Sunday, 29 June 2014

90s Kid Books

I've been feeling nostalgic for the past couple of weeks, reminiscing about my favourite decade. Granted, I was very young during the 90s [I was younger than ten for the majority of it], but looking back it seemed so much more colourful and fun than the decade we're currently in. There was a lot of creativity around, and a lot of interesting things happening. Most of my favourite bands, fashion and even food [Sunny Delight, anyone?] came about during this decade and of course, a lot of my favourite books did too. Since I have a lot of friends who were children during the 90s, I thought I'd compile a list of the children's books that they would have almost certainly read whilst they were at primary school, so that we can all remember the glory days together:

1. The Goosebumps Series

I remember these being banned in some libraries because adults thought they might be a bit too scary for children, which was a bit ridiculous, because even as an eight year old I wasn't scared by them, more intrigued by their trashy feel. These were like horror lite, diet horror for kids. It's not as though the authors came up with any original stories either, each plot was simply ripped off from bad films. They were immensly enjoyable to read though, and my friends and I were forever making our way through the series. My favourite was The Cuckoo Clock Of Doom and Why I'm Afraid of Bees.   

 2. Matilda by Roald Dahl

I love this book! The best celebration of bookworms ever....this is the book I wish I'd written. Roald Dahl was hugely popular during the 90s, and Mathilda was everywhere, from bookmarks to posters for World Book Day. She made reading cool, and I've always felt a kinship with her character because of this. My family loved Matilda so much we even listened to a recording on the book on audio tape on long car journeys. In fact, Miss Trunchball was one of the first real villians I ever encountered.   

3. The Babysitters Club Series by Ann. M. Martin

I read about 20 of these...they made babysitting seem really fun [I know that sounds a bit lame]. Who knows, maybe I'm a nanny now because I read so many of these as a child? The only annoying thing about these books was that they always started off in the same way, with the first chapters introducing the characters in exactly the same way. By the time you had read three of them you didn't care that Mary-Anne was the 'shy one' or that Claudia was the 'artistic one' anymore. I did always like Stacey's introduction though, because the author would catalogue what she was wearing each time, and hot pink leggings with sparkly hightops sounded like a good look to me when I was nine. 

4. The Famous Five books by Enid Blyton

Even though the Famous Five books were written during the 1940s and the 1950s, they were still widely read by my young classmates. I think the fact that the five were allowed to go off exploring on their own was the main appeal. What kid doesn't want to run off and take a boat to their own island, spending the entire summer holidays unsupervised by grown-ups? Interestingly some libraries also tried to ban the Famous Five in the 90s for being racist and sexist. It's certainly true that the boys in the books had all the fun, and a lot of the baddies weren't English. I'd still let my kids read them though to teach them self sufficiency - the five could cook, sail and capture smugglers. They were a pretty resourceful bunch.    

5. Uncanny by Paul Jennings

Paul Jennings basically wrote gross- out stories for children. His stories involved vomiting, whale guts, disused toilets and in one instance...a tatooed finger found inside a shark. His stories were designed to shock and disturb children, and they succeeded. The best things about these stories is they felt like they could almost come true, even though they often dealt with the supernatural. His characters were just so well-drawn and believable that you would find yourself being a bit paranoid after finishing them or at the very least, a bit freaked out. 

Some other books you may have read as a 90s child: The Anastasia Krupnik series by Lois Lowry, Misery Guts by Morris Gleitzman, Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian and The Sweet Valley High series by Francine Pascal.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Things Not to Say to Aspiring Writers

We all know creative people - there will be at least someone in your group that will want to write, draw, paint, make music, make films or photograph [or something equally creative] for a living. That person needs your can be difficult enough believing in and pursuing a dream at the best of times, without someone saying something unhelpful or negative to them. So here's a list of things you probably should avoid saying to your creative friend, unless you want to annoy them. The list is written from a writer's perspective, but could apply to any creative field:   

1. Why don't you write more like so and so?

As a writer, I'm naturally inspired and influenced by other writers...I can't help it really. Yet, even though I may draw on my influences a lot, I don't want to write exactly like someone else. I never want to lose sight of my own distinctive voice or the things that make my writing original and distinctive. Being told to write like someone else is a bit insulting, it implies that your writing style isn't good enough, and whilst every writer could probably improve in some way, copying another writer's style completely is not the answer. You've got to stay true to your own writing style and voice, even if that voice is constantly evolving.    

No two writers should be completely alike, even if they are similar...

2. Why don't you try writing in a different genre?

This is similar to number one. If I'm interested in writing teen fiction, don't tell me I should be writing sci-fi. Yes, there are some writers who like to try lots of different genres, and that's great, but don't tell someone that one genre is less worthwhile than another. I've been told that I shouldn't waste my time with writing chick-lit, that I should focus on writing literary fiction instead. I take umbrage with this, as there are great writers in both camps - some chick lit writers, such as Marian Keyes write fantasically well about a whole range of subjects. I just don't see the point in doing something that I'm not personsally interested in, just because someone thinks that one genre is somehow 'better' than another.

 I'm not saying that I would never take on board someone else's suggestions - if for instance I was     commissioned to write something for someone I would do my best to do the subject justice, but if I'm writing something of my own accord [like this blog] and I'm not collaborating with anybody else then I'll write about what I like to write about. If you're not interested in my subject matter or the style I choose to employ, then you don't have to read it.    

3. One day you'll be rich and J.K Rowling

Maybe other writers don't mind being told this...but I find it a bit irksome. I don't have a problem with J.K Rowling [she is one of my favourite writers after all] but I just don't like how she's always used as the ultimate standard of success for writers. We all have different definitions of success and to me, even just being published would mean that I was successful in my own eyes. I genuinely don't write to be rich and famous, I write because I enjoy it and I find it fulfilling. Yes, I want to be a professional writer and I would love to be able to make a living from doing this...but I don't need to be a megastar to be happy with my own work, or to be a 'success'.  

4. Are you really going to stay at home and write?

I've told quite a few people that from September onwards I will be working part-time in order to focus more on my writing. Most people have been more than lovely about it, but a couple of people have rolled their eyes and looked at me in confusion. Why would you take a pay-cut and write? These people see writing as a waste of time or as a bit of a dead end...they only see the decision in terms of the finacial loss I will be making. Well, my answer to them is that life is short, and this is something I want to pursue. Even if I never make any money from my writing, I'll still be richer for spending more time doing what I love.     

 5. Is it any good? 

I had an ex- boyfriend who used to ask me this everytime I mentioned my writing to him [mutters darkly to herself] and it was supremely annoying. Now, I'm not claiming to be some kind of writing genius, a lot of what I've written in the past has been poorly constructed or a bit slapdash and I confess that I'm an absolutely terrible poet....but I do believe I have some kind of writing talent, otherwise I wouldn't do it. So, if I tell someone that I'm happy and proud of a piece of work, and then they ask me 'but is it any good?' I find that utterly demoralising. I can take constructive criticism, especially from an expert such an editor or a writer who is successful, but please don't assume it's bad before you've even read it. If you read it, and find fault with it, then fine, I will take your criticism on board - but don't assume it's crap without even trying it, that's just unfair. 

So there we are...rant over. Most of you are lovely and wonderful about my writing dream, so thanks for that!

Friday, 13 June 2014

10 signs you're a bookworm

Think you might be a bookworm? Here's ten signs that you definitely are one:

1. You're a member of more than one library. 

I'm a member of five [oooh, get me] but I only take out books from two of them at the to get to the other three I would have to trek into the darkest reaches of North West London [and as I live in South West London it's just much more convenient to walk to my locals]. I do miss my other libraries though, particulary Ealing library...that one had so many good books!

2. People buy you book vouchers as presents.

Sadly this doesn't happen to me as much as it used to, but as a child a lot of my 'thankyou' letters started off 'Thank you so much for the voucher to buy books'...Mind you, as a child if I was given any money at Christmas or on my birthday I would spend it on books, so it wasn't actually necessary to give me money in book voucher form. I certainly didn't need to be persuaded to read more.

3. You like long-haul flights as it means lots of time to read

I managed to start and finish three [relatively short] books on a long-haul flight once [they were all easy reads in a series] and because I enjoyed the books I remember it fondly as being a very good day. I'm hoping to have a similar experience on my long-haul flights this summer.  

4. You check out other people's bookshelves

If you invite me to your house I will definitely give your bookshelf the eye, probably quite a few times. Every time I'm at work I can't help but scan my boss's books [even though I've worked there for three years and I'm very familar with her shelves]. I just like looking at books - I like them to be present. If I go to a house and I can't see any books then I feel the house is lacking something. Luckily pretty much every house I visit has at least some books - it's actually pretty rare for me to encounter a bookless house. 

5. You feel sad when you finish a series you loved

It was a sad day indeed the day I finished the Harry Potter series. As I don't usually reread books and I don't like fan fiction when I finish a series it's really over, and I often do feel a sense of loss that I won't get to encounter the characters in quite the same way again.

6. You get crushes on characters in books

There are a lot of attractive men to be found within the pages of books. Atticus Finch is just so intelligent and brave, Mark Darcy is so sweet, Edward Cullen is just so intense and Westley is so suave and capable.High five if you know who all of these men are!

Westley being suave.

7. You get crushes on people reading books

If I see a good-looking man, then I probably will stare at him a bit. If I see a good-looking man reading a book, then I definitely will. You don't need to be an avid reader for me to fancy you [I have gone out with people who weren't remotely interested in books], but it certainly helps to elevate your hotness level. Case in point [although to be fair, Morrissey will always be hot, wether he reads or not].  

 8. If you're sad you read to make yourself feel better

Click here for my books to cheer you up.

9. You take books with you everywhere.

For instance, I usually have a book in my bag when I go clubbing. It's for the nightbus...nightbuses take ages. I also take books to work, books to other people's houses and I even read in the bath [I would advise you not to drop books in the bath, librarians DO NOT like this]. 

An expert bath reader... and I want to look at his shelves [that's not meant to sound weird. I do not fancy this guy in the slightest even if he is reading].
10. People associate you with reading.

I talk about books a lot [in case you hadn't noticed] and so people know that reading is one of my great passions. I am known for being a big reader - everyone who knows me knows that I love books [in fact even a lot of people I've met just the once know I love books]. If people know you love reading, then you are most definitely a bookworm!   

Friday, 6 June 2014

No time to read?

I meet a lot of people who tell me that they used to love reading, but now they no longer have the time to read. It's true that modern life can be very hetic, but I think that reading enhances life so much [click here to see a brillant article on the benefits of reading] that it's a real shame when people lose the habit. So here are my four tips on how to get back into reading regulary:

1. Keep something to read in your work bag

Now, I'm not proposing you read on the job [I don't want anyone to get fired because of books!] but if you keep a book in your work bag you'll be more likely to read during your lunch break or on your commute. I find that reading on my break or on my commute keeps me calm and relaxed and in the right frame of mind to face whatever the rest of the day may bring.

I want this to be my work currently using a bag for life like an old woman! 

2. Read in queues

If you're going to a place where you'll know there will be a long queue i.e. the post office or the doctor's surgery then take a book with you. Queues go by a lot quicker when you're lost in a book. If you added up all the time in your life spent queuing it would probably be years, so why not do something constructive with that time?

 That is my kind of bus stop!

3.Read before bed

Digital overload can prevent sleep as the artificial light from our devices can trick our brains into staying awake. Reading a book [not an ebook in this case] can relax our brains which helps us fall asleep more easily [just don't read anything too exciting otherwise it may have the opposite effect!] If you read just 15 minutes before bed every day you'll probably be able to complete a book in a month.


 Woman Reading In Bed – by Escha van den Bogerd.

4. Join an online book club

If you don't have time to go to a book club in person, then why not join an online one? Click here for an example of one . The great thing about online bookclubs is that you can still discuss the chosen book on the site's forum even after the deadline has passed, so you can read at your own pace, but still be inspired to read more often.