October in Edinburgh

So much to do! A bit too much actually. I have a cough that makes me sound like an asthmatic walrus and a thumping headache, so I had the last few days off to sleep which seems to have eased the symptoms. Must stop doing so much stuff.

Easier said than done, however! I have some more hours at work – I was starting to haemorrhage money while booking future trips, so it’s nice to repair the bank account a bit.  I also took myself for a wee mental health tune up and that was not cheap (but very much worth it and I feel a lot better). The biggest problem is, I just can’t say no to invitations. I worked so hard to be as social as possible at the start of the year so we could build up some friendships, and we have a great network of friends now. So if I really wanted to, I could ease up on the socialising and save some money, but the enormous problem is that I really like our friends and I don’t want to miss out, so I keep spending money on dinner and drinks and shows and it adds up so quickly.

Major first world problems!

In addition to catch-ups/book clubs/etc with new friends, even newer friends, and some old friends from Australia, I’ve been to a night of Game of Thrones trivia (not as fun as Harry trivia, but still worth it!), Sunshine on Leith with Allegro (my first non-Fringe am-dram experience in Scotland!), Billy Elliot at the Edinburgh Playhouse (the biggest theatre in the UK!), out to Glasgow for another meeting of the Jane Austen Society Scottish Branch (at the Kelvingrove Museum), and started pilates once a week around the corner from my flat.

I’ve also been super busy with my work for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, including preparation for some exciting new ventures leading into 2017 (the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death). I’m planning to do a lot more of my own writing in November and hoping to make myself a bit of a hermit to save some money and strength while I do so.

This month we also went down to Galashiels for the night to stay with Bec – I can see why she loves it, especially coming from huge, sprawling Melbourne. You can walk around the centre of Galashiels in twenty minutes, and see hills and paddocks and the beautiful River Tweed while doing your weekly shopping. Even in the mist and rain – perhaps even more so – it is beautiful. I want to see a lot more of the Borders while we’re here. We went to a couple of pubs and had amazing breakfast the next morning, and then enormous sugary waffles for lunch. It is only a 50 minute train trip from Melbourne, so less time than the daily commute for a lot of Melburnians, and it’s a much prettier trip.

So this blog is perhaps not as interesting as some of my others, but it’s a good diary for myself to keep a record of my life over here. I know we have until January 2018 until we have to leave, but the thought of it still makes me sad. I think I’m going to miss this place like a phantom limb.

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Stop the world, I want to get off.

Every time I get online, something awful has happened. I know news is like that – constant and overwhelming and often bad – but I feel like it has accelerated in the last few months. I am blissfully lucky, not having been affected personally by any of the terrible things that have gone on around the globe. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have a legitimate right to comment on it – I am outraged and heartbroken, yes, but it is in a way that lets me carry on with my day regardless. I am unaffected on a regular, personal level, however upset I might be on behalf of those who are. But there are thousands around the world who are intimately traumatised by all of it, who have woken up to news of terror and death and violence and shocking persecution of the most vulnerable people on this planet and are forced to accept that it is part of their experience now, that they cannot close their eyes and concentrate on something else to distract them from it.

Just as we are processing the several violent incidents in Germany, 4 Corners screens a story about the disgusting treatment of children in Australian juvenile detention. Just as yet another bomb goes off in Iraq, a murderous rampage takes place in Japan.

And we don’t get it. Instead of looking at the destructive global society we have created for ourselves, we are zeroing in on ‘solutions’ that actively won’t help. How can anyone in their right mind believe that stopping Muslim immigration is an answer to Australia’s problems? Ignoring for one moment the fact that a law like that would not be out of place in the Third Reich, it appears that people have forgotten Martin Bryant, the white perpetrator of Australia’s deadliest massacre since the days when Indigenous people were routinely murdered by the government. Those in power consistently paint asylum seekers and refugees as a threat to Western society. People fall over themselves to insist ‘all lives matter’ when confronted with the possibility that maybe the plight of black lives could use our attention a little more right about now. One Nation is back in the Australian Senate. Somehow, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for the US election. Every day brings an avalanche of discrimination, hate crime, and unstoppable abuse directed at everyone and anyone for their race, gender, appearance, age, sexual identity, religion, disabilities, ANYTHING.

I am so tired. I’m going to have a cup of tea and watch something comforting on television and maybe have a little cry. It is that easy for me to take care of myself amidst this shitstorm of never-ending bad news. I wish it was that easy for all of us. I wish all of you nothing but peace.

Another wee update…

Working proper grown-up hours (not even properly full-time, just a little over 30 hours a week) is the best thing ever. I love it because I have money, and a routine that I never obtained in Australia, despite my best efforts. Having set hours and not having to scrape and scramble for casual shifts is so much better for my mental health. I’m just a wee bit tired while I’m getting used to it. However, I’ve still made lots of time for socialising – meeting friends for cake dates, doing book clubs, wine and cheese nights and catch up dinners at the pub, Skyping besties, Harry Potter trivia and all sorts of lovely things that remind me why I was so overwhelmed last year. I was working and socialising too much, but I think I am learning how to strike a balance over here, working and playing and making sure I have enough sleep and time to myself. It’s a learning curve, but it’s working. I also have an appointment with a counsellor booked soon. It is more pre-emptive than anything else because I’ve been feeling so good over here, but I think of it as a bit of a tune-up.

Sean and I finally used the voucher that my parents purchased for my birthday. It was for a restaurant on the Shore called Roseleaf and it was brilliant – really cosy, cute décor, with old-fashioned hats and books and even a typewriter surrounding the tables, and lovely dishes. The menus were inside old editions of National Geographic and I ate more food than was strictly sensible…we went for a long walk afterwards to digest.

We’ve had our first proper visitor (“proper” meaning someone who is actually staying with us in our flat) and it’s actually been less claustrophobic than I anticipated. Unfortunately, our guest has been sick as a dog, culminating in a late-night appointment at the hospital to try and sort out this mysterious illness that’s kept him pretty much bed-bound for five days. Thankfully, he’s on the mend and yesterday we drove out to Kelso in the Scottish Borders to get some sort of use out of the rental car that was booked before he became ill. Kelso is a lovely little market town – it has an enormous ruined abbey that I will definitely be back to check out (it’s free to go in, but the gates were locked when we walked past). We met lovely Bec and her lovely fella for dinner at a pub that was extremely cheap compared to anything in Edinburgh, and had some really delicious meals. We walked through the town square and out past the abbey to the River Tweed, one of the most expensive and renowned salmon fishing spots in the UK. The sun was setting and everything about the way the light was moving reminded me why I picked Scotland and why I love this place so much. We drove back in the dusk, and were just commenting on how dangerous it feels to drive in country Australia at this time of night (because of the kangaroos), when a deer jumped out onto the road! We are fine, and Sean didn’t hit it or anything, because the deer hopped out of the way of the car, whereas a kangaroo would probably just throw itself headfirst at us. We also saw rabbits and what I think was a dead badger, but a deer on an asphalt road was a first for me.

Because I can’t resist a bit of good old-fashioned study, I’ve signed up for yet another online course, but this one is run through the Scottish Government Library and focuses on social media, copyright, information searching and evaluation etc. A lot of it will undoubtedly cover things I already know, but there’s a few bits and pieces that look interesting to me, and it all counts toward the professional development scheme I’m enrolled in back in Aus. It is less of a time commitment than the other study I have done this year, which is probably a good thing now that I have so much paid work to be getting on with…

 

Six months away!

A few days ago (the 29th of June) marked the six month anniversary of leaving Australia. In some ways, it has absolutely flown by. I never anticipated time would move this fast. And then other days I wake up and think back to Melbourne and it seems like a lifetime ago! The only thing for sure, is that it has been so much easier than I thought it would be. I steeled myself for a really difficult emotional transition that just…hasn’t happened. I am certainly not complaining, it’s been really nice to not have a hard time.

For those playing at home, we sort of killed it at Harry Potter trivia. By “sort of killed it”, I mean we got 32 out of 35!! But we still came fourth (winning team got 34, and two teams tied at 33). This competition is fierce and bloody and I love it.

I’ve leeched all the money from my bank account to buy tickets for the Edinburgh Book Festival, and, after a few days consideration, forked out an atrocious sum for the Bronte Society annual conference in August. I don’t regret it – it is Charlotte’s bicentenary this year and it will be amazing – but it is more money than I would ever usually spend on a two-night holiday. I also now have to wait until the end of July to buy Fringe tickets/extra book fest tickets/anything at all, because I need to conserve my cash!

Game of Thrones has finished for another year and I am BEREFT. This television show just gets better and better as it goes along. The only other show I can think of that does that is Parks and Recreation. So much to talk about. So few friends who want to talk about it at length. The struggle is real.

Huh. Brexit. The less said about that the better, because Mum asked me not to swear so much on social media and I don’t want to disappoint her. Similarly, regarding the Australian election. I’m writing this at 3am Australian time while they are still counting those DARN votes and everyone has embarrassed themselves and the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket. Hooray.

HAPPIER STUFF THEN:

  • We had a lovely day with a friend from Melbourne trooping up and down Leith and the New Town
  • I went to the Isabel Dalhousie Lecture at the National Library. Juliette Wells, an American academic who I have seen speak before, talked to us about the 1816 Philadelphia edition of Emma, the only edition of Jane Austen’s work to be published in America in her lifetime. The lecture was also introduced by Alexander McCall Smith (the fellowship being named after one of his characters) so it was cool to finally see him in person.
  • I had proper haggis, neeps, and tatties for dinner last night, and it was so delicious but WAY too much food. I should not have finished the entire thing.
  • We had another free ticket to a film festival event but we arrived late. Instead, we revisited a lovely wine bar that I’d been to with the book club and had a couple of drinks and had a super evening!
  • We ended up in a parade for Pride Edinburgh 2016 today. It was fabulous – so many people, dogs, rainbows, musicians, dancers, and organisations showing support for the LGBT community, including churches, banks, unions, and political parties. Love, love, love.

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An update on #Edinburghlyf

So much has happened since Denmark! I’ve tried to summarise the high points below, though I will undoubtedly forget something. I’m loving Edinburgh. I’m loving its people and its places and its character, charming and rough-round-the-edges as it is.

I have a job! An actual paying job in a LIBRARY! It’s at Queen Margaret University and it’s wonderful. I started my career in an academic library that was far bigger than this one – working for a smaller university with a smaller team is a breath of fresh air. It’s very quiet at the moment because it’s summer holidays, but that gives me plenty of time to get used to how things run before the crazy September new year madness. We went on a work outing to the National Library of Scotland the other day to do a behind-the-scenes tour (a fascinating place!) and went for a cream tea afterwards. The team is lovely, and the job is two days a week, giving me plenty of time for sightseeing. Obviously I’ll need to find something else to supplement my income, and I am 99% sure I’ve obtained a casual job, but I have to wait a couple of weeks to find out, so we’ll see how that goes.

We are making some good friends over here, and have been catching up for dinners and gatherings and book clubs and Eurovision nights. (Walking home from Eurovision we saw an actual hedgehog, which is perhaps the highlight of my life). I’ve also been a bit lax with Skyping home due to starting so many new things and suddenly being (somewhat) busy again, but the other day I Skyped with my bosom chum Alfie and it made my day! There is a pub about a one-minute walk from our place and they run Harry Potter themed trivia nights. I went to the last one (Prisoner of Azkaban) and these quizzes are HARD. I have to reread Goblet of Fire properly before the next one (which is handy, as Stephen Fry has been rereading them to me over the last few weeks). They do a mean boozy milkshake as well.

I went to my first Jane Austen Society Scottish Branch event and met a whole lot of lovely people, including the speaker, a brilliant scholar named Nora Bartlett. We bonded over children’s literature and libraries and creative writing, and I want her to adopt me (no offence Mum and Dad, but she could give me UK citizenship that way). I’ve also finished the first draft of a new manuscript I’ve been working on. It’s nearly 76,000 words, and it the fifth novel-length manuscript I’ve finished in my life. One of these was the greatest masterpiece to ever grace an exercise book (80,000 words of piratical adventures I wrote with my bestie in high school), one of these came close to being represented by a literary agency last year, one of them is utter shite, and one of them was 50,000 words spewed out over Nanowrimo. This latest one is…not awful. It needs a good polish, but it’s not awful. Anyway, I am thoroughly sick to the back teeth of it and need to put it away and not look at it for a year. This week I’m planning to start work on one of the many half-finished things I have floating around my hard drive. Unemployment and having no friends is a great way to get stuck into those creative projects! Now I have gained a job and friends, so hopefully I can keep the practice up…

We’ve also been doing important things like watching Parks and Recreation. I’ve seen it before but Sean hasn’t and it is a joy to rewatch. Amy Poehler is a perfect human. We also experienced the absolute mania that overtakes people when their football team wins. We live not far from the stadium where there was some sort of important sporting event, and walking through Leith that night was like walking through the end of the world. People EVERYWHERE. Most of them very drunk and joyous and singing at the top of their lungs. They held up the traffic until the police arrived, and used the actual entire weekend to carry on celebrating. It was pretty amazing.

When Sean left his job in Australia, they gave him a ghost tour as a gift! We used the voucher last week and went on a tour of the historic vaults beneath the South Bridge. It was fun to be down there, but there was so much emphasis on ghosts (go figure) and not enough on the actual history of the vaults. They are fantastic, and I wanted to know more about why they were there! Speaking of Sean, he’s a good egg. I’ve had a couple of down days, anxiety being a heartless horror that strikes when I really don’t want or need it, and he has been patient and lovely as always, and I’m feeling much better now. So relearning a few keys aspects of self-care has been important as well!

 

Finally, I’ve just come home from my third volunteer shift at the Scottish Poetry Library. This. Place. Is. Amazing. As a volunteer, I help out at events (setting up chairs, serving drinks and the like) and also take Saturday shifts to make up staff numbers so the library can be open. On Saturdays there is lots of shelving and working at the front desk and ad hoc jobs like labelling books. It’s a peaceful job in a beautiful building, and the events are always vibrant and fun to watch/take part in. I initially wanted to sign up as a volunteer to keep my foot in the library industry door, but I have found it to be such a welcoming and comfortable place as well as an interesting library. Last night I went to the retirement event for Robyn Marsack, who has been Director of the library for sixteen years. The place was full to bursting, crowded with brilliant and creative minds. Hearing about Robyn’s career was inspiring and had made me want to jump back into studying (alas, money). I’m looking forward to many more hours of work there.

Hopefully I’ll blog again soon! It’s one more thing that has fallen by the wayside now that my life is marginally busier, but I don’t plan to neglect it too much. xx

Meeting a hero

This is just a short update. There aren’t really words to describe this experience, so I just wrote a couple of paragraphs to try and commemorate it for myself.

Like most kids of my generation, I grew up reading the Harry Potter books. I remember pre-ordering the new releases and attending the midnight screenings of the films, as well reading up on different theories and opinion pieces on the internet and racing around to the filming locations and places associated with the series on my backpacking trips to the UK (I’m a particularly enthusiastic fan, obviously). Since I was nine, the books have been my favourite series, and J K Rowling has been my favourite (living) author. I remember reading Philosopher’s Stone and meeting Hermione Granger, a heroine made for nerdy, bookish girls with big teeth like me. I remember Prisoner of Azkaban blowing my tiny mind with its plot twists and revelations. I remember being in utter and total love with flawed, annoying, wonderful Ron Weasley. I remember reading Deathly Hallows and starting to cry when we lost Dobby and not stopping until forty-five minutes after I’d finished the book. I was crying because it was over, and I missed the characters I’d come to love like they were real friends, but I was also crying because I was so inescapably happy for them, that everything had turned out all right and that all was well. Re-reading the books is one of my most treasured pleasures. Sometimes I listen to Stephen Fry read them, but I have to pull the car over during the sad bits because my glasses fog up and I can’t see the road. These books have been my comfort in awful, dark times of my life and some of my best friends and I and initially bonded over our love for all things Potter. It’s embarrassing to admit but the fact that J K Rowling had lived and written in this city was a partial factor in my decision to move to Edinburgh.

So today, when I saw the lady herself in person, sitting with a coffee and looking at her phone, my heart leapt into my throat and I made myself say hello. I’ve seen authors I love in person before (occupational hazard with the amount of writing festivals and book-related events I frequent), and more often than not, I don’t say hi because I’m embarrassed and don’t want to interrupt them. But this was Jo Rowling, the woman almost singlehandedly responsible for the person I am today – a reader, writer, librarian, and passionate lover of words. So I asked her if she was who I thought she was. She looked at me and smiled and said ‘Probably, yes’. It all became a bit of a blur after that, but I do remember thanking her, and asking if I could shake her hand. I told her that I was a librarian and writer, and that it might not have happened if not for her work. She thanked me – she thanked me – and then graciously agreed to let me take a photo with her. I remember being so nervous that I actually couldn’t remember how to work the camera on my phone and I gabbled about the move to Edinburgh to fill in the time while I worked it out and then I took the photo and said goodbye and thank you. She was so kind and accommodating and gracious, and she looked so lovely. I had to go and sit down afterwards because I was shaking. It meant so much that she gave me those minutes of her time, especially as I’d interrupted her while she was having a coffee. It was brilliant. I don’t know what else to say. I feel so lucky.

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Bath, finally!

This is my fourth trip to the UK. Every time I have been in this corner of the world, I have tried to get to Bath, and every time, I have missed out. Until now! Before I left Australia, I saw that one of my favourite people, Marian Keyes, was going to speaking at the Bath Literature Festival. So I bought a ticket, put it in my diary, and then delayed organising how to get there until the day before I left Edinburgh. Excellent. But I booked a flight from Edinburgh to Bristol that was far cheaper than the train, so all good!

I arrived on a Friday night, around 10pm, after taking a bus from Bristol Airport into the centre of Bath. I found my way to my hostel which was above an extremely noisy pub, but by the time I checked in – yelling painfully over the sound of a bazillion drink students – I found my room up near the top of the building which was a little quieter. My roommates were very quiet, but I still had a pretty fractured nights sleep, mainly due just to being in a strange bed. I bounced out of bed the next morning with the determined – read: crazed – look of someone who uses the power of pretence to convince themselves they aren’t tired, and trotted down to the showers.

Perhaps I have discussed hostels with you in person and you have heard me lament of a hostel in Belfast that was home to the world’s worst shower. Friends, I stand corrected. I carefully hung my towel, pyjamas, and a plastic bag of toiletries on the little hooks provided. I am all for saving the environment, and the showers used those push button thingamies that I’ve used before, where you press the button and the water runs for twenty seconds before it shuts off, and then you press it again. That’s FINE. That’s GOOD. What I can’t get behind is the fact that the spray of the shower is so forceful, it slams into the door with a banging noise, or, if, like me, you had not yet stepped inside and closed the door, it just hits you in the face instead. Also, this first spray is never hot. Why should it be? The water has not had time to warm up, so the forceful drenching that accompanies that first push of the button is frigidly cold. The spray is so huge and all-encompassing, that there is no way to dodge or avoid it. The teeny-tiny cubicle is no match for the range of the spray’s reach. I hadn’t planned on washing my hair, but it was immediately saturated so it seemed as good a time as any. Once I’d gotten over my complete and utter shock, gasping for air and blinking all the ice water out of my eyes, I gritted my teeth and reached for the button again, willing the water to warm a little. I now had the foresight to close myself in with the door shut properly so it wouldn’t soak my towel, PJs, and toiletries anymore. I grabbed the soap and scrubbed furiously as the water hit again, trying to use the vigorous motion to warm myself up a little. The water ran out once more, mid-soap, so I pressed it again. Then again. And again. NOTHING HAPPENED. The showerhead looked down at me, smug and superior, as I stood naked and shivering, half covered in soap. After a period of about two freezing minutes, it deigned to send a dribble of icy water down and I leapt under it and rinsed as quickly as I could to get all the soap off me. When I tried my luck again, it declined, so I said ‘well, fuck you too then,’ and got out, wrapping the towel around me and trying to convince myself that I was the winner in this particular rumble, or at least the bigger person for walking away.

Sorry, bit of a tangent. For anyone still reading, I avoided that particular cubicle like the plague afterwards and took my chances on a different bathroom. Far more satisfactory. The free breakfast almost made up for my violation at the hands of shitty plumbing, and then when I exited the hostel, I found a truly delicious chai latte at a bakery before going on a free tour of the city! They run every day by a group called the Mayor’s Guides and they strictly accept no tips, which is brilliant for a two and half hour tour! Bath, and the colourful characters who lived here, present a fascinating history. Also, the architecture makes you want to weep. It is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. I don’t know if the word ‘Bathitecture’ has been coined yet, but I’m claiming it.

After the tour and lunch with a view, I visited Bath Abbey. It’s free to enter, though they encourage donations, and is a gorgeous way to pass the time. Of course, I need a little soul food after so long, and to top the experience off, there was a choir practising for a concert later that day. Their sound was utterly angelic. I sat with my eyes closed, listening. A visit to the Roman Baths was next – the entrance fee might seem steep to tight-asses like myself, but really, 15 pounds is very good for what the museum offers. It included audioguide hire, and they have multiple tracks in different languages, for children, and also one by the American writer Bill Bryson at various points around the place. The museum is really informative and interesting, delving into ancient history and showcasing many ruins, but it is the actual hot springs that I found the most fascinating. The large green pool in the middle you are not supposed to touch because that water isn’t treated (everyone sticks their fingers in anyway to see how warm it is), but there is a fountain inside the museum with water from the spring that is safe to drink. It is WEIRD. Unlike a lot of other natural mineral springs, it doesn’t contain sulfur, so it doesn’t smell or taste bad, but it definitely doesn’t taste like normal tap water. And of course, it’s warm, which makes it even stranger!

I was now on the hunt for tea and cake, and found a beautiful tea shop on Pulteney Bridge that delivered (though beautiful tea shops really are everywhere in Bath). I had the best slice of carrot cake I’ve ever had, all fragrant and cinnamon-y, with a pot of Earl Grey tea. I read my Marian Keyes book and watched the dusk happen out the window. (I also had a moment while ordering where I asked for my Earl Grey tea and the guy looked at me like I was wearing my bra on my head – he completely misunderstood my accent and just heard gibberish and I felt like a huge bogan, but I’ll not think about that bit).

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That evening I attended my first festival event – Shakespeare Gala! The first half was great – a group of performers who had practiced the old-fashioned way: learned their lines and their cues, but had not rehearsed together until that night onstage! They performed scenes from particular Shakespearean plays with remarkably few errors! The second half however, was FABULOUS – a duo called Rhapsodes, who IMPROVISED an ENTIRE PLAY in iambic pentameter, gathering anecdotes, titles, and words from the audience to include in particular scenes and to write sonnets. It was insane. It was so, so funny, but I also sat there with my mouth hanging open for a lot of it in awe. I have never seen performers so quick to think on their feet. I got chummy with one of them the next night at another event and he said they will be coming to Edinburgh for the festival so HUZZAH! I can take Sean and I can force everyone who hasn’t seen them yet to GO GO GO. One of the cleverest theatre experiences of my life so far.

I embarked on a fruitless search for a burger afterwards, and ended up eating convenience store pasta. It was highly entertaining to watch the Saturday nightlife around me. By day, Bath is full of tourists, but at night it becomes apparent that this really is a city full of students, and every one of them was out after dark.

The next morning I ducked into another church, just to sit and breathe and listen to another music rehearsal. This one was St Michael’s, right near my hostel. They invited me to stay for the service, but I had an event to go to, so I trotted off for a cup of tea and arrived at a panel called ‘Creating Suspense’. The crime authors Sam Baker and Susie Steiner were being interviewed about their latest novels by Stephanie Merritt, and they said some brilliant and insightful things about writing crime (or, ‘grip-lit’, a slightly better term than the awful ‘domestic noir’). It’s a genre I haven’t read a lot of, and one I don’t write in (yet), so it was really interesting to hear their perspectives. I bought a copy of Sam Baker’s new novel, The Woman Who Ran, because it’s inspired by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, and asked her to sign it. It’s a brilliant novel, combining politics, the internet, domestic violence, and Syria, all the while weaving through the links back to Anne Bronte’s original. Sam said she took strands of her favourite writers – Daphne du Maurier, the Brontes, Patricia Highsmith etc. – and tried to combine them. She said there are too many expectations on female characters in crime – the woman is either the victim, or too ‘strong’; they can never just be normal. For her research, most of it involved simply talking to people. A Twitter campaign on domestic violence earned her more abuse than any other campaign (go figure). When she started in journalism in women’s magazines around 1990, every second story involved domestic violence, yet marital rape wasn’t illegal yet. For Sam, suspense is a process of cranking up the tension, then loosening it, then cranking it up once more. Susie Steiner cherry picked from the things she wanted to read about – suspense isn’t just about finding a body, or awful violence. There is suspense in the small things too, like falling in love. It’s on the same spectrum of fear and hope. Susie spent time in the major crime unit with the Cambridge police, and witnessed several murder investigations – women were pretty much always killed by familiar men. All the police she spoke to were really helpful. Susie’s plots become complex through rewriting – she rewrites about 18 times! The first draft is ‘awful’, so rewriting is a pleasure. In rewriting, you can backfill a lot of suspense, and delete the obvious clues left over from first draft. You can trace in new things, and in literary thrillers, the reason the jeopardy matters is that you care about the characters. By engaging the reader’s empathy, jeopardy can be contained in the small things. Susie says that fiction is easier than journalism – it’s freer, more fun and playful because you can go where you want, not where you have to. She also mentioned that she thinks flashbacks are sometimes unnecessary. Often the author has to know something, but not necessarily the reader. Information comes from the orbit of the victim, not from one place, and this is why it’s useful to use multiple characters and narration.

I then went to a panel with Stephanie Merritt, Viv Groskop, and Mark Lawson, who were honouring the theme of this years festival – ‘Forever Young’ – by discussing the 21 best coming-of-age novels. The list was really interesting, and they basically spent the hour arguing in favour or against the inclusion of particular works. They defined coming-of-age as an individual moving from innocence to experience (and of course the German word ‘bildungsroman’ is also a definition in itself). Mark Lawson mentioned the concern he felt at the popularity of Catcher in the Rye (no. 1 on the list), and the glorification and fetishisation of lonership and alienation it contains. He also pointed out that the most often used word in a coming-of-age novel tends to be ‘I’. In The Virgin Suicides, it’s ‘we’, which is highly unusual, due to the books narration. The panel tended to disagree quite a bit regarding Go Set A Watchman. Mark Lawson loved it, and Viv Groskop won’t read it, and it was recommended to the audience to read Sarah Churchwell’s opinion on it, so I’ll definitely look that up. Mark Lawson told a funny anecdote about nearly killing Maya Angelou by accident when he realised he’d accidentally stood on the tube of her oxygen tank, and at the end, they each ‘championed’ a novel – for Viv it was To Kill a Mockingbird, for Stephanie, Jane Eyre, and for Mark, Oranges are not the only fruit – and the audience voted. Mockingbird won by a landslide! At one point they spoke about YA as a genre and how they felt the two distinctions differed – YA vs coming-of-age – and how they intertwined. I disagreed with a few of the things said about YA…there seems to be a tendency to not regard it at a level equal to ‘adult’ literature, and that always grinds my gears. Of course there is plenty of tat within the genre, but there is an outstanding body of work within it to, just as exquisitely written as plenty of adult fiction I have read.

I found lunch at the famous Sally Lunn bun shop (super yummy!) and then it was time for Marian Keyes. Okay, so for those of you who don’t know, Marian Keyes writes ‘commercial women’s fiction’ or ‘chick-lit’, and I apologise if you take issue with either of those terms, as I myself do, but that is what her work is widely known as. They’re always funny, romantic comedies that tend to deal with darker themes such as addiction, depression, and domestic violence. I’ve read all her books and I love them. But she’s also written a lot of journalism and personal publications about her struggles with mental health. She had an awful few years where she contemplated suicide every day and thought she would never be able to write again or do any kind of book promotion or public speaking. She tried so many different ‘cures’ and has come to some really wise realisations about acceptance and how to live life in a way that’s gentle and kind to yourself. Her writing about mental health has helped me so profoundly. When I was going through some of the darkest times of my life, which I have written about on my blog before, I started reading her writing just to feel like I wasn’t alone. Everything she writes about mental health is so relatable, while making me laugh at the same time. And then to see her in front of me, glowing with good health and making jokes and doing the sort of events she thought she would never be able to do again, was such an emotional experience for me. First of all, she is BLOODY TINY!! Like a little Irish elf-queen! She brushed right past me on her way to the stage and I will never wash my jeans again. She was being interviewed by Sali Hughes, and described her new book, Making It Up as I go Along, as a sort of ‘anti-self-help book’. Her husband was sitting about two feet from me, and the audience was enraptured as she spoke about how she has realised during her MITH-ness (Mad-In-The-Head-ness) that we are not meant to be HATT (happy all the time) and how accepting this has, in fact, made her happier. She is a feminist, she has the most gorgeous accent, and she gave us tips on what has worked for her – using Twitter to connect (one time after she tweeted about feeling awful, people who lived near her posted Magnums through her letter box), rising above social media trolls and arsehole journalists who write nasty things about mental illness and call it ‘self-pity’, and working on keeping gratitude lists for help with reflecting. She also passionate about #RepealThe8th, which is a movement in Ireland pushing to decriminalise abortion. She praised fellow Irish writer Louise O’Neill, who I also love, and told us as an audience that ‘there is an awful lot of love and support in the world’, which had us all feeling warm and fuzzy. THEN everything sort of became a massive blur. It came to question time and I had the most eloquent, articulate speech in my head to give her, which basically boiled down to thanking her for her writing about mental health because I think it partially saved my life, and how I was sure I spoke for a lot of people in the room. Instead, it went something like this:

Me (into microphone): Hi Marian, I don’t usually speak up at these things and I’m quite nervous. My heart is pounding.

Marian Keyes: Oh don’t worry, we’re all friends here!

Me: Okay, I just wanted to say thank you for the writing you’ve done about your mental health and I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say that- *huge sniff*-it’s okay, I’m not going to cry- *proceeds to burst into noisy tears*

Everyone else: makes cooing noises and tries to comfort me.

Me: BLUB BLUB GARH I’ve been through some SNIFF hard stuff and GAHHHH BLUH BLUB I think your writing saved my life SNIFF BLUB GAH and I FLSJKEJKJNX just wanted to BDLJHESH say thanks

I hurriedly hand the microphone back and try to wipe my nose

Marian Keyes: That’s so kind, and the best thing I can say to you is to just endure. Endure when things get terrible.

Me: I’m feeling JFBLJDH better, I don’t know GAHRBLUB why I’m crying.

Thankfully, we moved on quickly to the next question. After the talk, we all got up to go and get our books signed, and a whole lot of people came up to check if I was okay and to thank me for speaking up and to say they understood and everything and it was really nice, but every time someone spoke to me I’d feel myself welling up again! Gah, it was awful! I have rarely been more embarrassed. When I got to the front of the signing queue, Marian was her usual beautiful self and signed my book, listened while I explained that I really have been feeling better, and have in fact just moved to the UK from Australia (something I thought I would never be able to do) and when I’d finished speaking she told me to be kind to myself, and I think I’m going to get it tattooed so I’ll never forget she told me to.

Feeling emotionally crippled, I went outside to call Sean and tell him about it, and then cried all over again (not really surprising). THEN, I composed myself and went back to the venue for the final event I had tickets to – Writing History, with Stephanie Merritt and Kate Williams, chaired by James Long. Kate Williams is a social historian who has written lots of books and appeared on television lots. Stephanie Merritt writes books set in the 1580s about Giordano Bruno – her latest is set in France with the crazy House of Valois royal family. It was a wonderful panel and the women were wonderful speakers, but to be honest, I was so emotionally wrought after the Marian Keyes event, that I didn’t take this event in like I wanted to! I did however, have a good chat to both authors afterwards as they signed my books for me, talking about Anne of Green Gables and Reign of all things!

I went back to the hostel afterwards and chatted with my roommates for a bit. I’ve met some lovely people on this trip, and the weird thing about hostels and travel in general is that you meet all sorts of great folk and you might have a couple of hours of deep and meaningful chats, and might never learn their names! I’ve started adding more people on Facebook because of this – it’s always nice to reconnect later.

The next morning I stumbled across a lovely book shop – Mr B’s Emporium – and managed to only buy one book. They have a bibliotherapy room with complimentary tea and coffee. I also spent some time in front of a real estate agents window fantasising about being able to buy a Grade II listed manor property with 5 bedrooms and a woodland for the price of an inner-city Melbourne apartment. But then, it was off to the Jane Austen Centre! This was a lovely little museum, smaller than I expected, but with an introductory talk about Jane’s life and a film with Adrian Lukis about her time in Bath, so the 11 pound entrance fee is more than fair. They have costumes and signed posters from the film adaptations and a much-publicised wax mannequin of Jane, as well as a display of the different portraits associated with Jane over the years. They also have a lovely tea room on the top floor. I had lunch with a girl from my hostel who is from New Zealand and traveling around the UK with her partner and we drank ‘Jane Austen blend’ tea and talked about books and travel. Bliss! Oh, and I only bought one book from the museum because I am disciplined as. I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the souvenir shops (I bought the Bath Gin with Jane Austen winking on the label. It’s a pure tourist trap – Jane never mentioned gin in any writing – but it was cute, so I got it). I went to the library and read some of the books that I have bought over the past couple of days (I needed to save some money, as I spent way more than I meant to over the festival), and then I chatted more with my roommates. By the time I got back to Edinburgh the next night, we were ready to sign the lease for our new apartment – one of the only things worth leaving Bath after only three days for!