What I’ve been reading: Lost Gospels, Funny Girls and Near Death Experiences

It’s been a crazy reading ride so far this year. I’ve decided to capture what I’ve been reading throughout the year and review as I go through a monthly book round-up. This one is a double-whammy so it’s a touch on the long side – usually they’ll be shorter! (But equally as weird – I flit crazily between fiction, self-help, spirituality and writing-craft books.)

It all started pretty normally with the newest release from Mhairi McFarlane – who writes the best down-to-earth, funny female characters and really sexy, brooding but ultimately lovely love interests. This one delves into the world of a floundering 30 something barmaid who comes face to face with the boy who broke her teenage heart – and he doesn’t remember her at all. I fully identified with the main character as we both own the same (ridiculous) pink fur coat. Huh. Good stuff though. I’d recommend her books to anyone – and this new one was as familiar and comforting as all of her others. (These are, by the way, absolutely cracking holiday reads. She is SUCH A FUNNY LADY.)

Then my dad recommended Funny Girl by Nick Hornby. I don’t think I’ve read any others by him (perhaps About a Boy? But maybe not) but I enjoyed it. It’s set in the late 1950s in Britain, and follows northerner Barbara as she moves to London to pursue a life of comedy television. The story spans many years and many of the characters involved in writing and producing a successful sitcom. It’s funny, but bittersweet. Very evocative of how I imagine the country was back then, the good and the frustrating, un-PC bad.

Excuse Me, Your Life Is Waiting! was next, and it was one that I’d been dithering over for a while. I’m glad I read it, it has kickstarted a whole chain of interesting and introspective events since! The premise of the book is that in order to change your life, you need to change the way you feel. It’s less about ‘thoughts create reality’ and more ’emotions and feelings create reality.’ It made me SO aware of my emotions, and through keeping a 30 day journal as recommended in the book, I’ve been shocked by how difficult it is to consistently maintain positive feelings in my body. It’s easy to think positively, but without the accompanying emotion, I’m not sure that thoughts alone have much impact. But when I’ve managed to get the feeling to align with the thoughts… Weird things have been happening in my life, guys, and I’m totally into this. Things just keep appearing when I need them (and for a while after reading this, the suddenly meaningful song ‘You Always Take The Weather With You’ by Crowded House kept following me everywhere, in books, radio, TV and in shops. Weird). Lynn’s writing style is a bit divisive – it’s very pally and chummy and a bit old school. What’s even weirder is that after this book her life took a bit of a weird twist and she slumped into depression, going on to write two further books all about how we are in some way being prepared on Earth for some other planet…. Earth Two, I think she called it. I won’t be reading those books. My intuition – which I rely on a lot for my reading choices – tells me to just…ignore those ones.

Anyway, through keeping my journal of positive emotion, I started noticing a lot of things that I would otherwise have ignored. One of which was a bible quote in my parish newsletter: “Knock and the door shall be opened, ask and it shall be given.” I have no desire to read the bible but something about this felt sort of apt given what I’d been reading, and it made me idly wonder what it would be like to learn about Jesus without all the….religion attached.

Idle thoughts can take you in strange directions, my friends.

I googled. And I Amazoned. To my surprise, my online delving finally delivered me to The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels. So, did you know that in 1945 an urn full of thousand-odd year old heretical gospels were dug up in Egypt? Because somehow, that passed me by. They apparently inspired the Da Vinci Code, and I do love a secret-text related mystery…. These gospels were more spiritual than the ones that made it into the bible (and therefore deemed heretical by the orthodox church.) Totally fascinating. Good historical book, this one. I felt enriched and also a little wiser by the end.

ANYWAY – getting back to normality with Indie Confidence – this deserves its own review. It was a great confidence boost and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of writing a book but lacking in direction or self-confidence, and particularly anyone wanting to publish themselves. It was balanced, personal and warmly written, and gave me back a bit of writing mojo. Another useful craft book was Erik Bork’s The Idea, which lays out the seven key elements of any successful idea. He’s a scriptwriter so a lot of the book is focused on scripts and movies, but it’s really translatable to novels. He explains everything with contemporary and classic examples (mostly films, though) and it has given me a lot to think about with my current WIP and future ideas I want to develop into stories. If you can crack the high-concept stuff at the really early stages then actually plotting and more importantly selling the story will be so, so much easier further down the line.

I’m just going to finish by touching on Proof of Heaven, which I’ve read three times now and find a lot of comfort in it. Like I said, I’m not religious. This is one of those books that presents a very spiritual concept in a way that doesn’t make you think everyone involved is a space-cake. The author is a neurosurgeon, who a decade or so ago contracted a really rare form of bacterial meningitis and went into a deep coma. His brain basically shut down. The chances of him dying were 97% and nobody, nobody in his situation had ever made a full recovery before. Whilst his neocortex was totally out of action, and therefore incapable of fantastical flights of fantasy and imagination, the author describes how he found himself in a totally different (heavenly) realm that felt more real than life on earth ever had. He attributes this to his consciousness expanding beyond his body and experiencing what life outside of our current reality is really like. He then went on to make a rapid and total recovery, astounding everyone. This book is SO INTERESTING.

It also has special meaning for me as I found this book in my grandad’s room a week after he died. I’d had no idea that he was interested in such things when he was alive, and I wish I could have talked to him about it – he had other similarly esoteric books on his shelf too. But I found it when I needed it, and like I said, it’s a very comforting view of existence.

In summary – if you want a giggle, read anything by Mhairi McFarlane. If you want to write books, read The Idea and Indie Confidence. And if you want to know what happens after you die… Dr Eben Alexander has you covered.

 

 

Girl, Wash Your Face (and get out of your pyjamas while you’re at it)

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I’ve only recently got into audiobooks, thanks to a free trial of Audible, and I’ve gotta say, they’re a real game-changer when it comes to livening up housework/playing peek-a-boo, with the baby/drinking wine secretly in a cupboard.

My second ever audiobook was Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face, and I feel that for slightly flustered, confused and inadequate-feeling mothers everywhere, this book has a lot of appeal. It’s read by the author, and she’s got a great, conversational tone. You feel like you’re having a heart-to-heart with her after an inhibition-lowering glass of wine. Plus, she’s so honest. She talks about shaving her toes, for crying out loud, not to mention the many other oft-hidden aspects of being a woman, wife, mother, worker and all the rest of it.

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In Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis debunks a number of lies we’ve been told about how we should feel or what we should do, in the hopes that we will shake off the shackles of societal pressures and reclaim our authentic, glorious selves. Hollis is a Christian and refers to her faith frequently throughout, but in a way that I found relevant to people of different or no faiths. (I know a handful of people who instantly go on the offended offensive the minute the G word is mentioned, so I guess for those, this ain’t the book.)

She covers a really wide range of topics with easy-going humour and frankness, touching on sex, relationships, career success, grief, parenting and appearance and much in between. I liked the chapter on achieving your dreams, on being a good writer, and particularly the final chapter: The Lie – I Need A Hero.

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These books often find me at the time I need them most, and I finished listening to this book on a chilly Thursday when I’d spent the whole day at home with my baby, a day when I hadn’t fully bothered to change out of my pyjamas, merely throwing a jumper over my PJ top and scraping my hair back into a messy, unwashed half-bun. I’d managed some writing while Little Pixie napped, but I was doubting my abilities, second-guessing my future and I definitely stank of fish courtesy of a jar of absolutely gross-smelling baby food.

The final line of the book is the titular ‘Girl, wash your face!’ and as I heard that, I realised that’s absolutely what I should have done that morning. It made me determined to do several things:

  • Throw away all of my slobby looking pyjamas-slash-leisure wear, so that I am no longer tempted to pretend that I have actually changed out of my sleepwear. Opening the door to the postie in a pair of flimsy button-down jammies, or a silky nightie, is a line I am not prepared to cross.
  • Wash my bloody face in the morning! I might not always be able to stretch to a morning shower (sometimes I just can’t deal with the crying and whining and baby clinging on to the edge of the bath and screaming every time a droplet of water hits her) but I can splash myself awake, slather on some CC cream and pucker up with some tinted lip balm.
  • Move this body. Writing is not a healthy hobby when it comes to posture and exercise. I bought a book on beginners Tai Chi several months ago with the intention to start in the new year. However, we’re now into February and I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of the book, plodding through a chapter on how to breathe properly. I need to set aside some time to speed-read it so I can stop making excuses and get to the step-by-step actual Tai-Chi bit. Also – I’m weirdly craving some sort of boxing/kick-boxing class. This must be a passing phase – I didn’t really enjoy learning karate that much in my twenties. I think I just want to feel strong and capable (as though I’m not already, after three years of carrying a child in one arm whilst hefting washing baskets up and down stairs).
  • Give my writing the credit it deserves. I’ve come so far, and absolutely no good can come of doubting myself now. My instincts have always served me well (when I’ve followed them, anyway. Who knows what kind of yacht-owning, mega-wealthy influencer I could be today if I’d followed that urge to start a make-up review website back in the early-noughties heyday of personal web pages – anyone remember Moonfruit.com??)

In summary – if you are a woman, and you ever doubt yourself or are holding onto any resentments over your past, your body or your abilities, then this is a really uplifting, honest and inspiring book. Run a bath, pour a glass of wine and listen to it on your bluetooth speaker. We all need a bit of tough love and gentle truths.

 

Book review: Let’s Get Digital by David Gaughran

It’s taking me a really long time to admit to myself and the world what it is I really want to do. I get easily distracted, or inspired by other people, and suddenly find myself going off on tangents… Maybe I can make a range of baby clothes?! Maybe I can become a life coach?! Maybe I could actually put my experience and training to use and become a freelance Copywriter?!

Gotta face facts: I want to write stories. I want to write stories and get paid for doing so. I want to spend my life creating, writing and looking after my kids. That would make me happy.

The reason it has taken me so long to realise that this is what I truly want is largely fear and intimidation; I assumed that the only way this could be my reality was if I did things the traditional way: find an agent, get a publisher, wait for the royalties to flow in. (Hahahaha)

But there are many flaws to that plan, not least the fact it stops me at the first hurdle by playing right into the hands of my inferiority complex. Deep down I doubt that I’m good enough, so I don’t feel excited or confident enough to fight for an agent.

When I read David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Digital: How to self publish and why you should, it was as though the clouds parted. People – like me – have done this. They have written books, published them, found readers and made money. And they don’t seem to have regretted their writing path one bit.

I highly recommend this book, whether you need inspiration or a clearly laid out map of how to get your book from your computer onto other people’s e-readers. The author is down to earth, realistic and uplifting.

He breaks down some myths surrounding Amazon’s Kindle Store, and gives some effective ways to get your book noticed, starting from getting a brilliant editor and front cover all the way to running promotions and connecting with readers.

The part I found particularly insightful was the background to the publishing industry, and the impact that indie authors has had on it. Most eye opening was the royalties you can achieve as a self-publisher: 70% of the sale price, depending on the price you set, compared to around 14% for an average traditionally published book. More excitingly, self-publishing gives the author so much more control, speed and freedom to make money however they choose. It’s hard work, but it’s all to play for!

It made me see the possibilities and allowed me to gently, and without regret, give up on my dreams of being traditionally published. There’s another way and it’s exciting.

I’m now in the process of getting a professional critique of my first novel – I’ve been fiddling with it for too long and now it needs to either be finished or shelved – and to start outlining my next few novels. The key to success with self-publishing seems to be quality and quantity, so I need to find ways to streamline the planning and writing process so that I can publish as prolifically as possible.

I’ll be reviewing some books that offer advice on how to do this in the future, not to mention sharing my self-publishing adventures and mistakes!

And as always, I’ll be fitting all of this around my mothering career, housework career (please someone fire me from this one) and general life-administrator.

My cup truly runneth over…

Love

C x

3 Brilliant Books – for mind, soul and career

I’m only just getting to the stage where I have big enough chunks of time available for writing; until now, all I could manage was holding my Kindle in one hand whilst feeding baby and dreaming of all the words I was itching to write.

But thanks to all this lovely reading time, I’ve discovered three fantastic books (amongst the twenty-odd I’ve read these past few weeks) that I’m itching to recommend. Without further ado (the baby’s 5-minute cooing sesh is turning rapidly to grunts that could go either way) here they are:

FOR THE MIND – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton

Part Sherlock, part Groundhog Day, part murder mystery evening, I bloody loved this book. Couldn’t put it down. It’s set in a creepy old house called Blackheath, trapped within a never-ending forest. The whole place is haunted by memories of a child’s death years ago, and the main character is set the task of solving a murder that’s about to happen. The story is told from one character’s perspective, but through the eyes of a number of key witnesses to the murder itself, and it’s SO CLEVER. Honestly, I wish wish wish I had the brain and the commitment to write this myself. I don’t want to give away any more, as discovering it all myself was part of the deliciousness of this book, but go and download it or order it. Unless you are looking for something light-hearted and frothy, in which case probably don’t bother – it’s not gory or gritty, but it is intense and full of unhappy, complicated characters. Top notch stuff.

If you are craving giggles and smut, may I recommend ‘Hot Mess’ and ‘What Fresh Hell‘ by Lucy Vine? I love her writing, and really relate to her characters. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion, which I rarely do in real life (whilst reading, that is. OBVIOUSLY I laugh out loud all the time when going about my normal, hilarious life).

FOR THE SOUL – The Inside-out Revolution, by Michael Neill

The tagline for this book is ‘The only thing you need to know to change your life forever’ which screams overpromising to me, but then I honestly can’t get enough of personal development and self-help books. I tear through them like trashy romances. More about my addiction another day though – for now, suffice it to say that I’ve read A LOT, and this book is probably the one I should have started with, because then I probably wouldn’t have needed to read many more.

The author, some sort of life coach (isn’t everyone a life coach these days?) puts into very straightforward and compelling words the principles of mind, consciousness and thought, or very very simply: the way you think about something creates your own version of reality, and by realising that everything you experience is created by your own thoughts, you have the power to change your reality. If it sounds very woo-woo, then fair enough, but it made an awful lot of sense to me. I had a lot of ‘of course!’ moments whilst reading this, and it has given me many insights into how my mind works that are really improving the quality of everything I do. I’m even sleeping like a dream after reading this, and I have a 10 week old baby. (I made her read it too)

There are many other books on this topic I’d recommend but this was the one that left me feeling the most excited about all of the possibilities out there in the world (or in here, in my head-world, I suppose) and also is the one that is least likely to make you take the piss out of me for my reading choices. (Oh my god I’ve read so, so, so much worse you have no idea).

FOR YOUR CAREER – Be A Free Range Human, by Marianne Cantwell

This one has another tempting tagline: ‘Escape the 9-5, create the life you love and still pay the bills.’ I mean…yes please!

Again, I’ve read quite extensively on this topic – creating a portfolio career –  because though I love my job (or at least, I don’t dislike it) I’ve always suspected there must be other, more flexible and personally fulfilling ways of making money. And with two kids, it’d be lovely to spend more time with them.

(LOL, I mean, not ALL of my time with them, I’m not insane. I love them, but Mummy Pig needs a break weekly/daily/hourly.  Shout out to all stay-at-home-mums – you guys are hard as nails).

Anyway – I thought this was a very uplifting and motivating book about the potential of creating your own working life. It’s a kick in the face to the idea that one 9-5 style job is all any of us should be aiming for, and left me feeling inspired to consider alternatives. It’s quite focused on people who might like a career that allows them to travel more. This is so far from my own desires right now, but was still a great read. It can’t tell you what you should do with your life, but there are exercises and questions throughout the book to get you thinking, and I’d recommend you do them because I found some of what I came up with a real eye-opener.

Again, there are other great books on this topic – I reviewed one of them (The Idea In You) and if you like a structured approach, there are books like ‘Screw Work, Break Free’ and ‘Screw Work, Let’s Play’, both by John Williams. Also, a special mention for ‘Creating the Impossible‘ by Michael Neill, who wrote the book I recommended above – this one is a 90 day process of bringing a seemingly impossible ‘thing’ into the world, whether it’s a business, a product, an idea or even a specific amount of money. I enjoyed it a lot – great for breaking free of self-doubt and inertia that holds so many of us back from doing things we dream of.

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Welp, hopefully that’s enough for you to be getting on with for now – I know not everyone has 9 solid hours of one-handed reading time available to them each day, but if you can carve a little time out to feed your mind, soul or desire for something a bit different, then give them a whirl.

My daughter has been cooing on her changing mat for 40 minutes, and has now fallen asleep there. I don’t know whether to feel neglectful or triumphant? I’m going to go with triumphant (she seems pretty content down there) and go and make myself a deliciou- Oh, no, she’s awake now. Some other time, luncheon, some other time!

 

Book Review: The Idea In You

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Full disclosure: all I really aspire to in life is daily happiness, a healthy family and a bigger kitchen. I always assumed I wasn’t aiming very high, until I realised that having an ultimate goal of just being happy was probably the best thing I could ever do. I’ve done lots of ‘work’ on myself over the years, and I can confirm my head is now a very pleasant and positive place to spend the majority of my time.

But happiness takes many different forms. For a lot of people (me included) one of the routes to happiness is through constantly having a project. That’s why so many people always redecorate their homes, or make things, or write blogs, or do training courses. It’s the feeling of forward motion and the possibility of going somewhere new that brings satisfaction.

How about a project that could actually make you money? That seems like the holy grail, doesn’t it?

But where I have always fallen down is actually nailing down the idea of the project itself. Where do I start? Writing a book? Becoming a freelance copywriter? Creating….art? Becoming a life coach? How could I take the things I enjoy doing and turn them into a flexible and profitable way of living?

So I did what I always do in any situation, and read lots of books about it.

The Idea In You, written by Martin Amor and Alex Pellew (who have backgrounds in product development and working in an innovation consultancy) was a really good introduction to nailing down what your idea could actually be. You don’t really have to have any clue at the start of the book where you might want your project to end up – but if you do, then going through the whole book will definitely help you shape and define it.

I enjoy books that give me a good balance of practical advice, dreamy inspiration, and push me to take action as I go through the book. The Idea In You achieved this balance well. At heart it is a practical book, but as it’s an introduction to identifying and implementing your idea, it also includes plenty of nudges to apply what you are reading to your own potential project (in the form of ‘Do it now!’ prompts) and lots of good case studies from successful start-ups. The case-studies are primarily for physical products instead of things like online services, coaching etc, but there are recaps after each one to show you how you can learn from their experiences in your own project.

I’ve read books that in my view provide more hands-on, practical exercises in actually teasing the ideas out of yourself (and there’s no getting around the fact you have to actually do the work to achieve this) but this one was a really effective all-rounder, and is written in a completely down to earth and accessible way. The very start of it included an ‘imagine this’ scenario that looked so much like my own life (down to the Sainsbury’s bag hanging off the back of the kitchen cupboard) that I nearly choked on my KitKat.

For someone who has done a lot of reading around self-improvement, living in the present and creating a happy and positive inner-world, there are bits of this book that are a bit unnecessary. But for those who haven’t, then it provides a nice brief snapshot of what it means to get your head straight, to appreciate your health and wellbeing and to balance big dreams with practical realities.

There’s also a very useful black book of resources at the end of the book, from training videos to blog and website platforms, to online selling platforms to where to find investors. I haven’t fully explored all of the relevant ones yet but it’s good to know they are there. The website for the book also offers the chance to become part of a Creator Community, and after reading the book you’ll definitely want to be part of a community that can offer support and encouragement…

After all, it’s one thing reading about starting a project and another thing actually doing it. This book makes no bones about the reality of turning an idea into a business, but at the same time, it is inspiring enough to shape an idea up and make you want to take action.

The next part, obviously, is up to us…

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