Being nosy in a charity bookshop

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Book collections tell you a lot about a person.

I volunteer at a charity bookshop in my spare time, and one of my favorite things to do there is sort through the big donations. I’d like to say it’s the writer in me, enjoying constructing stories about the people who’ve donated these books. In reality, I’m just super nosy, and even a person’s unwanted books reveal a lot about who they are.

Like the female minister who liked visiting museums and had recently got into decluttering. Or the crime novel reader who owned a camper van and liked hiking around the UK. You can see people’s hobbies and interests, their careers, their aspirations, major events in their lives… these donations are the detritus of their lives, parts of collections being decluttered or entire libraries being passed on after a person’s death.

We get novels from the 1940s and 1950s that were clearly bought brand new and kept for all these years. Gorgeous original Penguin classics. Children’s novels from literally a lifetime ago. Collections of people’s interests over decades. Some have related newspaper clippings from the 1960s held between the pages, or postcards from friends in the 1970s that were used as bookmarks. Sometimes they have people’s thoughts scrawled in the margins — we can’t sell them if there are too many notes, but they’re still fascinating to see. And of course, there’s the modern stuff. The speed with which people go through books. The number of crime novels that people buy from us, read in a few days, and then re-denote, over and over again.

But my favorite donation, so far, came in last week. They were sheet music collections, for piano, available for a few pence every month. Only a newspaper-y pages, kind of like monthly magazines, the sort where you need to buy them all to have a complete collection. This set spanned from April 1896 to June 1897. I don’t know whether then decided they had enough music or just lost interest in buying them. But they were beautiful. Really old and worn now, stained by age, but still intact. Honestly, I don’t know if they were in good enough condition for us to sell them. I’m always surprised by how many really old books aren’t really worth anything, at least monetarily. But it was amazing to sort through these and know that 120 years ago, someone was going out every month and buying them new, then taking them home and practicing them on their own piano. These weren’t just antiques. They were magazines, something someone specifically bought every single month for at least a year. Part of someone’s long-gone life in 1896.

I’d like to think they made that person happy. Or the person just kept buying them out of the hope that they’d motivate them to learn piano, and never actually did. If it was me, it’d probably be that second one. And I hope that, wherever they end up, they bring someone as much joy as they brought me in that back room when I discovered them, lurking in a Sainsbury’s plastic bag underneath a pile of other books.

August

August News

  • I might regret this, buuuut… I’ve started using my Youtube channel, RhiWrites. I’m still learning, but I hope you’ll join me there! It’s a talky channel (I believe that’s the technical term), just chatting about books and life and being a writer. Come hang out with me!

 

August Writing

 

August Books

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  • Emotional Agility by Susan David. Really insightful book about finding emotional authenticity by
  • A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess. Super readable Victorian fantasy, full of magic, boarding schools, and plot twists.
  • The Best Possible Answer by E. Katherine Kottaras. Anxiety-ridden overachiever faces her fears in the summer before applying to college.

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The Olympics

While getting completely obsessed with the Olympics over the past couple of weeks, I noticed something really perplexing:

Wow, do people like to dismiss and complain about Olympians. People sitting on their couches complaining about how someone didn’t try hard enough, because they only got a silver. Saying athletes should be ashamed for qualifying for the finals but not receiving medals. Saying athletes aren’t gracious enough, or humble enough, or ambitious enough. For being the wrong shape or size (despite, you know, being more in shape than most people could ever dream of being), for not being pretty enough, for caring too much about appearance.

Olympians have more ambition, self-discipline, and proof of success than almost anyone else on the planet. They’re the elite in whatever sport they pursue, and they have worked tirelessly for years to get there. Even qualifying for the Olympics is something amazing that almost none of us will experience. And yet that doesn’t save them from people sitting at home, dismissing them, belittling them, and making fun of them. In fact, it seems to make them more susceptible.

That should probably be depressing. If Olympians aren’t good enough for the world, what hope do we mortals have? But I actually think it’s really freeing. It’s so easy to try and restrict ourselves because of fear of what other people will think. We don’t think we’ll ever be good enough, so we make ourselves smaller to avoid people’s disdain. And it’s pointless. There will always be bitter complainers who devote their energy to tearing other people down, but their words have nothing to do with the person they’re criticizing, and everything to do with their own bitterness. No one is good enough for the internet. So no one even needs to try. If you’re doing your best to do the things that are important to you, that’s what matters. And you’ll come out of it with whatever your version of an Olympic experience is, while those detractors… well. They’ll just have their own loathing to show for it.

#trynewthings!

Last week, I went to my first ever ballet class.

Well, not first ever. I took classes when I was five, and I was absolutely terrible in the way you’d expect a fidgety, clumsy, overexcitable five-year-old to be. But this was my first class since, you know, I learned how to actually spell the word “ballet,” and the fact that I went seems about as unlikely to me as saying I took my first trip to the moon.

I’m totally non-sporty, despite what my Twitter might have suggested during the height of the Olympics. I’m still super clumsy, and more shy and self-conscious than I ever was back then. But I just had a sudden feeling about it. I’ve had a rubbish year so far, and I suddenly felt that I wanted to shake things up by taking a ballet class.

Now I’ve taken a class and loved it, I could come up with more reasonable sounding reasons for going. I like that it’s hard work in a totally new way for me. I like that it’s a workout that doesn’t leave you breathless (as an anxiety sufferer, that’s never a good feeling for me). I like how it makes you feel powerful, in a quiet sort of way.

But before I went, I just had a feeling. And I’ve learned to trust my feelings, however random they might seem. I became a vegetarian at 10 on a feeling. I took a Japanese class on a feeling. I moved to the US for university on the feeling that it was the right thing to do. It might seem dumb, but it’s like part of me knows it’s right for me, and I just need to plough ahead and wait for my logical brain to catch up and figure out why.

Speaking of new things, I made  a Youtube video before the class, talking about some of this stuff. I don’t have a DSLR, I’m using light from the window, and god I need to get a good external mic to fix that sound, but … it was also kind of fun. Terrifying and new, but fun. I don’t really expect anyone to watch them, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s to just do what you want to do, create what you want to create, and not get distracted by the thoughts of others.

So I’m probably going to be adding more videos here. Recording videos, practicing ballet, and embracing that excitement and suckiness that comes with diving into something new, just because you have a feeling that it might turn out to be the perfect thing in the end.

A Few Long May She Reign FAQs

I’ve been getting a few questions about Long May She Reign, so I thought I’d make a quick post with some answers. 🙂

What genre is Long May She Reign?

It’s a fantasy novel!

So it’s all about magic?

Not really. It’s more a fantasy in the Game of Thrones sense (maybe some magic in the world, but most people don’t believe in it) than the Lord of the Rings sense.

Is it SCI-FI and fantasy? Because you say Freya is a scientist.

Definitely not futuristic sci-fi, although it’s not medieval fantasy either. Think more 18th century — an era where people are starting to discover what we’d think of as modern science.

Is it like the TV show, Reign?

Sadly, there are no Gothic monsters hiding in the forest or gloriously anachronistic headbands in this book. But it is the story of a teenager trying to figure out how to be queen, with far less background in ruling than Mary Stuart has. And, obviously, murder is very much on people’s minds.

Is it truly a standalone?

Yes! I mean, the world doesn’t end on the final page of the novel, so I’d never say never to telling another tale in that universe, but it was written as a standalone, and it tells a complete story.

Will it be available in countries other than the US?

So far, the rights have only been sold in US and Canada — although, of course, places like Amazon, Wordery and the Book Depository make that kinda moot if you want an English language version.

Could you send a reviewer copy to me?

Sadly, I can’t. Partly because I live in England, and it costs me about $10 per book to mail them back to the US (which adds up pretty darn quickly), and partly because I don’t even have any reviewer copies myself yet, because of that aforementioned living-in-England thing. But there will be a giveaway or two nearer the time, and any giveaway organized by me will always be open internationally. If you’re a reviewer, I recommend contacting HarperTeen instead.

July

July Writing

 

July Books

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  • Ummm, I barely read ANYTHING this month. I actually don’t know what happened, looking back. But I reread Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban, and am loving listening to the audio books read by Stephen Fry again.

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Thoughts from a Harry Potter Reread: Prisoner of Azkaban Edition

aka “the best book,” according to people who don’t realize the true awesomeness of Order of the Phoenix.

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1. An Insufferable Know-It-All: The more I reread, the more I realize just HOW MUCH I’m like Hermione, including her not-so-great points. Like thinking she Always Knows Best. Always. I can’t even imagine how obnoxiously like her I was at 13.

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2. Dying Words: HOW did I not realize how horrific this book is? 13 year old Harry hears his mum’s dying words whenever he gets near to a Dementor. And there’s a part of him that wants to keep hearing it, because it’s the only thing he remembers her saying. WHY, JKR, WHY.

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3. A Class Of One: I know Hermione is dedicated to her studies, but if she literally the only person in her other classes? How could she have one at the same time as Charms, when all the Gryffindors take Charms together? Why were the exams scheduled at the same time — because, again, every single Gryffindor is taking Divination. And if it was just her, why weren’t they just scheduled in free time?

(Also, as someone who fought the administration for the right to take extra subjects in highschool… SO RIDICULOUSLY LIKE HERMIONE, guys. Why would I want to put myself through that?? If I’d had access to a timeturner, I’d probably have taken every subject too).

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Romeo and Juliet Live

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Last week, I was lucky enough to go and see the live broadcast of Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet, starring Cinderella and Robb Stark, aka Lily James and Richard Madden. The play was performed in London, and we watched a livestream of it in a cinema in Leeds, along with other cinemas all over the world. It was the first time I’ve ever done something like that, and it was fantastic.

This production was set in the 1950s, and to capture that feeling, the entire thing was streamed in black and white. It’s also notable for having Derek Jacobi as a much older than usual Mercutio, which was a really fun and interesting choice. It was a slightly confusing experience at times, because I really wanted to applaud at the end, even though I was actually in a movie theatre hundreds of miles away from the actors. But it combined the energy of a play with the camerawork of a movie, and it was magical to watch.

I realized, as I watched, that I’d never really seen Romeo and Juliet performed. I haven’t studied it since the equivalent of sophomore year, when I had the world’s worst English teacher and didn’t learn anything at all, except perhaps that I hated my English teacher.

It was so different experiencing it now. As a fifteen year old, I thought the play was stupidly melodramatic. I didn’t realize that it was meant to be melodramatic, because the main characters are teenagers. And this adaptation really emphasized that.

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Thoughts from a Harry Potter Reread: Chamber of Secrets Edition

I’m seeing Cursed Child at the end of the month, which means it’s time for my first full Harry Potter reread since Deathly Hallows came out!

Obviously, I have some thoughts. Chamber of Secrets was always my least favorite of the books, and the one I’ve read the least. So a lot of stuff stuck out to me this time. Like…

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1. Evil Brother: are we supposed to assume that Percy is opening the Chamber of Secrets before the big reveal? The book seemed to go out of its way to make him look Really Suspicious.

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2. Possessed by Voldemort: As a kid, I never realized how sad Ginny’s story is in Chamber of Secrets. She’s only 11, and she’s possessed by Voldemort. She tells Voldemort all of her feelings and her secrets, and because she unwittingly confides in him, he steals her soul and forces her to do terrible things, including attacking Hermione. Poor, poor Ginny.

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