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Ten days in Vienna and Budapest, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and a shoutout to Women For Election

I’m not much of a sunshine fiend, and get a bit antsy in the absence of intellectual stimulation. I’ve rebelled after a series of intensely boring sun holidays over the years (oh woe is me) and have just spent ten days in Vienna and Budapest.

Doug and I stayed in a Beethoven themed apartment in Vienna, featuring an ominous Beethoven plaster bust, no less than five framed Beethoven portraits, and a whopper biography of Beethoven.

I found my dream supermarket not five minutes away, the kind of supermarket that sells funky broccoli in unlikely colours, pretzels the size of hula hoops, and edible flowers. The dessert counter was twenty metres in length. I’m a new low-carber, and so I dragged my tongue across the floor to suss out the cheese section.

Dessert counter at fancy supermarket in Vienna.

Ominous Beethoven bust peers over our wardrobe in Vienna.

We climbed Stephensdom, an unnecessarily tall church with a spiral staircase. By the time I returned to street level, my legs were trembling. The next day I couldn’t walk. Well, I could sort of walk. I could make my way around the apartment by clutching onto the backs of chairs, but was unable to venture further than the apartment door.

I took a study day as Doug traipsed about the Sigmund Freud museum and took a sad solo trip on a ferris wheel. Sorry, babe. I tried to get some work done, but was distracted by a noisy neighbour practicing a piano piece with their windows splayed open. No doubt this is a delightful novelty to the tourist on the street, but I was displeased.

Stephensdom, Vienna. Spiral staircase made me lame. I’m good now!

Two days later and my legs were keeping me upright again. We went to Schönbrunn Palace and visited the palatial rooms. We learned about a beloved princess, Sissi, who grew her hair down to her ankles. Tickly, much?

We visited the Gloriette, we visited the spectacular Palm House glasshouse.

We learned a lesson about not acting the maggot. (I witnessed several tourists being reprimanded for laughing on the little train, correction: bus disguised as a train, that chugged around the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace. I myself was reprimanded for wandering to the top of a queue whilst innocently looking for a bus timetable. A lot of reprimanding goes on in Austria.) We visited the gloriously creepy wax medical bodies at the Josephinum Medical Museum.

Gazing at The Gloriette at Schönbrunn Palace.

We attended a classical music recital and experienced a live performance of the Blue Danube. We ate wieners with mustard, we sampled Sachertorte. We gave it a Viennese whirl.

Thereafter, we travelled to Budapest by train. We arrived at the station and were promptly whisked toward a waiting taxi. The going rate was €25 to take us a mere two kilometres. We said nah, and took the train. Our accommodation at Gozsdu Apartments was nestled in a block of popular bars and restaurants. We asked four times for our wifi to be repaired but didn’t get very far. [A new modem appeared in our midst but we weren’t provided with accurate networks and access codes. Righteous sniff.] Otherwise, the apartment was clean, spacious, and comfortable, and situated in a convenient location. The bar downstairs that served me a dubious hamburger with green meat shall remain nameless.

The Palm House at Schönbrunn Palace.

We visited the Szechenyi Baths, one of several magnificent outdoor baths in Budapest. The weather was glorious, and the baths frequented by a multitude of mahogany people. The mahogany people are the hardy types who sit in the sun from dawn until dusk, contented to transmogrify into human furniture. Must add that the staff at the baths were incredibly pleasant and game for a laugh, so good vibes all round at Szechenyi Baths. We also attended a ballet performance of A Streetcar Named Desire performed by the Hungarian National Ballet. I had not thought to pack appropriate attire for the ballet, so apologies to all those baffled by my foam shoes. The ballet was wondrous, if not a bit dark in tone. A Streetcar Named Desire is no jolly tale. Stelllllaaaaa!

Tea served at the New York Café, Budapest. Fancy!

A highlight of our visit to Budapest was the New York Café, known as the world’s most beautiful café. This is the café of my dreams. They have live classical music, the surroundings are positively lavish, and they serve exceptional foodstuffs. I love foodstuffs.

Cynics, turn back. I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo on my trip and I liked it. As yet, I have not had the opportunity to implement all that I’ve learned, but things are gonna change around here. I’m a moderate clothes buyer, but find it difficult to discard clothes that don’t serve me any longer eg. I have an entire wardrobe rail devoted to office attire and last worked in an office two years ago. And my husband Doug has the habit of cramming pairs of shoes, spare duvets, suitcases and books under beds in an effort to conceal them. He is keen to hold on to any official looking bits of paper, and keeps notes on the backs of envelopes. Evidently, we have some work to do. Our homes and living space can become weighed down with emotion through the hoarding and safekeeping of things that don’t support our lives in a healthful way. Think about it. We’ve got all this stuff around us, but does it fulfil its purpose? Does it create visual clutter, or need to be replaced? Do we easily lose our stuff around the house because things don’t belong to a particular area? Do the items we keep on display stress us out, reminding us of work that needs to be done, even when we are taking the time to relax? Stuff and things have a real impact on how we live our lives, so we need to deal with our stuff and things in a clever way.

Check out the Buy The Book podcast! It’s highly entertaining.

If you’re interested in other people’s experiences of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I highly recommend listening to this podcast from Buy The Book. Two funny ladies called Jolenta and Kristen try out a new self help book for a fortnight at a time with highly amusing results. This is a relatively new podcast but it’s already a firm favourite for me. The ladies have also covered The Secret and Why French Women Don’t Get Fat (hint: it appears to involve strained leek soup). I hope that Jolenta and Kristen continue to make this podcast, but can see how 48 hours of strained leek soup might steal their enthusiasm.

I want to give a big shout out to the volunteers at Women for Election. Women for Election is a non-partisan not-for-profit organisation that trains women in Ireland to run for public office. They are working to raise €50,000 to train 300 women ahead of the 2019 local elections. This fundraising campaign is LIVE and they need donations NOW. In the last general election in Ireland, women’s representation in the Dáil increased from 16% to 22% – its highest ever. But this is still far from balanced. Will you help to get #MoreWomen into politics in Ireland? Don’t hesitate, donate today!

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

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Bad juju, daguerrotypes, ghostly nuns, and other matters.

I was in Oxford last week to attend a series of workshops as part of my Masters in Creative Writing. I arrived a day earlier in order to ready myself before the headlong dive into workshops. One of my favourite things to do when I have some time to myself is to look at antiques. There’s a lovely antiques store called Antiques On High (Broad Street, Oxford) not far from the Sheldonian Theatre. I’ve picked up some Wedgwood pieces there for next to nothing in the past. This is a wonderful warren-like store to browse, with trinkets and fossils and artworks and books and art deco jewellery and etchings and everything you can imagine. They also have a small selection of daguerrotypes. According to daguerrobase.org, a daguerrotype was “…the first commercially successful photographic process (1839-1860) in the history of photography. Named after the inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, each daguerreotype is a unique image on a silvered copper plate. In contrast to photographic paper, a daguerreotype is not flexible and is rather heavy.The daguerreotype is accurate, detailed and sharp. It has a mirror-like surface and is very fragile…Numerous portrait studio’s opened their doors from 1840 onward. Daguerreotypes were very expensive, so only the wealthy could afford to have their portrait taken. Even though the portrait was the most popular subject, the daguerreotype was used to record many other images such as topographic and documentary subjects, antiquities, still lives, natural phenomena and remarkable events.” Fascinating!

I was immediately drawn to this very striking and unnerving portrait of a mother and son. The cost of the daguerrotype was a mere 35 pounds. I thought to myself, “I have to have it.” I sought permission to photograph the daguerrotype and I WhatsApp’d (I guess this is a verb now) the photograph to both my husband and a close friend. I was looking for their approval to go ahead with the purchase, something I don’t normally do. The daguerrotype was so exhilarating to look at, but there was something so alive about it too. The sullen portraits appeared to be full of energy. I wondered where I might keep such a precious historic item. Under the bed? Framed on the wall? In a box? And there was the small issue of ‘juju’. My husband and friend hinted at their reservation. Who were these people? Where did the daguerrotype come from? What’s its history? And isn’t this daguerrotype a little too creepy to keep in your house? In spite of my initial glee at coming across such an unusual artefact, I left Oxford without the daguerrotype. And I’m still thinking about it. I like its subtle creepiness. I suppose there’s still time to phone the shop and buy it. Would you?

 

 

I also climbed Oxford’s Carfax Tower on Sunday morning. It was a sunny one and I got this great picture. I think it was worth the claustrophobic winding stair lung-busting clamber to the top.

 

 

 

 

Oh, and…there’s a viral video doing the rounds. It features my old school, Mount St. Michael’s in Claremorris, Co. Mayo. The convent was home to many, many nuns in its history, and the bulk of the convent building has recently been demolished. Watch the video and see if you can locate the silhouette of a nun in an upper window! I’m close to certain that this is a hoax, but it’s fun to see my old school hitting the headlines.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

Why I paid $1.80 for three photographs of total strangers

strangersLook at these old photographs. They’re the kinds of photographs you can imagine adorning a mantelpiece or bedside locker. They’re the kind of photographs that people keep in memory boxes, or tucked into wallets.

A stern looking couple by a lakeside, I’m guessing 1930’s or earlier.

An adoring daddy with his cute chubby-cheeked son, I’m guessing late 1940’s or 1950’s.

An attentive mother with her daughter, playing in the grass in summertime, I’m guessing late 1950’s or early 1960’s.

 

These people are all strangers to me. I don’t know their names, or where they lived, or what they did. I found these photographs in a bin in an antiques store in Brooklyn, and bought them for about 60c apiece. The bin was crammed with thousands and thousands of photographs just like these. Photographs taken at Christmas, in nightclubs, around the dinner table, and on the first day of school.

Admittedly, it’s weird to pay money for the photographs of total strangers. But I felt a connection to these photographs, compelled to take them with me. They serve as a reminder of the transience of our lives, lives that are made up of thousands of moments just like these. Moments that mattered in the lives of these people.

One day, we will all move on. And one day, your photographs might find their way into a bin in an antiques store. Shiver.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.Buy it now!

Review: ‘Sleep No More’, experiential theatre in New York City

img_4275I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited New York several times, and have ticked off many popular tourist experiences on my travel itinerary. In planning a recent trip, I decided to shake it up and pursue a trip that was more alternative than any I’ve had in the past. I’m a person who gets a kick out of being ever-so-slightly frightened, and is interested in unusual, strange experiences (I love to be purposely vague), and so I booked tickets for me and my friend Kam to visit the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea for Sleep No More, an immersive theatre show produced by Punchdrunk Theatre.

It was sensational.

Sleep No More is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the 1930’s, and without dialogue. It’s a style of theatre known as ‘promenade theatre’ that allows the attendees to wander about at their own pace. I don’t want to give too much away, because I very much urge all of you to go and see it for yourselves, but here’s a little about what I experienced.

Upon checking in to the vintage “hotel”, attendees were required to don white beaked masks, instructed that we were not to speak to one another, and were shuffled into an old elevator. The elevator stopped at the first floor, and my friend Kam was pushed out, whereupon the elevator doors closed and everyone else, myself included, was taken to another floor! I thought Ah shit, assuming that it wouldn’t be as much fun without my friend. Much as Kam is awesome, it was a more immersive and stimulating experience spent alone. Upon exiting the elevator, the masked audience members scatter away, each embarking on their own individual psychological trip. The surreality of the set-pieces, combined with the eeriest, most unsettling music and sounds that reverberated throughout the building (much of it Hitchock-ian), generated a delicious anxiety and foreboding! I found myself walking through a graveyard at night, a lunatic asylum, an old-fashioned detective’s agency, a sinister undertaker’s, in addition to other nightmarish rooms and freakish landscapes. Audience members may choose to follow specific actors if they so wish – each actor has a compelling role to play across several locations – or you may choose to wander the floors of the McKittrick Hotel by yourself (if this is your preference, you will still encounter many ghastly and compelling people and places). Suddenly – a bar room brawl. Suddenly – a man in a white vest storms into a room with blood smeared up to his elbows. Suddenly – an elegant, delicate ballroom performance. Everywhere you turn there are curious incidents, dalliances, and passionate (silent) performances. A woman in a glamorous red dress snarls and sweeps out of the room, the masked audience runs after her to see what she’s going to do next.

It’s an entrancing, dream-like experience. You feel that you are an invisible presence in the lives of real people. Your fellow audience members become shadow-like. It’s the feeling akin to I just woke up from the weirdest dream, and it felt so real (and that’s a cool feeling – or is it just me?)

I honestly lost all sense of time. I thought I’d spent an hour and half in the McKittrick Hotel, but in reality I had spent two and a half hours inside, just exploring and watching. My friend Kam and I found one another three hours after our separation, whereupon I was half-hysterical and drinking absinthe in the Manderley Bar. And that’s sort of out of character. I was buzzing and exhilarated and it was worth every cent.

Tips:

  1. This is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t make it through the opening credits of a horror movie, this experience is not for you.
  2. Don’t drink too much of any kind of liquid before you enter into the hotel. You don’t want to have to try and find a restroom in the middle of the experience.
  3. You will not be talking to your friends once the experience commences, and will likely exit the show by yourself, so make plans to reassemble in the bar or somewhere close to the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. Your face will sweat underneath the mask, so don’t wear too much makeup.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking up and down lots of stairwells, wandering on some uneven surfaces, and it’s pretty dark, so leave your high heels at home. You can also check in any coats or bags at the entrance.

You can purchase tickets for Sleep No More at SleepNoMore.com

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.Buy it now!

 

Reading List: Books about Female Friendship (and some books about women in groups)

This year, I’m looking at female friendships under oppression as an aspect of a literary criticism assignment for my Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University. There aren’t very many literary books with positive female friendships forming a primary narrative. Female friendship, whether positive or negative, is an altogether unlikely subject matter in literature. I had to scour the internet to piece together a reading list, and once I’d gathered all of the books, I really had mixed feelings about those books I’d sourced and went on to read. Depictions of female friendships and female peer relationships penned by women authors are very often a landscape of jealousy, competitiveness, and betrayal. Hey, I get it. Readers want intrigue, drama, crisis. But it seems as though the conflict in novels dealing with female friendship always arises from within the friendship. Comparatively, male friendships fare rather well in literature, and the conflict comes from forces outside the friendship. Consider Frodo and Sam, Theo and Boris, Harry and Ron (okay so that’s not literature so much), Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, amongst many others. Hm.

I’m not sure that the female friendship has ever been honoured very effectively in the fiction novel. The closest I’ve come to a good and satisfying portrayal of female friendship is in the book My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. And I did not love that novel.

Vera Brittain wrote, “From the days of Homer the friendships of men have enjoyed glory and acclamation, but the friendships of women, in spite of Ruth and Naomi, have usually been not merely unsung, but mocked, belittled and falsely interpreted. I hope that Winifred’s story may do something to destroy these tarnished reputations and show its readers that loyalty and affection between women is a noble relationship which far from impoverishing, actually enhances the love of a girl for her lover, of a wife for her husband, of a mother for her children.” (Hence, Testament of Friendship, all about a great and long-lasting friendship with the writer Winifred Holtby. More details in the Reading List below.)

Introductory Reading List of Books about Women’s Friendships

TLDR? Here’s the Goodreads List I’ve compiled featuring all the books (and please add your own.)

(Note: I don’t really do Classics)

First up is a non-fiction book that’s rather archaic, yet exceedingly poignant. Testament of Friendship: The Story of Winifred Holtby by Vera Brittain. The book was first published in 1940. Winifred passed away of Bright’s Disease when she was just thirty seven, and Vera had admired her friend so very much that she composed this book in her memory. Brittain lost her fiancé and her brother in the First World War, and her friendship with Winifred helped her to cope with the overwhelming loss. Brittain writes so eloquently on the subject of her friendship with Winifred. [Sidenote: Do we ever reflect on our friendships until they are gone from us? It is often in its absence that we come to recognise the glory of a friendship and see it as being significant, life-changing, a high point of one’s life.] Their friendship becomes romanticised in the novel, but not in a saccharine way. [And why shouldn’t friendship be romanticised, as an acknowledgement of its beauty and importance?] Here’s a lovely rendering of Winifred’s personality as depicted by Brittain:

Winifred had an infallible consciousness of the other person’s standpoint; usually she put her friends’ wishes first and her own second. When she wrote letters she invariably began by referring to her correspondents’ interests and problems. If she answered the telephone she always replied, however disastrously the call had interrupted her, as though the speaker at the other end were the one person whom she wanted to hear. In conversation she seldom discussed her own troubles; she encouraged other people to talk about theirs. She was never offended; she seemed to be quite without the apparatus of sensitive pride and vulnerable dignity used by the person who lacks confidence to defend his ego against a world of which he is deeply suspicious…She never committed the deadly sin of undermining another person’s self confidence, for she knew that self-confidence takes half a lifetime to build up but can be destroyed in half an hour…The result was a gracious magnanimity, a never-failing charity, which evoked love by the warmth and generosity of the love that it gave.

What’s particularly special about the book is that much of the friendship is catalogued through letters to-and-fro, a practise we’ve abandoned in the modern age. It was a time when people were careful about their communications with friends, noting the intricacies of their lives with consideration, and relaying complex feelings to one another in letters. It happens that both of the women were important writers themselves, heightening the readability of the book. I wonder how many women would relate to the following sentiment, as composed by Winifred to Brittain:

‘Babies are a nuisance, of course,’ she wrote me at the end of 1926 when I was making up my mind to embark on a family. ‘But  so does everything seem to be that is worth while – husbands and books and committees and being loved and everything. We have to choose between barren ease and rich unrest – or rather, one does not choose. If I were you, I would be rich. Even if it ultimately kills you, you’ll have been alive and we all have to die, even those who have never lived.’

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. A formative friendship helps us to understand ourselves and to forge a sense of identity. It is through the feedback of these formative friendships that we come to understand ourselves. Our sense of identity may evolve and shift, and so the friend relationship may fulfil its need, and so dissolves. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine is haunted by a painful formative friendship she had with a girl called Cordelia, a friendship that became idolatrous, sycophantic.

As children, friendships help us to feel belonging and acceptance:

I want some friends, friends who will be girls. Girl friends. I know that these exist, having read about them in books, but I’ve never had any girl friends because I’ve never been in one place long enough. 

These early friendships can also bring to light any of our apparent defects, as in this excerpt from a scene where Carol, another friend, comes to visit:

Carol comes to my house and takes it all in—the unpainted walls, the wires dangling from the ceilings, the unfinished floors, the army cots—with incredulous glee. “This is where you sleep? ” she says. “This is where you eat? These are your clothes? ” Most of my clothes, which are not many in number, are pants and jersey tops. I have two dresses, one for summer and one for winter, and a tunic and a wool skirt, for school. I begin to suspect that more may be required.

The book is an unsettling series of painful recollections that could well resonate with women who’ve experienced cruelty in their early friendships. It’s not the easiest of reads, but is painted with an unfortunate accuracy.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. This book has been a literary sensation for its profound portrayal of the friendship of two young girls living in Naples in the 1950’s. It is a place where women are belittled and sidelined as the norm – their husbands, fathers and brothers wielding a great deal of influence over their destinies. Even mothers have little faith in their daughters, occasionally jealous of their achievements. Status is conferred through right marriage, church attendance, conformity, and behaving ‘as a woman should’. Elena and Lila struggle to improve their circumstances, facing a battle to be acknowledged for their precocity, and to satisfy their ambitions. These struggles introduce competition into the friendship, adding to the usual stressors of a girl’s adolescence. [I think Ferrante did a really good job with this one and she got a lot of things right. However, the writing style really irked me, and it seemed jagged and unfocused in parts. This could be down to the translation – the work was originally composed in Italian.] The book is one of a foursome known as the Neapolitan Quartet.

Sula by Toni Morrison. In Sula, Sula Peace is the charismatic friend, and Nel Wright is the observer/admirer. Sula is an escapist, more worldly and daring, whereas Nel has conformist tendencies. The friendship is magnetic and transcendent in childhood and adolescence, but becomes toxic in adulthood. As children, Sula and Nel were virtually interchangeable, save for Sula’s birthmark. The birthmark may have triggered in Sula a sense of differentiation, a feeling that she did not fit in, that shaped her personality. This is a very strange and powerful book about female friendship under oppression (racial prejudice, poverty). The novel demonstrates that the social constraints and unjust expectations placed upon females force them to deny their own personhood, and that of their friends, leading to friendship crises.

Here are some more books dealing with female friendships, groups of women, and collaboration between women:

The Girls by Emma Cline. 2016’s hit novel inspired by the The Family, the name given to Charles Manson’s followers, made up of a high percentage of impressionable female teenagers and young women. The book is a first person narrative from the perspective of a young girl, Evie, who becomes involved in a similar type of set-up, after becoming entranced by one of the older girls in the group, named Suzanne. (Suzanne has echoes of Cordelia in Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood).

Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore.The book is a lot of fun, but is relatively superficial in addressing the theme of friendship, the author preferring to entertain than illuminate. [I ♥ Lorrie Moore’s short story collection Birds of America! She’s fantastic.]

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. The book reminds me more of a theatre script, as ‘ol Sparkie doesn’t delve very deeply into character. It does, however, feature a dramatic climax that is quite shocking.

On My To Read Shelf

I’ll update this post once I’ve completed them:

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

NW by Zadie Smith, and Swing Time by Zadie Smith

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

The Group by Mary McCarthy

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien

[Comment below if you’ve come across a proper friendship literary novel featuring women, that isn’t Sex and the City. It would be really useful for my thesis! Thanks.]

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.Buy it now!

 

Choosing Audiobooks: Some Things To Consider

They say the best stories are the ones you see on the radio. That is to say, when we hear a story, our imagination does the world building for us. I’ve been signed up to Audible for about a year now, and I’ve had a grand old time listening to a wide range of stories that have really captured my imagination, and enhanced my life overall (may as well be honest). The major advantage of audiobooks, IMO, is that you can listen when you’re on the move. They make long car journeys, or any sort of commute, tolerable, even enjoyable. If you’ve got physical work to do around the house, like organizing shelves or attacking a stack of laundry, listening to an audiobook makes the dreary task infinitely more pleasurable. [So pleasurable, in fact, that I listened to over 10,000 audiobook minutes in 2016. I got an email from Audible to let me know that I was one of their biggest listeners. Bit miffed I didn’t get a prize though.] And there’s really no excuse to be a TV loving couch potato anymore, now that audiobooks are available to us. You can saunter out for a two hour walk with Chelsea Handler, or Amy Schumer, or whoever your favourite comedian is (they’re all doing audiobooks now) in your ears. It’s like an auditory paradise, and it’s yours for the taking. If you’re tired of traffic updates, political debates that never seem to come to any conclusion, and radio jingles that make you want to chew your own face off, switch off that dial because there’s an audiobook out there waiting for you (entirely free from advertisements too! Sigh.)

If you’re new to audiobooks, or sort of ‘Oh, I don’t really know if that’s for me’ about the whole thing, here are some pointers for choosing the right audiobook for you:

  1. Choose something that is well paced, with a strong narrative thread. (These are often the books that are recommended through word of mouth, or described as ‘page turners’.) It’s primarily the plot that will keep you listening. Turgid tales with excessive, complex detail don’t translate well to audiobooks, because it’s simply too easy to lose your concentration. You’re likely to be carrying out other tasks while you’re listening, and if the story becomes heavy and morose, you’ll just tune out. (And you can’t just flick back a couple of pages to find your place, because this is not a book. Sure, you can re-start the chapter, or rewind a couple of minutes, but it’s not so easy to pick up where you left off.) My guilty pleasure is the true crime genre. I always want to know if they caught the killer, and how they went about it, and so I listen right to the end. You could try something by Ann Rule, America’s best known crime writer. You could consider audiobooks that are strung together by various anecdotes that work well on their own, such as those found in ‘The Best Advice I Ever Got’ by Katie Couric, ‘The Examined Life’ by Stephen Grosz, the personal essays of David Sedaris, such as ‘When You Are Engulfed In Flames’, and ‘If I Could Tell You Just One Thing’ by Richard Reed. It allows you to dip in and out of the audiobook, and not feel like you’re completely out of sync with a story.
  1. The narrator’s voice will make a big difference to your enjoyment of the audiobook, so make sure to listen to the audio sample provided before you make your purchase. My pet hate is a slow speaker. Oh God. I just wish they’d get on with it. (You can actually increase the speed of the narrator’s voice within the Audible app, but sometimes this sounds really awful.) There are plenty of well-known actors and public figures who’ve narrated audiobooks, and if you’re a fan of any of these individuals, you’re far more likely to commit to the story. People like Stephen Fry, Neil Patrick Harris, Joan Rivers, Leah Rimini, Jane Fonda, Lena Dunham, Mindy Kaling have all narrated their own autobiographies and/or novels written by other authors.
  1. The audiobook you choose is going to be your background noise for quite some time, so choose wisely. A story that gets into your head will have an impact on your mood and thoughts. img_4073If you’re having a rough time, you should think carefully about the kind of story that’s best for you right now. I listened to ‘Unbroken’ by Laura Hillenbrand, about the story of Louis Zamperini, a man who went to hell and back, and lived to tell the tale. This is an astonishing story of resilience, and the triumph of the human spirit. You’ll experience the anguish and the terror, and you’ll come out the other end of it feeling transformed. The right story can revitalize us. Non-fiction self development audiobooks have their value too. If you’re preparing for an interview or a situation that’s going to test you, ‘Presence’ by Amy Cuddy could be the perfect choice: it’s about rising to any occasion with confidence, and doing yourself justice in stressful situations.

I firmly recommend audiobooks. Audible does a 30 day free trial and you can cancel any time.

 

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

You say you have nothing to write about? We’ll see about that.

“I just wouldn’t know where to start. I wouldn’t know what to write about.”

WHAT.

I’ve heard this so many times from people who profess to being really interested in writing something: a short story, a play, a novel. I try to hide my incredulity but… You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Everyone’s got a hundred stories in them – at least! Of course, stories do not always arrive to us in their full-form, ready to flow from our fair hand…more often than not, they begin with a central idea. The most obvious place to find an idea to write about is the great repository that is your memory bank. Think back over your life and write down your 10 Life Changing Incidents. Any one of those incidents could make for a scenario to write about. Consider the emotions you felt at that time, the twists and turns that took place, the Before and the After of the incident. [I’m sure things didn’t go as you expected them to. See how you can adapt the incident somewhat, change a few things around. Change the location, the circumstances of the person at the centre of it, raise the stakes. Ramp it up by choosing an alternate ending.]

thumb_img_2413_1024You can also make the most of any existing knowledge or experience you have had in environments that many people have never been exposed to. If you have worked in the medical field, as a member of the emergency services, in politics, in technology development, then your ability to depict certain types of people, places and scenarios will be advantageous.

You can also explore a pre-existing interest in archaeology, astronomy, criminal profiling, your country’s history etc. by reading up on these subjects and having them feature in your story. Doesn’t that sound like fun? (Research is so fun.)

An off-the-wall technique that’s worked well for me in the past is using word combinations as a first step; an example would be the novel I’m developing, called The Shadow Sister, where I took the words ‘shadow’ and ‘sister’ and contemplated what kind of concept might match with the word combination. In the end, I selected a concept related to human cloning. If you were to combine an adjective with a noun, or an adverb with a noun, what kinds of combinations might you come up with? This exercise is not intended as a method for coming up a title, just a starting point. Try to come up with a list of 10 Word Combinations, and choose the one that appeals to you the most.

You can also set aside some time to actively think up ideas. The generation of ideas can become habitual, if you want it to be. Shower time, time spent driving or housekeeping (seriously) are opportunities to set your mind to work. I’ve heard of a practice called ‘worry time’, where people set an alarm and carefully consider any worries they have in the minutes or hours before the alarm goes off, at which point they return to everyday mode. The same approach works with creativity. Make room for your creativity to flood in and you will be rewarded.

Finally, you must commit to writing down anything with potential: a snatch of conversation, a news story that captured your imagination, an odd dream. These are the weird little gems that come along every once in a while and they’re powerful and fleeting (oh so fleeting so you HAVE TO WRITE THEM DOWN). I normally tap these into the Notes on my iPhone because I tend to get my best ideas just as I’m about to fall asleep. (Sometimes I reread these little scraps the next day and they make absolutely no sense, but more often than not they’re incredibly useful.)

Once you’ve chosen an ‘idea’ – big or small – it’s fermentation time. Churn the idea over in your mind. Consider it from different angles. Who will be the participants? What happens to them? What’s the aesthetic, what’s the tone, what’s the tense, what’s the setting? Who is best placed to tell this story? Will you choose a first person narrative voice, third person or ‘omniscient’ narrator?

Also worth trying:

Reddit Writing Prompts

Write a List of 100

In the current age, we spend much of our time entertaining ourselves through watching, hearing or reading the creations of other people. Wouldn’t it be fun to have other people enjoy your ideas for a change? When it comes down to it, all you need to do is write one line. Follow it with another. And another. And keep going. Until you’re done. The sense of satisfaction you’ll feel once you’re finished is absolutely priceless.

I wish you luck.

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

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