Moments of Joy: Love Always Wins & All The Books
I had a hangover on Sunday morning, the type that numbs you to reality for a couple of hours as you concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I had been out celebrating one of my best friend's thirtieth birthday in what one might call a nightclub. It was a late night.
I don't usually go to nightclubs that much anymore. I don't really like them, preferring a quiet drink in a pub or a dinner party with close friends. I probably feel too old, or too shy or too something. I know also that being who I am, I don't need them to be a safe space in a hostile world to love and live and be myself.
As the news of what had happened in Orlando eventually dripped through to me via social media and friends' WhatsApp messages on Sunday, I felt broken just imagining the violation.
A club where an opressed community feels free to love and live as they are; perhaps for some the only space outside their own homes. Like a home-from-home destroyed in an instance and all the individuals that died in fear.
Messages and messages of love poured in from inside and outside the community. The usual idiots also commented, so many people getting it so so wrong.
On Monday the streets of Soho in London crawled with people waving banners of support, of love, of multicolour; chasing away the fear with solidarity and love and more love.
We are a collective human consciousness, we are strongest together in love - every one of us. These tragic events are not a time to hate or blame other groups or communities. We need to rise up with love and respect and commemorate the victims and their families. We need to raise our voices against the US gun laws, support the LBGTQ community in every way we can and block Donald Trump.
Joy is hard to find in a week which began with a convicted rapist getting a three-month sentence and ended with tragedy... and that's without everything terrible in-between. It is in moments like this that I turn to books. We should all turn to books, to educate ourselves on experiences we haven't had, to comfort us, to increase our belief in love and the beauty of life.
I also went to five author talks this week and each one of them gave me a little piece of peace or something, so here are my literature joys for the week:
1) Bryony Gordon, Mad Girl
So I confess I saw Bryony twice last week, on Tuesday at the #RooftopBookclub talking with the wonderful Sam Baker of The Pool AND on Saturday at the Emerald Street Literary Festival where she was part of the "Writing about the Dark Times" discussion with Amy Liptrot (see below).
I had already read Bryony's first memoir, The Wrong Knickers after having been recommended it by my friend who'd told me I'd laugh out loud, which I did and identify with some of it, which I also did. What she didn't warn me of is the sense of sadness I felt about the girl I read about in the book. There was something that made me cringe, that I couldn't put my finger on like a part of her soul was lost or something.
Soon after I heard the news that Bryony was writing another memoir called Mad Girl about her struggle with OCD and other mental health issues, and then it clicked. That was there - unspoken in that first book - that anxiety and terror that OCD brings.
You see, I'm writing a book - part novel, part memoir I think - working title "Some Minds Are More Equal Than Others". It's partly about growing up with my sister who has "special needs", who is visibly mentally disabled and about my own struggle with OCD and attached issues since childhood. Her mind issues are very visible, whilst mine are not.
Hearing Bryony speak at both events was inspirational and just renewed my belief that we need more stories out there about mental health, for all our sanities. As I said earlier, once we share our stories, we have a community.
I haven't read the book yet, but I know it will be wonderful.
2) Charlotte Reed, May The Thoughts Be With You
On Thursday, I went to see Charlotte Reed the very talented writer and illustrator of May The Thoughts Be With You who talked about her depression and illness and how it inspired her to write and self-publish her book which she sells at her stall in Portobello, through her website and also now through Hay House.
I’ve followed her for a while on social platforms after I once passed her stall in Portobello and her daily thoughts always cheer me up. She spoke very insightfully and truthfully about the realities and hardship of being an author these days and certainly gave me hope about being published one day.
Her book is available here and makes a great gift, especially for those in a sad place.
3) The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction: Kate Mosse, Cynthia Bond, Lisa McInerney and Elizabeth McKenzie
I will confess that I have not read one of the novels on the shortlist for the prize this year, but after hearing these women speak, I will be reading all of them. Chaired by the velvet- toned in voice and prose, Kate Mosse, the panel discussed their books and the value of the prize.
In particular I am burning to read Ruby by Cynthia Bond which has been compared to the works of Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez and was selected by Oprah to be part of her bookclub. The Guardian called it "a survivor's story of love, madness and Satanism".
4) Jessie Burton, The Muse
I have a massive friend crush on Jessie Burton. After I saw her speak about her latest book The Muse, resplendent in yellow, I texted my friend Daisy, a fellow fan "Honestly she was so intelligent and fashionable. Think we should definitely be friends with her. Our circle average IQ would go up by about 100".
Seriously though, I devoured The Miniaturist and I shed a tear over her essay on her depression and anxiety, Success, Creativity and the Anxious Space - man I would adore to read a book of her essays.
Jessie was as erudite in real life as she is on the page and The Muse is definitely on my list.
5) Amy Liptrot, The Outrun
Amy as mentioned earlier was on the Emerald Street panel on writing about the dark times with Bryony Gordon. Her book The Outrun was written after she returned to Orkney following a battle with alcoholism. In rehab and hopeless, she becomes part of the Island again as she battles her addiction.
Amy spoke subtly and honestly at the event and I so look forward to reading the book. In times of mental anguish, I've alway believed in the power of nature and escaping from the city and I imagine there is a lot of that in the memoir, along with the difficulty of addressing addiction.
6) Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
For these final two reccomendations, I've decided to write about books which have significantly affected my views of humanity and/or educated me about things I could never know.
Though Khaled Hosseini is perhaps best known for The Kite Runner, it is his second novel that struck a deeper chord with me. In fact it is one of the only books that I have sobbed through, not a delicate tear, a guttural sob. The story of two women, their relationship, love, hate and The Taliban in 20th and 21st Century Afghanistan, it is beautifully written.
It opened the doors to me on a reality or forced marriage, religion, daily violence and more that I could never experience or even imagine and yet weaves in a tale of solidarity in female friendship that is recognisable the world over.
7) Alice Walker, The Colour Purple
Maybe an obvious choice as I believe it is on every A Level English Literature syllabus in this country - or at least it used to be, but The Colour Purple retains its striking power every time you read it.
Focusing on the difficult stories of African-American women in the Southern States in the 1930s, its characters are so well-written and full of heart. Walker writes physical and mental abuse, racism, homophobia and more. Her characters are so appealing and I think this novel was one of the first that I read (15 or so years go) that really made me realise my own privilege. It is a book that everyone should read, especially as we'd like to think that things have moved on drastically in all these areas, but they have not.
Happy reading and happy loving this week.