As a child, I lived for the words Jacqueline Wilson wrote—every single sentence jumped into my sense of self. Wilson taught me a lot about the world, but I didn’t realise that until I was recently standing in a bookshop, looking at a hardback copy of her latest work, and a whack of nostalgia hit me right in the chest.
I’ve done some research and it appears that I lived my Wilson Years between 1997 and 2002, when I was between 7 and 12 years old. I have clear memories of all of the books I read and, after my book shop visit, I thumbed back through a few to fulfill the weird nostalgic loneliness I had in my heart for Tracy Beaker, Ruby and Garnett, Treasure and India—my Wilson friends.
Below is a rundown of the real-life lessons I learned from Jacqueline Wilson, which I still use in daily life. Also, all of these covers have changed since I was a child and it’s so lovely to see the updates. Nick Sharatt’s illustrations are as amazing now as they were in 1997.
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I’ve always loved bees. To my father’s chagrin, I got my first tattoo when I was 22 years old–a honey bee on the left side of my back. It hurt, but the moment I saw the bee in the mirror, I loved him.
The bee has now been with me for five years and to celebrate the anniversary, I popped by a tattoo studio in London and had him upgraded, adding colour, lengthening wings and overall making him a little more organic. I love the tattoo just as much as I did before, but now it’s brighter and looks more ‘complete’, for want of a better word.
When I was 20 (and 21), I went through a horrible few months of depression and anxiety. It was a rotten time that I hope never to re-live again. Every day was a battle to just get out of bed and get through the day. It was miserable. On my 21st birthday, a friend of mine gave me a little silver chain with a bee hanging from it. Bees, she told me, are hardworking, self sufficient, intelligent and strong. She said the moment she saw it, it reminded her of me.
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Sometimes- and I figure I’m not the only one who feels this way- you start reading a story and within two sentences, you know that it’s a winner. It fits your thinking like a glove and sticks in your head for hours.
I’m not a comics person. In my time, I’ve read the occasional longer graphic novel (Maus, My Friend Dahmer, Palestine) but I’ve never settled into a series of comics- I’m not entirely sure why. I suspect it’s because I grew up in a small city with limited access to comics in a time when dial up was a thing and my parents allowed me 15 minutes online each night (ahhhhh, nostalgia!) Also, I’m incredibly impatient (more on this later, ironically).
My boyfriend- a fully grown comics aficionado, complete with armfuls of superhero tattoos- handed me a bundle of comics a few months ago and said “You’ll like these.” He had handed me eight issues of Bitch Planet, which has been discussed and recommended on this site (and many others), but I had missed them entirely. I read the lot in the space of a day and grab new ones from him when he picks them up.
Let me tell you, I am absolutely besotted.
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I’m not sure where this tradition began, but I like to take time out from my usual (frenetic) reading schedule and pop back to my childhood for a while. I normally pick a series I remember adoring and re-read the entire confection in a short space of time.
For the first few days of January this year, I wasn’t too enthused about the real world. I didn’t want any non-fiction in my life for a few days and I was on the lookout for a good escape.
I somehow hadn’t heard that Garth Nix had released a new book, but was wandering through Forbidden Planet on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue when I came across Goldenhand on a shelf and instantly recognised it as part of the Old Kingdom series. Images of a young woman walking in Death crossed my mind and later that evening, I sat down to get re-acquainted with Sabriel.
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I freely admit that I am a sucker for a good collection of essays. These books are usually both a charm and a challenge, and I regularly find myself vehemently disagreeing on page 10 and then enthusiastically punching the air with glee on page 60. The range of perspectives in some of these collections can be absolutely amazing, so I was delighted to get a slightly early peek of Nasty Women, produced by 404 Ink after a remarkably successful Kickstarter campaign.
The collection launches on March 8th to mark International Women’s Day. Rioters, every March 8th for the past five years I have been asked when International Men’s Day is. This year, I am hoping to avoid this brand of idiocy, but in case this happens to you, please note that International Men’s Day is on November 19th and that the ‘block’ button is your friend.
The premise of Nasty Women is pretty simple: life as a woman right now is bloody hard, and the normalisation of inequality is persistently marching forward. Some days, it feels as though many of the gains we have made for women are slowly being rolled back or freshly questioned. The book contains a series of essays expressing the perspectives of women- all types of women, from all walks of life- in the 21st century.
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Maps are vital for the comprehension of the human world. Not in the sense that we need to know where north and south are, but in the lessons that lie beyond the tangible image. When explorers travelled the world to chart new territories, they contributed to a wider understanding of the planet, its cultures, its places and its phenomena. Maps made the world bigger.
Today, maps make the world smaller. Major social and economic issues are born of the initial decisions to make marks on a map and assign ownership to superpowers. The policies of the Trump Administration and the rise of the far right are unsurprising to anyone who has seen and comprehended what the world looked like in the 1930s.
few years ago at Christmas, my boyfriend gave me a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. He’s a big comic book fan and fell in love with the book as soon as he read it. Somewhat romantically, he expressed a number of reasons why he gifted it to me and I sat down just a few days later and turned the first page.
Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for Kavalier and Clay and it was immediately obvious why. Chabon’s golden age of comics shines from the page. His characters are sincere and believable, his New York pops into existence in the mind’s eye, bubbling to the surface with wit and history at the core. I have always said that the best books are the ones I finish, only to wish I could gain back my ignorance and re-read them to attain the same sense of wonder. Kavalier and Clay was one of these.
I would be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of the romance genre. At heart I’m a bit of a cynic and romance has never done it for me. I have the same experience no matter the medium– romance in books, in films, or on TV is always a challenge. I can deal with romance when it’s not the sole narrative of a story—but even then I’m incredibly resistant.
A few years ago, a friend of mine insisted that we sit down and watch an episode of Outlander. I had neither seen, read, nor heard of it, but as soon as the theme tune came on my interest was piqued and at the end of the episode I was hooked.
I raced through the first half of the first season and, while waiting for the remainder of the season to air, I got antsy. I did some research and found out that it was based on a series of books.
When I was growing up in Ireland, I spent a lot of time as a stage kid. You know the type- I sang, danced, talked, in front of audiences who lapped up the cheese and spectacle. Part of the background of that was learning to speak properly, project the voice and understand theatre and performance. We learned those things through poetry recitation.
It sounds boring, but falling in love with poetry was that simple for me. Reading poems is something I get a lot of joy from and even now I like to sit down with a new poem and read each word and line carefully to get the maximum possible meaning from it. Poetry is making art with words and some poems are really beautiful when you give them a little time.
This is actually a story of how I got lost in London recently and how I blame audiobooks for the entire affair.
I’m a runner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Olympian and you’ll never see me win a race, but running helps me keep my head in the game. It gets me outside the house on even the coldest of days and keeps me fit despite my (proud) chocolate obsession.
During last summer I trained hard and found myself running 20-25 miles a week, more than I had been doing previously. Listening to the same music and over and over again started to bore me and running began to feel monotonous. Toward the end of my training regime, every mile felt like it lasted a lifetime. I like exercise and I love a challenge, but I also have a proclivity for making excuses. Motivating myself can be tricky if I’m not feeling 110%.