Revenge of the brain fag

 

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Brain fag gets a mention in the Clements Tonic-sponsored cookery book circa 1917, which I stumbled upon while visiting an antique shop in the Blue Mountains. Clements Tonic, good for what ails ye!

 

Brain fag is, or was, a thing way back when…a term used to describe brain fatigue or what we might describe today as anxiety or possibly even the onset of depression. Possibly it’s an extreme form of procrastination!

Clinically, it was named and the cognitive disruption traced back to excessive external pressure to be successful placed upon the young. Oh, this sounds familiar…like every looming school exam, work report or anthology deadline with which I have ever wrestled!

And my point (there is one) is that the brain fag has descended upon me at the tail-end of my holidays. I’m talking about the cognitive sort, the mental road block set up by the procrastination police to stop me from motoring on with various projects.

The hitherto ridiculously productive writing period I was expecting to enjoy was instead eaten up with the banalities of the end of year break: eating, drinking, socialising and lazing about while being ‘fed’ various forms of entertainment (this year’s poisons have included the excellent Dark Mirror, the somewhat dated Aussie indie flick Crackerjack, the not-so-great Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them *sorry JK, the characters and CGI creatures didn’t hold a candle to Harry Potter and the gang*, re-runs of Murder, She Wrote, and endless funny episodes of the UK Come Dine With Me program). God, I feel like I’ve just spent time in a confessional.

Reading, in case you were wondering, doesn’t count in the litany of sins. OK people, you know everything now…I have been slack!

Short of a Clements Tonic, I am setting in place some measures (maybe even a word count widget) to get me back on track.

From Monday, work life resumes and a new discipline will (hopefully) emerge.

Here’s to those three 2017 resolutions.

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How many books can you read in a year?

 

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A recent haul of murder mysteries from one of my local op shops.

 

I know a lot of people committing themselves to reading challenges during 2017, undertaking to read X number of books in 12 months. It seems to be a trend fuelled by sites such Goodreads, which thrive on reviews.

However, it’s something I personally just can’t do.

The very idea of tying myself to reading a specific number of books over a 12-month period seems slightly crazy and, if I’m honest, repellant – like I might be cheating some of those books the focus and contemplation they deserve. I tend to read crime books and thrillers quickly, but like to take my time with biographies, memoirs and other non-fiction titles.

We (you, me, the reading public) seem to set ourselves up with enough pressure through self-imposed work and home deadlines without forcing our leisure activities to submit to the same fierce timetables we insist upon in other areas of our lives. Reading isn’t a competition (unless it’s the MS Readathon and you were eight and you nailed it by reading loads of books in the local library and fundraising even more, not that I’m boasting).

I understand reading challenges are terrific activities for those who should be reading more to improve their literacy and (more importantly for authors) cultivate a passion for literature in the young. After all, those young readers will one day be older book buyers. Reading challenges certainly have their place.

So no, I’m not committing to reading X number of books during 2017. But I will be reading quite a lot.

In case you were wondering, based on my own reading habits I know I read around 60 or more tomes spread across the year. I don’t review everything I read because A) time restraints, and B) some books are just diabolically bad and should never be mentioned in polite company again.

Whatever you’re reading – and I’d love to hear your recommendations – enjoy!

 

 

 

December: Initiations, curses, resolutions and a heatwave

Roving

December was ridiculously busy. It felt like there was a Christmas morning tea or lunch on every other day. There were events to attend, catch-ups to be carried out, cards to write and send, and trees to decorate – and I still didn’t get around to honouring every social engagement. While it was in parts the Christmas season was very enjoyable it was also very rushed – I seemed to be always looking ahead to what needed doing instead of being a bit more present and enjoying the moment.

Of a weekend there were markets, meet-ups with friends and family, and an ever-growing list of mundane home-related tasks that required my attention away from work and the trusty laptop. So many, in fact, I wondered if there was time for sleep during the heady four weeks of December.

And then there was the heat – the unrelenting 30C-40C+ string of days that left us (pet friends included) wilting like old lettuce. Just this very evening – New Year’s Eve in fact – a thick mist has rolled in and cotton-balled our house, finally driving the temperature down a few degrees. We’re still sweating it out, but looking forward to ringing in 2017. If you’ve read this far – Happy New Year! May the next 12 months be all that you hope for (in my case that is, among other things, a lot cooler!).

As for New Year’s resolutions, I’m working on a few. Remember, if rats can learn basketball, then you and I can too!

Writing

I’ve been exploring the nature of curses (important research) and, as I have all year, the relationship we have with our ‘Good Neighbours’ aka faeries. My passion project has been penning a series of interlinked stories for a dark little novella that combines folklore and fantasy. Hopefully it works – my reader guinea pigs report back that they love it.

I’ve also been working on developing an outline for a cosy mystery, something that has been boiling away on the rear hotplate of the stovetop that is my brain.

I’ll be honest, I’m a very confident writer in the realm of non-fiction but when it comes to fiction I have always felt out of my depth. I have a major case of the ‘not good enoughs’. I think they call it imposter syndrome? Anyway, I don’t want to sound too whingey, I’ll slay my own dragons. I’ve never been a big believer in Writer’s Block, I think it should be renamed ‘Writer’s Apathy’, which is spot on the money. You can write your way through anything. Writer’s Anxiety, though, that’s another thing altogether!

Reading

Not so much of this went on as I would have liked, but I did need to fit in some sleep this month along with everything else. Here’s what I did read and enjoy…

Initiation by Ly de Angeles (Createspace) – A ripping read. You can peruse my standalone review here.

I came across a few more Rebecca Tope books, which I have now passed on to my mother. It turns out quite a few of my friends are also fans of her writing. So do yourself a favour! These two books form part of Tope’s ‘West Country Mysteries’ series and don’t feature Thea Osborne but one of them does take us back to Drew Slocombe’s earlier days:

A Death to Record (A West Country Mystery) by Rebecca Tope – Talk about your twisted love triangles! I really enjoyed this mystery, which followed Detective Sergeant Den Cooper’s investigation of a murder on the farm of a man who is now dating his ex-fiance. Awkward. All of Tope’s skills and experience come to bear in this book, which leverages her insights as a former undertaker and farmer (she really should have had a stab at policing as well, but she also explores that POV quite well regardless). A riveting read.

Dark Undertakings (A West Country Mystery) by Rebecca Tope – Working as a freshly minted undertaker must be challenging enough but what do you do when you suspect a death that has been judged a heart attack by a respectable doctor may, in fact, have been a poisoning? Tope loves to put her characters in difficult and often dire straits, and this novel is no different. Drew Slocombe follows his gut instinct and while investigating lays bare a string of family secrets in a small village.

The holiday reading pile beckons!

My Summer Reading Pile…

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I hate being without a book to read. I hate it so much that when I’m commuting to work I usually have two or three stashed in my bag ‘just in case’.

So when the Christmas break approaches – however short it may be – I usually have a ready pile of reading matter stacked neatly next to my bed or stowed in my travelling case.

This Summer in no particular order I’ll be reading:

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaaronovitch (Finally! Been waiting for ages…)
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
The Good People by Hannah Kent
A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee (The hardcover edition is seriously pretty!)
A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley
Fashion On The Ration by Julie Summers (You can read my thoughts on Jambusters here.)

So you can see, a nice broad cross-section of fiction and non-fiction covering everything from ghost stories, crime, and war to fantasy, superstition and folklore.

What about you? If you have any good book recommendations I’d love to hear them.

Happy reading!

A Christmas Mystery…help me solve it!

I love old things, and I especially love collecting vintage religious icons – pictures mostly, things of beauty. Today, this very moment, I have just picked up my latest find and, dear reader, it seems to have a lovely little mystery attached to it…

On the back of this lovely gilded wooden frame (approx. 32cm high and 14cm wide) featuring an angel with a trumpet are the remnants of a letter written on 22 December, 192- to a Miss Owen, sent with warmest wishes and deepest thanks from a number of Japanese people. The year is partially obscured because the paper has been cropped at some point and glued to the back. The yellowing paper is delicate, probably too much so to pull the letter from the frame.

It reads:


My Dear Miss Owen,

We are sending you a Christmas angel with our warmest greetings and best wishes for the New Year.

Thanks for all you have done for us.

Cordially yours,

Clara D. Loomis                   Yoshii Masujama
Gingko Akatsu                      Kimiko Nemoto
Hide Asami                           Hisa Toyoda
Fusako Fukuzaura              Ayako Takeuchi
Katori Hashimoto               Shuko Kawayuchi
Miyoko Masuchi                  Fumi Odato
Yone Sugiri                            Kimmi Kitaori
Nobu Kawasumuru

So who is Miss Owen? What did she do? And who was the group that sent this beautiful gift to her?

I bought this piece from another collector in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia, and she’s also none the wiser to its origins. I can only surmise that Miss Owen is Australian, but of course, she could easily be British, Canadian, Kiwi or some other nationality altogether.

I’m a little in awe of the synchronicity – a Christmas angel gifted to another has fallen into my hands almost 100 years later to the very day!

So do you know who Miss Owen is? Are you a relative? Do you know any of the senders? Can you help with the spelling of the Japanese names? I may have bumbled some of them as the legibility varies.

Drop me a line and let me know. A history mystery is the very best kind!

And may I take this moment to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year in 2017.

Initiation – Book Review

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Initiation’ is a blisteringly raw autobiography that reflects not only on a personal journey but a fascinating social history of occult Australia.

Ly de Angeles is many things but readers of her books (or those for whom she has read the tarot) will know her as a witch and psychic, and a magical veteran of the antipodean witchcraft scene.

In print Ly comes across as smart and fierce and more than a little wild, with a disarming frankness whether speaking of politics or personal relationships. She’s a champion of Celtic history, a swordswoman and martial arts practitioner, and so much more. Forget the ‘Renaissance man’, Ly offers up an alternative portrait – one of a curious mind twinned with a strong and determined spirit, a scholar, a poet and a modern-day gypsy with a feverish passion for myth and life.

And life for Ly has been a series of initiations from girl to woman, woman to witch, witch to mother, mother to warrior, warrior to scholar – not that all of these passages have been mutually exclusive.

Underneath this story is a steady thrumming, an undeniable and potent energy pouring from the pages. There are many lessons to be learned here, and knowledge to be shared about birth, life, death and everything between and beyond. Predictions manifest, frequently. As do challenges. But Ly’s human too; making the same mistakes we all do, but learning from them as she finds and breaks with destructive patterns and partnerships.

Ly dispenses with the blinkers of convention and deftly explores the world’s liminal spaces and places, guided by intuition, ancestry and an animistic kinship to the natural world. ‘Initiation’ makes for an engaging memoir, certainly the best I have read in a long time.

* Did I mention she’s a Charles de Lint fan? She can do no wrong!