Guest Post: The Sifnos Chronicles by Sharon Blomfield

IMAG1217

Photo credit: Brian Richardson

Quirky and beguiling, often unwittingly funny, and always so utterly kind, the people of the Greek island of Sifnos charm and fascinate. They roar past on motorbikes with whole families squeezed on top, plus whatever earthly goods they can manage to hold on to. They live their lives in the open, their shouts, their squabbles, and their laughter in plain view of anyone who takes the time to notice. Open-hearted and spontaneous, they ply strangers with countless gifts… … and, impromptu, they invite a passing traveller to their wedding.

Filled with encounters and observation, gentle humour, and more than one unforeseeable twist, The Sifnos Chronicles is a narrative tale that takes readers along on this traveller’s journey through whitewashed alleys, into homey tavernas, across ancient marbled paths through the hills, and ultimately into the heart of this magical isle.

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Sharon Blomfield, who is going to tell us about the inspiration behind her travel memoir, The Sifnos Chronicles. Over to you, Sharon.

When The Muse Speaks by Sharon Blomfield

I still recall the exact moment, know precisely where I was sitting in that Greek island taverna. The taste of fresh herbs in the revithokeftedes, those chick pea fritters I’d polished off, still lingers on my tongue. My nose quivers still at thoughts of the hot olive oil that hung in the air. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat had just stuck his head through the front door and had started into another of those faux-Shakespearean soliloquies of his. It was at that very instant that the island itself grabbed me by the hand and gave a firm yank. There’s a book here, it said, and you are the one who must write it.

A book? A whole book? Not me. It was short articles I wrote, travel stories, not books. Plus, the ferry was about to arrive and in minutes would take me away. My time on Sifnos was finished.

The island, though, had other ideas about that.

When I’d arrived on Sifnos three weeks before, I’d found pretty much what I’d expected of a Cycladic Greek isle. Blue skies, marshmallow-white buildings, crimson bougainvillea spilling over it all. But almost right away I sensed something else, something quite curious, a sensation I’ve never felt anywhere else on my travels. It was as though I’d landed somehow in the middle of a story, one with a whole cast of characters carrying on around me, wandering through my days. Every morning the same ones would flock to the square to inspect the fishmongers’ wares, never to buy, merely to see who caught what last night. There was the family who thought nothing of squabbling in view of everyone in their taverna, the bossy mother-in-law  in the corner peeling potatoes, the kids who’d ignore their mother’s loud orders and run in from the street and back out at will, the husband who’d bury his head in the TV and ignore it all, who we watched once turn up the volume when there were too many customers and he couldn’t hear. The Happy Greek my own husband dubbed him. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat who pretended to be Italian and thus more sophisticated, but wasn’t either, who you’d see every day squish himself into the cab of his tiny three-wheeled truck and tootle off across the island in search of someone – anyone – who’d pay attention to his latest outlandish antics. For those weeks I threw myself into their midst, waited to see what would happen and wisely as it turned out, recorded everything I could recall in my journal at night, laughing at so much of what I’d observed once more.

I revelled too in the kindnesses I’d received. The kindnesses, oh my. The generosity. The hearts so wide open, so willing to embrace even a random traveller like me. There were sweet treats galore at the end of most meals. The man who, after we’d paid, would invent a different excuse every time to pour us an ouzo. “To fight off the cold,” it was one balmy night, then he’d sit with us and chat for another hour or so. There was Coffee Shop Lady whose warm hand on my shoulder one morning spoke the words our lack of a common language couldn’t. And the dear woman we called Grandma who cut a bouquet of roses from her garden for me once, but snipped off every single last thorn before she’d hand them over.

The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, the book that muse of an island coaxed out of me, begins on that ferry two years later, this time in the moments before it lands on Sifnos again. Finished with this island, I was not. Hardly. Those characters and their faces were as real to me as though I’d seen them all yesterday.

I was under no illusions, though. We two Canadians were but tourists here, mere blips in the passing crowd that had surely numbered in the thousands in the two years since we’d been gone. Memories of us, if wisps of them remained at all, would have dimmed to almost nothing.

But once again, this island had its own opinion about that. As we walked down the alley on our way to dinner that first night, Grandma was exactly where I expected to see her and she rushed toward us with a smile and warm hugs once more. The Happy Greek was right where we’d left him and he spotted us right away as we crossed the square on our way toward his place. “You!” he exclaimed as we neared and his index finger practically jabbed my husband in the chest. “Two years,” he marvelled at how long we told him it was we’d been away. Inside, our usual table, the one with the best view of the goings-on, was still vacant and we sat down right where we’d left off. Ouzo man was soon back at it once more. Fisherman Hat guy too.

Over the next four weeks, there were more people to see again, and new ones as well, and twists of fate we never saw coming. A photograph my husband did on the first trip popped up again and in one heart-stopping moment cemented his connection forever with a family of fishermen and their tiny seaside village. A chance encounter netted us an impromptu invitation to one of those quintessentially Greek island weddings. High on a hill at the end of the island, the church was white and blue-domed, of course, and surrounded by the Aegean on almost four sides. The ceremony, bathed in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and presided over by two black-hatted priests, smashed forever my illusions about Greek Orthodox religious practice and how sombre it is.

That muse was right. A whole book was what I was living on Sifnos, and when at the end of a month we returned home, I began in earnest to write The Sifnos Chronicles, my tales from this Greek isle.

When a place calls to your heart as strongly as this one has to mine and says you must return, you must. As often as it insists you must. Nine more times to Sifnos since the events in that book and counting, in our case. And always, the island has made known its demands of me. There’s a second book now too. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, set six years later in that tiny fishing village, tells more of the fun, of the relationships with this island and its people and how they’ve grown. There is too my blog, The Sifnos Chronicler.

The message Sifnos had for me that day in that taverna was loud. I can’t wait to see this pandemic in the rear view mirror, to get back to my island again, to see what else it has in store.

*******************

Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Sharon, it’s made me want to travel to Sifnos immediately. Let’s hope we are all able to visit our favourite destinations again soon.

If you would like to get your own copy of The Sifnos Chronicles  and do some armchair travelling whilst stuck at home, you can buy a copy hereThe Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales is also available here. But if you’re on Sifnos, drop into To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. (https://www.facebook.com/Το-Βιβλιοπωλείο-The-Bookshop-Sifnos-270568056317513) Independent book stores everywhere need our support now more than ever.

About the Author

SONY DSC

I am a writer and traveller who on my wanderings has found myself somehow invited to tour an odd hobbit-like house in the South Seas, to drink wine in the kitchen of a sunburned chalet in a high Alpine pasture, and to be a guest at a Greek island wedding. My stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, among them The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Boston Globe and France’s Courrier International. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with my photographer husband and fellow traveller, Jim Blomfield. 

The year 2006 brought us to Greece for the first time, to the island of Sifnos. It was meant to be a one-time visit but what I hadn’t counted on was how the kindness of its people and the unexpected adventures we encountered there would melt my heart and how we’d be drawn back almost every year after that, always for a month at a time. How Sifnos would turn me into a book author and a blogger. 

Connect with Sharon:

Website: http://www.sharonblomfield.com/home.html

Facebook: Sharon Blomfield

Twitter: @SharonBlomfield

A Little Book Problem banner

 

Book Review: More Than A Woman by Caitlin Moran

514jzVV52dL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_

A decade ago, Caitlin Moran thought she had it all figured out. Her instant bestseller How to Be a Woman was a game-changing take on feminism, the patriarchy, and the general ‘hoo-ha’ of becoming a woman. Back then, she firmly believed ‘the difficult bit’ was over, and her forties were going to be a doddle.

If only she had known: when middle age arrives, a whole new bunch of tough questions need answering. Why isn’t there such a thing as a ‘Mum Bod’? How did sex get boring? What are men really thinking? Where did all that stuff in the kitchen drawers come from? Can feminists have Botox? Why has wine turned against you? How can you tell the difference between a Teenage Micro-Breakdown, and The Real Thing? Has feminism gone too far? And, as always, WHO’S LOOKING AFTER THE CHILDREN?

Now with ageing parents, teenage daughters, a bigger bum and a To-Do list without end, Caitlin Moran is back with More Than A Woman: a guide to growing older, a manifesto for change, and a celebration of all those middle-aged women who keep the world turning.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this review, I finished the book weeks ago. I’m not sure why, I think I’ve been worried that I can’t do justice to how I feel about More Than A Woman within the confines of a blog post. I’d actually like to read it again and try and distill my thoughts a bit more but there isn’t time so I’m going in, for better or worse. Sometimes it’s harder to write a review of a book you loved passionately than it is a book you felt lukewarm about.

Caitlin’s previous book, How To Be A Woman, made me snort a copious quantity of hot tea down my nose on a crowded train back in 2011, which was both painful and embarrassing, so I approached this book with some caution. More Than A Woman has the same mixture of humour, brutal honesty, searing insight and pathos as the last one, but this time Caitlin has grown up, hit middle age and is sharing that experience with us, no holds barred and, just like last time, I recognised so much of my own life and experience between the pages.

Caitlin and I are of an age so, although much of our life experiences have been very different, the basic building blocks of being a forty-something woman in modern Britain are universal. Relationships, children, body issues, emotions – they work pretty much the same for all of us, and acknowledging this is a fundamental way of allowing us to empathise with and support our fellow women, and this is one of the great joys of this book. It’s like having a slightly drunken chat with your best mate, the one where you have imbibed just enough to bring down any nicety barriers, the woman is someone you have known so long that she is privy to all your embarrassing secrets and you can just lay it all out on the table for dissection. Catharsis for when you are struggling.

That’s what this book is. Catharsis. A sharing of pain and problems so that you don’t feel so alone, or abnormal, in the things that bother you from day to day. Caitlin is painfully blunt, she doesn’t hold back on telling it like it is, warts and all, and it is a beautiful thing to read. Every worry you ever had about your life is set out here and she shouts, ‘Look, me too, this is normal, YOU are normal!’ It is so comforting. It allows you to laugh at yourself, and put some things into perspective. It’s not the end of the world, we’re all going through it, and survive. Like the last book, she has such a skill in expressing things in a way that just make them hilarious, I found myself laughing out loud in many places. Luckily, I’ve learnt not to read her books in public any more. See, I’m growing and learning too, there are some benefits to ageing.

That’s not to say this book is all fun and jolly japes. She addresses some very serious issues too, the care of ageing parents, struggles with parenting. The chapters dealing with her daughter’s anorexia are heart-wrenching. There were points where I was in tears and my soul was cracking in sympathy with what she was going through, because I can all too clearly imagine how I would feel in that situation. That is the genius of this book, and Caitlin’s writing in particular. It is just so true, all of it, and she is not afraid to put it out there for us all to see. Her writing is really brave and insightful and comforting. I really, really loved this book and will be keeping it on the shelf next to How To Be A Woman, ready to dip into next time I need a friend. Especially important in this year when our real support network of friends have been out of reach in real life much of the time.

This is a book I would like to gift every woman of my age, because I want them all to read it and realise that we have much more in common that we have differences and it is really important for us to be there to support one another. You never know what the next woman is going through, and hiding under the cheerful and competent facade we often plaster on for the rest of the world. Maybe she needs a friend. A pat on the arm. A squeeze of understanding. That simple act can make the difference between surviving and going under. I know I couldn’t get through without the amazing female friends I have, this book is friendship between two shiny covers.

More Than A Woman is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

B1B2UHI7NHS._US230_

Caitlin Moran became a columnist at The Times at eighteen and has gone on to be named Columnist of the Year six times. At one point, she was also Interviewer and Critic of the Year – which is good going for someone who still regularly mistypes ‘the’ as ‘hte’.

Her multi-award winning bestseller How to Be a Woman has been published in 28 countries, and won the British Book Awards’ Book of the Year 2011. Her two volumes of collected journalism, Moranthology and Moranifesto, were Sunday Times bestsellers.

Her first novel, How to Build a Girl, debuted at Number One, and is currently being adapted as a film. Bloody hell, that’s actually quite impressive.

Connect with Caitlin:

Website: https://www.caitlinmoran.co.uk/

Twitter: @caitlinmoran

Instagram: @mscaitlinmoran

A Little Book Problem banner

Book Review: Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister

51trQLUNftL

Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby? Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat? Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?

Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all. But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.

Our unfamiliarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests. This ‘fake law’ allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.

Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years. In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence against the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.

I vividly remember an evening in 2016 when I went out to dinner with a group of around eight of my closest friends. Earlier that day, the retrial of a footballer previously convicted of rape had resulted in an acquittal, and conversation inevitably touched on this current hot topic. To my dismay, there were lot of harsh words directed at the victim in the case, with assertions that she was clearly a ‘liar,’ that the law needed to do something about the problem of ‘fake claims’ of rape and the subsequent destruction of the lives of ‘obviously innocent’ men. I refer to dismay, because this is what I felt upon realising that my group of well-educated, largely liberal, tolerant, engaged and generous friends were so ill-informed as to what the acquittal of this footballer really meant with regards to the honesty of the woman involved and the appropriateness his behaviour. None of them had actually read any detail as to the facts of the case or the grounds on which he had been acquitted, they had simply accepted at face value the many sensational and inaccurate news reports on the case. It was eye-opening. I tried my best to explain why these assumptions were untrue, but was not entirely successful as a lone voice crying against a storm of popular misinformation.

I mention this story, because it is one of the cases referred to by The Secret Barrister in their new book, Fake Law, in which they try to counteract some of the inaccurate stories we are constantly being fed by various sections of society, including the media, vested interest groups and, sadly, to an increasing degree, our own government, why this misinformation is so damaging to the very fabric of our society and why each of us on a personal level should care. Reading this book, for me, is like reliving most of the Twitter arguments I have had over the past five or so years, much more clearly articulated. In fact, I first stumbled across the Secret Barrister on Twitter in 2018 on a thread regarding the hot topic of that particular moment, the arrest of pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks for the ‘crime of defending his own home,’ a story that is discussed in the opening chapter of this book, and I have been an ardent fan ever since.

The book sets out many of the most contentious legal firestorms of the past few decades, recaps on what the general public have been lead to believe about these issues by certain factions, explains very clearly why much of the information we have been fed is misleading at best and downright dishonest in some cases, and then asks why it may be the interests of certain parties for us not to be given the whole truth about these matters, and what negative consequences for each of us arise when we nod along with this misinformation. For anyone taking the time and trouble to read the book and really think about what the author is saying, it is a deeply disturbing read.

Coming as I do from a background in law myself, I am familiar with the majority of the legal issues and concepts that The Secret Barrister puts forward in the book, hence why many of the cases they highlight here are ones that have had me personally raging on Twitter. However, the writing is set out clearly with the lay reader, not the legally educated, in mind and all of the principles are set out in a basic fashion using simple language and illustrated with easy to digest examples and comparators. Anyone can pick up this book and understand the points being made. In addition, The Secret Barrister has a delicious turn of phrase, and an absolutely wicked tongue which is truly pleasurable to read. I know if we met we would get along famously. I raise as particularly delightful examples their glorious descriptions of potential pleasures lost due injurious cases of negligence on page 83, their sly references to ‘neo-Dickensian sportswear retailers’ and their accurately unflattering assessment of the mental capabilities of a former Justice Secretary at the bottom of page 93. This is no dry, dusty tome to be waded through as if studying a textbook, this is an entertaining, informative and, ultimately, important text that is accessible to everyone who has an interest in understanding more about their legal rights and why it is important that we do not allow them to be undermined by factions with any agenda other than the best interests of us as individuals, and society at large, at their heart.

Because this stuff matters to all of us, whether we realise it or not. The law and the legal justice system underpins the very fabric of our society, ensures the smooth running of our lives and even our safety and liberty. You may think, as we are encouraged to do, that, if you are a law-abiding citizen, being kind to your fellow man and minding your own business, the law has little to offer you. You would be wrong. The law, and your ability to turn to it for redress when you are wronged, is what is preventing you from being irreversibly mangled by an intoxicated surgeon in a botched operation and then uncompensated; from a manufacturer selling you a faulty dishwasher without liability when it subsequently burns down your house ; from an ex-partner maliciously being able to keep you from seeing your children because you doinked the babysitter; from your boss capriciously firing you because he doesn’t like the fact you wear brown shoes with a black suit to work; from you being wrongfully identified as an armed robber by the short-sighted bank teller who came to work without her contact lenses that day and banged up for a ten stretch; or from a government deciding that the freedom of religion is no longer a human right exercisable by the denizens of our country and forcing you into trying to find an affordable house with a priest-hole in which to hide the unfortunate administrator of your future clandestine religious services. Extreme examples? Maybe but I think they illustrate the main point being made through the book. The law is for everyone, and we all need to protect its integrity and our access to it. My favourite quote from the book, which neatly sums this up with a comparison to a ‘giant game of Jenga,’ falls at the end of Chapter 8. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I made pages and pages of notes on this book in preparation for writing this review, and there are so many more things I could say, but I run the risk of getting on my personal hobby horse, rather than writing a book review, and The Secret Barrister rides this hobby horse with much more elan than I ever could, so you should just read the book for yourself. I love the law, I have since I was 13 and first became entranced by the idea of pursuing it as a profession. Even though I no longer practice, it still fascinates me intellectually, and I am horrified at the way it is being eroded, and with the presumed consent of large swathes of the population. It genuinely scares me, if I’m being honest. The fact that this consent is being gained by the dissemination of lies and distortions of fact is abhorrent. This is why you need to read this book. Understand what you are being fed and why, so you can make informed decisions about what to believe and what to support. Don’t allow yourselves to be conned. Knowledge is power.

I have read this book twice this year, it is so good and, since this book was published in September, there have been so many more examples of misinformation arousing misdirected public outrage on legal matters. The government have passed a statute which breaches international law, whilst telling us they haven’t. Only this week there were false claims that the approval of the first vaccine against COVID by the UK regulator was a Brexit benefit. These falsehoods are being perpetuated by Government ministers, people we elected to act in our best interests, including the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor, who are supposed to protect the integrity of the law. As I recently completed the second read through, I had visions of the poor Secret Barrister sitting despairingly in their writing garret, self-medicating with gin as they frantically scribble daily addendums to this book, emailing increasingly harried messages to their beleaguered publisher, trying to keep up to date with the latest chipping away of the legal framework on which we all depend. Their desk is covered with dozens of sodden post-its, used to mop up their tears of frustration as they fight the rising tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf us. They have my deepest sympathies.

The fact this happens is outrageous. Be outraged. Refuse to accept it. But how can we reject these actions when many of us don’t even know we are being lied to? The media are complicit in the deceit. We deserve better and we should demand it. We need a basic legal education for all, and a media that reports on these things honestly. We currently have neither. What we do have are individuals such as The Secret Barrister, and a wealth of other lawyers and legal commentators who are trying to shine a light on these fabrications and why the law matters to all of us and deserves protection.

Seek them out, arm yourselves with information and decide for yourselves what it important. Start here, with this book, it’s a great read, and an important one. It’s my book of the year for 2020. Sadly, I fear the people who most need to read it are the very ones who won’t.

Fake Law: The Truth About justice in an Age of Lies is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

okNMGQCU_400x400

The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law.

The law can often feel to the public like an alien and impenetrable world, linked to everyday life only by selective news reportage and artistically-licensed tv dramatisation. The Secret Barrister aims to bridge that gap by providing a candid, and hopefully accessible, explanation of our criminal justice system, of how it works, and of how, all too often, it doesn’t.

The Secret Barrister has written for the The Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, iNews, Esquire, Counsel Magazine and Solicitors Journal, and has appeared in The Sun, The Mirror and Huffington Post.

In 2016 and 2017, the Secret Barrister was named Independent Blogger of the Year at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. In 2018, they were named Legal Personality of The Year at the Law Society Awards.

The Secret Barrister is a patron of FRU (Free Representation Unit) and the Aberdeen Law Project.

Their debut book, Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken, was a Sunday Times bestseller for 24 consecutive weeks, and was named the Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2018 at the Books Are My Bag Awards.

Connect with The Secret Barrister:

Website: https://thesecretbarrister.com/

Facebook: The Secret Barrister

Twitter: @BarristerSecret

A Little Book Problem banner

Book Review: The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan

51ghISEM6FL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Reading this is going to change how you see Britain, especially its politics. The way we are used to hearing about Britain’s politics is through the filter of our media. This book, however, delves below the surface to the underlying realities and from there, a very different politics emerges. This is a politics which starts and ends with people realising their potential.

From Britain’s shifting political centre of gravity The Britain Potential pieces together a politics that is neither left nor right, is not of division and polarisation but is about integration, balance, and unity. It offers an entirely fresh, genuinely humanistic vision grounded in actual developments both historical and contemporary. This is a politics viewed as something at work in daily life which is not being reported in the media and that no political party has yet spelt out. 

Told through stories, The Britain Potential helps readers take the pulse of the country and understand for themselves what ‘remedies’ will be effective. It offers ways forward, and hope, for people newly interested in politics, the politically homeless, people dissatisfied with life in Britain, leaders and activists of all kinds, public servants, business people, and people in communities. People around the world, who look to Britain, should find much of interest.

Britain has enormous potential, but is it realising it? For too many the answer is no. This is a book about what it takes to realise that potential, as individuals, families, communities, organisations and as a country. The Britain Potential is in our hands.

Today, I am pleased to be sharing my thoughts on The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan. I would like to thank the author for inviting me to review the book and for providing me with a paperback copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Ever since the Brexit referendum in 2016, I have been feeling increasingly disenfranchised by the British political system. There is currently no viable political party on offer that seems to align with my ideals of the government that this country needs. What we currently have is clearly not working, the situation in this country is getting worse and worse. We are becoming more polarised as a society, people are angry, scared and isolated, they don’t feel served by society as it currently stands. And from what I see daily on social media, I know I am not alone in my frustration and disillusionment.

So, it was with interest that I picked up this book by Jim Cowan, which promised to give me a new vision of politics for Britain, one which sounded much more like the perfect vision I would have for how our country should work. Where we all feel more connected and involved in the running of the country, invested and active, rather than having things imposed upon us by a ruling class over which we, as individuals, feel we can have very little influence.

This book contains a lot of interesting ideas about a new way of moving forward in the UK, by passing more power and decision-making to the people at a local level, so that everyone can feel invested and engaged in making their own society better in a way that works for their particular circumstances. An ability of local organisations and authorities to tailor services to what is needed in their specific area, rather than a homogenised approach from central government that does not address specific regional needs, with the role of central government being to support and encourage these local initiatives. Where the focus is on listening and responding to the articulated needs of the end users of services, ie US, rather than on controlling and managing us and forcing us to mould ourselves into a centrally-mandated stereotype. This would allow people autonomy, and an ability to invest and believe in themselves, to live a truly individual and authentic life. For each one of us, and consequently the country as a whole, to realise our full potential.

I’m going to be honest, this is not an easy book to read. Despite being only around two hundred pages, it is dense with information, packed with some complicated jargon and utilising concepts that were totally alien to me and took some time to absorb and understand. Bits of it took me a couple of read throughs to totally grasp, it is not a relaxing book to take to bed with you at night (although I did.) However, once I got into it, I was totally absorbed and really fascinated by the ideas being mooted. I found the examples of places and organisations already operating along these lines truly inspiring and the picture that Jim paints of what Britain could be like, tempting and aspirational. If you are at all interested in politics and the way that our society could be improved for the benefit of everyone, it is truly an hopeful read.

I have to tell you, I came away from this book feeling quite emotional, which was entirely unexpected. I was left thinking ‘if only.’ If only this could be how we lived, everyone working to the best of their abilities for the betterment of society for everyone. I can see how this works at a micro level, both in Jim’s examples and when looking at my own small rural community, which is filled with village initiatives, community support and just individual acts of kindness and care. But can this be amplified to a national level? Looking around at how things currently operate at the macro level, it actually looks less and less likely. I see our society moving in the opposite direction, with a Government intent on taking more and more power to itself, rather relinquishing it, with our society become more selfish, small-minded and inward-looking, rather than exploring ways of working with others to the benefit of all. The over-riding national sentiment seems to be that helping and caring for others means losing something ourselves, rather than enhancing our lives. All movements for equality are met with resistance by people who see it as them having to give something up, rather than pulling everyone up to the same level. It makes me despair.

I loved the ideas in this book, but when Jim concludes that we are currently a long way from achieving this utopian version of our society, and the only way to get there is by a slow, incremental change rather than radical reform, I believe he is right. This vision is but a speck on the horizon, and I don’t currently see the path ahead from here to there.

The Britain Potential is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

I have focused on political and social change in Britain for over 40 years.

This has been reflected in all areas of my life.

Community development, encompassing many different roles, has been at the heart of my work from the early 70s until 2012.

Between 1968 and 2005 I acquired five social science degrees, including a PhD.

I was also an honorary visiting research fellow for 10 years up until 2016.

In my personal life, I’ve practiced a socially engaged form of Buddhism for over 40 years which has enabled me to develop my consciousness more fully and realise more of my potential.

Since 2012 I have been meticulously researching what has been, and is, happening across Britain.

All these aspects, work, personal and social, academic study and research come together in this book.

It is four voices of doing, thinking, being, and researching that you will hear as you read The Britain Potential.

Connect with Jim:

Website: https://www.thebritainpotential.co.uk/

Twitter: @thebpotential

Instagram: @thebritainpotential

A Little Book Problem banner

Guest Post: Networking For Writers by Lizzie Chantree

NFW by Lizzie Chantree

I am delighted today to be hosting a guest blog post by Lizzie Chantree, who has just launched her new book, Networking For Writers, and she is going to tell you all about it.

Networking for writers. Samm doc. By Lizzie Chantree

Are you swamped with book marketing and looking for a way to find new sales? Learn simple and effective networking techniques, to grow your readership and connect with other authors and book lovers, today!

Whether you are a new or experienced writer, self-published or traditionally published, this book will show you how to grow your readership and author network, through some of the most powerful of all marketing tools – word of mouth and recommendation. 

This book will show you:

How networking can help you sell more books.

Why author branding is important.

How networking hours work.

Specific Facebook groups for writers

How to utilise social media to grow your readership.

How not to waste valuable writing time.

How to make our marketing more effective.

Throughout Networking for Writers, we will explore running or attending book signings, hosting seminars, finding a writing buddy or mentor, author networking groups, social media planning and so much more.

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today, Julie. Hello everyone. My name is Lizzie Chantree and I write women’s fiction books, full of feisty women with unusual businesses. Writing books can be an incredible way to meet likeminded people in the writing community, but it can also be quite isolating at times and marketing can feel like an uphill struggle.

In my new book, Networking for Writers, I talk about some easy to follow ways to simplify your book marketing, build a strong author brand, improve your social media followings and so much more. Whether you are a new or experienced writer, self-published or traditionally published, there are ways to grow your readership and author network, through some of the most powerful of all marketing tools – word of mouth and recommendation. 

Having a network of friends, family, colleagues, readers, business owners and contacts can give your work a head start and make it stand out from the crowd. Books, especially, can get lost in a sea of new releases. Thousands are published each day. What can you do to make your work fly off the shelves? Hopefully this book might give you a head start!

In Networking for writers, I explain how to use simple and effective networking approaches, to grow your readership and connect with other authors and book lovers.

In my book, I talk about:

  • How networking can help you as a writer
  • Author branding
  • Facebook groups
  • Networking hours
  • Hashtags for writers
  • Your timelines

One important aspect of building a network is time management. I give tips on:

  • How not to waste valuable writing time
  • How to simplify your marketing plan
  • How to make your marketing more effective
  • Apps that might help save time
  • Scheduling social media posts

When I published my first book, I had no idea about marketing and even the thought of the word made my legs tremble. Today, I see it as an interesting and exciting part of my day, that doesn’t eat into my writing time. What a difference a few years can make. I have been very fortunate that all of my books to date have become international bestsellers in multiple categories, with one recently winning a Readers Favourite book award. I believe my success in finding readership, is due to my network.

Networking is about being social, but it is also about structure, discipline and focus. In my book I offer insight into the tools I use to stay productive, find writing time and to have room left to step away from work and give myself space to breathe and let creativity blossom.

I also mention how I learnt to host multi-author book signings, run seminars about networking and event planning, to stand up in front of a crowded room and speak at writing conferences, and more. These skills have given me a great foundation, not only to write books, but to be able to share my networking ideas with the writing community, in the hope that it helps them to follow their own dreams and creative path and to find time to do what they love to do most – write more books!

********************

Lizzie, that sounds like a marvellous tool for writers who need guidance on how to approach the marketing side of being an author, which I know does not come naturally to a lot of people, so thank you for sharing that with us.

Networking for Writers is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Lizzie Chantree. Author photo small

International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

Lizzie is the author of the novels If You Love Me, I’m Yours, Ninja School Mum, Babe Driven, Love’s Child and Finding Gina.

Connect with Lizzie:

Website: https://lizziechantree.com/

Facebook: Lizzie Chantree Author

Twitter: @Lizzie_Chantree

Instagram: @lizzie_chantree

Pinterest: Lizzie Chantree

Goodreads: Lizzie Chantree

A Little Book Problem banner

Book Review: Realityland – True-Life Adventures of Walt Disney World by David Koenig #freereading

51Rr2PranQL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_

The first-ever in-depth, unauthorized look at the creation and operation of the world’s most popular vacation destination.

Step backstage and witness: Walt’s original plans for Disney World and how his dreams completely changed in the hands of his successors… His undercover agents who secretly bought 44 square miles of swamps… The chaotic construction and frantic first years of the Magic Kingdom… The underground caverns that wind beneath the theme park… Disney’s unconventional, initially disastrous foray into operating its own hotels… The behind-the-scenes machinations that led to EPCOT Center… How safety and security are maintained on property at all costs… The tumultuous change of leadership that turned the cherished Ways of Walt upside down.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of an obsession with Disney, and with the Disney theme parks in particular. I first went to Walt Disney World in 1998, when I was 26 (we never travelled abroad when I was child, my mother hates to fly, my first foreign escapade was aged 15 on a school trip to France) and I fell in love with the place immediately. But, as well as being magical, I was fascinated by how the whole place had been created and was run, how they had managed to make it so self-contained, so separate from the outside world, so that the illusion could be maintained throughout. A few years later, when we visited Disneyland in California, I became even more fascinated by the difference between what Disney had achieved in Orlando compared to Anaheim.

I have been back to Florida countless times in the past 22 years, and it is even more fantastic when you see it through your children’s eyes. My two girls have grown up with it and they, along with my three step-daughters who first visited seven years ago, and even my big, beefy, cynical Irishman are also enchanted with the place. That takes somewhere special. But none of them are as obsessed with the machinery behind the Mouse the way I am.

Here is my shelf of non-fiction books about the Disney company and Walt Disney World (I’ve got a couple more that are too tall for this shelf and are elsewhere, plus a couple of digital ones as well.) They cover everything from theme park design to how Disney train their staff in customer service, boardroom battles for control of the Disney empire, to stories from ex-cast members and maps of the parks, and they are all fascinating. I’m always on the look out for more too, so if any of you have any recommendations, let me know.

IMG_5444

Since we weren’t going to get a holiday abroad this year due to Covid, and my planning for our next Florida trip is also on hold while the uncertainty around  the pandemic lingers, I decided to take a virtual trip there through one of my favourite books about the creation of the Florida theme park, Realityland by David Koenig. This book is a really comprehensive guide to how the idea for the second park in Florida was conceived, how Walt and his team went about acquiring the land and building the park, to how it has developed over the years (although it only goes up to the mid-90s. Any chance of an updated and extended version covering to the present day, David? I would buy it!)

For any of you who don’t know much about Walt Disney World, but are interested in how something as huge as the Florida park came about, this book is a fascinating read. It tells you how Walt wanted to make sure his park was not eventually surrounded by uncontrolled building of cheap motels, restaurants and gift shops as in Anaheim which spoiled the Disney illusion. How they bought the land in secret, and negotiated with the local government for unprecedented control over everything, including drainage, fire and policing. How they turned 40+ square miles of Florida swamp into what is there today, even after the tragic death of Walt before it was completed, and how they tried to be true to Walt’s vision for EPCOT and whether they succeeded.

It would be hard to see how any book on the subject could be more comprehensive than this one, and yet it is still very easy to read and approachable, if you are interested in the topic. And the story of how this amazing and impressive place was built, is maintained and continues to grow and delight people the world over is quite remarkable when you take a step back and look at it. Regardless of whether you love Disney or loathe it, you have to give them credit for what they have created, from Walt’s original and extraordinary vision to what stands there today, which even he probably could not have foreseen. And it all started with a Mouse.

Realityland is out now and you can buy a copy here (although, being an old book it’s quite expensive!)

About the Author

Unknown

David Koenig is chief editor for Costa Mesa, Ca.-based 526 Media Group. He received his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton, and has become arguably the theme park industry’s best-known “outsider,” after penning such best-sellers as Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland, Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks, and Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World. He is also an original contributor to MousePlanet.com.He lives with his wife Laura and children Zachary and Rebecca in Aliso Viejo, Ca.

Connect with David:

Twitter: @davidkoenig

Instagram: @davidgkoenig

Book Review: Strangeways by Neil Samworth; Narrated by Jonathan Keeble #AudiobookReview

519+9MYhtKL

A jaw-dropping account of life as a prison officer in one of the country’s most notorious jails. 

Neil ‘Sam’ Samworth spent 11 years working as a prison officer in HMP Manchester, aka Strangeways. A tough Yorkshireman with a soft heart, Sam had to deal with it all – gangsters and gangbangers, terrorists and psychopaths, addicts and the mentally ill. Men who should not be locked up and men who should never be let out. 

Strangeways is a shocking and at times darkly funny account of life in a high-security prison. Sam tackles cell fires and self-harmers and goes head to head with some of the most dangerous men in the country. He averts a Christmas Day riot after turkey is taken off the menu and replaced by fish curry and stands up to officers who abuse their position. He describes being attacked by prisoners and reveals the problems caused by radicalisation and the drugs flooding our prisons. 

As staffing cuts saw Britain’s prison system descend into crisis, the stress of the job – the suicides, the inhumanity of the system and one assault too many – left Sam suffering from PTSD. This raw, searingly honest memoir is a testament to the men and women of the prison service and the incredibly difficult job we ask them to do.

When I was in the final year of my law degree, I wrote a dissertation for my Criminology module on the treatment of prisoners with mental health issues by the criminal justice system. To help in my research, my boyfriend’s father (eventually to become my father-in-law), who was then Governor of HMP Lincoln, took me to the prison so I could interview their resident medical professionals and access material in the prison service library. He also gave me a tour. I never expected it to look like the set of Porridge, but it did, except a lot less fun. I have never been in such an intimidating place in my life, before or since, and the impressions it left on me are still with me 25+ years later.

I now have a couple of other friends and family members who work within the prison service, and hearing stories of their working lives brings back those impressions, and this audiobook did the same thing. Anyone who thinks that prison life is cushy, for either inmates or staff, needs to read or listen to this book, and their illusions will immediately be shattered.

Neil Samworth is a man after my own heart, a no nonsense Yorkshireman the like of whom anyone who spends any time in our beautiful county will have come across, and his writing is presented in the same fashion. The narrative is blunt and honest and pulls no punches and I found it absolutely fascinating, horrifying and upsetting in equal measure. He starts with some background into his life and career before he enters the prison service (which made me think our paths may have crossed during my visits to Hanrahan’s in Sheffield during my youth!) which is a useful grounding to get to know him and understand his perspective when he begins to talk about Strangeways.

Everyone has heard of this prison, it is notorious, particularly for the riots which occurred before the author’s time there. It is an old prison, one of those we imagine how prison is, if and when we ever think about it. Lincoln prison was the same, not one of the new, recently purpose built facilities and I think this is important, as it reflects the way they are run and the way the prisoners are managed and behave, and Samworth touches on this in his book. He is extremely honest about the conditions, the prisoners, the officers and management, and the Government management and funding of prisons over the years. I found his bluntness about every aspect of the service, criticisms of all sides where due, refreshing and believable. If you really want an insight into the Prison Service, here it is. It certainly chimed with everything I had already seen and heard from people I know who worked inside.

There are parts of this book that will break your heart, particularly for the people who have to work in this difficult environment, with some truly awful people and in terrible circumstances day after day. They, on the whole, deserve our attention, care, respect and thanks for what they do. You need to listen to books like this, and then ask yourself if you would be prepared to do this job, to deal with the things they have to deal with day after day and what it would cost to entice you to do it. Then ask if these people are suitably cared for and rewarded. You may well be surprised at how you feel afterwards.

The book isn’t a story as such, the narrative is a little disjointed and it is sometimes hard to see why it was ordered the way it was, but if you can get past that, it is definitely worthy of your attention. I have to warn you, there is quite a lot of slang and swearing in the book, violence, drug use and some extremely unpleasant episodes. That is the truth of life behind bars for everyone involved, unfortunately. I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator was absolutely perfect for the text, I would highly recommend the audio version.

Strangeways is out now in all formats and you can buy it here.

About the Author

Unknown

Neil Samworth worked as a prison officer in Strangeways, now HM Prison Manchester, for eleven years between 2005 and 2016, before an unprovoked attack by a prisoner left him physically injured and suffering from PTSD. His book Strangeways: My Life as a Prison Officer consists of his diary from this period.

Connect with Neil:

Twitter: @SamworthNeil

Instagram: @samworthneil1

 

Book Review: Older and Wider by Jenny Eclair

41akXD0kStL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE

Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).

As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

Today is publication day for Older and Wider, the hilarious new non-fiction book by Jenny Eclair, designed to help you get through the menopause with a smile on your face. Happy Publication Day, Jenny! Huge thanks to Hannah Robinson at Quercus Books for sending me a proof copy of the book. The review below represents my  honest and impartial thoughts about it. (Overly so, please, any man who knows me, don’t read any further, I beg of you. Mum, you too. And my kids. Seriously, you really don’t want to read any further right now. Come back when you hit 40, okay?)

This book arrived on my doorstep yesterday and, I was so looking forward to reading it that I dived straight in and had finished it by this morning. I probably don’t need to say any more than that to indicate that I loved it but, since two short paragraphs don’t make for a scintillating review, I’ll expand a bit.

I am a woman of a certain age (48), and I am the exact market that this book is aimed at, the woman who is just starting out on the menopause journey, feeling confused and alone and scared of what to expect. My mother has always been fairly tight-lipped on intimate personal matters and, when I approached her a couple years ago, seemed to think I was ‘too young’ to be embarking on the menopause and recalls hers lasted only a couple of years in her early 50’s. From my own recollection of events in my mid-teens, I don’t think this is correct and I knew I was going to have to look elsewhere for truthful advice about it (to be fair, my mum did cut out a bit of advice from the Daily Mail when I told her I was struggling with peri-menopausal symptoms and it proved very useful, but more on that later). Well, in this book, Jenny sets herself up as the menopause guru we all wish we had, and tells it like it is, no holds barred.

I love Jenny Eclair, always have, always will. You know when fans of those women (insert name of your least favourite, reactionary social commentator/Twitter agitator here) who tweet ghastly, inflammatory opinions designed as click bait tell you, ‘She is only saying what we are all thinking?’ I am NEVER thinking the things that they are saying but, when Jenny Eclair tweets stuff, it is nearly always exactly what I am thinking. In short, she is someone I trust and, as such, is ideally placed as common sense advice giver on matters menopausal. This book is her A-Z of personal experiences of the menopause and sensible advice on what to expect and how to deal with it, and I thought it was fabulous.

It was January 2017, at the age of not-quite-45, when I realised that I was probably entering my peri-menopausal phase. I’d had a couple of mild symptoms – itchy calves, slight vagueness of memory, the odd night sweat (horrible, let me tell you, to wake up suddenly in the night soaking wet from head to foot, as if someone has thrown a bucket of water over you in your sleep) but I hadn’t thought much of it. It was only when I started to feel like an alien in my own body, as if someone had come and removed my own personality and replaced it with that of a total stranger, that I really became worried. The final straw came one weekend when my partner and I were enjoying a lovely, family walk on a beautiful Welsh beach with our five girls and perfectly photogenic dog, looking like something (hopefully) from a Boden catalogue, I found myself uncontrollably sobbing for absolutely no reason and, when the Irishman asked me what was wrong wailing, “I don’t knooooooooow!” At that point, I thought I had better go and see a doctor.

I went the next week, got a twelve- year -old-ish male locum who couldn’t care less, told me I was too young to be menopausal and, basically, to pull myself together, and that was that for medical help at that point. I expect this experience is not unusual. I decided he was an idiot and I was quite clearly going to have to sort myself out. I took to the internet, read a load of websites that convinced me I was not going mad, was obviously peri-menopausal and that made me feel better. At this point my mother gave me a cutting from the newspaper about a supplement that might help, I gave it a try, it did indeed seem to alleviate some of the worst symptoms (mood swings, crippling period pains and aching muscles) and I plodded on for two-and-a-half years. When the horrific anxiety returned with a vengeance last autumn, I went back to the doctor, got a fabulous, understanding lady of a similar age to myself who finally did a blood test, confirmed my suspicions, offered me a prescription for Vitamin D and lots of options of how to deal with it (I plumped for CBT, which I had tried with great success to deal with anxiety in my early twenties, leaving HRT and anti-depressants as fall back options) and left me feeling vindicated and much happier and less alone. This is what we all need, and what this book offers. A tome of comforting tales of actual experience, no-nonsense advice and reassurance that you are not alone, or going mad.

Plus it is very, very funny. From the dedication page, I was laughing, and I laughed all the way to the end, even at bits which are not at all funny when you are going through them yourself, alone and confused and probably a bit scared that there might be something more seriously wrong with you than a few haywire hormones.

IMG_3152

And this is what this book offers. A normalisation of the whole process. Reassurance that, whilst unpleasant, this is entirely natural, transitory, survivable and a universal female experience. That, whilst we don’t all suffer exactly the same way, there is someone, somewhere out there who is going through exactly the same thing and, thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media, you can probably find her. In fact, she’s probably me, or Jenny Eclair, or the other women who take part in her podcast, or in a Twitter menopause group, or on daytime TV, or your mum, or one of your friends. Go out there, look, talk to each other! None of us has to suffer alone and in silence any more, and sod you, pubescent boy doctor without a clue or any sympathy! But, if you feel a bit shy, or embarrassed, or don’t know any women of the relevant age, this book is a really good place to start.

Not everything you experience will be in here, and you won’t experience everything she does. I haven’t had ‘temper static’ or ‘pop-sock leg’ or ‘desiccation.’ Maybe some of this will come, as I know I am only in the toddlerdom of my menopause life span. I have had the aforementioned itchy calves. I have experienced one armpit (the right) being much, much sweatier than the other at certain times of the month (and no, this is not peculiar to me, my cousin has had the same thing!). I’ve discovered the excess chin hairs she talks about, but also the appearance of a nose hair that must have been growing since birth to have got so long and rope-like before it emerged sudden and unannounced when I was far from a pair of tweezers. Did you know it is not only your head hair that goes grey? No, eyebrow hairs, and those further south too! And why are grey hairs so much thicker and more tenacious? Far from desiccation, my skin and hair have reverted back to a teenage greasiness that I thought I had put far behind me. I’ve much more inclined to pins and needles in my hands and feet than before. I’ve developed an unfortunate sensitivity to cheese (a fact which will horrify Jenny. See, Jenny, you were lucky with the red berries!). I’m sure there are other odd symptoms that other people experience as well. The point is, being abnormal is normal, but you should not be afraid to talk about these things, ask medical professionals for help, and don’t be fobbed off with impatient, embryo, male GPs who never imagined that talking to weeping, middle-aged women about problems with their down-belows was how they would spend their days after cutting up cadavers for seven long years at uni.

Some of the stuff you will recognise, it is scary but normal. When she talks about how your periods change, I could completely relate. When I was a teenager, I had such heavy periods and bad cramps that I would lie sobbing on my bed clutching a hot water bottle to my stomach. I seemed to grow out of them, but they returned a couple of years ago. I now no longer cry and lay in bed, I’ve got much more stoic as I’ve aged, but it’s not fun. Plus they are erratic. Plus, the consistency is definitely different. In fact, it has made me wonder what it must be like in there for the babies of women who have children very late in life. Something akin to hatching a tadpole in a stagnant, algae-choked pond rather that a crystal-clear pool fed by a babbling spring. Alas. My daughters will read this and tell me I am sharing TMI, but this is the point of this book. We need to talk about this stuff honestly, no more hiding away in shame, it only makes us feel lonely and sad and worried.

And it isn’t all doom and gloom. The book highlights all the positives about getting older, and I see these too. More sense of self, and knowing who we are (once you get past the aliens-taking-over-your-brain phase), more time, less angst about where life is taking you. She gives you lots of ideas of things to do to help and take control, from diet and exercise and remedies, to taking up hobbies. I already have mine lined up. I have stashed away enough books to last me a decade (Waterstones is my Lakeland). I’ve started writing my novel. I’m going to learn to read the tarot (playing into the old lady = witch stereotype, I know, I don’t care), practise origami (the Japanese have the best hobbies, although my daughters were a bit disgusted when, after learning about Hikaru Dorodango from Jenny’s book, I wondered aloud what delights we could produce from the waste products of our ponies) and finish the tapestry of The Haywain that I know is lurking half-done on a frame in the loft (I was middle-aged as a teenager, you see). And I don’t think it is a coincidence that I began this very blog at the exact time the peri-menopause symptoms kicked in. Listen to your bodies, ladies, they know what they need.

We need more books like this, that talk openly about the things that affect women, and have been taboo far too long. I don’t write reviews this long often, and only for books that really spark something in me. Last year it was Period by Emma Barnett, and Jenny’s book has affected me even more, because it is so relevant to the current phase of my life. I wish I had had access to it four years ago, before I started feel panicky and lost and a bit scared. When I’d heard a bit about some of the physical symptoms but nothing about the uncontrollable psychological side effects that were terrifying me on that Welsh beach. We need more people we admire and trust to talk about this, loudly and publicly, to take away the stigma. I will be recommending this to all my friends, if I  have any left after this over-share. I’ll be keeping this close as part of my menopause survival kit, alongside my vitamins and big pants, as I navigate the next few years of my, definitely-not-over-yet, life.

Older and Wider is out today in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here and from all good independent booksellers.

About the Author

61ALDXMTGDL._US230_

Jenny Eclair is the Sunday Times top ten bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels Camberwell Beauty, Having a Lovely Time and Life, Death and Vanilla Slices, as well as the Richard and Judy bestseller, Moving, the short story collection, Listening In and her latest novel Inheritance. One of the UK’s most popular writer/performers, she was the first woman to win the prestigious Perrier Award and has many TV and radio credits to her name and co-hosts the Older and Wider podcast with Grumpy Old Women producer Judith Holder. She lives in south-east London.

Connect with Jenny:

Website: http://www.jennyeclair.com

Facebook: Jenny Eclair

Twitter: @jennyeclair

Instagram: @jennyeclair1960

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert; Narrated by the author #AudiobookReview

61MOHy6wAfL

Listeners of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author shares her wisdom and unique understanding of creativity, shattering the perceptions of mystery and suffering that surround the process and showing us all just how easy it can be.

By sharing stories from her own life as well as from her friends and the people who have inspired her, Elizabeth Gilbert challenges us to embrace our curiosity, tackle what we most love and face down what we most fear.

Whether you long to write a book, create art, cope with challenges at work, embark on a long-held dream, or simply to make your everyday life more vivid and rewarding, Big Magic will take you on a journey of exploration filled with wonder and unexpected joys.

Anyone poking around my Goodreads profile might observe that I have read this book twice this year already, once via audiobook and one reading of my paper copy. One might rightly, assume, therefore, that this is a book which means a lot to me.

As someone who, cautiously, describes themselves as a writer and has ambitions to get her writing published one day but with no confidence that this is achievable, I am exactly the person that Elizabeth Gilbert is aiming this book at. A creative person who allows fear to hold them back in their endeavours and this is why I love this book so much. It feels like she wrote it just for me and, having someone so successful and whose writing I love, understand me, tell me that she has felt the same and that my feelings are understandable and manageable in a source of such comfort at times when I am struggling.

This is not really a practical ‘how to write’ book. It is a why to write book, and how to overcome the mental blocks that prevent us doing so. In this book, the author talks about all the things that hold us back from fully embracing and engaging in our creative impulses – not just writing but anything at all, painting, pottery, ice skating, anything you do for reasons not of pure practicality – and tries to reassure us that our fears and reservations are normal, universal and conquerable. I defy anyone who has ever wanted to do something creative but has felt embarrassed about it, fraudulent, foolish or afraid about doing so, to read this book and not see themselves mirrored back.

So, for me, this book is reassuring because it makes me feel less alone, and this is important because, as Elizabeth points out, creativity can be a lonely business and we tend to spend a lot of time in our own heads, fretting over our inadequacies and assuming no one else has these struggles. To hear that even the most successful of authors share these moments of angst and self-doubt can help to make use believe that persistence may not be futile and, if we just stick it out, maybe we can make it too.

Look, this book is not going to be for everyone. There is no getting away from the fact that some of her ideas about creativity are a little ‘out there,’ and she admits this herself. She talks about ideas and inspiration as actual living things with will and motivation and that there is real magic involved in the process of creation. Some people will find this hard to swallow and it may put them off but, even if you find these theories too wild to be credible, there is a lot in this book that will be relatable and useful.

She talks about fear and how it can cripple your creativity and this is the most personal of her comments to me. “…we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.’ She is writing my soul here. I have spent far too many hours being literally (and I do mean literally) paralysed with fear into an inability to write. To feel so understood, and also have someone tell me they can help me deal with it is of immense comfort.

“Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.” She’s talking about me again! Perfectionism has been the biggest debilitating factor of my life. It has caused me more anguish, stopped me doing more things, prevented me taking pride in any achievements than anything else in my life. It is absolutely not a virtue, it is a curse and, as Elizabeth says, it is ‘just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.” Did I mention that her imagery and turn of phrase are also one of the things that make this book such a delight?

She deals with so many topics in this book. How to live with your fear (because there is no getting rid of it), what success can look like and how defining it can help you get over your fear, how to give yourself permission to write, how to trust yourself and the process. Whatever your particular hurdles are that hinder you from creating freely, I’m sure you will find something in here to help you, give you a crumb of comfort and the impetus to keep going. Certainly, for me, this is a book I keep on hand to dip in and out of whenever I need it. To keep the doubts at bay. I am not a person who dogears their books, but my copy of Big Magic has many pages with the corners turned down so I can find a favourite line or paragraph when I need a little boost.

This book tells me it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to fail. It is okay to feel like a fraud. It is okay to call myself a writer even though I have no qualifications in this area. It is okay to be a writer and never get published. Success for me is mine to define and not for others to decide. Time spent doing something you love is never wasted, even if it has no commercial value.

It’s okay to be the skinny lobster in spandex tights.

Big Magic is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

elizabeth-gilbert2

Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1969, and grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm. She attended New York University, where she studied political science by day and worked on her short stories by night. After college, she spent several years traveling around the country, working in bars, diners and ranches, collecting experiences to transform into fiction.

These explorations eventually formed the basis of her first book – a short story collection called PILGRIMS, which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and which moved Annie Proulx to call her “a young writer of incandescent talent”.

During these early years in New York, she also worked as a journalist for such publications as Spin, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She was a three-time finalist for The National Magazine Award, and an article she wrote in GQ about her experiences bartending on the Lower East Side eventually became the basis for the movie COYOTE UGLY.

In 2000, Elizabeth published her first novel, STERN MEN (a story of brutal territory wars between two remote fishing islands off the coast of Maine) which was a New York Times Notable Book. In 2002, Elizabeth published THE LAST AMERICAN MAN – the true story of the modern day woodsman Eustace Conway. This book, her first work of non-fiction, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Elizabeth is best known, however for her 2006 memoir EAT PRAY LOVE, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. The book was an international bestseller, translated into over thirty languages, with over 12 million copies sold worldwide. In 2010, EAT PRAY LOVE was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. The book became so popular that Time Magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

In 2010, Elizabeth published a follow-up to EAT PRAY LOVE called COMMITTED—a memoir which explored her ambivalent feelings about the institution of marriage. The book immediately became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and was also received with warm critical praise. As Newsweek wrote, COMMITTED “retains plenty of Gilbert’s comic ruefulness and wide-eyed wonder”, and NPR called the book “a rich brew of newfound insight and wisdom.”

Her 2013 novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is a sprawling tale of 19th century botanical exploration. O Magazine named it “the novel of a lifetime”, and the Wall Street Journal called it “the most ambitious and purely-imagined work of (Gilbert’s) twenty-year career.” THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS was a New York Times Bestseller, and Janet Maslin called it “engrossing…vibrant and hot-blooded.” The novel was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker.”

In 2015, she published BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR—a book that encapsulates the joyful spirit of adventure and permission that Elizabeth has always brought to her work and to her life.

Her latest novel is CITY OF GIRLS — a rollicking, sexy tale of the New York City theater world during the 1940s. It will be published in June of 2019.

Elizabeth divides her time between New York City, rural New Jersey, and everywhere else.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Website: https://www.elizabethgilbert.com

Facebook: Liz Gilbert

Twitter: @GilbertLiz

Instagram: @elizabeth_gilbert_writer

Blog Blitz: Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea #BookReview

Through Dust and Dreams

I am delighted to be taking part in the one day blog blitz for Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for asking me to take part and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Through Dust and Dreams Cover

At a crossroads in her life, Roxana decides to take a ten-day safari trip to Africa. In Namibia, she meets a local guide who talks about “the courage to become who you are” and tells her that “the world belongs to those who dream”. Her holiday over, Roxana still carries the spell of his words within her soul.

Six months later she quits her job and searches for a way to fulfil an old dream: crossing Africa from north to south. Teaming up with Richard and Peter, two total strangers she meets over the Internet, Roxana starts a journey that will take her and her companions from Morocco to Namibia, crossing deserts and war-torn countries and surviving threats from corrupt officials and tensions within their own group.

Through Dust and Dreams is the story of their journey: a story of courage and friendship, of daring to ask questions and search for answers, and of self-discovery on a long, dusty road south.

I absolutely love travelogue novels, especially ones about places I haven’t visited and experiences I am never likely to have myself, as this is the closest I can get to being there myself, particularly is the writing is evocative and immersive. I have always been peculiarly obsessed with reading books about Africa, the more remote corners the better, because it is a world so far away from the one I know and these are places I am unlikely to get to in person. This fascination was ignited by the Gerald Durrell books I read in my teens and has never abated. I wanted to take on overland trip across Africa after uni but my parents wouldn’t allow it and, since then, the opportunity has never arisen, so books are the closest I can get.

This book describes the kind of trip I wished I could have taken myself, and probably the exact reason my parents didn’t want me to go. The author takes a massive risk in making this journey into one of the most dangerous and unknown parts of the world with total strangers, and I was absolutely fascinated and terrified for her at the same time. I very quickly became totally involved in her story, because I could so easily but that younger version of myself that wanted to make such a trip in her shoes, and I was envious and panicked in equal measure throughout. Despite this being a true story, or maybe because it was factual, this was as gripping as any fictional tale, with as many highs, lows and hair-raising moments as you could wish for. The pace is compelling throughout, and I read through it in record time.

The author is Romanian by birth and has lived in many different countries and this has given her a turn of phrase that is unusual and takes a little while to get used to but, in the end, it added to the exotic feel of the whole experience and I really enjoyed it. There is a lot of description of her feelings, and the emotional experience she has along the way. For me, this was one of the things that I liked most about the book, as an empathetic person who always wants to understand the motivations and feelings that underpin everything, this brought the book to life for me. There may be other people for whom the navel-gazing detracts from the travellers tale. Horses for courses.

This book brought Africa, its landscapes, different countries and diversity of people to life for me. It aroused every sense – sounds, tastes, smells, sights and tactile experiences are all described vividly and in detail, it was a tactile reading experience which is a real skill to achieve. I have to say, the book did not disappoint any of my hopes or expectations for it, it was a throughly engaging and rewarding read that I felt fully rewarded me for the time I invested in reading it.

This book has succeeded in feeding my obsession with Africa and my desire to visit these far-flung outposts for myself one day. Until then, I’ll have to seek out more reads like this to take me there from my armchair.

Through Dust and Dreams is available now via this link.

About the Author

Through Dust Author Pic

Roxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.

As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate Word is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–traveling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.

Roxana lives with her husband between England and Spain, and splits her time between writing, coaching and therapy work, but her first passion remains writing.

Connect with Roxana:

Website: https://roxanavalea.com

Facebook: Roxana Valea Author

Twitter: @roxana_valea

Instagram: @roxana_valea