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.

 

 

Writing, parenting, everything: it’s only ever about the journey

I find it so hard to exist in the moment sometimes.  Especially when I’m writing or sleep training or staring at my boring white walls; I want the end goal now, damn it!  I want the novel finished, edited, enrobed in a glossy cover and out there making money for me!  I want my children to be sleeping through the night and not waking every few hours for no reason!  I want to be able to embrace the ‘dark walls’ trend without having to go through the ‘living-room looks like a bomb-site’ bit!

Who was it who said that being alive is basically just dying a little bit more every day?  I don’t think that was my brain, though I frequently think similar thoughts.  But it’s true; wanting the end goal in any situation is a bit like saying ‘I want to just get it all over and done with and do the being dead bit now, please, because all this bit in the middle is just a bit tedious.  I’m impatient, you know?  I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything.’

It’s a really weird way to live.  We all do it, but it’s fundamentally flawed.

I’m starting work on a new story at the moment, about a woman who wants to relive her teenage years because she felt that her own were such a disappointment, but when she does get to experience teenage life again, she realises it’s a total mind-fuck.  (That wasn’t the word I was going to use, actually, but it slipped out.)  Anyway, I wrote the outline this morning and then wrote the first couple of scenes, and then thought, ‘Ugh.  This is going to take a long time.  I’m still working on the first novel and I technically finished that two years ago.  Why can’t it just be done already?’

Then I caught myself.  What?  Why would I want the thing that I most enjoy doing to be over?  I love the act of writing. I love coming up with ideas and pulling almost-tangible characters out of thin air to go and live these adventures.  I bloody love putting words in people’s mouths.  I’d put ’em in yours, if I saw you.  So why on earth am I wishing it was all over already?

Then I realised that what I actually wanted was the freedom to keep doing it.  Even whilst I was doing it, I wanted to be doing more of it.  The money fantasy…it’s great.  It’s unlikely, but it’s a lovely dream.  But even if I never made a penny I’d still write, I just love the idea that someone one day might pay so that it can be all I do.  But it’s strange to fantasise about doing the thing you are CURRENTLY DOING.

I saw something on Instagram a while ago that captured that feeling of having a beautiful moment, and whilst you are still experiencing that beautiful moment (like a kiss in the rain, or a breathtaking sunset), you are simultaneously experiencing nostalgia FOR THE SAME MOMENT.

I guess what I’m basically saying is we are all screwed up and strange, wanting what we’ve already got but ignoring the magic of it at the same time.

I woke up the other morning and for a second, felt really excited.  Like something amazing was going to happen.  Then I remembered it was just a random Tuesday, nothing exciting was going to happen.  But THEN (I know, it’s a rollercoaster of emotion in my head before 9am) I told myself: No!  Something amazing COULD happen!  Anything could happen!  This is a brand new day, which you are alive to witness, influence and create, and damnit you SHOULD be excited!  Every morning!’

This was meant to be a few words to say: let’s all stop being so focused on the end goal and just enjoy the little moments, shall we?  They don’t all have to be amazing.  Having my hair pulled by my 6 month old isn’t enriching for the soul.  Scraping Babybel wax out of the rug isn’t invigorating for my well-being.  But in every moment, anything could happen.  Everything could change.  It might not.  But it could.

That’s what makes great stories.  That’s what makes great lives.

Off to peel stickers off my laminate wood flooring now.  #livingmybestlife

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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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