Saturday, 14 October 2017

Stacking the Shelves #108 - #BatKidsLitFest Haul & Recap + Surprise Book Mail!

Hello, everyone!

I hope you've all had a lovely week. Did you get up to anything exciting?

I thought I was going to have a very small haul this week...but it ended up being not-so-small.

I attended a YA literature event last weekend (I'll talk about that more later on) and I picked up quite a few books there - more than I thought I would! 

Also, thank you to Harper Collins Children's Books for sending me books to review; I can't wait to read them! 

This past week has honestly been one of the most lovely weeks I've had! It was filled with blogging (I just feel so inspired to blog lately - I LOVE THIS FEELING), making new friends and lots of bookish fun. It's been great, truly.

So last week Saturday and Sunday I attended the Bath Children's Literature Festival which is one of my favourite things ever. I met Lara Williamson (author of A Boy Called Hope, The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean in an Armchair and Spaghetti-Hoop Boy) on Saturday which was so much fun! A lot of the people attending the event were a lot younger than me as she writes middle-grade books; so I felt super old, but I had a great time! She played "Pass the Parcel" with the audience and really interacted with them which was lovely. But, I'm not going to lie, I was super terrified that the parcel would reach me and I'd have to speak in front of everybody (yes, I'm that shy) but luckily it didn't. 😂

On Saturday evening, I went with my friend to the Brian Conaghan & Sarah Crossan event, where they discussed their new book, We Come Apart. One of the audience members asked the authors about the ending of their book (which I believe is quite sad) and we just saw this young girl's head flop onto her mom's shoulder after Brian and Sarah answered the question, which clearly wasn't what she wanted to hear. Later on, the mom answered a question that another member of audience had asked and she said she'd never seen her daughter cry so hard in a book. Sarah Crossan hugged her afterwards and apologized for making her cry, which I thought was really sweet! Poor kid, nobody must've warned her that the book nerd life is a painful life.

Then Sunday (THE BEST DAY EVER) happened. Sunday was a very, very good day. It was the kind of day I hope I never forget; the kind of day that elicited feelings I wish I could store in a bottle. It was also unseasonably warm with actual sunshine, even the weather wanted to make it a good day! 
So on Sunday, I kicked off my literary day by attending the Emily Barr Creative Writing Workshop which was incredible. I felt so inspired to read and write, I was brave enough to read some of what I'd written out loud (who even am I?!) and I got two story ideas during the class! Emily gave such wonderful advice and I adored the writing exercises she set us; you can read my in-depth recap (and read some of my writing) here! 

After that I had to rush to the Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison and Lauren James event, which was on the other side of Bath. It was chaotic and rushed but I MADE IT. I absolutely loved the talk! I was grinning and laughing for the entire length of the talk and I had so much fun listening to them speak. The discussion was also in a really nice comedy club. There were tables set out with red cloths draped over them and on each table, for each different event, there were different books/swag you could take! FREE BOOKS. 

After the event I met TWO BOOK BLOGGERS - I've never met online friends IRL before! I met Lucy from Queen of Contemporary who I've known for nearly six years. It was so surreal meeting one of my first ever blogging friends! She's so lovely and I'm so happy I finally got to meet her! 

I also met Alice from Married to Books and she's so sweet; she lives quite near to me so I'm hoping we can hang out more often!

After I'd gotten my book signed by Lauren James and chatted to Lucy and Alice for a bit, my friend and I went to Waitrose to go get some lunch. My parents were there with a friend, so Matthew and I sat and chatted to them for a bit whilst we had lunch. After replenishing my energy levels with a beautiful chicken sandwich, we hurried down to the comedy club again to listen to Gemma Cairney, Sara Barnard and Amy Alward! Sara sadly couldn't make it due to illness, but it was so much fun listening to Gemma and Amy speak! They talked about the importance of writing books that deal with difficult topics (Gemma), the importance of including girls who are interested in STEM in their books (Amy); the spoke about their writing processes, books they are currently reading and a whole lot of other fun stuff! I haven't read Gemma or Amy's books but I had my copy of The Potion Diaries with me, so Amy was kind enough to sign it! 

Matthew and I then went back to Waitrose to buy a chocolate and hang about in the cafe for a bit (there was a 45 minute break between each talk) and then we were off to the last event! When we got the comedy club Alice waved us over, which was really nice of her! So we sat by Alice, picked up some new books off of the table and ate chocolate - IT WAS MUCH FUN. The last talk was fandom/cosplay themed so the authors on the panel had dressed up and there were several people in the audience also donning cosplay outfits, which was so cool! I absolutely loved listening to Frances Hardinge, Maggie Harcourt and Lucy Saxon chat about their favourite fandoms, the books they're reading, the books they're was SO FUN. I laughed so much and I, again, had SO MUCH FUN. I really want to try to get Frances's and Lucy's books now - they sound so good

After the event I got my books signed and then THE MOST EXCITING THING HAPPENED. Okay, so. At our table, a woman and her daughter were sitting and she had an arc of Renegades by Marissa Meyer that she gave to Alice as she didn't want it. I was like, OH MY GOSH THAT MUST MEAN THERE ARE COPIES OF RENEGADES AROUND HERE SOMEWHERE. So I was craning my neck and popping my head up like a meerkat but it's dark inside the room so I couldn't see if there were any other copies. ANYWAY, fast forward to after the event. I'm standing in line to get my book signed by Maggie Harcourt, and one of the stewards enters into the signing room. She holds up a copy of Renegades and says the most glorious words I've ever heard, "Does anyone want this book?". I waited half a second to give someone else a chance to put their hand up (how polite of me) but no one did so I shot my hand up. And I got a copy of Renegades. I nearly DIED I was so excited.

It was a fantastic way to end an even more fantastic day! I then went home with my parents and I got some nice pictures of Bath. The sun was shining, it was so warm and I had a bag full of books. It was truly such a wonderful day!

Tuesday was also a super good day for me. I had my book club meeting and it was so much fun. We discussed books, I was thoroughly convinced to pick up Throne of Glass. We talked Harry Potter houses, French bulldogs and health insurance (sometimes we go off on tangents, you may have noticed). And there were biscuits. I love biscuits. It was such a lovely day and I had so much fun at the meeting! The one librarian who runs the book club also gave me some arcs and swag that she had lying about SO THAT WAS AWESOME. Again, I nearly died of excitement. 

Other news...
  • I also FINALLY got a response from a publishing company I've emailed a few times and who I've been desperate to work with. They've put me on their mailing list so YAY, LET'S DO A CELEBRATORY DANCE!!! 
  • I got a stunning notebook to start planning my NaNoWriMo novel in! I have several ideas for it but no idea how to string them all together. Here's hoping this notebook will (magically) help me. Wishful thinking? I HOPE NOT. 
  • Next week is my last week of term and then I have a week off school! I CAN'T WAIT. 
Life update over, now, onto the books!

I emailed Harper Collins two weeks ago to ask if they perhaps had any copies of Forever Geek to send to me to review! I didn't get a reply from them (I did actually, but it went to spam. Best "spam" mail I've ever gotten) so I assumed they didn't have copies left. BUT THEN a few days later, the postman left a huge parcel by the door. A Harper Collins parcel. After flapping my arms like a demented bird and shrieking more than a little, I opened the parcel. There was not one, not two, but THREE books inside. *runs around screaming*

They sent me a copy of Forever Geek (IT'S HARDCOVER), The Thousandth Floor and The Dazzling Heights! They're all so pretty and the colour combination looks gorgeous together. ANYWAY, I have read The Thousandth Floor and I have a copy, so watch this space for a giveaway! I wasn't a huge fan of The Thousandth Floor but I am keen on picking up the sequel. I hope I love it more than the first book!  

My book club also organised us review copies of The Taste of Blue Light. We're one of the book groups chosen to read this book and I believe the publishing company will be selecting three reading groups to visit the Hachette publishing house in London to see how the publishing process works etc. It sounds AMAZING; I hope my group gets selected! 

I bought The Loneliest Girl in the Universe before the literature festival and I was hoping I'd get around to reading it, but sadly I didn't have time. It sounds like an epic sci-fi thriller; I'm so excited to read it! ALSO, LOOK AT THAT COVER.

Jess Butterworth was one of the authors I listened to on Thursday evening, so I bought her book at the event to get signed! It was literally such a hard decision deciding whether I should buy Running on the Rooftop of the World or Sea by Sarah Driver. I eventually went with this one because I do have Sea out from the library! This book sounds super cute and I'm so excited to read it. 

I also purchased a copy of Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I'm so excited to read it! It sounds SO, SO GOOD

These were the three books my library gave me! I mentally shrieked very, very loudly when I saw If Birds Fly Back in that pile, as I've been wanting to read it for ages. I hadn't heard of One Silver Summer before I got it on Tuesday, but it sounds like such a cute read and I'm so excited to read it. I have read Windfall so I'll also be giving this away on my blog or Twitter! 


LOOK AT RENEGADES, ISN'T IT BEAUTIFUL?! AH, SO BEAUTIFUL. I'm SO excited to read Renegades and The Fandom! I saw a lot of buzz about the latter on bookstagram/Twitter a few weeks back and I was super interested in it. So excited to read it! 

I also got a copy of Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell (which I forgot to include in this photograph) and it's so pretty! It's also set in South Africa which is the coolest thing ever. Would you like to know how many books I've read that are set in South Africa? 


ONE. I've read many, many books and only one has been set in SA. 

Image result for not amused gif

I didn't actually read the blurb properly when I picked the copy Kaleidoscope Song off of the table because I was so distracted by the pretty cover (and the fact that the event was starting); however, I read the blurb when I got home and I realised it contains sensitive subject matter and other things that I don't particularly enjoy reading about. It's gotten really good review and I a lot of people have loved it, so I'll also be doing a giveaway for this on my blog or Twitter, so keep an eye out for that!  

I'm so excited to read all of these! Which one should I read first? Are there any here that you're particularly interested in reading? How was your week? Did you buy any books this week?
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Thursday, 12 October 2017

#BathKidsLitFest Recap #3: Love, Literature, Life with Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison and Lauren James

On Sunday, as I mentioned in my other post, I had a day filled with YA events. It started off with the Emily Barr Creative Writing workshop and ended with a cosplay panel featuring Maggie Harcourt, Lucy Saxon and Frances Hardinge. In between those two events were the Amy Alward, Sarah Barnard and Gemma Cairney talk and the Tom Ellen, Lucy Ivison and Lauren James one...the latter is the event I'll be recapping in this post!

I was several minutes late to the talk as I had to rush immediately from the other event which was in a different area. I'm kind of sorry I missed the first several minutes as it was such a brilliant event -I had a stupid, goofy grin plastered on my face for the entire duration. I loved that Tom, Lucy and Lauren chatted to the audience as if we were all close friends. I meant to take detailed notes like I did in the "Learning to Write" event but I mostly forgot to. I was far too busy laughing too much, chortling at all the rapid fire banter between those on the panel and listening, rapt, to the anecdotal stories the authors were telling us. I got completely swept up in the conversation - it was entertaining, witty and touching. All the authors seemed so nice and genuine and I felt like I wanted to be their best friend by the time the event was over. 

Like I said, I utterly adored the talk and I had so much fun listening to all the things the authors had to say; including personal anecdotes (a few involving hair straighteners), writing strengths and weaknesses, writing realistic YA fiction, writing processes and advice they'd give to their younger selves.

One of they key things they discussed that I found very interesting was writing realistic teen fiction. I haven't read any of Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison's books (MUST CHANGE THAT) but after hearing them talk, I'm convinced I need their books in my life. Their books sound so real and I think it's so important to have realistic YA fiction. I mean, I love contemporary books featuring finding your soul mate who happens to be gorgeous (complete with abs and a jawline that is sharp enough to cut) and who simultaneously is a sensitive soul who whispers poetry in your ear. I love those books as much as the next person does, but I also think it's really important to have YA books that are realistic. 

One of the things Tom and Lucy spoke about is how rare realistic teenage boys are in YA and all I can say to that is YES, ALL THE YES. I have read a lot of books and I've known several guys (not a lot, though, my life is sadly deficient in the boy department) and not one of the guys I've met have resembled Will Herondale, Four or Jace in any way at all. Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong place, but I doubt it. Those boys are fictional (tragically) and real guys aren't. Real guys aren't all super nice, super sensitive, super gorgeous people who are constantly showering you with romantic gestures and who will stay with you for eternity. I really liked the fact that Tom and Lucy want to incorporate realistic teen guys into their books. I feel like the romanticised ideals of love interests in books can, in a way, negatively affect our relationships in real life because we go into them with completely unrealistic expectations. I really like the fact that Tom and Lucy are setting out to write contemporary books that are realistic. 

Some of the ways in which Tom and Lucy make their books realistic are by including things that have happened to them, taking a "gamble" by writing about things that people don't want to be reminded of (such as falling out of love and the everyday humdrum of real life) and dialogue that feels real. If the dialogue in their books is anything like their dialogue in real life...I VOLUNTEER AS A TRIBUTE to read all their books ever. Lucy stressed several times the importance of writing a diary throughout your life to really help preserve how you felt and thought and to remind yourself of what you did at a certain age - it could give you fodder for a book at some point! I felt really inspired after hearing that piece of advice. I've kept a journal several times throughout my life but I've never been consistent with it. Her advice reminded me how helpful it is to keep a journal and how wonderful it will be to read my old entries and see how I've grown as a person. I may even get some plot ideas in the process.  

Lauren James has written YA sci-fi books (I'm so excited to read them, they sound amazing) and she also expressed the importance of including small, every day things in her books as it makes it feel real. She spoke about how in one chapter her character experiences bad period pain and I applaud her for including that in her latest novel, as YA female characters seem to never be ailed by period cramps ever. It's these small, human experiences that can make a book that more authentic, that more relatable and that more easier to fall in love with. 

I also enjoyed listening to Lauren speak about how she studied physics and chemistry at university and how the things she learned during her course has helped her shape the sci-fi books she now writes. As an aspiring astrophysicist, it was so inspiring listening to female scientist talk about how she could meld science with YA literature. Due to it often being seen as two completely separate things, I found it really encouraging to see that you can combine writing and a science degree - and how they can benefit one another!

Another interesting thing that was discussed was including pop culture in books and how it can be quite difficult to do this. I don't know about you, but I absolutely love it when books reference musicians that are currently popular, current fashion trends, social media etc. Again, it makes the book more fun and in a sense more intimate, as the level of being able to relate to the characters' lives increases drastically. Tom, Lucy and Lauren brought up some thought-provoking points regarding the subject that I'd never considered before. One of them being that social media and pop music change at such a rapid speed.  Since writing a book can take a year or two, you could very well include artists/apps that are popular when you first start writing a book that, by the time it's published, the then-popular things you included might no longer be relevant. I never actually realised the danger of including popular trends whilst writing a book: it could make your book seem outdated when it's just been released. For an instance, I'm pretty sure less teenagers are using Facebook now than they were a few years back, Vine - something that was extremely popular - no longer exists; there are musicians that aren't that relevant anymore who were extremely well-known a few years back...the world and its interests are evolving at rapid speed. How can we keep up with that?

I also enjoyed listening to the three authors' varying writing processes. Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison write together and I found it so fascinating listening to how they write their books! With emailing each other their chapters back and forth, reading out the dialogue to one another to make sure it sounds like something people would actually say, and how with dual writing you get things done in a timely manner. 
Tom Ellen was saying that if he knew Lucy had finished her chapter and it was his turn to write, he would feel an increased sense of urgency to write and get his chapter done so that she could start writing her section. Lauren James - whose one WIP is being written with another author - said that when you're co-authoring with someone it helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses. I think that is so wonderfully helpful and can really, over time, help a person grow as a writer. Hopefully I can co-author with someone one day - I think it would be such an enriching experience!

I absolutely loved hearing about all the fascinating things that were discussed. Lucy from Queen of Contemporary (who was chairing the panel) asked such brilliant questions and I loved listening to the oftentimes hilarious - and always genuine - answers to the questions. I can't wait to read all of their books as they honestly sound incredible! It was a fabulously fun event. 

Have you read any of these authors' books? What do you think about realistic YA contemporaries? Do you think it's important to include things that we deal with on a day-to-day basis in books? Would you ever like to co-author a book?
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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

World Mental Health Day 2017: How Literature Helps, the Importance of Accurate Representation, and Harmful Stereotypes that Need to Stop

Today is a very important day. It's a day where we acknowledge that not all wounds are visible, it's a day where we give a voice to individuals who have been told to bite the bullet, keep it in, man up and stop worrying. It's for the people who have been silenced after hearing that what they're experiencing isn't actually happening, who have had their feelings undermined and had outsiders dismiss the inner turmoil that seeps into every day of their life by saying it's "just in your head". Just because it's happening in your head, doesn't make it any less real. That's one of the key things I wish people would understand about mental illness - it happens in our heads, you can't see it but that doesn't detract from the devastating impact it has on our lives.

Today is a day where we unlock our rusty voices and scream until our throats are raw, a day where make the invisible visible and the day we fight even harder for more understanding, more compassion and more helpful resources. Too many people have been silenced in their plight to enlighten and it's time that comes to an end.

If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll know that I've suffered with a severe panic disorder since I was ten. I'll leave the link to last year's World Mental Health Day post where I detailed how my mental illness started here, if you're interested in that. I won't go into detail on this post but I'll say that since 2009, I've had bad days. Really, really bad days. Days of barely been able to eat because I felt like I couldn't swallow, days where I would wake up with my heart pounding like I'd just sprinted and go to sleep feeling just the same. I'd feel lightheaded, get super bad chest pains and feel as if I couldn't breathe, I could've leave my house, I couldn't see was bad. 
And it's been on and off like that for eight years. 
I'm happy to say that I've reached a stage where I'm a LOT better. I don't get anxious as much, I hardly get panic attacks at all anymore (I think I've had one or two this year, I used to have panic attacks around the clock so that's a HUGE improvement), I can do stuff by myself (to an extent) when a few years back I couldn't even go to another part of the house by myself... so it does get better. It does. It takes awhile and I still don't feel 100% and I might not feel like that for a long time (does anyone ever feel 100%?) but I'm so thankful that I've reached a point where I'm not spending every second feeling like I'm about to die. 

There is so much I want to write in regards to mental illness but I'll focus on three main things in this post:
  • the importance of representing mental illness accurately in fiction
  • Negative stereotypes and misconceptions that need to stop
  • How literature helps in regards to mental health

The first thing I'd like to talk about is the negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness and, honestly, just the general lack of compassion and ignorance I've had to face when speaking to people about my anxiety. When I first got my anxiety I was living in England and I'd just started year 6. None of my friends knew what anxiety was, none of them could understand it and as I got older, I found people still didn't really understand it. It's only now that I'm reaching a point where I can speak to people about it and they're not harmfully ignorant of my situation. I definitely think social media has had such a positive impact on raising awareness for mental illness and it makes me so happy to see it get more coverage. Also, through Twitter and blogging, I've found people who are also going through it and it makes me feel not so alone.

I didn't know too much about the negative stereotypes people with mental illness face, instead I knew more about the misconceptions about anxiety that I've personally experienced. I decided to do some research and I was so saddened by what I found in regards to stigma surrounding mental illness. It just made me realise how much more we need to talk about it. We need to help people understand.

One of the negative stereotypes that NEED to stop (and one that I've actually noticed when watching the news/series/movies) is that mentally ill people are dangerous and out of control; this stereotype is perpetrated predominantly by media/news outlets and movies/TV shows. Not only is it grossly inaccurate but it's presenting people who suffer with mental illness as breaks my heart that people with mental illness are being viewed in that way and having their illnesses used as a plot device to cause conflict and terror in movies and television. Whenever there's been an act of violence, news teams are quick to conclude it's because that person is suffering from a mental illness. I remember when I first got my anxiety and for a few years after, I never used the term "mental illness" because that was a term that had always been linked to scary, "crazy" people and I didn't want people seeing me that way. The media and the movie business need to stop portraying people with mental illness in such a negative way as that's where people form harmful, false opinions about someone suffering from depression/anxiety etc. It could potentially really affect the way people view and treat us and how we treat ourselves. 

Another harmful stereotype is that people with mental illness can't ever live a normal life and can't recover from their illness. Another thing I've seen in books and movies is people being admitted to psychiatric wards and then they never seeing the light of day again. They remain there for the rest of their life, never getting out. NO, JUST NO. I personally haven't been admitted to a psych ward but I know people who have. You get help, you reach a point where you get better, you might be admitted again at a later date but you won't live your life constantly in a hospital. At my low points I thought I'd be stuck in a rut forever, have to be admitted at some point in my life and that I had no hope for recovery. I wish I could go tell myself that it does get better and there IS help available. Therapy has helped me and I went to natural homeopath as I didn't want to go on prescription meds and it has helped me SO MUCH. The past few months I've seen vast improvements in my mental health - all due to natural remedies. I just wish this positive attitude towards recovery and unconventional methods were given more coverage in media/movies/literature instead of negative stereotypes like the ones I've just listed.

I have also had to deal with a lot of misconceptions about anxiety over the years. Things such as...

Misconception #1: There's a reason for it
There can be, but anxiety can also happen completely out of the blue. A lot of the time something has triggered it but there are also times where it happens for seemingly no reason at all. There are tools to prevent and reduce it (CBT helps with that) and help you manage it more, BUT there was also a point when my anxiety was so bad I would get panic attacks completely out of the blue. I'd be fine and then the next second I couldn't breathe, I was dizzy and my heart was racing. I received comments from people saying "try not to worry" and "what's making you anxious?". Nothing was making me anxious. It just happened. An important thing to understand is there isn't always something obvious triggering us and that oftentimes there's nothing at all that's causing it.

Misconception #2: It's just your standard worrying and everyday stress. 
It's not. An anxiety disorder affects every aspect of your life. Your mood, how you feel physically, your social's not just normal worrying and stress. It's a severe kind that brings a host of physical symptoms that you can feel 24/7 and which, in turn, affects your ability to make friends, go out, engage in your normal's not your standard stress. It's much worse than that. It feels like an unstoppable monster tearing through your body causing you to feel like you're about to lose consciousness, be sick, lose your mind...I could go on and on.

Misconception #3You're not trying hard enough to get better or you don't want to get better
When I was 13, my friend invited me to her birthday party. Going to that party would've felt like I was walking to my death. I was terrified and I felt sick and I just couldn't do it. You might not understand this if you haven't been through it but it's like you physically can't. My friend then proceeded to tell me that I needed to try harder and just do it. I said I can't. It was like there was this huge, sky-high wall stopping me from having a normal life and I couldn't see a way to get past that. I wanted to and I want to get better and I try, but you don't understand how hard it is when your mind feels like a train wreck and your body feels like one too. Everything just seems so insurmountable. It's hard to explain. But NEVER say we're not trying hard enough or that we don't want to get better. It takes a whole lot more than simply wanting to feel okay again.

Misconception #4 - That you can't control it 
Mental illness is often shown as incurable and that you have to live on pills for the rest of your life if you want to have some kind of normal existence. That isn't true. We can get better; be it by learning techniques to manage it or, in my case, taking natural remedies and doing EFT, WE CAN GET BETTER. I honestly never thought I'd reach the point I'm at now...but I did it. I did it without prescription pills because I was really against going on medication so I had to find alternative methods and they're working. If anxiety medication doesn't work (and for a lot of people it does), there are other options. And they can get you back the life you want. It takes time. Also, people need to realise that therapy can really help so much as well! If you find the right therapist, they can help you so much!

Misconception #5 - It's purely a mental thing
I think a lot of people view anxiety as purely a mental thing: you stress and worry a lot. But it's so much more than that. It's utter mental and physical exhaustion, tight chest, chest pains, tingling and numbness in hands and feet, tension headaches, palpitations, stomach name a few. Anxiety can make a person feel absolutely terrible - mentally and physically. Yes, it starts in our heads but it is not confined to it.

This brings me onto the next point: accurate mental health representation matters! SO MUCH. It's so disheartening when you suffer with a mental illness and you read a book/watch a movie that gets something really wrong about mental health, therapy and the recovery process. It can make you feel isolated too. When you're lucky enough to find a book with mental disorders in - you want to see it represented accurately. You want to feel like you're understood. It can be quite terrifying when you see something incorrect in the book and you know that people who aren't mentally ill reading that book are going to be misinformed about what you're going through. Cait did a fabulous post on why representation matters for the Shattering Stigmas event, so I'll link that here. I wholeheartedly agree 100% with everything she said.

We need accurate representation to know that we aren't alone, to give others a voice who are afraid to speak up in fear of being shunned and stereotyped and to enlighten others who are ignorant on the subject.  haven't read a lot of mental health books as there don't seem to be many published that deal with anxiety disorders (and reading about other mental illnesses makes me worry) but I have read good ones that make me cry and say SAME SAME SAME YOU UNDERSTAND ME...and then there have been others that have left me feeling more than a little bit frustrated. One of the best ways to address mental health and make information on it accessible is through literature. This leads me onto my next point of how literature helps those with (and without) mental health problems. 

Literature dealing with mental illness has helped me, personally. It's aided me in understanding my illness better, it's given me some relief to know that what I'm feeling, as a person with anxiety disorder, is normal; it's helped me know that I'm not alone and it's made me feel understood. Having my anxiety understood is really all I want. One of those books was Underwater by Marisa Reichardt. There were times reading it that felt as if I were being punched in the gut because it took me back to a time that I had felt exactly like that. The character thought things and felt things that made me say "Thank goodness, it's normal". Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne is also an INCREDIBLE book. I don't suffer from OCD but there are several things that Evie, the protagonist, feels and thinks that exactly mirror what I've experienced in the past. I remember crying several times whilst reading those books because they got me. I just felt so relieved that what I'd gone through, the things I'd felt and thought were normal for people suffering with mental illness. 

Literature can also help people understand other mental illnesses. Before reading Am I Normal Yet? I knew nothing about OCD. I only (thought) I knew the (stereotypical) cleanliness obsession some OCD sufferers have. After reading AINY? I understood OCD so much better. After reading the book, I knew what not to say to people with the illness, what not to helped me understand them and their situation and see beyond the stereotypes the illness is laden with. Do you know how absolutely wonderfully incredible it would be if mental health was included more in books? Everyone who read the book would be several steps closer to understanding, empathising and helping those suffering with it. I sincerely believe literature could be the key to making the world a more compassionate, empathetic, better place.

Of course, there have also been books I've read that frustrated me slightly. I know this might be considered an unpopular opinion but I wasn't pleased with how Audrey's recovery in Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella was represented. There were things I loved about the book such as the inclusion of anxiety symptoms that I've experienced quite a lot, but I wasn't pleased with how fast her recovery was and how dangerously far it strayed into the "love cures all" territory that I've seen a lot in YA books. I really hope that more authors will STOP using romance as a cure to mental illness. A person can't cure you and books NEED TO STOP promoting this grossly false notion. Like Am I Normal Yet?, I wish mental health books would include positive therapy sessions, realistic recoveries and no romantic cure. It's absolutely vital that we get mental health books right as literature featuring these disorders may be the only source of information for some people. Literature gives us a voice; it may only be a breathless whisper in the beginning but I hope that some day soon, there will be enough exposure of mental health, that that voice will reach a beautiful crescendo. Books gently understand, kindly teach and speak up for the silent - they can change the world. One story at a time can, I believe that. 

What mental health books have you read that you thought had superb representation? Have you faced negative stigma and misconceptions surrounding your illness? Do you also think literature could be key in helping more people develop understanding on certain topics such as mental illness? Let's talk! 
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#BathKidsLitFest Recap #2: Creative Writing Masterclass with Emily Barr ft. my writing!

Sunday was an extremely hectic day but probably one of the best days of my life! 
I had YA book events from 11am to 5:15pm.

It was hectic, it was inspiring and I loved every single second of it.

To kick off my jam-packed YA Sunday, I attended the Emily Barr Creative Writing Masterclass which was incredible and that's the event I'll be talking about in this post! I really loved The One Memory of Flora Banks, so as you can imagine, I was ecstatic to meet Emily and listen to her writing advice. I wrote several things I'm quite proud of during the 90 minute workshop, I discovered some new books I'm desperate to read and I got to meet Emily Barr, which was awesome. Sunday was a pretty good day.

On Sunday morning I arrived at the area where the event was held which is near to where I attend church. So I spent twenty minutes in church singing some worship songs and then at 10:50 I walked to the class. When I arrived at the door, one of the ladies said she loved the colour of my nail varnish and that made me super happy (not that that's relevant to this post but anyway). It is a really nice colour – Barry M's Coconut Infusion Laguna, if you were wondering. No, this isn't a paid advertisement for Barry M, I just really love their nail varnishes. 

I then walked up the stairs and I giggled, as taped to one of the steps was a paper that said “No stilettos, please!” and I thought to myself “Good thing you didn't wear your stilettos today, Kyra” (not that I have any but minor details, minor details). The room where the class was held was light and airy, with wooden floors and tables and chairs arranged in a U-shape. By every seating place was a Bath Literature Festival booklet listing all the events accompanied by several sheets of paper and a pen. My heart thumped with excitement as I sat down, ready to unleash the maelstrom of words swirling inside of me.

Once most of the seats were taken, Emily introduced herself and dove straight into teaching the class. She gave us a 10-minute warm-up exercise that sounded quite hard but very intriguing! We had to write a 26 word paragraph and it had to be in alphabetical order, so the first word had to start with A and the last word had to begin with Z etc. I was super excited to dive right in but simultaneously I cursed myself for not reading the dictionary and familiarising myself with more words that begin with an X and a Z. I knew that would've come in handy someday! Anyway, I managed to write something and something that I'm strangely proud of and something that I'd like to turn into a book one day. Maybe. Emily asked us if we were willing to read our writing out loud and I so badly wanted to but I'm super shy about reading things out loud to people so I kept my hand down. I had nearly mustered up the courage but then we were onto the next exercise and I was chiding myself for not putting my hand up, making an oath to myself that I would put up my hand after the next exercise and read out what I had written.

After we had done reading out (or not reading out our pieces) Emily Barr then presented her top writing advice to us which was...
  1. Don't make the characters perfect
  2. Show don't tell
  3. No cliches
  4. Work to make your reader sympathise
  5. Don't let the characters glimpse themselves in the mirror (I mentally giggled at that because guess who's guilty of doing that? Yes, me!)
  6. Motivation (what are they characters' motivation?)
  7. Minor characters are important (write them well enough that people would actually want to read a book about them)
  8. Character consistency
All brilliant pieces of advice and I'm definitely going to try to keep those in mind when I start writing my new book! Emily Barr then read us the first page of Northern Lights/The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman as she stated he superbly demonstrates the majority of those points in the first page of his novel. And wow, I'm questioning why I haven't read his books before? I was so intrigued by that first page alone...I'm dying to read the book for myself now!
I guess we know who's heading off to the library tomorrow. 
She then gave us an exercise where we had fifteen minutes to write about a character that is in a place they really shouldn't be in. I managed to write a lot in those fifteen minutes and I also got a book idea whilst doing the exercise! Emily Barr then asked us if we'd like to read what we'd written out loud and I DID. I'm literally so proud of myself. I blushed pretty much the whole way through but I did it. Go, me.

The talented authoress then went on to talk about writing characters with a darker side: accessing those darker parts of ourselves and putting it into the characters we write. She then read an excerpt of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson which also sounds like a really interesting book to read! She then gave us another fifteen minutes to write about a character who was doing something bad; something that was against the law. I'm not so keen on what I wrote but as I was getting to the good part, the time was up. I might also continue that story as I really liked my protagonist!

The class then sadly came to an end (time flew by so quickly!) and we had some extra time to ask Emily some questions. It was so interesting hearing more about Flora Banks and Emily's writing process! I then met Emily and got my book signed which was lovely!

I absolutely adored the class. I feel liked I learned a lot, I walked away with several book ideas and I feel like I can write again. It sounds strange to say this but I haven't been writing a lot and before Sunday there was a part of me that was worried that I'd forgotten how to write (I know that sounds stupid but hey, who ever said I was logical?). I thought I'd include the things I wrote during the workshop as I don't usually put my writing on my blog, but it is something I'd like to start why not start now?

The alphabet warm-up piece:
A boy called Dog evidently faced ginormous, humiliating incidents, jokes, kids leering, Odd. Preposterously. Quiet, racing, stolen tears. Understanding? Viciously wished. Xenophobia, your zest. 

(I realised twenty minutes after the exercise had finished that I should probably have substituted “A” with a nationality foreign to the UK such as Arabic, Asian etc. Reading it now, I also think I'd change it to “preposterous” instead of “preposterously but I still quite like what I wrote!)

Character who shouldn't be where they are:
Josephine stole through the shadowed archways, skipping over the silver rays of moonlight pooling on the floor. She arched her back against the wall, weaving her body through the thicket of shadows languishing in the courtyard and tiptoed towards an overgrown, leafy shrub with veins running through it, veins as black as her heart, she supposed. She startled as she heard the signalling gong of the clock that stood tall; a dominant figure. If she stretched out her neck a couple of more centimetres, she'd be able to see it from here. But she wouldn't do that, someone might see her and the she wouldn't have a neck by the time the next full moon came around. Her breath stuck in her throat and she had to force herself to not choke on the passage of air bubbling in her throat. She could hear them. Their heavy footfalls, the clanging of armour and, strangely so, the deathly silence of unspoken words tearing through the air. Her eyes widened as one of the fighters came impossibly close to her. She gasped, crawling into a ball, hoping with a feverish passion that the plant would cover her. It must have. The footsteps continued past.

A shout rang out through the night, she heard the stamping of feet. 
All was silent.
And then it wasn't.

She peeked over the branch, viciously untangling her black hair from one of the shrub's branches but she quickly stopped. As, just like the last time, and every time before that, her eyes were enchanted. She watched them, their black clothes covering them like a second skin, the way they seemed to be carried on a gentle wind. The silence as they struck the killing blow. She watched as they stabbed and parried, danced a breath away from the edge of a sword and jumped into the air – high enough to touch the moon. They were training to dance with death and fight with grace and protect with terrifying silence.

Her destiny was to be married off to a rich man and sit on a jewel-encrusted throne. But she wanted to breathe fire and smoke and dance a merry dance with a sword in her hand and a war cry in her throat.

Protagonist breaking the law:
The night was on her side. The clouds huddled together and not a single beam of moonlight caught her quickening steps through the mostly deserted streets. She clutched her tool bag tightly to her chest, her eyes darting from left to right. There was no one about. Except a drunk man who was snoring on the pavement a few metres away, an empty brandy bottle clasped in his hand. She stared at him for a few minutes and a sadness seeped into her heart. She never thought she'd resemble someone like that. A growl from her stomach penetrated her thoughts. Now wasn't the time to lament all she had lost. She stole quietly through the night, avoiding the shockingly bright glow of the street lamp. She passed brick walls and stray cats, crumbling fences and untamed gardens until she turned into the palatial surroundings of Meadow street. 
Slightly wealthier than middle-class, but not wealthy enough to worry about security gates and alarm systems. 

Wealthy, but not wealthy enough, to worry about people like her.

They should have worried about people like her.

She forced down the sickening sensation of guilt that bubbled in her stomach. Mrs. Atkins had been good to her. Kind. But that was her fatal flaw: she trusted too easily. That was a lesson she had learned painfully: you couldn't trust anyone, not even yourself. With another chorus of hunger echoing throughout her stomach, she grabbed the crowbar from her bag and fitted it into the small window opening. She strained and pushed and pulled until finally the window opened. She paused to give herself a mental high-five and then placed her feet on the windowsill and slunk through, landing noiselessly on the other side. Her heartbeat kicked and hammered and tore in her chest. But she ignored it. She jumped lightly onto the floor off of the counter and headed towards the lounge. She took her cloth bag out of her pocket and inched forward, casting glances over her back. She removed the iPad from its charging station and the golden candelabra from the mantle of the fireplace. She swiped the China plates that were on display and as she was reaching for the crystal ornament that Mrs. Atkins had told her was worth a pretty penny....a light switched on behind her. She froze in her tracks. Her eyes widened as she dropped on the floor and crawled to hide behind the couch.
I knew she couldn't trust you and look, I was right.”
She peeked her eyes over the arm of the couch. Johnny. Mrs. Atkins son.
Nineteen, infuriating. And supposed to be at university.
He was leaning against the counter top and munching on a spoonful of coco-pops. Her mouth watered at the scent. He looked at from under his floppy brown fringe that was sticking up in all directions.
You could've chosen a less obvious time to ransack the place.”
She stood up, her vision going slightly black at the edges. She braced herself against the couch and gritted her teeth. She couldn't faint now, it would shred any last piece of dignity she had left.

Which wasn't a lot.  

I hope you guys enjoyed reading about the creative writing class and I hope you liked getting to see some of my writing! Did you like any of the pieces I wrote? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Let's talk!
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Monday, 9 October 2017

#BathKidsLitFest Recap #1: Amy Wilson, Sarah Driver & Jess Butterworth speaking about how to write for children and teens

The lovely people at the Bath Kids Literature Festival were so kind as to provide me with tickets to three events and blog about them! I can't thank them enough for this wonderful opportunity!

The first talk I attended was on Thursday evening and it was the "Learning to Write for Young People" panel. Chaired by Julia Green and featuring debut authors Amy Wilson, Sarah Driver and Jess Butterworth, the three wonderful authors discussed how they got inspiration for their books, imparted some writing tips, detailed what happened after they had submitted their manuscript and spoke about the importance of writing for young people. I absolutely LOVED the event! It was so insightful and inspiring...walking out of the Guildhall's doors into the crisp October air with a signed book in my hand and a head full of dreams, I felt like maybe I could achieve my dream of publishing a book after all. It was wonderful. 

Now, I took quite a lot of notes during the event (approximately equaling 450 words) and I'm applauding my past self for doing that as now I can bring you some of my experience. I'm hoping that by reading this post you will feel inspired by some of the wisdom shared on the stage that night and you'll feel like you can write a book, your voice matters and you can create something brilliant that will help other young people alike make some sense of the world. I feel like that was the core part of the talk that evening. Indeed, one of the first questions Julia Green asked the brilliantly talented trio is why choose to write for young people? It's a simple question with a lot of depth and I found the authors' answers to that question quite thought-provoking and eye-opening. Jess Butterworth, author of Running on the Roof of the World, said she felt like she'd been a young person longer than she'd been an adult, she wanted to grasp the thoughts, feeling and experiences of being twelve again and create a sense of "wonder" in her readers, which I really resonated with. I feel like it's so important to bring to life the inner child that the years have suppressed in us, to help us maintain that innocent, joyful and hopeful viewpoint that seems to diminish as we become adolescents. It's so important that adults writing for young people really capture that feeling of being a child and write it with a genuine voice, that they feel like they're reading a book they can relate to and they, like Jess said, feel that brilliant sense of wonder when they read.

Sarah Driverauthor of The Huntress trilogy, gave an impactful answer. In her stunning response, Sarah addressed the harsh criticism children's writers face and the harmful viewpoint many people possess, that writing 'just' a children's novel is a starting point until you can write an adult novel. I loved that Sarah addressed that, as even being a reader of children's books and Young Adult can cause several snide remarks. After confronting that issue, she eloquently phrased her powerful response. She writes for children because it's fun and children matter, they deserve high-quality literature. They need books to help them navigate the world, which I so agree with as books have taught me so much about the world and shaped the person who I am today. She describes how children are in this magical transition stage and we need to write books that celebrate childhood.

Amy Wilson, author of A Girl Called Owl, highlighted the importance of how reading can give children an escapism, which I 100% agree with. She spoke about how she really got into reading after she experienced the death of someone very close to her and how it helped her so much. I wanted to shout "YES!" when she said that because, as someone who suffers from severe anxiety, reading really helps all that fall away for a little while. She also mentioned how children go through huge changes at certain points in their lives and how it helps them to see characters experiencing changes in their lives, too. Both Sarah and Amy touched on the notion that by representing changes and danger in a fantasy land can help children understand and familiarise themselves with those concepts in a safer environment: books.

Julia Green then asked the authors what they're currently reading, some of their favourite books and if they read whilst they are in the process of writing a book. Amy Wilson and Sarah Driver both mentioned a very important thing: it's okay to be published when you're older. It's okay to not be published by the age of 16 or 17 or 18. Don't pressure yourself to have a publishing deal by a certain age, I thought that was a very important thing to mention. Amy Wilson also said she prefers not to read whilst she's in the process of writing a book as it can affect her confidence, which I can totally understand! I also like how she expressed, in a way, that every word we read, we absorb and we carry that into our own writing. It reminds me of the idea that we are the sum of everything we read, all the ink we've brushed our hands and eyes over through the years are running through our veins, moulding us and helping us to shape our own literary creations. 

Sarah Driver took a different approach, she reads a lot whilst she's writing - and for good reason too! It shows her that it can be done, you can write, you can publish a book. It's not an impossible feat...if they can do it, why can't you? Jess Butterworth also shared a nugget of wisdom - "don't just read as a reader, read as a writer". Be more analytical, assess how they craft their sentences, how they pace their book...I think that's such a fantastic piece of advice and definitely something I'll try with the next book I read! 

The authors then spoke about how they got inspiration for their novels and discussed how they approached world-building. It was so interesting hearing about how each author found inspiration for their novel. Jess Butterworth said she got a strong sense of a setting first - that was the initial thing that came to her. It was fascinating hearing about her travelling to Tibet for her research and trying to paint the backdrop of her novel in an authentic light, as well as try to get the historical events featured in the book as accurate as possible and represent the nonfiction elements correctly. As I said, one of the other questions asked was how the authors managed the world-building and setting in their story and Jess said she went to experience the country, she jotted down many of her experiences there and used that for her book. I don't know about you, but going to Tibet sounds like fascinating research!

Both Sarah Driver and Amy Wilson had the voices of their character pop in their head quite randomly and they both wrote sentences from their books out of the blue - some of the ideas just came so randomly, so suddenly and so intensely. I absolutely loved Sarah's description of the distinct image of a boy standing on a book against a starry sky and how that was one of the pieces that helped her with her novel. I found it very encouraging when she said the little pieces might all just piece together eventually. At the moment I have several elements I want to put into my next WIP, but I'm not quite sure how it's all going to I found that really encouraging! In response to the world-building question, Sarah wanted to get as tactile as possible. She experienced new things such as going on ships and going to Iceland to create a very vivid experience of ships and seas. Amy Wilson's's world-building research didn't involve travelling but, instead, she took inspiration from the natural world and all the wonders she'd seen it display over the years. I remember when I read A Girl Called Owl, one of the things I loved - and was enchanted by - was the stunning descriptions of the natural world. I loved hearing about how all their different experiences shaped the settings in their books!

Lastly, the authors talked about their writing and publishing processesthe trials of writing a second book, connecting with other writers and they shared some wise, helpful advice to other aspiring writers. Amy Wilson said her draft took around three months and at first, she was more of a pantser but then she started planning and that worked for her, but it took her awhile to get to that point. Sarah Driver agreed that becoming a writer who plans is helpful. I really liked what Jess Butterworth said, that by her writing and finishing the first draft that's how she found the actual story, which I found as quite a motivator to KEEP WRITING.

They also addressed the issue of writing being quite a solitary activity and the importance of connecting with other writers to keep you motivated and encourage you. Both Jess Butterworth and Sarah Driver praised writers groups - stressing the point that you need to click with the people in them, you need to learn how to take criticism but you also need to be aware of people who aren't beneficial to you or your writing, people who aren't "healthy" for you. I also liked that Amy Wilson addressed the fact that writing can be lonely and it can feel like it's driving you slightly crazy at times. It's good to recognise when you need time away from your WIP and be with other people or even just yourself, away from the writing.

The three debut novelists also spoke about writing the second book and I liked that they didn't sugarcoat the difficulty of writing book 2. Sarah Driver said it can be pressuring, you feel as if your skin is being "turned inside out" and how it's hard sharing the things you love with editors/agents etc. I really liked that she mentioned this as my next WIP is going to feature a lot of me and my experience with anxiety...and it's going to feel as if I'm exposing my darkest corners to the world. It's terrifying. Sarah also said that each time you start a book, it's like starting over again but you just need to allow yourself to get immersed in the story.

Lastly, they shared their advice. Amy summed it up nicely by saying "finish it", she stressed the importance of just finishing it, which is a simple piece of advice that I feel we often need to be reminded of. Sarah said make yourself feel something whilst you're writing, "write the book that you want read". I love that piece of advice - write what you want to read. Jess highlighted the importance of keeping a notebook, jotting down thoughts, interesting conversations and a variety of things that could bring you inspiration. I think this is such a brilliant idea as there is a lot of inspiration one can draw from everyday things happening around them! 

After the event, I went into the foyer to get a book and meet one of the authors. I only had enough money to get one book so I chose Running on the Roof of the World by Jess Butterworth because TIBET and YAKS!! I have read A Girl Called Owl and I have Sea out from the library, but I would like to purchase Amy and Sarah's books sometime! I really want to support them because all three of the authors just seemed so nice and I kind of wanted to be their best friend after listening to them talk! 

The event was incredible. I can't adequately describe how much the panel inspired, encouraged and motivated me. I felt chills at some of the insightful things they said and I loved how through their answers, I could just feel how much they loved reading, writing and just books in general, really. I didn't realise how much I needed their words of wisdom until I heard it. Thank you so much to these three authors for making me feel like I can write and maybe even be published one day! If there's one thing I really took away from the talk it was DON'T GIVE UP. Finish it and don't give up.

Thank you so much to Bath Festivals for organising me a ticket to the event - it's probably one of the best literary talks I've ever attended! 
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