Category Archives: personal

Mission Statement for the Hearthfire

I haven’t posted in a while, and that is something that makes me sad. I love having this little corner of the internet (a cosy snug, obviously, with the hearthfire and all) to indulge my bookishness, and neglecting it is one of my biggest regrets of the last couple of years.

I did have a much longer post of all the whys and wherefores of why I haven’t been blogging – and why I should have been. It was very boring though, so here we are: I haven’t been blogging, and I should have been. It’s good for my mental health, so I’ll be doing more of it in 2015.

So here’s what you’ll see around here over the next few months:

  • twice weekly posts
  • at least one review a week
  • other bookish posts
  • occasional personal stuff: writing, dogs, opinions

Happy New Year!

Here’s to the New School Year!

I always feel much more ‘new year-ish’ in September than in January. I think it’s true for a lot of teachers, but also for many whose home or work lives revolve around the school calendar. This one is feeling particularly good for me. Having been in quite a negative place a couple of years ago, I find myself feeling cheered by looking back over the past year, and forward to the rest of this new one.

Last year was full of hustle and bustle for me, and I occasionally felt quite stressed with all that I had to do. Looking back, though, I’m pleased with what I accomplished. Look at all these lovely books that I worked on, published over the last academic year. I feel a bit less guilty now that fiction and blog writing took something of a back seat last year, given that I was also in school full time.Jpeg

Anyway, I’m working in a lovely school for the second year in a row, now on a part-time timetable which is going to make things a lot easier for me. At this point, I’ve met all my classes at least twice and can confirm that I have lovely students. I also love that the majority of my classes are sixth form, and I’m getting to teach the new AS in Creative Writing this year. Being part-time means that I can return to my own more creative writing endeavours as well as continuing to work on interesting educational projects. So, it’s all looking good for the moment!

How is your new academic year looking?

Things I learnt in a yurt

As both a teacher and a writer, I am pretty much destined to be ‘always on’ and not switch off and relax. Last week, however, I found the secret to relaxing and recharging in a lovely yurt in Northumberland with my family. I thought I’d share a little piece of my experience here, so here’s what I (re)discovered, in no particular order:

The joy of disconnection

No phone signal, no electricity (although we could charge our phones etc in the central kitchen block) gave us all a much needed digital detox that allowed us to reconnect to each other. The stash of board games and the handily-supplied Dummies Guide to Card Games wouldn’t have had as much use if we’d been able to tweet, facebook and bbm as normal. And that would definitely have been a shame, as even the resident teen agrees.

Fire is not just for warmth

Toasting marshmallows around the fire pit 🙂

Obviously, as curator of the hearthfire here, I was already familiar with fire’s magical and restorative properties, but it never hurts to be reminded.

Balancing comfort and wildness is crucial in this kind of break

and we were lucky to find a place that achieves exactly that. Glorious decor and the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in on holiday beautifully countered the illusion of rugged isolation (we were alone in a field, but 5 mins from the centre of the site and underfloor-heated toilet/shower block), and empowered us to tackle the terrain.

Hareshaw Linn, in nearby Bellingham. A beautiful, if occasionally challenging, walk in the rain.

My camera is not good enough!

I really wanted to capture the beauty of the candlelit yurt at night, the wood-burning stove, the stars in the pitch-black skies, but apparently I’m not equipped for that :(.  My wildlife photography skills are also lacking, unfortunately, so you don’t get to see the toads, bat or many many finches that we did, although this little fella who snuck in out of the rain was quite obliging, bless him.


Real relaxation is invaluable

Of course, I ‘know’ this, but I do find it hard to properly relax and not feel I should be doing something productive – something that I think is common to many. But with no laptop and no goals, no guilt was possible for this week and it was definitely the right thing for me. I’ve returned refreshed and reinvigorated and with my creativity topped right up. Bring it on!

For anyone curious, we stayed in Merle Yurt at Wild Northumbrian Tipis and Yurts and I would absolutely recommend them for family holidays or quiet getaways.

#100HappyDays – challenging my anxious nature

I’m probably the last to the party here, but I’ve recently been noticing the #100happydays tag on Twitter and Facebook. Eventually, I became curious enough to investigate and discovered that it’s a simple record of highlights captured in photographic form over 100 days. The ideas is that it gets you into the habit of noticing the little things that make you happy. 100 days is certainly more than enough to establish a habit so it does seem like a good idea and I’m starting today, having signed up at the challenge website.

I’m not sure I’ve really mentioned it here before as such, but I suffer from anxiety and have had a relatively difficult time over the last two years or so. Anxiety has been an issue for me since school and it’s something that seems to rear its ugly head every so often. I’d always explained it away by reference to my circumstances before – you know, from “It’s my GCSE year, of course I’m stressed” to “Have you seen all this marking?” but recently I’ve had to accept that I’m the common denominator and recognise that I still feel anxious when everything’s fine. So I’m hoping that taking the #100happydays challenge might just be a useful habit to cultivate. (Obviously, I realise I need more than just this to sort me out, but it can’t hurt, right?)

I’m not going to blog my pictures daily – I’ll use more ephemeral social media for that – as I think that would clog the blog up too much. I’m thinking (at the moment – and this could of course change) that I’ll post a weekly update here with a couple of highlights. I think this could be a nice way to vary my blog posts a bit and make it more personal, but we’ll see how it goes. If it’s dull beyond words, I’ll try to notice and stop 🙂

Anyone else doing the #100happydays? How many days in are you?

Old Year, New Year: Looking Back and Looking Forward

OK, so here’s the obligatory turn of the year post, but don’t worry, I’ll keep it relatively quick – just follow the links for full reviews of anything that catches your eye.

Review of 2013

Top 5 UKYA Reads of 2013:

Top 3 International YA Reads of 2013:

Top 4 Adult Finds of 2013:

Top 4 for Children in 2013:

And looking forward…

I will continue with the current plan of blogging once a week for the most part, with an occasional additional post. I’ve been very behind with my reviews and have been quite upset/worried about it, but I really can’t do any more at the moment. And there definitely are more important things for me to worry about than how often I’m blogging!

Another plan is to include a review each month that comes from the TBR backlog. I’ve got a few review copies waiting their turn patiently, but also there are books I’ve bought or been given that just haven’t been getting the attention they deserve. I think that should change 🙂

I’d also like to bring in a few non-review posts. I haven’t done enough of those for a while. So, I’ll stick with weekly reviews and add in occasional other posts, about reading, writing, teaching, feminism, family stuff etc.

Here’s to more enjoyable and non-angsty blogging in 2014!

Happy New Year!

Here’s hoping that 2014 is fabulous for all of us. There are certainly plenty of cool book releases to look forward to.
I’m less excited to see what the New Year will bring for us in the world of education. It’s been a while since I heard an education news announcement (or more accurately education news leak via the press) with anything other than a heavy heart. But there is always hope.
However you mark the turning of the year, here’s wishing you all the best for the year to come.

Knowing When to Let Go

… is definitely half of the battle. I have not been a good blogger (or reader) lately, having just got too bogged down in other things (arguably, other things which are more important).

I think it’s time to accept that:

  • one post a week will have to be good enough for the time being for this little blog
  • I am behind on my Goodreads goal and am not going to make my target (but really, how important is that?)
  • my TBR pile/shelf is frightening, but staring at it paralysed in fear rather than picking a book to read is not the way forward 🙂
  • I have not updated my reading challenges (i.e. the British Books Challenge) in quite some time and, again, this is not a life-and-death thing – I’ll try again next year, perhaps

In my defence, I have been a very busy little bee and have been involved in three book projects over the last six months or so which will be publishing in January and February, all of which have been by turns a lot of fun and terrifying beyond belief. I have also spent far too much time in being anxious about all that I have to do, rather than simply doing it. Oh, for the luxury of a calm mind… But, I have (mostly) got it all done now and am promising myself an actual break over Christmas.

So I will be here, but only once a week until at least the New Year. If you do want to follow me here at the Hearthfire, I would suggest that you sign up with feedburner or by email (in the right sidebar), or follow me on Twitter to see when I have a new post up.

Popping in to wave and give a quick update

I’m still in the midst of extreme busy-ness, and have been struggling somewhat, but I’ll be back very soon. Next Friday, the 11th October, I’ll be relaunching regular posts with reviews and teachery/readerly/writerly content.

Thanks for being patient with me. I think all bloggers hit a wall at some point and I’ve just not had the time for posting lately – much textbookish work as well as a new school post. Sometimes, something has to give and this time, it’s the blog (better than my sanity, I hope you’ll agree!)

Hellloooo! (General update – plus dog pic)

I’ve been pretty absent online lately. Sorry about that. It’s mostly due to starting a new job (yay!) and being pretty busy with writing projects (also yay!), leaving me little time for blogging (and tweeting, as it happens).

I just wanted to check in and say I am here, I’m ok and regular service will soon be resumed 🙂

Thanks for your patience. Here’s a cheery picture of our dogs to make it all better.

Reviews coming up include:
Witchfall by Victoria Lamb (loved it – read Witchstruck first; both are ace)
Emily and Patch by Jessie Williams (a truly lovely read – definitely recommended)
Bones of the Lost by Kathy Reichs (great for Tempe Brennan fans)

No longer lurching from crisis to crisis: a commitment

Warning: this is a really personal post, which may be helpful to some with similar difficulties, but if you want to back away now and come back for bookishness on Friday, no hard feelings 🙂

OK, here’s the thing: I’ve been pretty busy lately and have put lots of things on hold ‘until I’ve done x’ or ‘until things calm down’. I’ve only just realised that I’ve been doing this now for at least a year (yeah, I know – and probably a year’s a rather conservative estimate, if I’m honest). This behaviour is not good for my mental
health – depression and anxiety are generally not helped by lurching along from crisis state to crisis state.

So, here, for your benefit – although I’m sure you’re more clued up than I am – are my liberating realisations:

  • I’ve been consistently busy, although with different and varied projects, for a long time now: I should see busy as normal
  • If busy is going to be my normal state, I need to see this as my actual life, not preparation (sorry for the dramatic, but I bet some of you know what I mean!)
  • Staring at a screen for ten hours is far less productive than doing, say, six or seven hours of screen time spread across the day
  • How could I have been neglecting this?
  • Not only can I therefore ‘afford’ the time to go on the dog walk with my husband, but I positively benefit from doing so (duh!)