My Year ‘Off’ Work – Nine Months In

Self Reflection

How did that happen?!

I’m almost three-quarters into my year away from the traditional workplace – a liberating yet also slightly scary realisation.  Since Martha returned to school, I’ve been in review mode. What have I achieved? What do I still need to do? Has it all been worth it (so far)?

The answer to the last question is definitely YES! I started this journey with a very loose set of goals (you can read my three month review here) to allow for spontaneity – and the lack of structure has definitely opened up some amazing and unexpected paths.  Just after I’d written my first review post, I was featured by Instagram as part of their WHP Challenge which kickstarted a whole new creative chapter and led to mentions in online magazines, HiFiPublic and frolic.  Then surprisingly I was featured by Insta again four months afterwards for #WHPdailylife! I know the platform has had some bad press recently, but it’s been really a fulfilling experience for me.  Not only have I got to know many lovely like-minded people, I’ve also been able to meld my interest in photography and books in a fun way.  I’m not sure where I’ll go from here but I’m enjoying the journey.

Continuing the bookish theme, highlights of the year have also included attending the Bookstagrammer’s Breakfast at the Hay Festival and being part of the Slightly Foxed giveaway – two wonderful experiences I would never have dreamed of six months earlier.  Trips to Addyman Books and the Ironbridge Bookshop were the icing on the cake – go and visit them if you can!

The immersion in social media has clarified my career goals too.  Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been working as a social media evaluator and in spring, I started to successfully manage the digital marketing for a printing business.  I’ve always enjoyed being involved in online projects and now I’m taking this to the next level by launching as a freelance digital marketer at Cuppasocial.  It’s very exciting to be taking this step after dreaming about it for years.

All this has taken time to set up though, and invariably something has had to give. On this occasion sadly it’s been the writing. I have a very rough first draft of a children’s book, which I’m sitting on, and am planning an adult ghost novel with Al, but these are longer-term goals rather than the main focus now.

So what’s planned for the next three months? Well the business obviously! I’ve only just launched officially so I realise it may take time to build my portfolio.  I’m keen to keep on stretching my creativity via my Instagram and Pinterest accounts – perhaps by taking a small photography course. We’ve had to be frugal this year but it’s really made us appreciate the simpler things in life.  We’d like to develop this further by cutting down on waste, enjoying what we have and contributing towards our local community in some way.  I’ve just discovered that a new zero waste shop will be opening in town this month so hopefully these goals will happen sooner rather than later!!

On a final note, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who has supported our family this year. We’re lucky to have so many friends, both near and far.  Your company has been the best part of all xxx

 

 

 

 

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Buddy Reading

A little girl reading with her dog

One of my favourite things about being a bookstagrammer is being able to read books with other bibliophiles all around the world – a practice known as buddy reading (also called readalongs). When I started out I had no idea that these existed, but as soon as I found out I was straight in there and during my 18 months on the platform, I estimate that I’ve taken part in around 15 of these.  I’ve written this blog post to give a little background on the process and also to share some thoughts from fellow book lovers following a series of polls I ran on Instagram.

So what exactly is a buddy read?

It’s where you agree to read a book at the same time as an online friend so you can discuss it together – either during the process or after you’ve finished.  A bit like a book club without the ongoing commitment or geographical restrictions.

OK sounds interesting, but are there any other benefits?

Well firstly you get to pretty much choose which book you want to read.  And then there’s the bonus of all the potential global perspectives on the text.  If that’s not enough, you might meet new bibliophiles too. In the poll (1), 43% of people said they’d met new friends after joining a buddy read. Oh – and it’s quite addictive – 24% (2) of participants said they’d participated in over 5 shared reads in the last year.

I’m sold, how do I get involved in a readalong?

If you post about books on Instagram then there’s a fair chance that you’ll see users mention readalongs from time to time.  If you spot a book that you want to read then either DM them or add a note in the comments.  Most bookstagrammers will be happy for you to join in.  Alternatively, why not organise your own buddy read by inviting people to participate?

How many readers will there be?

Personally I prefer smaller groups as they’re easier to coordinate and 76% of responders agreed that 1-5 members is about right (24% didn’t mind) (3)

What happens in a buddy read?

Usually the coordinator will set up a private group in Instagram so you can agree guidelines.  Everyone needs a chance to get hold of the book and some will want to order it from the library so it might take a few weeks to get started.

Every shared reading experience I’ve had has been different.  In response to the poll (4), 62% of readers liked structured readalongs and 38% preferred unstructured so if you’re new to buddy reading then I recommend trying out a few groups first to see what works best for you.  Here are some aspects to consider:

  • End Date – this needs to account for all reading speeds and other commitments.
  • Review points – do you catch-up each week or at the end?
  • Questions – do you circulate a set of prompts beforehand or go freestyle?
  • Round-Up – do you want to finalise everything via text or will you one step further and host a live chat?

What kinds of questions can I expect?

If you love books then you’ll have lots to discuss. Here are a few ideas:

  • Which character did you like most/least and why?
  • Did the ending satisfy?
  • What was your favourite line in the book?
  • Were there any re-occurring themes? What do you think these signified?
  • What were the strongest/weakest elements of the book?

What if things don’t go to plan?

They most likely won’t! Sometimes life gets in the way so flexibility is key.  Try to commit but if you’re unable to or someone else is delayed then just keep on talking.  Above all, the experience needs to be fun and if a readalong doesn’t work out, there will be plenty more to choose from.

Are there other kinds of buddy reading groups?

Buddy reading is popular on Goodreads too. If you want to find out more then check out this post by the moon who listens.

Poll ran on Instagram 18/09/18: Samples sizes (1) 125 (2) 114 (3) 154 (4) 111

 

 

 

When You’re Not in the Gang – Dealing with Feelings of Online Exclusion

shadow woman reading a bookThere’s a lot of buzz about community in the online world, but what about when you’re not part of the set? Whether we admit it or not, virtual groups aren’t that different from those we find in real-life society  – the hierarchies and interactions are very similar which undoubtedly means that some users will feel left out.

I’m very lucky to be part of several supportive networks, but there have been times in the past when I’ve felt the sting of rejection – whether that be through having an unanswered comment, or through not being followed back.

So how do you cope with not being accepted into an online circle?

First and foremost, remember that these people don’t really know you. They don’t know that you typed that lengthy comment just after you’d had a rubbish day at work/school. They don’t know that you put your elderly neighbour’s bins out every week or that you have a difficult family life.  They only see one side of you and in many cases, just your curated digital persona – not the living, warm, complicated human. When I feel overlooked, I always take a moment to step back and appreciate my real-world self with all its intricacies.  I consider the physical connections in my life – family, friends, pets, colleagues. The online sphere has value , but it’s not everything.

Understand that it’s not personal.  The people who haven’t responded to you might have restrictions on their time, which means they can only connect with a certain number of people.   As an account holder, I’d love to be able to include everyone, but I already struggle at keeping up with posts of the people I follow.  Social media is just one facet of my life so I have to manage it carefully otherwise it could easily encroach into family and work time.

Appreciate the online friends you do have. Nurture them, do something fun together – maybe set up a hashtag challenge or arrange a buddy read.  Stop chasing what could be and be thankful for what already exists.

Take a moment to reflect on your own communities – could you be more welcoming to new members? Have you taken the time out to help others or build new connections? Whether we realise it or not, we’re all tribal to a certain extent – it’s up to us whether we break our own algorithms.

And if all the above still doesn’t work then seriously consider taking a break from social media for a few weeks.  Indulge your interests, reward yourself in other ways – maybe organise a trip away or take a course. Make time to develop yourself and if you decide to return, you’ll have a new perspective on everything. As with any situation, if being in a certain place isn’t making you happy then you can leave, and with social media it’s even easier.  All you need to do is switch off your phone and walk away.

 

 

Book Review: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Processed with VSCO with  presetTo save her child, she will trust a stranger. To protect a secret, she must risk her life . . .

I first became aware of The Familiars when it was acquired after a nine-way auction and applied for an advance copy as soon as I could. Being partial to a bit of sorcery, I was instantly drawn to this historical re-imagining of the Pendle witch trials told from the perspective of pregnant 17-year-old noblewoman, Fleetwood Shuttleworth.

From the outset, I could understand why so many publishers battled for this story. The writing is incredibly fluid, pitch perfect with just the the right amount of lyricism.  We see Fleetwood’s world so clearly – her decadent lifestyle juxtaposed against the real fear that a third miscarriage could lead to her death.  With such high stakes, it’s inevitable that she becomes desperate for help even if it arrives in the form of Alice Gray, a mysterious and impoverished woman who has ties to the hated Pendle witches.

The growing bond between the two women forms the backbone of the story while events twist and turn around them.  The pace is handled nicely – enough plot to move the action along but also richly descriptive.  I felt for the characters, particularly Fleetwood who never gives up although she is at the mercy of her husband and her own body throughout the novel. Although Alice isn’t as clearly drawn, there are reasons for her enigmatic nature which become evident later on. These are women whose lives are restricted by society and they must tread carefully if they are to survive.

Unusually for me, I flew through the book which says a lot about the writing.  I was compelled to find out what would happen and although the ending seemed a little rushed, it was also satisfying on a number of levels.  I was left with a sense of wanting more – always a good sign. One thing I would mention though is that despite the title, don’t expect a paranormal novel. There is a suggestion of witchcraft, but the references are incredibly subtle.  The role of the familiars is a minor one and never quite explained so if you’re hoping for overt magic you won’t find it here.  However, if you’re looking for an atmospheric historical read with touches of weird then this is perfect for dark evenings and windswept days.

The Familiars is due to be published 19 February 2019. You can pre-order here.

 

 

 

 

A Visit to the Magical House of MinaLima (Harry Potter fans step inside!)

The House of MinaLimaI wasn’t planning to blog about our recent trip to this magical destination in the heart of London but the visit was so memorable that I felt it deserved a post of its own.

It’s not easy to sum up the House of MinaLima. I was expecting an art gallery and shop but it’s much more than that. The owners, designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, are most famous for creating the wonderful props in Harry Potter so the place is full of HP memorabilia – most of which you can buy! I was also excited to see a full floor devoted to the MinaLima editions – a series of interactive books which have been produced in collaboration with Harper Design.

The shop can be found at 26 Greek Street, just behind Cambridge Circus where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child runs at the Palace Theatre.  The ground floor is packed full of affordable Harry Potter merchandise. I was so bamboozled by the choice that I didn’t take a photo but I did manage to capture the sign on the door that leads to the basement.

Basement sign House of MinaLima

If you climb the rickety stairs, you find the MinaLima editions in a room that’s pure fairytale and stacked with plenty of display copies to leaf through. You can buy these more cheaply online but we purchased in store as we wanted a signed book.

You re-enter the world of JK Rowling on the third level. I was very taken with the Marauder’s Map that covers the floor.

Standing on giant Marauder's Map

Up again and you find a stunning installation which shows the Hogwarts invitations flooding out of the fireplace as well as smaller rooms dedicated to Fantastic Beasts.  They were so cosy that I felt quite at home there.  The staff were incredibly welcoming too – all friendly and happy to chat.

I could have seriously spent hours looking at the prints but with a tired small child in tow, we decided to call it a day after buying a copy of The Jungle Book and a Sirius Black card.  The house definitely caters to little people (although there are no toilets or other facilities as well as restricted access because it’s in a conservation zone) and Martha was entranced by lots of the features but I’d say it’s better for kids aged 7+, especially if they’ve seen the Potter films.  Next time, Al & I plan to go back on our own with more money to spend! Apparently the displays change fairly frequently so there’s always something new to see. This wondrous place is now is a firm fixture for future London visits.

Opening hours:  12-7pm every day.
Weekends can be very busy so you may be allotted a timed entry (recommended to visit on Mondays, Tuesdays or Thursdays)

Address:
26 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 5DE – https://goo.gl/maps/yKtT13ZCWsn

Nearest Tube Stations:
Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road and Piccadilly Circus

Bus Routes: https://tfl.gov.uk/plan-a-journey/

 

Book Review: The Thriving Child by Dr William Stixrud and Ned Johnson

Mum and daughter balancing on a tightrope

I read a whole bunch of parenting books when Martha was a baby and then stopped – mainly because nothing really seemed to answer the questions I had and partially because there was too much choice, but as soon as I spotted The Thriving Child in a Penguin Random House Instagram giveaway, I sensed that it could really help our family.

Like many 5 year-old kids, Martha is a child of two halves fluctuating between being fiercely independent and pretty clingy.  She also has a wild imagination which can make her prone to anxiety so I was keen to see if this book could offer any tips on how to encourage resilience.

And did it?

Yes and more. What I love about this guide is how it veers away from trying to force your child down the standard path of academic achievement.  Instead it advocates letting them make their own choices (within reason!) and learn the art of self-motivation.  It sounds fairly radical, but when you sit down and work through it, there’s a lot of common sense in the advice.  The parent takes a consultancy role rather than being a micro-manager and there are lots of case studies in the book to explain how to apply the approach in real life situations. The authors have bags of experience when it comes to helping children achieve their full potential and you get the full benefit of their knowledge as you read the book.

The bulk of the guide focuses on older children and is written for the US market, but the tips can be applied to all children and I’m really glad that I’m aware of these techniques while Martha’s still young.  I’d much rather that she has the tools to develop her own passions than be pushed down a route that might not suit her skills. And if she learns how to cope with and push through inevitable setbacks on the way then even better.

We won this copy of The Thriving Child: The Science Behind Reducing Stress and Nurturing Independence by Dr William Stixrud & Ned Johnson (published by Penguin Books). All words and pictures are our own.

 

 

 

Book Review: How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan

Child Saving the PlanetIf there was a prize for the book that’s had the most impact in our house this year then this would win it!

How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear introduces the reader to thirteen different habitats – from gardens to mountains – then gives them practical advice about how to protect each one.  Dr Jess French’s tips are really accessible and 5 year-old Martha was instantly hooked by the plight of the wildlife facing extinction – so much so that she decided she was going to make some changes straightaway (no more plastic straws for a start).

As we read the book together, we worked out which of the 70 tips we’d already adopted and made a list of the ones that we still needed to do.  Martha also enjoyed spotting the creatures she recognised and learning about new ones that are depicted in Angela Keoghan’s beautiful illustrations.  There’s so much detail on each page that it’s possible to read it many times over and not get bored.

What astonished me most though was how excited Martha was to protect the planet after finishing the book.  She felt as if she could actually do something to make a difference and the great thing is – she can! (See her garden tips video on our IGTV channel)

Whether you have a future green crusader in your family or just want your kids to become more aware of the environment then I’d highly recommend this title.  It’s essential reading for the next generation.

We were sent a review copy How to Help a Hedgehog and Protect a Polar Bear by Jess French and Angela Keoghan (published by Nosy Crow/National Trust). The words and pictures are our own.