouncing off the side,” he cried, as he leapt and he died.
The silence thrummed, like a drum. A pounding beat, like blood in a skull.
It had been ten days since the key was lost. Then the ground fell away, and our lives took off. It began as nothing, as an inconvenience, a novelty. Then it grew to a beast, something with a mind of its own.
Where to start. With the key, I suppose. I had recurring nightmares that left me thrashing, unable to breathe. Claustrophobia is a terrible thing. They happened night after night, I’d wake in a sweat. I couldn’t comprehend the horror inside. Work fell away – I passed through days in a daze. And night after night, the key came to me.
Keys might mean security, protection or adventure. A key to a safe, to a door, to a new world. But not for me – oh no, not for me. For me they creaked in locks, to trap me in a box. The key in my dream rusted in place, parts fell away and time lurched past. I struggled and screamed and cried, but still in my dark musty box I’d abide. I tried to break free, I did. But the box was strong and the lock was eager, it wouldn’t very well abandon its role. So this was how my nights were spent.
The days were worse. Acrid coffee scorching my tongue, anything to keep the shadows at bay. Eyes bruised with exhaustion and body slumping forwards, I saw my life through a sheen of fog. Everything tasted foul, ash in my mouth, no pleasure in anything. He felt it too – I saw it in his eyes. The key haunted him also, just buried deep inside.
He was gentle and kind, in his way. He covered me in blankets when I gave way to the key. Led me blindly through days and made sure that I ate. He muffled my screams in the dark, late at night. It felt like love, that’s it. It did.
But fog. Fog. Fog is a dangerous thing. It is forceful, in a quiet, disobedient way. It does as it likes, it hides what it likes. And suddenly, or perhaps gradually, you feel less like a normal person anymore. You don’t notice until it has happened, and when it has happened, you’re too far from the shore to row your way back. What is there to do, but float?
So that’s what I was doing. Floating by day, bowing to the key at night. Groundhog Day, they say, don’t they. But that’s not what it was – each day of floating was a little further from land, and each night the key grew, monstrous and grand.
Who can say how much time passed? When you are in the wilderness, time is not your friend. But be it months, or years, or decades – who knows – there was one moment when everything changed. A click, a tap, a crunch, a grind. The sound. I was in my box, in the dark, nowhere to hide. But the key was moving – slowly, so slowly, its grandeur was fading.
Inch by inch, the giant key moved. This was new. What to do? I was statue-still, eyes fixed on the lock. That I could not see, the dark enveloped me. It crunched as it turned. A click and then…ringing clear through the fog, it fell to the ground.
I was desperate and scared so for some time I didn’t move. Then, my courage surged. On all fours I crawled to the door; peered through the keyhole, the key was there no more. Gently, I placed my hand on steel. Held my breath and pushed. Movement, freedom! The fear was enormous, pressing on my lungs. What could be out there? Perhaps, perhaps, the key was my protector after all.
Breathe, breathe. Slow, slow. Breathe, breathe, slow, slow. Breathe. Ok.
I pushed a little harder, froze as the door emitted a skull-splitting creak.
I pushed again. The door was open, I was free. The darkness and fog closed in but, my God, I ran. I ran and I ran, the fresh cold air burning my skin. My bare feet revelled in the sharp stinging pain. My mouth curled into an unfamiliar smile.
That morning, I was brand new. I awoke refreshed to a bright, clear sunrise. The curtains were open, the covers kicked away. He lay beside me, frown flickering. I revelled in a stretch, clawed sleep from my eyes. I showered and smiled. New days. New skies.
So that is how the key was lost. Ah, I look back now and cry. I thought it was the start, the beginning. But what was set free from that box?
He was pleased to see the change, that day. His face relaxed at my wide, easy grin – I kissed him, I twirled, set off on my way. Said no to coffee, laughed through my tasks, filled full with energy, I could do anything at last.
I could dance. I could sing. Have you seen the sky, through the fog? It’s a wonderful thing.
I came home that night, a new spring in my step. But one look at his face and my hope fell away. The key – it had him, deep within, I could tell. His brow was furrowed, the shadows were there. I stared into his eyes, begged the key to leave. Shouted and screamed. I lifted my hands and…
The crash threw us to the floor. The first crash, I should say, for there were many more.
We lurched to the side, I rolled away from a falling mirror. Everything crashed, all we owned.
And as soon as that happened, another crash, we were thrown in the other direction. I screamed and hid my head my hands; a glimpse through my fingers showed me he did the same. We stayed in a foetal position until the ground steadied. Everything around us was gone, thrown asunder. The things we had loved, all crushed and cracked. The carefully positioned belongings damaged, all moved. The sofa’s arm rested through the broken screen of the TV.
We exchanged a glance, arose, like new born lambs. Legs shaking eyes darting we extended our arms – help me, we shouted, help me, I cried.
I leaned from the window, saw what I could see. The earth had quaked, we had risen. Our home was anchorless, blowing away. Ripped from our chains, we left solid ground. The key had gone and we were free, swept up and away into the bright night sky.
First the house swayed gently in the breeze before gaining traction, soaring and spiriting away. We gazed from the windows, helpless as babes. Our town became smaller, streetlights hazing and fading, cars became ants and soon everything was gone. Mist obscured our view – we had reached the clouds – and that’s when the soaring slowed to a floating, steady and gentle, onward and onward.
For days we drifted. We were content to begin with, until we realised. Without the key, there was no fog. Without the fog, there was nowhere to hide.
And with nowhere to hide, our anger grew. We argued about blame, about who it belonged to. We argued about fury, and who should have most. We argued about love, and why it had died.
We were trapped in our gliding prison, two bodies at war. Until, that day, he fell from the side.
Without doubt, writing can be both the best and worst thing in the world. The feverish force of creation can pull at you, power you – and, just as easily, petrify you like Medusa.
When gripped by that glorious sense that you could write forever, and what you are writing is good, there is nothing better. A shame then that this occurs so rarely! Whether you are a seasoned writer or just starting out, there are so many things that seem to want to trip you up. Writer’s block, procrastination, imposter syndrome…these can so easily affect all of us.
I am by no means an expert, and the advice I will share here is merely a mishmash of other, wiser people’s words, but it helped me immensely when writing my first novel (The Hellion – now almost funded through Unbound publishers! You can still preorder now).
1. Just get started
I am certainly guilty of this. Finally getting the idea for a novel and being unable to start until the plot is perfect and all research has been completed. The problem is, no matter what your novel is about, research can never be finished! There is always something more you can learn. So, when you get that idea, start writing. The plot and research can happen alongside, but get some words on the paper first. Then you’ll learn whether this really excites you, or whether it feels like too much of a chore (notice I say too much – however much you enjoy writing, there can often be times when it feels like a chore).
2. Don’t feel that you always have to write your best work
You wanted to write a chapter today but, on sitting down at your laptop, you discover that you have lost the ability to string a sentence together. No matter how many times you try to form the words, it sounds clunky and trite. Don’t worry! Just leave the sentence as it is and keep writing. Get that chapter down. It doesn’t have to be the best thing you’ve ever written – not even close. You can go back and edit it later.
3. Be your own cheerleader
Who here is their own worst critic? Who thinks that everything they write is terrible, and can’t muster the courage to show it to anyone else? It is difficult to change that mindset, but it is important to. Reward yourself when you’ve written a set number of words or pages – it’s an amazing achievement! Think of the advice runners are always given – no matter where you place in a race, you have beaten all of the people on the sidelines or tucked up in bed at home. Everything you write hones your skill. Celebrate it. Be proud.
4. Find a schedule that works for you BUT don’t beat yourself up when it fails
For too long, I thought that if I wasn’t writing every day then there was no point in doing any at all. If I was tired when I got home from work and chose not to write – well, that would be it for the next few months. The chain of writing every day was broken, so I might as well stop forever. Totally wrong! It’s just that I hadn’t found the way I best write yet. It was only when I tried NaNoWriMo that I found what suits me – high volume, short time – a month of writing 1500+ words a day. The ridiculously high target forced the words out of me. This is how I’ll write (or at least finish) all of my future novels; no slow burn here. But the important thing – I didn’t actually write the target of 50,000 words in my NaNoWriMo months, more like 25,000-30,000. Is this a failure? No! I was way further on than I had been at the start of the month. That is a win.
5. Procrastinate less
This is the most difficult one for me. I am a master procrastinator. I find starting hard, so I set myself a time in my head. At 6pm, I’m going to start writing. In the half an hour until then I can do what I like, browse the internet, cook tea, dust the shelves, but I’m starting my writing at 6pm. If I get the urge to stop and do something else while I’m writing, I do. I let myself take little breaks. As long as I’ve started, I can feel good about my progress.
What do you struggle with when you’re writing? Share in the comments below!
You may have noticed recently that my Instagram account has been taken over by my new book, The Hellion. In case you weren’t aware, my first novel has been picked up by Unbound Publishers, and it is currently undergoing a crowdfunding campaign in order to get it published. At the time of writing, it is 58% funded and I am tentatively hopeful that it will get there!
I wanted to write a series of blog posts about writing and the publishing process because I know this is of great interest to lots of you. When I asked what you would most like to read about, one of the instantly most popular responses was ‘what is the story of your book?’ Or, ‘why did you write your book?’ Or ‘why did you decide to write this book?’ So, I thought I would comply and tell you the story of The Hellion.
I have always written. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had a work in progress. It used to be my favourite thing at school. I remember I would write pages and pages in smudged cartridge pen in primary school, feverishly getting the next important story down. In Friday share assemblies, I would often be picked to read my work aloud in front of parents and pupils, with the whispered entreaty from my teacher, “just try to cut it down a little bit?” – apparently my audience would not appreciate six pages about a Bengal tiger that appeared in a kitchen when a tiger printed plate was smashed.
As I grew older, of course writing was pushed aside in favour of other things. Going to university, working, getting on with life. It was always in the background though. I’d be hit by a creative fervour every now and then, spend a week or two writing 10,000 words, then drop it when I felt the story wasn’t going anywhere.
Eventually, I started blogging. It was a food blog to start with, and writing little stories to go with my recipes was enough for a while. Then, that fell out of favour too. It was too much, cooking, writing out the recipes, editing the photos. But, after I had stopped doing that, I noticed an emptiness. I needed something to fill that hole.
The start of The Hellion coincides exactly to the day with the start of my Instagram account. In the Spring half term of my teacher training, during an extraordinarily difficult term, I decided I needed a distraction. So, I began writing again. I had come across the Pendle witch trials again, through some Wikipedia browsing, and thought the story of Jennet was so interesting that it needed a novel (more on that in another blog). I don’t know why, but after I wrote the first page, I set up an Instagram account. To start with, my account was going to be for writing rather than reading, but it’s definitely evolved! If you scroll back to my first post, all the way back on 4th March 2017, you’ll see that it’s a screenshot of the first page of The Hellion! I felt immediately that this was the first novel I’d actually finish. At the time, it was called Novel.
I spent a few months researching and writing intermittently while I finished my teacher training. A few words here, a few words there, until finally I decided to take part in NaNoWriMo in November 2017. In case you haven’t heard of it, this is National Novel Writing Month and the aim is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I failed, but by the end of the month, my novel – now with a spanking new name ‘Dear Jennet’ was 21,000 words long. This was the most I’d ever written, I was proud of it, and I couldn’t drop it.
Without that first NaNoWriMo, The Hellion would never be where it is now. However, it needed almost complete rewriting! I spent the next year picking over every word until November 2018, when I spent NaNoWriMo finishing the novel. It was at this point that I decided a new name was needed, and finally settled on The Hellion.
By this point, it was a labour of love. To spend that many hours researching, crafting, sweating over a story, it would be a fallacy to do nothing with it. I felt there was nothing to lose in sending it off to publishers and agents – but I’ll save that story for another day.
That is my story of writing. And it seems so strange that I’m just 42% away from having my first book published! If you haven’t already, and would like to preorder my book to help this dream become a reality (and get a first edition with your name printed in it!) please, please follow the link to my Unbound page and make a pledge today.
Thank you so much!
If you have any ideas for other blog posts, please feel free to get in touch!