Setting the tone

This morning I was lying in bed listening to the radio. English TV presenter Davina McCall was being interviewed and she mentioned that she ‘loves a new year’, that it was a time of ‘getting on with it’ after the world winding down over the Christmas period. I found myself nodding in agreement from beneath the duvet.

There is something insistent about a new year, isn’t there?

Wherever I am at this time of year, whether Down Under with family in Melbourne or at home here in London, I like to give a nod to the year just gone. This time around I’ve been enormously grateful for the time and space that my end-of-2016 redundancy has given me. 2017 has turned into something of a watershed year. It’s been a year during which I wondered how a life without a job – and the structure that a job brings – might look. It’s certainly been a year of reflecting and exploring what I’m passionate about.

And the first of these is reading.

Yes I’ve been indulging my passion for the written word, reading like a mad thing and finishing the year with 118 books under my belt. At the same time, I’ve tried to challenge myself by reading more widely and I’ve tackled books that have been confronting, uplifting and gripping. Some have been boring, some have been surprising. But for the most part, they took me to new places, immersed me in new stories and left me curious, inspired and hungry for more.

Then there’s learning.

I’ve introduced myself to the world of MOOCs, embarking on the first structured learning I’ve had in over 25 years. I relished the return to economics and development – a subject I loved at high school – and dived into the untested waters of democracy and development in Africa and an introduction to philosophy. It inspired me, taught me, challenged me and frustrated me. What I didn’t expect to learn is that I have a better capacity for self-discipline that I thought.

I’m also passionate about making a difference. Regular readers might remember that in June, I took on my first non-executive director role by becoming a school governor – answering a personal calling to support and guide the young people who will live in the environment/society we are leaving in our wake.

I’ve also been travelling, exploring places like York, Edinburgh and Muscat (Oman) for the first time as well as revisiting old haunts – Oxford and Canterbury in the UK and then Paris with Lil Chicky in November. And on the home-front, I’ve shone some light into a few culinary black spots and added some new made-by-me staples to the Gidday pantry.

That’s not a bad year. It has certainly been a busy and stimulating one so like everyone, I enjoyed the luscious slow-down of the pre-New Year week. But once I could see January on the horizon, just like Davina I was itching to get stuck in again.

So it’s time to tackle 2018.

I’ve already added a new batch-recipe staple to my culinary repertoire – a delicious chicken bhuna curry – courtesy of a pre-new year visit to the Waitrose Cookery School.

bhuna curry montage

Left: The version I produced under supervision (with some sticky rice and made-by-Kym chapati); Right: The batch made at home was an absolute treat. The three leftover portions froze beautifully and kept me well-fed for a week.

I’ll be continuing to expand my aesthetic horizons this year and am off to the V&A Museum next Tuesday. What’s new about that? I hear you say. Well, I’ll be off with my brand spanking new V&A Museum membership – a Christmas present from Mum – tucked safely in my pocket.

VAM membership pack

The membership pack was almost as much fun to open as the promise of free exhibitions and other membership perks!

On the reading front, I’ve signed up to read 70 books for the year on Goodreads – including something from all 50 themes on the PopSugar Reading Challenge 2018  list – and am looking forward to some unexpected gems from my V&A Book Group. And after a few years of donating, I’ve finally made the acquaintance of the bookshelf at my local charity shop.

Book stack

I loved Byatt’s The Children’s Book (a V&A Book Group read from last year) so was chuffed to find Possession on the shelf. Grenville and Amis are authors I’ve never read and let’s face it, at less than £1.50 per book, I can afford to explore some new literary horizons.

I’ve also taken my first steps towards being a property investor, attending a 3-day strategy builder course last weekend, booking in for some courses on Buy-To-Let and Multiple-Occupancy over the coming months and getting stuck in with some research.

And of course my governor activity will continue in earnest as we embed last year’s initiatives and embark on some exciting new projects in 2018.

So with all of this setting the tone for the year ahead, I’ve bought some new stationery…

Stationery

Setting the (b)right tone for the year

Isn’t it lovely?

*sigh*

It’s going to be a bright and shiny 2018 peeps – I can feel it already!

2017: My mid-year book report

We are now in the last week of July and life has become unbelievably full with the relaxed, undulating pace from earlier in the year all but gone. The great news is that I’m still squeezing reading into every nook and cranny that I can, so much so that I am already on the cusp of hitting my book target for the year…in July.  So I figured now was a good time for a mid-year review of this year’s literary adventures.

In January I set myself the target of reading sixty books in 2017…well by the end of June I had read fifty. I’m pleased to report that I have finished everything I’ve read, so there hasn’t yet been a book tainted with the ignominy of a Gidday 1-star rating. And I’ve only had three 2-star ratings (this is essentially a nod to finishing something that I’ve dragged myself through so slightly better than a 1-star). If you are any good at maths, you’ll have worked out by now that I have read 47 enjoyable-or-better books this year – that’s 94% and a cracking strike rate!

At the literary-love end of the scale, I have awarded Gidday 5-star ratings to eleven books so far.

2017 HY 5-star montage

These have been across a mix of genres and include returns to some of my favourite writers. Australia is represented twice in this list with Liane Moriarty’s un-put-down-able Big Little Lies (now a HBO series) and Matthew Reilly’s addictive thriller, The Great Zoo of China. I’ve embarked on #2’s in two trilogies with the gripping dystopian tale Insurgent from Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and the poignant split-time novel, Sepulchre, in Kate Mosse’s Languedoc trilogy. And while I enjoyed Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard when it was released a few years back, Black Water, set in the hills of Bali, absolutely blew me away.

I’ve also loved discovering new authors. The exploration of friendship in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay left me feeling incredibly moved while Robin Sloan had me turning pages voraciously to unravel the mysteries of Mr Penumbra and his 24-hour bookstore.

Non-fiction made its debut amongst the 5-star reads this year. I attended the launch of Deborah Rowland’s Still Moving [free book disclaimer here] and really enjoyed exploring her insights into leadership and change. Mark Stevenson’s talk at the howto: academy about people doing things differently was fascinating and prompted me to buy the book. And I loved Peter Frankopan’s new history of the silk roads – it even yielded a family connection.

So the first half of the year has been fabulously bookish, my attendance at the V&A Museum‘s bi-monthly book group continues and June’s Emerald Street Literary Festival was again a highlight of the year so far. In fact, July has yielded two more 5-star reads neither of which I would have chosen had it not been for these events. I got a free copy of Morgan McCarthy’s The House of Birds at the Emerald Street Literary Festival and Maria Duenas’ The Seamstress is our next V&A Book Group read.

july17 5star montage

With the back half of the year off to an impressive start, I’m hoping the months ahead yield lots of lush literary adventures. In the meantime, that brings me to the end of my first half-year highlights so I hope that you’ve found something that inspires you to bury your nose in a book. If not, there are another twenty-two 4-star and fourteen 3-star reviews available on Goodreads or Amazon if you want to fossick about further for something I’ve read/reviewed that might take your fancy.

Remember, in the words of Lemony Snicket “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” (Horseradish).

As far as I’m concerned that’s an excellent mantra to live by.

Happy reading!

ps…and don’t forget there are only six sleeps to go peeps – I wonder what amazing books I will discover once I’m 48?

 

An anthology of literary ladies

I love to read and those of you who know me even remotely will know this. As a little girl, I went everywhere with a book under one arm (and my favourite doll Cindy-Lou under the other) and whenever we went into ‘town’ (that was Brisbane in Australia peeps), Mum would let me choose one new book to bring home with me. Little Golden Books like The Poky Little Puppy, Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat (and the one where he comes back) and the Meg and Mog series were among my pre-school favourites.

I’ve been doing reading challenges on goodreads over the last few years, essentially setting a target number of books to read each year. I start with the minimum of a book a week with a little extra added for my book-and-beach holidays where the rate can rise to as much as a book a day.

This year, I’ve set a similar target but in an effort to explore new genres, have also signed up for another challenge – to read 40 of these books across different themes: Themes like a book set in your home state, a dystopian novel and a novel with a protagonist who has your occupation. (This last one has me a bit stumped so if anyone knows of a book where the protagonist works in marketing, let me know!)

So far I’ve read twelve from the list of themes (out of the 29 books read so far this year) and loved East of Eden (a classic from the 20th century), A Town Like Alice (a book that takes place on an island), The Lake House (a book with over 600 pages) and Ferney (a book recommended by a family member).

I also love author interviews. Not just the authors I know and/or love like Jo Nesbo, Kate Mosse, Robert Harris and Chimamanda Adichie but also ones I haven’t read like Howard Jacobson or ones whose stories I’ve preferred on the big screen rather than on the page like Helen Fielding (she of Bridget Jones fame).

So yesterday’s inaugural Emerald Street Literary Festival was right up my street. Held in the Royal Geographical Society buildings in South Kensington, the £20 ticket offered three ‘events’, a free drink on arrival and a rather gorgeous outdoor marquee to while away the time in between.

I started my afternoon with the Jessie Burton interview (she wrote The Miniaturist – read it, it’s fabulous) and loved her vivacious and self-deprecating take on changing careers to become a writer.  Her new book, The Muse, is out at the end of this month. I can’t wait.

I had two hours to kill before my next event. I had thought I might dash down the road to the V&A to wander through the Jewellery Gallery (which I’ve wanted to linger over since being marched through by security en route to an evening talk last year). Instead, I spent an entirely pleasant time in the marquee reading (The Book Thief – moving and lovely despite the grim themes) and chatting with the three other ladies sitting at the table about who we’d seen at the festival and what we’d read.

My second event was upstairs in the Library Room with Scarlett Thomas. I’ve not read any of her books but have recently downloaded her latest novel, The Seed Collectors so this was a great opportunity to listen to her chat about all sorts of things.

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The Library Room at the Royal Geographic Society. I still get a bit weak-kneed at the thought of a room lined with books despite my Kindle love.

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Scarlett Thomas (right) chats with Alex Peake-Thompson

Unlike Burton, Thomas is more established in her writing career and I found her refreshingly down to earth as she spoke of her books being borne of the collection of things that she’s interested in at the time – She referred to The Seed Collectors as her ‘Biology’ book. In her reading a few passages from it, she’s moved it up my list into ‘read next’ status. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit neatly into any of my goodreads challenge categories…oh well.

And finally, it was a return to the theatre to hear from Maggie O’Farrell. I’ve read Instructions for a Heatwave and rated it 4-stars so I was interested to hear O’Farrell talk about her latest (and 7th) novel, This Must Be The Place. Her website promotes the book as being about “who we become as we search for our place in the world” which really struck a chord and listening to her talk about some of the characters and the editing process as she developed the story was fascinating. Even better, there were no spoilers so that’s another one on the “to read” list.

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Maggie O’Farrell reading from This Must Be The Place

After this luscious literary afternoon, I walked back to the tube station full of new things to read and inspired to keep writing (or tap-tap-tapping away as is the case right now). All three authors I saw spoke about the first step being just finishing the d***ed book – word by word, paragraph by paragraph – and the many, many times they wrote snippets on the tube and in the car (in all sorts of places really) which have ended up either in their novels or inspiring some other piece of writing.

And I was left with this thought: who knows what yours truly might end up cobbling together one day…