On going back to university to be a writer

I left university in 2012 after four years of reading Law, and I never thought I’d go back. I thought I was done with lectures and reading, writing and researching—but it’s funny how you get drawn back into something almost without thinking about it, when the time comes.

I’ve been writing since I was a small child and felt the thrill of publication for the first time when I was 16. As a little kid, nothing made me happier than making up stories and living them in my head, sometimes for months at a time, trying out different plot points and characters, daydreaming the hours away.

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Digging through Japan’s bookshops

Japan has been on my bucket list since I read Across the Nightingale Floor when I was twelve years old. The tale of the boy Tomasu, turned Takeo and adopted into the Otori clan in feudal times captured my heart. My fascination with Japan kicked off then but somehow I never quite made it there- until this year.

I had expected a sense of culture shock, and Japan met that expectation immediately. The difference in language and expression, culture and lifestyle, are a world away from my life in London. The Japanese people were extremely kind, polite and friendly; they were full of heart and helped us constantly when we were a bit lost or confused.

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On the Road: Books about Travellers and Roma

With the booming economy in the 1900s, thousands of people left their rural homes and joined the battering ram of urbanization, setting up new homes in the city and commencing a life of work in the concrete jungles. Economies are boom and bust of course, and the bust that came in the 1920s hit the world hard. Books about “gypsies” tell how, as the 1930s pushed onward, people in Europe returned home to their rural hometowns, casting out the settlers who had moved in to undertake the required work to keep those areas going.

Those cast out found themselves nomadic for the first time in generations – among them the Roma people who had lived in Europe for hundreds of years. Though recognised as a nomadic group, the reality is that Roma people were settled in the towns and villages of Europe for many years. And though talk about genocide in World War II focuses mostly on the impact on the Jewish communities in the Holocaust, the Roma too were targeted for destruction. They call it the Porrajmos, or ‘devouring’. Their records are poor because they have never had an opportunity to collect their own history, but estimates suggest that between 500,000 and 1,500,000 Roma died in the Porrajmos, many of them at Birkenau. Though it’s very hard to locate, And the Violins Stopped Playing by Alexander Ramati tells a true tale of a Roma family who faced the horror of the Porajmos.

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A Bookish Tour of Hawai’i

Hawai’i has been having a hard time lately, between the ongoing eruption of Kilauea and the floods and landslides caused by Hurricane Lane. Last year I spent an amazing fortnight travelling between Oahu and Hawaii (the Big Island) with my boyfriend, meeting some incredibly kind people and experiencing the very best of Hawai’i, both on the beaten track and off.

We started our journey on the island of Oahu, flying from London through Vancouver to Honolulu, which was oh-my-god so long of a journey. On our first day, we went to Pearl Harbour and spent an afternoon in the blistering heat visiting the USS Arizona Memorial and the Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Needless to say, there’s a neat bookshop here chock full of World War II history with a particular focus on the Pacific side of the war. On top of that, we stayed wandering and came upon the Pacific Aviation Museum, which has a really specialised shop showing the immense aviation history that stemmed from this small part of the world.

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Books About Brexit, the European Union and the UK

I admit to you, I’m not even sure where to start with this. I suppose I can start by giving a reader some scale, to understand the true nature of the European Union (EU) in the first place.

Since the end of World War II, the EU has been a daily part of life for most of Europe’s population, whether we realise it or not; its directives and decisions govern over half a billion people, more than 7% of the world’s population.

From small things, big things come. What started as a series of small, trade-based initiatives in the 1950s has boomed into a behemoth political and economic union of 28 member states committed to four fundamental freedoms of movement: people, goods, services, and capital, in an internal market with so much power that the EU is recognised as an emerging superpower.

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Books to help you take the plunge for Zero Waste

I live in London- a city swamped by disposable coffee cups, cute little plastic straws sticking up out of cocktail glasses and offensive amounts of plastic wrapping on every item in the supermarkets. When I first moved here, plastic bags in shops were still the norm, and the disdain in the city for the environment was obvious.

Things have changed in just a few years. Plastic bags are now subject to payment (with the money going back to community groups), sustainable eateries and schemes are popping up left right and centre, commitment to bicycles has gone up even further and, since the recent televising of Planet Earth II, David Attenborough’s series has dominatingly convinced London that plastic straws have to go- as well as a current scheme to prevent plastic bottle use by introducing public use water fountains.

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From Book to Musical: Hamilton in London

I read Ron Chernow’s Hamilton only recently, after months of good intentions and months of fears about the size of the book and its resulting capacity for use as a weapon on the London Underground. It’s a hefty tome, but I didn’t notice the pages going by- Hamilton’s story appealed to me as an immigrant, but his flaws and imperfections are both neither hidden nor undercut; Chernow’s portrait of Alexander Hamilton is one of a man living through some of American history’s most extraordinary moments- but just one man, nonetheless; flawed and imperfect like the rest of us.

Booking tickets to Hamilton in London was an event in itself. I booked tickets for my boyfriend and I in January 2017, for a show in March 2018. At the time, I remember telling him that if we weren’t still together at that time, he would be the person not attending. He was offended, though mostly because my faith in our relationship appeared to be quite thin.

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Travel Writing for the Rest of Us

More and more lately, I find myself immersed in travel writing, a sector that appears filled to bursting with totally ordinary white men trying to bring perspective to the world. This isn’t a criticism—much of the writing is beautiful and nuanced, but as a tiny woman, often I don’t really feel that I belong in their stories. Over the past decade, I’ve travelled to lots of different places, from Iceland to Azerbaijan and Mexico to Argentina—and I think, as a woman often travelling alone, my experience is very different to the easy confidence of a lot of travel writing.

Let’s face facts: travelling looks like paradise in Instagram photos, but in reality comes with the hefty weight of multiple challenges, some of which are felt much more bluntly depending on the traveller. Women travelling alone face inherent risks, especially in places where women’s rights are less developed. People who are disabled are rarely accounted for in guidebooks, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve seen guidebooks offering recommendations and advise for LGBT travellers. People with illnesses that may need management, people with young children, people of colour—the world of travel writing, in its efforts to broaden our view, sometimes narrows people down quite a bit.

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A Reader’s Guide to Repealing the 8th

In 1983, the people of Ireland went to the polls in a referendum to amend the Constitution of Ireland. 66.9% of the population voted to approve the 8th Amendment, which would recognise the equal right to life of a pregnant woman and the unborn. In 2018, after 35 years of surviving the realities of the 8th Amendment, the people of Ireland returned to the polls and voted to repeal it.

Ireland has long been known as among the last bastions of unborn protection in the western world. Across the world, the repeal of the 8thwas seen as a ‘blow to the church’, a surprise from a ‘largely Catholic country’ and ‘a quiet revolution’. It was all of these things, but it was also none of them.

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Books About Herbalism and Natural Skincare

In the past few years of yoga teaching, book reading, and long hikes into the woods around southeastern England, I fell in love with plants and flowers. It came as a bit of a surprise to me and I expected my interest to dwindle over time, but the affliction has only gotten worse (to the extent that I recently acquired an allotment in London, and am poised to spend the next year of my life clearing, growing, and harvesting on it).

In the course of my learning about plants and flowers, I picked up an interest in herbalism and natural beauty and skincare. I’ve long been against animal testing, micro-beads and falsely advertised ‘miracle creams’, so the idea of being able to make my own skincare and some small healing concoctions for my cupboards was very appealing.

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