What’s Making Me Happy – 17th May 2016

Hello loyal readers! And welcome to What’s Making Me Happy! The supposedly-weekly-but-somewhat-more-sporadic glimpse into what’s filling me with joy right now. Inspired by Linda Holmes and the other NPR bunnies at the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast (go and subscribe, it’s aces!).

First up this week (((SPOILER ALERT))) Game of Thrones, and more specifically, the ship-ship-shurray moment when Tormund the Wilding and Brienne of Tarth locked eyes over a hunk of bread and bad ale. It was glorious.

TormundBrienne

He may be wild, but he’s a man of honour, and she’s a lady with a wild streak – what could possibly go wrong??? I want them hunting together, riding horses together, and then making love to one another on a bear-skin rug before a raging fire. Just please, my tall babies, please don’t get married. This is Westeros after all…

The second thing bringing me buckets of joy this week is the game Monument Valley. I’m pretty late to this particular party – apparently everybody else was talking about it two years ago??? But anyway, I discovered it, and I fell in love. It is such a beautiful, special piece of work. The only drawback being that I finished the entire thing within 24 hours and was left bereft afterwards. Other games claim to be like Monument Valley, but so far I’ve found nothing quite like it. All you do is lead a little princess through a maze of optical illusions. There’s no timer, no points system, and no rush. Tranquil, simple slow-gaming. Each level a joy to behold. Look upon these sublime screenshots, and download immediately…
IMG_0365 (1) IMG_0367 (1) IMG_0363 IMG_0366

Finally this week, let us say a grand Happy Birthday to Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II. Whereas this is a very special, happy thing, what has given me particular joy this week is discovering that there exists, for exceptional ceremonial reasons, a Regimental Goat. He is a very important Regimental Goat, and I say that he should be paraded around more often, not just at 90th birthday celebrations. I salute you, oh goat of the regiment!

Regimental Goat 1

This is the Queen meeting the regimental goat in 2008. Apparently there’s a different goat now.

Regimental Goat 2

Cheeky regimental goat!

That’s it for this time folks! Why don’t you let me know what’s making you happy? Let’s share the love, and make the world a little more joyful as we go.

Hugs and high-fives,

Nicole

What’s Making Me Happy… 6th April 2016

Hello and welcome to the third ever What’s Making Me Happy… Where I look back on my week and think about everything that has brought me joy lately, inspired by an identical feature on one of my favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.

We start with my re-discovery of audio books! My commute to my day-job is via bus, which is annoying for me because I find that I can’t read on the bus. So there’s a good hour at the start and end of my days where I’m just sitting there, dreaming about how many books I used to read when I had a train commute. I have found joy in podcasts (the Pop Culture Happy Hour for one) but then it suddenly occurred to me that I could be spending this time listening to books instead of reading them! I did try audiobooking a few years ago and downloaded Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem in preparation for a family trip to the very same place, but I didn’t think much of the experience. My mind wandered and I didn’t find the book particularly interesting in the first place, so it put me off audiobooks for a long while. I’m still sceptical that I could enjoy listening to fiction instead of reading it. I adore looking at words on a page and rereading beautiful sentences too much, which is obviously hard to do when you’re absorbing a book through your ears. So I have reached a happy medium: I’m only going to audiobook non-fiction! I’ve started a subscription to Audible, and my first download has been The Caped Crusade: A history of Batman and Nerd Culture by Glen Weldon. I am currently about halfway through (I have four and a half hours left to listen to) and it’s making me very happy indeed. On my wish list are Yes Please by Amy Poehler, and Spectacles by Sue Perkins, and I am particularly excited about the fact that it will be the ladies themselves reading their work to me!

Second up, the YA novel Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, which I am just about to finish reading.

Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend

What a strange delight! I did have a brief peruse of Goodreads before I started reading this, and suspected that it would be a marmite book (some people seem to love it, whilst others absolutely hate it) and I can definitely see why it may not be some people’s cup of tea. It’s a weird book. A very weird book. Comparable maybe to Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, so if you didn’t enjoy that one, you should probably stay away. I think there are a few missteps in the writing, but I’m reading a PDF courtesy of Netgalley, so it’s possible that these missteps can be explained away by formatting or proof errors in my version. I explained the concept of the book to a friend on Twitter the other day: imagine if Reece Witherspoon’s character from Election went to the same high school that Bella and Edward go to and was watching their relationship from afar. Except that Edward is a sexy pterodactyl and not a vampire. It’s a delightful twist on the paranormal romance genre that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Cumyn manages to wrap it all up.

Lastly for this week, what’s making me happy is my new hair colour!

Hair BeforeHair After

I’ve decided to take the first step on the road to being a full-on redhead, ditching the blonde highlights and instead going for an all-over auburn gold. Thank you very much to Tori at Toni and Guy in Watford! I’ve always wanted to be a redhead, and my favourite Hollywood gingers tend to be blond converts too (see Emma Stone, Miranda from Sex and the City, and Christina Hendricks). The effect I’ve gone for isn’t a full on drastic change, but more of a tonal shift, but needless to say, I’m already hugely pleased with joining the Weasley clan. I’m also particularly happy about getting the chance to buy some new make-up to complement the new look!

That’s it for this week, what’s making you happy???

What’s Making me Happy… 27th March 2016

Hello and welcome to my second blog post celebrating what is making me happy this week!

Let’s get straight to it – the first thing that has made me happy recently is the podcast that inspired this post, Pop Culture Happy Hour, and more specifically, their episode on the Broadway musical Hamilton.

I love Pop Culture Happy Hour, a roundtable discussion from NPR about all the greatest aspects of pop culture, whether that be music, books or delightfully trashy tv. Mostly the discussion revolves around something vaguely topical, and every week they finish off the chat with revealing what is making them happy – hence this new blog adventure!

Pop Culture Happy Hour pic

Linda Holmes and the PCHH crew have been threatening to dedicate an episode to Hamilton for a while, and finally, last week, they did it! And it was glorious!!!

I’m kind of presuming that most of us know what Hamilton is about, but for those out there who are baffled, it’s the broadway sensation of the decade, a hip-hop journey through US history and more specifically, the life of United States founding father Alexander Hamilton. I have been listening to the soundtrack on and off for the last three months or so, and I am totally in love with it. But, the chances of seeing this musical for myself is negligible. Even if I were in New York, there are currently ongoing lotteries for tickets, the demand is so high, and let’s be honest, the chances of this musical transferring over to the West End is slim to nil. I’d never heard of Alexander Hamilton before this show came around, so I doubt that any West End producers are going to gamble on staging it for UK audiences.

Which is why I was so thrilled by the PCHH crew’s field trip to see Hamilton for themselves! I could live vicariously through them! They let me imagine what it might be like to actually see the show, and for that I am thankful. Plus their insight and critique added a dimension to the show that is otherwise impossible to find when listening to the soundtrack on shuffle via Spotify. So thanks Linda Holmes et al – you guys are fantastic. Thank you for inspiring my new weekly blogging endeavours, and keep up the good work!

HERE is a link to the NPR blog Monkey See, curated by the host of PCHH, Linda Holmes.

And HERE is a link to a great little video introduction to Hamilton courtesy of CBS.

The next thing making me happy this week is Crush by Eve Ainsworth, a gripping YA novel about a highly toxic relationship.

Crush

In a couple of weeks I’ll be appearing at the Oxford Literary Festival with Eve and CJ Skuse, so I’m doing my homework and making sure that I’ve read the works by these awesome ladies. Last week I read Crush, and devoured it in a couple of sittings. My heart actually lurched in places, as the relationship between Anna and Will descended into something horribly dangerous. I was a particularly impressed by how Eve planted the seeds to the downfall. The little snippets, like cracks in a dam, that allowed Will to become so dominant in Anna’s life. A brilliant read! Next up I’ll be reading Monster by CJ, and I honestly can’t wait!

If you want to read Crush for yourself, you can buy it RIGHT HERE!

And if you would like to come and see myself, Eve and CJ chat all things YA, then join us in Oxford! You can find a link to tickets HERE!

And finally, what is making me immensely happy this week is a playlist inspired by THIS BUZZFEED ARTICLE.

I went on Spotify and added a few tracks from each artist, and you can follow that playlist via THIS LINK. I hope you enjoy it! Some particular fascinating finds are Jacob Whitesides, Daya and Sophie Beem.

So there we have it – I hope you’ve liked my second foray into what’s making me happy. If you would like to make your own happy lists, feel free and let me know via my contact form on this website or by twitter, I’d love to see!

What’s Making me Happy… 17th March 2016

Hi everybody!

Welcome to a brand new feature on my blog, one that I hope will spread joy and inspire a whole bunch of you out there. The idea for this is based on a regular feature on one of my favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Every episode the panel go around the table talking about what is making them happy that week – anything from knitting mittens (a la Linda Holmes) to reading comics and watching films. So, in honour of and completely inspired by those guys, I too am going to tell all of you, on a week by week basis, what is making me happy!

First up, another podcast!

‘Oh No Ross and Carrie’ is SO MUCH FUN. The idea is that good friends Ross and Carrie go around investigating the spiritual, paranormal and fringe science communities, reporting back on their experiences for the benefit and joy of their listeners. I have only just discovered this podcast, and have dived right in with their recent adventures in Scientology, a three parter which has meant that I have spent upwards of four and a half hours in their company over the last few days. And let me tell you, not a moment of it is wasted. I find Scientology intensely worrying. I strongly feel that as long as you find your own happiness and satisfaction then you can believe whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t impact anybody else in a negative way. So, the basic tenets of Scientology don’t bother me in the slightest. What does bother me is Scientology’s beliefs around psychiatry, psychology and medication and the impact that has on followers and their loved ones. I’m also totally weirded out by their focus on money (the prices of the classes and other materials seems outrageous!) and tax evasion, plus their doctrines on not allowing followers to question their beliefs, nor explore or register any criticism of them. So basically, Scientology is problematic, and their inherent secrecy makes them fascinating. What I particularly like about Ross and Carrie’s investigation is that they are so kind and well-meaning. They genuinely want to figure out what is going on, and draw out the good stuff (the bad stuff speaks for itself). They are not setting out to expose anything tantalising, nor aiming to provide gratuitous titillation. Are they having fun? Undeniably. But they are also being rational and intelligent, and approaching their subject in a surprisingly warm-hearted manner. I love these guys. I can’t wait to hear more!

You can find a link to the world of Oh No Ross and Carrie RIGHT HERE!

Next up, I am being made hugely happy by Leigh Bardugo, and her Grisha universe.

I first read Shadow and Bone wayyyyy back when it was in proof form, and I was a children’s bookseller. I loved it, told all my friends about it, and then never got around to reading the rest of the trilogy, which sucks on my part. Towards the end of last year I read Six of Crows, Bardugo’s novel set in the same world, and I have to say, it is possibly up there with my favourite YA reads of all time. And then I found out that I will be giving away free copies of Shadow and Bone for World Book Night (it’ll be my fourth year as a giver)! So, it’s high time for a reread, and then my plan is to read the other books in this trilogy, all before April 23rd, which is when the freebie books will be handed out. I’m only a third of my way through the reread of Shadow and Bone, but my goodness, this stuff is good! High fantasy with a historical Russian flavour, magical powers, and a brilliant protagonist. I’m enjoying this book even more the second time around (possibly because I don’t have to think too hard about all the different ranks and levels of magical powers this time, as I understand it pretty thoroughly already) and I can’t wait to get to the parts of the story that haven’t read before. Leigh Bardugo sits firmly on my list of novelists whose brains I would want to eat if I were ever to become a zombie (this is a compliment!!!).

RIGHT HERE is a link to Leigh’s tumblr, full of wonderful Grisha fan art!

Thirdly, and finally, what’s making me tremendously happy is finishing the edits on my second novel, Wonderboy.

This book has been a tough one for me, and I’ve fallen out of love and then back in love with it multiple times. Am thrilled to reveal that on the final proof read, I am definitely, solidly and wonderfully in love with this book, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. As I draft this blog post, I’m waiting for a call from my editor Chloe, so that we can go through any last mistakes and changes that we’ve picked up in this final close read. If any errors make it to the final copy after this, then blame it all on me! Finally finishing this book also means that I can get back into writing my Brand New Thing, which I can’t really talk about yet (ALTHOUGH I REALLY WANT TO).

So there we go! My first ever What’s Making me Happy! I’d love to hear from you guys, and if you feel inspired to talk about what’s making you happy right now, GO FOR IT!!!

You can listen to Pop Culture Happy Hour for yourself over on iTunes or via the NPR app, or check out THIS LINK to their Facebook.

Hugs and high fives!

The Books I Didn’t Read in 2015

Much to my personal shame, these are all the incredible books that I purchased in 2015 that I didn’t get around to reading. They are therefore top of my pile for 2016!

Carry on Asking for It The Rest of Us Just Live Here Blue Lily, Lily Blue Shadow Scale Zebulon Finch Yes Please All of the Above A Little Life The Big Lie Lair of Dreams Another Day Goodbye Stranger Rooftoppers

Those books are:

  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
  • The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch by Daniel Kraus
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  • All of the Above by James Dawson
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew
  • Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray
  • Another Day by David Levithan
  • Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
  • Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Now excuse me whilst I get reading!

xxx

My 10 Best Reads of 2015…

In no particular order…

Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song

This book has gone right up there with my all-time favourites. It’s a bonafide classic, and for me, sits in the same league as The Secret Garden or Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. It’s a children’s book that I want everyone to read, no matter their age. Gorgeous writing, super-creepy magic and a heroine that will horrify as well as inspire you. Read this book. Whoever you are, just read it.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows

So. Here’s the deal. I read an early copy of Shadow and Bone, told EVERYONE to read it, and then never got around to reading the sequels, which have since become a smash hit trilogy. And then Leigh comes over to the UK to promote this one and I only go and fall in love with her a little bit. Having ascertained that I didn’t need to read the whole Grisha trilogy before embarked on this one, I read Six of Crows with unabashed gusto. What a terrific read! I don’t usually do thrillers, but I was entirely pulled in by the characters (of which I seriously can not pick a favourite) and the world building. I want to write like this one day.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf

I began this book with apprehension… alternate world Nazis and magical shape-shifting powers? Yeesh. But Graudin pulls it off and created a story that I was happy to fully embrace. This is a fantastical, magical joyride, powered by some pretty incredible sentences.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

The Accident Season

I am truly startled that this is a debut, because Fowley-Doyle manages to write with so much confidence, and perfectly balances a world hinged on maybe-magic. A slippery mystery where nothing is quite what it seems to be, I was hooked by the darkness and the romance. I can’t wait to see what Moira does next!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You the Sun

The Sky is Everywhere is an all-time favourite read of mine, and I feel like I’ve been waiting for this, the second book by Nelson, for years. Well, it didn’t disappoint. I must have reread the incredibly swoon-hot ending about a dozen times, and it inspired me to take up art classes after a decade of barely drawing a thing. The writing is lyrical,  beautiful, and powerful, and once again, Nelson took my breath away. Now hurry up and write another!

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Alif the Unseen

This was just ‘OK’ for the first quarter, and then the tables turn and this book EXPLODES. I feel like it might just sit in the same world as Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone novels, which, trust me, is one of the highest compliments I can give. And it was so refreshing for me to read about a mythology thats not so wholly rooted in Western culture. I’m hungry for more, and although I’m loving Willow Wilson’s comic output at the moment, I really hope she manages to find some time to write another novel!

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona

This book is perfect. PERFECT. It’s a boundary-breaker, a rule-shaker and a wonderful joyride of fun and malevolence. Don’t be fooled by the simplistic style. This book has more nuance and heart than anything else out there, and I’m now crazy obsessed by Stevenson’s cute and quirky brain!

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious

OMG this book is evil. EVIL. It’s delicious and wicked and sexy and a masterclass in plotting. I’ve read two books by Schwab this year, and the other, A Darker Shade of Magic, only narrowly missed out on my top ten. I picked this one over that mainly because of its central anti-heroes, who I love, and because I think that there’s more glorious things to come from Schwab’s other series. It’s probably also worth noting that V.E. Schwab is now up there in my pantheon of writers who I aspire to write like one day, alongside Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater and Libba Bray.

One by Sarah Crossan

One

This is one heck of a read. Not to be entered into lightly, and one you’ll need to give yourself time to digest. I honestly don’t know how Crossan has managed to do this. It’s a breathtaking journey through tragedy and hope, and one that left me in tears. Not only is the story a fine example of Crossan’s talent, but the style, written in a series of poems and vignettes, demonstrates that she’s operating at a level of genius far beyond me.

Ms Marvel Vol.1 (written) by G. Willow Wilson

Ms Marvel

I didn’t want to include more than one entry for any of the authors I’ve read and reviewed this year, but I couldn’t have a top ten without a Marvel title, and out of everything I’ve read this year, Ms Marvel is up there as my definite favourite. I feel like this comic was written for me, and the only thing I’m annoyed about is that I’m only finding this as a woman in my thirties. Imagine what it must be like to be a teenage girl discovering this brand new superhero. I’m well jealous of all of them.

Honourable Mentions:

  • The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
  • Saga Vol.1 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
  • SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
  • The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine
  • Remix by Non Pratt
  • In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Gut by Giulia Enders

My 2015 Reading Stats…

I have all my raw data in my notebook (I usually do a big spreadsheet but was stuck in a coffee shop for an afternoon with my iPad but without my bluetooth keyboard, and there was no way I was operating Numbers on a touch-screen… so I went back to basics and wrote it all up manually!) but if you want to track exactly what I read this year, then I’d urge you to go and stalk my Goodreads account. I’m pretty open about what I read and enjoy…

Anyway… here are the stats:

  • In 2015 I read 84 books! The first book I read was The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell, and the last was Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.
  • My reading was made up of a perfectly equal spread of male vs female writers. Exactly 50%-50%! I actually read more novels by women, but the overall percentage is skewed by the number of comics I read, which is still a male dominated area (particularly when it comes to backlist reading).
  • 26% of my reading were UK titles, and 74% foreign (almost entirely US) titles.
  • 55% of my reading was done with physical books, and 45% was done on my iPad. I was surprised at this percentage, because I *feel* like I’ve steered away from e-reading, but then I remembered my Marvel Unlimited account and everything made sense.
  • In fact, almost half of my reading in 2015 was comics! When I register a comic as a book on Goodreads, I’m always talking about the trade paperback. And yes, I count these as books. Even when I’m reading on Marvel Unlimited, I keep track of what I’m reading by referring to the issues contained in trade paperbacks.
  • This year I decided to look at how much front-list or back-list reading I was undertaking. For the purposes of these stats, front-list refers to titles published in 2015, and back-list is anything older. So, as it turns out, 52% of my reading was published this year, and 48% was published earlier.
  • 48% of my reading was comics, 20% was YA and children’s literature, 12% was adult sci-fi/fantasy, 11% was adult fiction, and 11% was non-fiction.
  • Finally, the average length of the books I read in 2015 (not including comics) was approximately 366 pages (which is longer than I thought, but probably skewed by the fact that I finished reading A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings this year).

My reading challenge for 2016: I really want to pass the 100 mark – in fact, I’d like to read at least one novel and one comic a week. So that equals 104 books total! Wish me luck!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Live-blog

The edition I’m reading is an early hardback (it came out with the first four books boxset) ISBN: 9780747532699

UPDATE: 20th October 2015

One chapter in! And comparing it to the kind of stuff I read today, IT’S REALLY GOOD!!! What I think is particularly amazing is realising that JK Rowling had a HUGE plan right from the outset. It’s quite clear that there’s a helluva lot going on in this book that’s not being relayed in this first story. What are all the wizards and witches celebrating? What’s with the owls? And what’s with this special little baby??? I think I thought the books were much more simplistic when I first read them, but now I can clearly see that the huge world-building is already at play. Also, I don’t remember Sirius Black being mentioned so early on. I’m not sure I even knew he existed before book 3? But there he is, right in the first chapter! I wonder how much Rowling knew about her world when she first wrote this. Am dead impressed!

UPDATE: 25th October 2015

p.34 – vaguely remembering a time when the post used to arrive early enough in the morning for breakfast…

UPDATE: 26th October 2015

p.67 – just read the Diagon Alley chapter – SO DARN MAGICAL. I don’t know why I ever thought that Rowling was such a mediocre writer. Having now read so much kids lit (and studied it under my MA) I’m coming to realise that JK is a fantastic writer. There is nothing else quite like this book, and what’s still so amazing to me is the amount of world-building going on – seriously, did she know what was to come in the future books when she wrote this? Because there is so much depth and room to explore, plus hints about things maybe not being quite as safe in this world as they seem (particularly with regards to Gringotts and the Ministry of Magic). Also, is Hagrid hiding half of his broken magic wand in the pink umbrella???

The Muggle in Me

I first posted this on my blogger account about a year ago, and I repost it now here on my own website with a Very Important Update at the end:

I’ve never been particularly secretive about the fact I am about to reveal, although I don’t disclose it readily, for I know that it is likely to shock and sometimes even cause frantic panic fits. The fact is this:I have not read all the Harry Potter books.Why confess this now, so publicly? Well, because, I feel a little left out. And sad. And can’t escape the nagging paranoia that I am in fact an imposter in the children’s book world.The constant dilemmas that I have to deal with include: what house do I belong in? Because I know that I’m either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, but I can’t tell the two apart so can never decide. Also, I have no idea who Luna Lovegood is, but in posters and fan art and cosplay she seems pretty awesome and I’d like to be her friend. Plus also, I don’t get all the ships, and finally, most potently, I still have no idea who dies in the end. Someone once said Dumbledore to me, but, surely not???
So here’s my Harry Potter story:

When I was 16, in 1999, I did work experience at Childline, and on the last day, the girl I was work experiencing with couldn’t come for some after-work ice creams because she had to go to a book thing. She told me she was going to meet the author of Harry Potter, a book her younger siblings were all utterly obsessed with. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I was pretty heavy into my Star Trek phase and reading of Point Romances, so wasn’t really that interested.
Fast forward to a year or two later, and I was working in Visitor Services at the Natural History Museum during my school holidays. A friend had leant me all the Harry Potter books so far, and I was desperate to get away from patrolling the dinosaur gallery so that I could continue with reading The Prisoner of Azkaban. I loved it. I utterly adored it. I had got my Dad into it, and he was buying the Stephen Fry audio books because he really doesn’t do reading but is totally fine with listening. This was around about the time that EVERYONE was reading Harry Potter. You could look down a tube carriage and every other person was reading one of the (then) four books, regardless of whether it had an adult or grown-up cover. I bought a hardback box set of the first four, and lugged the huge Goblet of Fire around with all of my A Level folders and text books until I was done.
Then I went to University.
I went to Durham to study English Literature, and suffered a massive literary shock to the system. I had hardly read anything on the syllabus. I had no idea who half the people I studied were. I felt let down by the state school system, who had clearly not done enough to prepare me for the world of degree-level literature. I was so naive to what was out there. I just had no idea that there were so many books! I floundered, but then I started reading. And then I read everything. Everything that I thought I should be reading, that is.
I no longer had time for ‘children’s books’. I was a serious Literature student now. I revelled in my own pretentiousness. I knew how to correctly pronounce Middle English Chaucer for chrissakes. My only guilty pleasure was nipping to Cafe Nero in Durham every Tuesday afternoon for an hour or two, to read my freshly purchased copy of Heat Magazine. This was a dark time for ‘fun reading’. In fact, my reading became so fun-less that I didn’t pick up a novel of my own choosing for about a year and a half after I graduated.
The Order of the Phoenix came out during the Summer between first and second year, and I spent that Summer working as a camp counsellor at Brant Lake Camp, in upstate New York. It was a boys camp, and most of the boys were CRAZY about Potter. There were these identical twin boys who had permission not to do any activities the day their books (one copy each) arrived so that they could read. They were nine and read the book in one day. It was incredible. My own copy was waiting for me at home, and I promised myself that I would read it as soon as I got back to London.
Reader, I broke that promise. I maybe read the first couple of chapters – I seem to remember someone called Tonks??? –  and then I found myself waist-deep in my second year reading list. I never picked up the book again. It’s still there on my shelf, unloved and unread.
Coupled with my dedication to my course, plus the year and a half burnout of after, I never felt the need to return to Harry Potter. I was working in a radio station when the last book came out, and gleefully read the very last page just so that I could taunt the presenters and journalists I was working with. The last page on its own didn’t make any sense, so actually spoiled nothing for me or anybody else, but the desire to read the books for myself was gone.
Fast forward to working at Waterstones, and re-discovering the joy of children’s books and YA. Working in the largest branch in Piccadilly, we were never short of copies of Harry Potter. Tourists would come in and ask for them all the time, as collecting the books in different languages is a thing for some people. And you know what? Shelving vast quantities of a book really kills the desire to read it. I prefer to read and get excited by the books before everyone else discovers them, a stance I still feel very strongly today. Once everyone else is reading something, the book becomes passé and I just lose the will to have anything to do with it. This is the reason I will probably never read One Day by David Nicholls, or Gone Girl, or Game of Thrones.
So what does that mean for me now?
It means that I look through the cosplay pics from Leakycon and wonder what the hell is going on. It makes me nervous before my peers, certain that they will shun me if they ever find out the truth. So much of YA today is intrinsic upon Harry Potter, it’s like the foundation stone for all the big writers of today. I feel left out. I feel like an impostor. And I fear that I will never, ever, truly belong.
And yet, still no desire to actually read the books. Maybe I’ll get around to them one day. When everyone else has forgotten them and I get the chance to coordinate the great Harry Potter revival. Except, I think we all know that this isn’t going to happen any time soon.
Make of me what you will reader. Shun me, or pity me, I deserve whatever you have to give. And when the day finally comes that my Dad arranges the family visit to the Warner Brothers Studio in Levesden (just down the road from me), I will dutifully stand outside because I know that I do not deserve to traipse down Diagon Alley.
Call me a fraud, or a phoney, but at least now I can be honest. I have not read all the Harry Potter books, and probably never will.
UPDATE:
I have started a summer job where nobody knows much about books. It’s pretty weird for me, as nearly everyone else I know is a book person. And being there, surrounded by people who are so young that they think that the Duke of York used to be married to Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas, I realise that I belong with the rest of you YA/Kids book dorks. I am one of you. I may have felt like the outsider when I worked within your ranks, but now I realise my true place. And as such, I feel like its only right that I finally complete that immense right of passage that I abandoned earlier in life.
I am going to reread Harry Potter and I am going to finally finish reading the series.
I know who I am, and where I belong, and its right there with the rest of you Potter-nerds. I love you guys.
Oh, and I was sorted on Pottermore earlier this year, and I am a proud Ravenclaw! RAVENCLAWSOME!!!

PoTS Update

Hello readers and followers!

I thought I’d give you all an update on how I’m doing since my diagnosis of Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, otherwise known as PoTS. I like to write these little updates, firstly because it helps me process and deal with my own condition (which is chronic and uncurable), and secondly because although the condition isn’t necessarily rare, it is rarely diagnosed, and I’d like to do all I can to help and support others who are fighting for a diagnosis, or who are living with the condition.

Today I’d like to talk to you about what is happening inside my body when/if you meet me, because more often than not, I will seem absolutely and completely fine.

Right now, as I am writing this, I am distinctly not-fine – but nobody would ever know it. Any movement that involves a gravitational tug (such as standing up) is giving me horrid dizzy spells. And those frequent dizzy spells bring on headaches and grogginess. Also, the gentlest of slow walking is completely knackering me out – thank god for the rain, so that you can’t necessarily tell how badly I’m sweating!

So why is this happening?

Due to a condition called Hypermobility Syndrome (one in five people have some form of hypermobility or double-jointedness in various parts of their body – it becomes the much rarer ‘syndrome’ when it starts to negatively affect you) my blood vessels are much springier than they should be. This means that my heart has to work extra hard (doubly, or sometimes triply) to get the blood around my body, as the blood vessels don’t constrict as they should. The neurological process that makes my heart beat too fast and too hard is what’s called PoTS. Most people with PoTs have hypermobility syndrome, but not everybody with hypermobility syndrome has PoTS.

Due to a silly thing called gravity, liquid like blood likes to pool in the lower extremeties (sometimes my feet actually swell with what is known as venous pooling). Upon standing, my heart goes ‘HOLY COW! WE NEED SOME BLOOD UP HERE!!!’ and goes into overdrive. My heart rate will rise (you need a rise of 30 bpm or more to be diagnosed with PoTS) and my blood pressure will drop, as it simply can’t get up to my chest and head in time. Hence, the dizzy spells. Every bloody time I stand up. I can help prevent this by moving my legs a little bit before I stand to get the blood pumping, but to be honest, most times I forget. And then, if I stand up and move far too quickly, I leave myself open to fainting. WHICH IS FUN (not).

This is why, when you see me out and about, I’m probably walking with a cane. It gives me some support when I’m having a particularly bad day, and warns people around me that I might not be as well as I seem. I find this particularly helpful on public transport – people are SO MUCH NICER to you when you have a walking stick!

So, today. I’m feeling like crap. The inside of my head is fine, but the rest of me is not. It’s like my mind is bursting with energy, but my body can’t keep up. Writing blogs like this stop me from getting depressed about it, but its still pretty frustrating. Especially as I have no idea why I’m feeling bad. I’m learning to tell what triggers a particularly bad spell – eating too big a meal, drinking alcohol, or being too tired – but sometimes I get days like today, when I got out of bed and had to fight the urge to crawl back under the covers, for no real reason that I can tell. I’ve had errands to run today, and I’ve felt like a little old lady hobbling with her stick. I’ve had two major close faints; the first one at home, and the second when out in public, and its horrible.

So what should you know when you meet me? And how can you help?

  • Offer me a seat! Sitting down means my heart doesn’t have to work so hard and takes off a lot of the pressure.
  • Don’t mention the sweating! On days like today, just standing still is enough to make me break a sweat. It has nothing to do with my weight, or my fitness levels. It is a neurological problem, and horrible for me. I know I’m doing it, and I try to not think about it for the sake of my own embarrassment, but if you see me sweating, chances are its because I’m standing up. Let me sit down, and the sweating pretty much completely stops.
  • Walk slowly! On bad days, I really can’t keep up. When I say I need to go slower, again, its not because I’m fat and unfit – it’s because my heart is struggling to cope. Your heart going for a run is my heart going for a gentle stroll.
  • Don’t panic! The worst thing that will happen to me is that I’ll pass out, but this is very, very rare. I suffer from frequent ‘near-faints’ where my vision will go funny and I’ll get very dizzy, but I’m lucky not to suffer from complete blackouts (some people with PoTS are more sensitive and do). My fainting spells are often slow and creeping, and more often than not, I can find a seat before I actually faint. But if the worst happens and I do end up blacking out, this really isn’t a big deal. It’s just because my heart can’t pump blood to my brain quickly enough. It’s not a sign of anything more sinister, and I will be fine.
  • Give me a glass of water! Keeping hydrated is one of the best things I can do to look after myself. The better hydrated I am, the better my circulation will be. To keep myself ‘well’ I can end up drinking up to 4 litres a day (that’s double the daily adult recommendation). Some days I don’t need so much, and some days I just can’t drink enough. Either way, if I tell you I’m not feeling well, get me some water pronto!

So, in summation, I am not fine. I may look and sound fine, but I am not. My body doesn’t work the way it should, and it puts a lot of pressure on me. I end up very tired, and more often than not a little irritable. But go slow and have some consideration, and the good news is, that I’ll be fine! My condition is completely benign, as in, nothing bad will happen to me if I feel unwell. I’ll just continue feeling unwell, and it will be unpleasant for me. It is not a sign of anything more sinister going on, and I do not need a doctor or an ambulance. To be honest, most doctors have no idea what PoTS is as its so rare – I’m the best at treating myself, and often the best treatment is a sit down and a drink of water.

It really helps me when the people I’m around are aware of the condition. Some days I forget I have it, and some days, like today, I will feel a wretch and one flight of stairs is enough to do me in. But there we go. I’m learning to manage, and I know that in time it will get better and easier.

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.