GUEST POST – Finding Me

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Today I have a guest post lined up for you written by one of my best (in real life) friends, Gabby. When I first started talking about Non Fic November, she was eager to take part… to be honest I was expecting a post about her fave books, as I know she loves to read non-fiction, but instead she sent me her own true story. I hope you enjoy.

‘Finding Me’, I know, what a mind-stirring title to have. I bet all sorts of thoughts and feelings are swirling around your intrigued mind, I know they are for me.

The path of finding myself is an interesting whirlwind of adventures of the heart and mind, a story with no ending but continuous telling.

Childhood, what a thing of beauty! It is innocence of all things, but I had a disruptive one. Yes, I had all I could ask for materially, but there was nothing to be given emotionally. Two parents that hated each other’s guts but couldn’t live without each other’s emotional abuse; that is a story for another day.

Finding myself? Now that was a heartbreaking challenge. Destructive relationships of torment.

Adulthood started quite quickly for me as I moved out of my broken home at the fragile age of sixteen. I moved in with my boyfriend’s family (who I really disliked). They where the type of people who would sell poison to a child to earn a pound in return, so you can probably imagine the horrid experience I had there.

I fell pregnant within a few months of living there. It really was a God send, but not really the best age to be having a baby. I was seventeen, and with a man who couldn’t look after a fish, let alone a child and a woman. I had such a terrible time living within this man’s parents’ home I ended up finding myself homeless. Fortunately, the kindness of our country housed me, not something you dream of as a child – I know I didn’t. I thought I would be married to the man of my dreams, who would take my breath away with every kiss. I’d be living in a big house with lots of happy children. But life has a funny way of biting your butt into reality; still, I held on to the dream of prince charming.

So I had my beautiful little boy, with big bright blue eyes and wavy white soft hair. I can’t explain that feeling when you first hold your precious little bundle of joy. Feeling his skin against mine, his warm soft pale skin, the feeling of when we first looked into each other’s eyes so powerful it brought me to tears. I felt for the first time truly loved. Truly wanted. Truly needed. And I promised this gorgeous little soul in my arms that I would always be my best and do my best, and I would love him forever.

Two months later I got married. Still seventeen. I felt wrong having a baby and not being married. At the time all three of us were living in a motel, and my soon to be husband started changing into something dark.

We were married for two long hard years. I was raising a small baby and looking after a house, a load of animals and a drunk. Things quickly changed after the wedding. This man I had married became a monster, with abusive langue and actions. It got to the point where I completely lost myself. I became a walking, talking zombie. Until one day it became to dangerous to be this man’s wife anymore. So I ran, I ran as fast and as far as I could, abandoning my home and my beloved animals. I grabbed what I could. I took my beautiful baby and ended up in a women’s refuge.

I lived with women who have seen the ugly side of humankind and been victims of it. So safe to say, I was not in a good place.

For the next two years I experienced the world of dating and being a single mum. I came in to this unknown world; all I knew was how to be a wife and a mother. I met some very unpleasant people, but to be honest after what I went though, I wasn’t that pleasant any more. So I went around, destroying and hurting every man I could. I’m not proud of the things I did at all.

I realised I needed help to get my happy back. I took myself to counselling. I found that all the stuff that had happened to me turned out not to be the root of the problems. It was my childhood experiences that started it all off, but I didn’t realise that until I really started to look at myself.

So after many failed relationships and heartbreaks, mental breakdowns, I finally found my happy. How, you ask, well I deeply relied on my religion, and I still do. But there were certain things that I couldn’t understand, like “be God like” and “God is love”.

I found a book called Be Love to Find Love and it really saved me. I helped me let go of negativity, I finally understood so much more, and not just the things that had confused me in the Bible.

This book delves deep with you and shows you the meaning of what love is. We spend our lives feeling as if we have to be loved by another to feel love and to feel happy. The funny thing is that you will never truly feel happy this way, it feels almost as if something is missing, but what? I found it. I found out how to release every bad memory and burn it up. I found out how to replace the darkness with only good, joyful emotions. I learnt that, yet again, everything boils down to those hurtful things that happened during childhood. I’d never let go of it; I just carried it around like an old, stinky, heavy suitcase that I didn’t add anything new to. All I did was replay out the same hurt through my life, in many a different way, but it was all still very much the same. Once I let go of everything, and truly forgave.  I FELT SO FREE. I learned how to love myself and be love, not need it, or want it, but be it.

So you ask how all of this helped me to understand what the Bible meant by “be God like” and “God is love”. It’s quite simple really, being “God like” does not mean to be as a God it means, to have the qualities of God, so if God is love, so are you.

I don’t look at the past any more, or pressure myself about the future. As soon as any such thoughts return into my mind I burn them (not literally). I tell myself it doesn’t matter what has happened, it is history. And it doesn’t matter what hasn’t happened yet. Looking into your past is upsetting, and looking into your future is too – you feel as if you should be there and not where you are. That is the wrong way of thinking you. You should only ever be in the moment where you are; you should truly enjoy it every –  feeling, taste, sight and sound otherwise again it just becomes a distant memory that you can’t get back.

My happy has come from realising what I actually already have, not what I want or dream about. I have opened my eyes to see that my life is amazing. I am in love with my life and everything in it. I find just walking my son to school is such a pleasure. I get to see the beauty of the natural world in a leaf, the colour of a vibrant berry, the sounds of the birds singing, but the best of all is that I am in this moment with my son. Our relationship has gone from strength to strength, with me realising how to be here instead of anywhere else.

The really great quote “if you can’t love you who else can?” and “if you don’t love your life who else will?” brought it home. I can say everything in my life has improved drastically with just being present in it instead of looking for the next thing coming. I am more positive and my relationships with friends, family and everyone else have all changed for the better. My mum said she finally has her daughter back after watching me destroy myself for years. It is safe to say I have found myself again and it is still only the beginning of my life’s journey, but I feel amazing.

You all can do it to; you can all find your happy – it is already within you, you just have to let go. I wish you all love and happiness. 🙂

For more information on Be Love to Find Love, check out this site.

I’d just like to say a big thank you to Gabby, not only for being one of the greatest, most inspirational people I’ve ever known, but also for always being there to support me in everything I do. Love ya.

She’s recently set up her very own blog. I hope you’ll head over and share some love.

D x

Granny is my Wingman

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Based on the blog of the same name, Granny is my Wingman tells the online dating horror stories of author Kayli Stollak and her brash, short-tempered grandmother.

Following the catastrophic breakdown of her relationship with ‘soul mate’ Charlie, Kayli brings us along on her attempts to get over the ex love of her life and move on while encouraging her granny to do the same. I found this book really accessible – the narrative tone is very chatty… it really is much more like reading a blog than reading a memoir. In some aspects I found it quite easy to relate to Kayli – I too have dabbled in the world of online romance (and Facebook stalked an ex), but I also got the impression that she’s a little shallow at times. Although this is very realistic (because let’s face it, we’re all a bit superficial sometimes) it didn’t always make for the most endearing character.

Granny, on the other hand, is simply fabulous. My favourite parts of the whole book where the bits that involved her. She offered the BEST dating advice, even if she wasn’t the best at following her own rules…

I thought there were times when the book could have been a bit funnier… but that’s a matter of personal preference. When some people write their memoirs they think nothing of exaggerating or omitting details to create something a little more comedic, but Kayli stuck to the truth (I am not criticising her for this, but as a reader I enjoy embarrassing myself by laughing out loud on public transport).

One of the things I found most bizarre (and at the same time the most fascinating) was that she also helped her grandmother to sign up for online dating. Not just that, but she actually talked to her about S.E.X… I don’t think I’d even dare think that word in the same building as my grandma! We’re partners in crime in most other areas, but there’s a line!

Although I couldn’t describe it as particularly literary, I did enjoy reading it. It was a fun, light-hearted way to ease myself into reading non-fiction… it didn’t take me ages to get through (which you may remember is one of my pet peeves), and it was divided into nice short chapters, so I could fit it in and around my assignments. If you enjoyed this book, or feel like weighing up your options before investing in it, you should check out Kayli’s blog.

D x

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A Documentary Update

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I don’t know if you remember, but back in June I posted a list of things I wanted to do before I turn 25. One of those things was to watch 52 documentaries. And by documentaries I do not mean Made in Chelsea, or Man V Food, or Lizard Lick Towing… I mean real documentaries.

These are the ones I’ve watched so far:

Princess Diana’s Dresses: The Auction

I’m going to say something a bit controversial… I’ve never been a Diana fan. I think I was too young to be swept up in the national hysteria she seems to have inspired… but I actually really enjoyed watching this. From an artistic perspective, I love fashion, so it was quite interesting to see some of the things people used to wear, and also the things that shocked them. I thought that the way they told her story, in a timeline of striking outfits, was quite innovative, and it seemed a lot more ‘real’ than a lot of the ‘perfect princess’ propaganda that I’d been subjected to previously. It also made me want to see the film (but I haven’t got round to that yet…)

Rip Off Food

This was just emotional. Essentially it showed three families used to feeding themselves on a pittance – it was shocking! There was a single working mum and her daughter, and the mum would live off sugary tea so that she had enough food to feed her child; the second family had two incomes and yet really struggled at the end of the month. The third family was an old man, who lived on his own, and I really had to concentrate to stop myself from crying. He would frequently split a Cup A Soup across two days, as he really couldn’t afford anything more. I thought it was hilarious that the three chefs that were supposed to help each family were insistent that they would be able to make nutritious, filling meals on such stringent budgets, and not one of them managed to stick to it. Never again will I ignore the food donation trolley they have parked in Tesco.

Catfish

I am quite literally in love with Nev and Max, the presenters of this show. It’s just amazing. In a nutshell, the guys are contacted by people in  online relationships (specifically people who have never met the person they’re ‘in love’ with), and they then track them down and introduce the couple. 9.5 times out of 10, one of the people involved has lied about who they are, which makes it addictive, entertaining and heartbreaking all at once. It is definitely worth a watch, because sometimes people really do get a happily ever after!

Breaking Amish

I only saw the first in the series, but it may well be one of my new favourite guilty pleasures! Essentially, a handful of Amish teenagers are uprooted and dumped in New York City… you just know it’s not going to end well! The worst part is that when a few of their families realised they were being filmed, they completely disowned their children. I’m not sure if the producers fully thought through the effects on their subjects before trying something so insane, but I do know I’m eager to watch more!

Caitlin Moran Meets Fay Weldon

This programme was a mutual interview by/of two of my favourite female personalities. Because I’m a nosey soul, I really enjoyed hearing about their early lives (and the occasionally terrible things they used to get up to!) I also found it quite interesting that, although both would be described, and describe themselves, as feminists, they both have totally different mentalities. All in all, watching this just made me want to read more of their books.

Carl Pilkington: The Moaning of Life

I have never seen An Idiot Abroad, so I didn’t entirely know what I was getting into… but after watching this I can honestly say I love this man. He’s just so wonderfully grumpy… he kind of reminds me of Nick from New Girl (with slightly less Lumberjack-y beauty), and nothing will ever be more hilarious than watching him send a pair of dwarves for an American couple to practise their child rearing skills on. Genius.

I’m a little bit behind schedule – according to my calculations I should have watched seven by now… but I feel like I’m on my way! I really have no excuses – I have Sky Unlimited and so have access to tonnes of On Demand documentaries, but a lot of the time I get distracted by other stuff (I’m in the throes of a Grey’s Anatomy obsession at the moment!) So are you a fan on non-fiction on-screen? Do you have any recommendations for me? (As you’ll have noticed, my tastes are quite varied…)

D x

(NB If I have watched a whole season of a documentary, it still only counts as one)

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{Non Fic November} The Death of the Novel

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It’s only a brief post coming your way today, but I just wanted to talk about one of my FAVOURITE online resources… Librivox. For the uninitiated, Librivox is a free online database of audio books (think Project Gutenberg for the ears). I found this site really handy when studying the Nineteenth Century Novel, as I was able to listen to a few of my set texts when out and about.

When I first embarked on the Non Fic November adventure, I had a little look through Librivox to see if there was anything to take my fancy… and there was! I always knew that the site was filled with novels in the public domain, but during this new exploration I found tons of old articles… perfect for if you don’t have a lot of time to invest!

The one that peaked my interest this time was ‘The Novel is Doomed, Will Harben Thinks‘, first published in the New York Times in 1915. It was hilarious, in an unintentional way. In a nutshell, Will Harben (a novelist) believes that novel-reading is on its way out due to the development of film and cars. You can understand why he might think the cinema would be a threat to the written word, but his main concern seemed to the ‘automobiling’ – he mentioned multiple times that the youth of today would lose the desire to read if they had the power to drive around all the time… magic. So what do you think? Is the novel still doomed?

The original Jack the Ripper articles have also caught my eye – they’re going on my list of things to listen to before the month is out! If you come across anything fabulous be sure to come back and let me know!

D x

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{Doodle Camp 2013} Part 3

Today I wanted to share the rest of the pages from my Doodle Camp journal:

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This page is the equivalent of doodling word vomit – I did completely without thinking or planning, or even really caring about what I was doing next. It’s not necessarily my favourite page to look at, but it was very relaxing to do!

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I started this page with a smoosh of ink across the page, and a doodle jump-start provided by Dawn Devries Sokol. After that I just let myself loose with a black pen and voila!

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This is my absolute favourite page in the whole book… I just love! All the colours and complete randomness just make me happy 🙂 I also really like the swirly cut out down the side of the page… plus it was just really fun. I could happily fill a whole book with this technique!

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This page of journalling blocks was designed to house a bunch of art journal prompts to use in the future (if you have any ideas then leave me a comment below!)

I’ve now shared all the pages from my Doodle Camp 2013 journal (click here or here to see the first two posts) – I have a few more blank ones at the bank for whenever the doodling mood strikes… so have you been up to anything arty this week?

D x

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The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton

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The Burglar Caught by the Skeleton, by Jeremy Clay, is the first book I read as part of Non Fic November. When I first picked it out I expected a book filled with lively retellings of a few bizarre stories from Victorian newspapers, but that’s not really what I came away with.

Pretty much all the stories were quite sensational, but I still got quite bored. This was a very long book, filled with lots and lots of pretty similar articles, divided into sections (Animals, Love, Marriage and Family, Eating and Drinking, Health and Medicine, Coincidence and Luck, Sport, Hobbies and Pastimes, Inventions, Life and Death, Superstition, Belief and Supernatural, Crime and Punishment, Wagers, Accidents and Disasters, Fashion and Clothes, Arts and Entertainment). I would have preferred him to include less stories, and expand on them himself. Is it bad that my favourite parts of the book were Clay’s chapter introductions? He’s funny, and charming, and has the kind of voice that makes you want to keep reading… however, he had this habit of describing a story in quite a lot of detail and then putting that same story in the section… it seemed like slightly unnecessary repetition. I just wish he’d have included more of his own writing in the book!

I quite enjoyed the glaringly obvious creative liberties taken by the journalists of yore (which were so extensive I’m not sure this book should count as non-fiction), and the sheer volume of articles entitled ‘a remarkable incident’, but I found it quite a dry read. When I was younger (well, ever since first reading Jane Eyre really) I used to dream about living during Victorian times… but after reading about all the escaped lions, and poison, and death by coffin, and dodgy medicine, I’m just not so sure!

I wouldn’t recommend reading it as a you would a novel – it just doesn’t have the best ‘flow’ (and it took me FOREVER to get through!). However, I would say this is a great book to dip into if you’re looking for a bit of writing inspiration… it’s definitely a great source of interesting plot lines!

D x

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GUEST POST: Top 10 Non-Fiction Books

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Hi, I’m Janet and I blog about books, music, craft, travel, and other daily goings-on at Words That Can Only Be Your Own.  I’m an avid reader, but as an English teacher my reading tends to be focused on fiction.  However, some of the books that have been most inspiring and life-changing were non-fiction, so I loved Daire’s idea for Non Fic November.  And so, without further ado, here are my top 10 non-fiction books (in no particular order)

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1. Ed. Michelle Tea It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion & Style

A collection of essays musing on the often thorny topic of how clothes and make-up contribute to women’s personal identity and expression of self, I particularly enjoyed Diane di Prima’s (b.1934) essay Ideas of Fashion from the Great Depression to Today and A Torrid Affair by Cookie Woolner, who writes, “The mainstream fashion and beauty industries exist to keep us alienated from our bodies and desires, in a constant cycle of consumption and false expectations.  Fashion should be about joy and expression, not fear and loathing – loving and truly inhabiting our bodies, not hiding from them.”   She had me nodding along frantically!  I loved this book, which got me reflecting on the style choices I have made over the years (and made me excited about trying out red lipstick for the first time in my life: turns out it looks great, who knew?).  Be prepared for it to change the way you perceive the contents of your wardrobe and your make-up bag.

2. Tom Hodgkinson How To Be Free

I read How To Be Free two summers ago, just after returning from America. The trip had already got me thinking about the way I lived and my work-life balance (or lack thereof), and Tom Hodgkinson’s book – which is part comic writing, part political polemic, part philosophy, part manual for changing your life – was just what I needed to bring my thoughts into sharper focus.  It kickstarted my Not Buying It experiment in autumn 2011, and indirectly led to my £100 Challenge in autumn 2012. As a result of reading this book, I cut my hours at work and managed to pay off a large chunk of credit card debt. It genuinely changed my life.

3. Mark Salzman True Notebooks

An account of writer Salzman’s first year of teaching creative writing at Central Juvenile Hall – a lockup for Los Angeles’s most violent teenage offenders – this is a sometimes uplifting, often depressing, always inspiring book about the power of education, the power of the written word, the impact of teachers on young people’s lives, and more besides.

4. Jeanette Winterson Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Winterson’s autobiography covers much of the same ground as her debut novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. I loved this beautifully written, poetic account of Winterson’s childhood and her adult struggles with her past and her adoption. As much a paean to the power of literature to change lives as an autobiography, I especially enjoyed her musings on working class identity, the changing face of the North, and feminism.

5. Amy Raphael Never Mind The Bollocks: Women Rewrite Rock

A seventeenth birthday present, this is a collection of interviews with the women who were making waves in music circa 1994-95.  From big stars such as Bjork and Courtney Love, to Britpop frontwomen like Echobelly’s Sonya Aurora Madan, reading these women’s own words was inspirational to me as a teenager.

6. Sara Marcus Girls To The Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

I can’t recommend Girls To The Front enough. It’s a heartfelt, passionate and beautifully written account of the genesis of Riot Grrrl, focusing on the Olympia and Washington DC scenes but encompassing the stories of girls and women from all over the USA. If you are at all interested in the 90s, in feminism, or in music history, then this is a great read.

7. Mark Yarm Everybody Loves Our Town: A History of Grunge

A really wonderful oral history of grunge and the Seattle scene that birthed it.  Full of great gossip and fascinating recollections, it’s a must-read if you enjoy early 90s music.

8. Tom Gallagher, Michael Campbell & Murdo Gillies The Smiths: All Men Have Secrets

This book was a Christmas gift almost 20 years ago (yes, I am actually THAT old).  A collection of fans’ stories about Smiths songs, my copy is full of penciled notes and underlinings in true adolescent style.  A lot of the tales are – rather like the songs themselves – rather keen to wallow in their own misery, but it’s a great reminder that when you think Morrissey is singing just to you in your loneliness and isolation, there’s no doubt someone next door thinking exactly the same.

9. Bill Bryson A Short History Of Nearly Everything

A book that should be required reading, it represents an incredible achievement by Bryson: to write a science book that is truly for the layperson.  Covering everything from quantum physics to geology and biology, it is as entertaining as it is educational.

10. Caitlin Moran How To Be A Woman

When I was a teenager I wanted to be Moran, who was a writer for Melody Maker by the age of 16 and presented Channel 4 yoof show Naked City in all her Doc Marten-ed, dyed red hair, size sixteen-glory. I loved her book – which is part memoir, part feminist polemic – and still can’t quite get over the fact that it won the Galaxy prize for best book of 2011. Even if this book was rubbish (which it’s not: it’s funny and moving and incredibly clever), I’m excited that a book about feminism is at the front of WH Smiths.

Thank you for posting for us today Janet! (But also, DAMN YOU for adding more to my ever-increasing ‘to read’ list!) D x