Unblocking the mind

Whenever I unblock a mental issue or remove a toxic element from my life, there are obvious symptoms that tell me my mind is at peace.

One is my reading mojo comes back with a vengeance – already this year I have read three times as many books as I read last year. It’s just something I can’t do when my mind is preoccupied with problems.

And so, I celebrated the return of reading yesterday with two physical book purchases – I read mostly on Kindle. I love Adam Nicolson’s writing about coastal life and I love stories of global adventures. I’ll probably give these away when I’m done because I’m trying not to collect books while I’m still a bit ‘nomadic’.

The other clear symptom of my detox is cleaning. I’ve gone crazy for it this weekend, cleaning everything in sight with a combination of gorgeous-smelling Method products and good old vinegar, bicarb and lemon juice. I realised I let things go a bit feral over lockdown and it didn’t make me feel good.

Today I feel cleansed and boosted by good chats with friends who’ve helped me through the past few months.

And of course I am cleansed by the yoga mat, which is the third symptom of my wellbeing. Ironically, I can’t seem to get onto it without having some mental peace, even though I know it would help me get there. I have found a practice that works for me, incorporating asana (poses), prayanama (breathwork) and meditation. I now know that all three need to work together to have the greatest effect.

How do you know your mind is at peace? Do you have obvious symptoms like mine?

It’s launch day!

Dark Horses Ride is a story of midlife reinvention, of friendships, relationships and a working life all put to the test by the seismic effects of menopause. 

​​​​​​​But it is also a story of love and homecoming. It is about the healing power of walking and meditation, the therapeutic process of writing and one woman’s determination to redefine what success and happiness look like.

Living the dream isn’t all she hoped it would be when Lisa swaps a high-flying job in London for a freelance life as a writer, editor and yoga teacher by the sea in India. She struggles to control the tide of emotions that hit her as the red mists of menopause descend and she begins to question whether her new life – and her relationship with a much younger man – are all she hoped they would be.

When the pandemic hits, Lisa decides that the universe has made the decision for her and back in England, she falls for the charms of a man her own age. However, he is not who he appears to be. Neither are the friends she’d hoped would support her when she publishes her first book and releases her ‘dark horses’ for all the world to see. 

After travelling back to her homeland in Wales and reconnecting with ‘The Most Handsome Man in Goa’ in India, Lisa is forced to confront her dark horses alone when her health and hormones threaten to derail the happiness she’s learned to live for.

ORDER HERE and don’t forget to rate and review – it’s so important to authors. Thank you for all the support for my writing on this blog – my books wouldn’t be here without it.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Reading

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading recently, after a reading fest on holiday over Christmas in which I chewed my way through four novels and finished off a fifth. You could say I’m a voracious reader, but I’m not. I used to be.

A phenomenon of recent years for me has been the loss of my reading ‘mojo’ – in times of stress I’ve found I lose my ability to concentrate on anything longer than a magazine article, or even a tweet. Novels are completely out of the question. The first time it happened to me I was really scared. All my life I’ve chain-read books – probably from the moment I discovered Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers I’ve had a book on the go, and my heaving bookshelves are testament to it. My heaving bookshelves are also a testament to how much reading I did through the nineties and noughties – there is a definite tail-off in the tenties and I blame the recurring loss of my Reading Mojo.

When, after that first episode, my RM returned I whooped for joy. Oh thank goodness. It was on holiday and I’d taken a few novels with me, just in case. Discovering Japanese author Haruki Murakami was the greatest joy – you could never experience the surreal world he creates with words in a movie or a TV show, which is what I’d turned to in a book-less world. I’d also taken Fifty Shades of Grey, which I have to say, with its terrible, laughable writing and implausible plotting, made me race through a novel in record time. So much so I wished I’d taken books two and three on holiday with me to feed the reawakening beast of my RM. At that time, E L James’s trilogy wasn’t a global phenomenon so I sat reading it in the hotel and on the beach in Turkey, the only one unashamedly brandishing the grey cover in public.

Straight after that holiday, the RM disappeared again but I realised what was causing it. The twin troubles of work/life stress and the distraction of social media. I knew that as soon as I prepared to read a novel in bed, I’d be checking my phone instead. I switched to reading an online newspaper which gave me the short bursts of reading material I could handle. I started to enjoy the writing of great journalists, especially female ones, and got into intelligent TV series like Breaking BadHouse of Cards or The Bridge. I could consume no end of ‘content’ but the desire for it stopped short of novels or narrative non fiction because they took too long to consume. I wanted my content fast and immediate.

Having once been an advocate of e-reading – I set up a digital list in my former job and believed that the whole world would go ‘e’ in a matter of years – reading e-books just didn’t do it for my mojo. Something was lost from the experience of reading Richard Burton’s diaries that I knew would come from having the book in my hands, continually turning to the cover image, the plate-section images or the back-cover copy, to supplement the world I was entering. I read about half before leaving it alone. It’s still unfinished.

I know lots of people who only read on Kindles and they tend to be the really voracious ones, who always have to be reading something. For me, it’s not just the act of taking in words from a page or a screen, it’s an immersive thing where exactly the right book has to be chosen, the physical setting around me has to be perfect and I have to be extremely comfortable. I can’t just sit on the sofa at home reading anything – I get bored and it’s not the most comfortable thing for me (my neck hurts). Rarely does a book capture me so much that I would sit on the sofa reading. Even now, writing this, I’ve left my current book, The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, on my bedside table, preferring to sit with my laptop on the sofa while I contemplate what I’ve just done – lain in my warm bed with coffee for a couple of hours reading. Quietly. No distractions.

It’s such a rare thing that the RM keeps going after a holiday that I almost want to run around shouting for joy. I have to be careful about what I read next so I don’t scare it away again. Zweig is a master of storytelling and it is this that propels me on, as well as the joy of discovering his post-World War One Austrian world. I’ve always found foreign locations a really big reading-mojo turn-on.

I rarely read a novel that is based in the UK –  I mainly gravitate towards exotic locations and ‘other’ experiences and UK-based ones are too familiar. I credit Gabriel Garcia Marquez with this gravitation, as he was the start of my lifelong love of Latin American writing and magical realism. His death is the only author’s I’ve ever actually cried over. I credit him with changing the way my brain works in my late teens, with Love in the Time of Cholera. Since then, I’ve chewed through them all: Allende, Esquivel, Llosa, the more recent Junot Diaz, and Irish author Niall Williams who writes in the same tradition. My current passion for the surreal realism of Murakami fits with this trend of loving stories of ordinary life in exotic locations that are tinged with magic and the unexpected. I want my life to reflect all of those things.

And then there’s my passion for travel writing. I love joining an author – my favourite is Paul Theroux (Louis’ dad) – as he sets out on a journey into the unknown. I travel in my mind with them, every step of the way, and I’m overcome with post-holiday blues when the books end. Because men are more easily able to travel alone, most of the writers I read are single and male and I long for their unfettered freedom. I think that’s why I find them really enticing, and why I loved Cheryl Strayed’s Wild so much. She entered that realm and as a woman, she is a rare thing.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is probably my favourite cross-breed of writing – a true story ‘enhanced’ by the author with unexpected and extraordinary events. I don’t care that he’s embellished the story of his time in India – it’s still one of the best books I’ve ever read, and at one thousand pages long, I was surprised when I still didn’t want it to end.

With the recent return of my reading mojo, I was reminded how lucky I am to be able to access the world of writing when I learned that former model Alicia Douvall has only just learned the alphabet. In her mid-thirties. She appeared on Celebrity Big Brother (I watch crap TV when I’m not reading) and admitted that letters and shapes were new to her world. I can’t imagine a scenario where I wasn’t able to become immersed in the world that an author has created and I realised that it is a privilege. Whether it’s a journey, a magically enhanced world or a brilliant bit of social history, all of these things change the way my brain works and make me see the world in subtly different ways. Reading someone like Zweig, you realise you’re accessing the brain of someone who lives 100 years ago in post-Archduke Ferdinand Austria. How else could you do that? No amount of movies or TV is going to give you that unique insight into another human.

So for now, the Reading Mojo is back and I am grateful. Long live the Reading Mojo.

10 Books That Rocked My World

Today, someone nominated me to do something that doesn’t involve ritual humiliation: to list the ten books that have had the most impact on my life. Here’s my selection (so hard!):

1. My First Dictionary. I’ll never forget the lovely little illustrations against each entry: A is for Apple. I pored over it for hours, learning the words. 
2. The Rupert Bear Annual. The rhyming, the beautiful illustrations, the fantastic stories. I still think of the wonderful Jack Frost tale when winter comes around.
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The love story to end all love stories. One of the most original novels ever written, imho. 
4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Magical realism at its best in an epic love story. The only author’s death I’ve actually sobbed over. He changed the way my brain works.
5. Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels. The most beautifully written novel I’ve ever come across and a WW2 classic.
6. The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi. Essays on his experience as a concentration camp prisoner. Read following a visit to Auschwitz.
7. Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams. Irish magical realism at its very best. An epic ode to love set in my favourite country.
8. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. A surrealist work of utter brilliance, with stories interwoven and interlinked in mind-blowing ways.
9. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. Semi-autobiographical story of a guy who flees to India after escaping prison in Australia. His voice mesmerised me. Incredible storytelling. 
10. The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux. Gets on a train and doesn’t get off one until the land runs out. I felt like I travelled with him.

Am I allowed one more?
11. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. The moment when I discovered this surreal Japanese genius and fell in love.

So many left out: Mallory Towers, Flowers in the Attic, Jane Eyre, Beloved, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Any Human Heart…I could go on and on… 

But I won’t.