Sunday, January 11

Things to do when you have nothing to do

I often struggle with loneliness and boredom when I'm stuck at home by myself.  I get my energy from spending time with people.  This means that when my friends are busy and I'm home alone for days on end, I start to feel depressed.  

I took these holidays as an opportunity to learn some ways to combat this loneliness.  This list is of all the things I like to do with my alone time.  Just because I'd rather be spending time with my favourite people doesn't mean I can't have a nice time by myself.  

Making bath-time special

I need to remind myself how great a bath can be for self-indulgence.  These are my suggestions for how to make your nightly soak special:

  • Watch TV on a laptop.  I love SBS On Demand and ABC iview for great home-grown TV, documentaries, and foreign films.  
  • Stock up on food and drink!  I love taking a cup of tea or Milo into the bath.  Also lollies or a packet of bikkies are perfect bath-appropriate snacks.
  • Follow up your bath and get ready for bedtime by moisturising your skin and massaging your tired muscles. 
  • Slip straight into pyjamas and enjoy the soft snuggliness that only flannel can offer.

At-home indulgences

Here are some small things that I do to make home-alone time less lonely and boring.  
  • I'm a big tea drinker so one of the biggest indulgences is making fresh loose leaf tea.  
  • Rent a movie and play it in the background to make any chores you might have more interesting.
  • Refresh your nail polish.  This is so cliched and girly, but I find it really relaxing to take time out to do something nice for myself.  
  • Watch Youtube vlogs.  My favourite video bloggers are Jim Chapman and Tanya Burr.  Watching their videos makes me feel like I'm spending time with lovely people even when I'm stuck indoors.  

Small escapes from the house

I often feel a bit caged up in my house.  I always feel better and fresher if I can escape it for a little while.  These are some things I like to do to get out of the house:

  • Errands might not look like fun, but having something to do can give you a sense of purpose.  Small errands like a trip to the shops aren't time-consuming but get you out of the house.  
  • I often crave coffee but I can't make a good enough cup at home.  I love to go for a quick drive to the coffee shop, with my favourite cd pumping in the stereo for an escape from the house.   
  • Take a book or your lunch to the park or beach, and enjoy the shade and change of surroundings.  
  • Go for a run or walk the dog.  Running especially can improve your energy and motivation levels.
  • Spend some time in the library.  You can take advantage of the free wi-fi to do your own thing, or enjoy the air-con and comfy sofas for reading.  

So these are my personal favourite things to do when I'm home alone.  I hope that you find some  of these suggestions helpful if you ever get the short end of the social-committments stick and are feeling lonely.  I'd love to hear what you enjoy doing when you're home alone, so leave a comment.

Thursday, January 1

What We Read: 2014

Happy New Year!  Now is the perfect time to look back and reflect on what made 2014 an amazing year of books.  

What We Read: 2014

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • If on a winter's night a traveller... by Italo Calvino
  • Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  • The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams
  • Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Sleeping Dogs by Sonya Hartnett
  • Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  • Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver


These are the books from 2014 that I didn't enjoy or I disliked for some reason.  Apologies if any of these are your favourite!

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is a modern children's classic.  I expected to find it magical and moving, but it reminded me of too many other American kid stories.  The slow-pace and heavily accented dialogue made me question its appeal.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is a coming-of-age story set in a futuristic World War III.  Daisy is a rambling, lackadaisical narrator.  She is anorexic and has an incestuous relationship with her cousin.  Rosoff's aimed for Daisy to be a fresh viewpoint for discussing the topics of war and growing up.  But the narrative treats anorexia as nothing more than a convenient character quirk.  The plot jolts to an end with a six-years-later segment which feels shoe-horned in.

Sleeping Dogs by Sonya Hartnett focuses on domestic abuse and incest amongst members of the Willow family.  It is a disturbing, gritty tale set against an inhospitable outback Australian backdrop.  The sharp writing style and grim depictions of the landscape are excellent, but I wouldn't revisit this story.


These are the books from 2014 that changed the way I think and feel.  They have stayed with me long after the final page.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is confronting and violent, and won't fail to impact your perception of human nature.  The language is weird and rich, making sure you remember this wild story of a future world of violence and criminal reconditioning.

If on a winter's night a traveller... by Italo Calvino is an adventure in which the reader is the hero.  The writing engages the reader directly through second person point of view, leading you deeper and deeper into its web of overlapping stories.  No explanation can do this genius narrative justice!

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut reimagines the classic war story in a way that shocked and inspired me.  Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.  His narrative of time travel through WWII and an alien abduction discusses war so that readers can reach an unexpected high of empathy.  Vonnegut's prose is beautiful, minimalistic, and resonating.  Scenes and ideas that we are tired of seeing over and over again are made new in this book.  

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins is popular for all the right reasons.  The writing is riveting and the story validates young readers' journeys of growth to self-empowerment. 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is brilliant and witty.  Readers assume that 15-year-old narrator Christopher has Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism.  His narration immerses readers into the almost claustrophobic complexity of his hopes and fears.  The story is hilarious, nerve-wracking, and thought-provoking.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is stunning.  Eva's son Kevin murdered his classmates in a highschool massacre.  Eva narrates the story through a series of letters that reflect on and explain her thoughts and feelings, from before Kevin's birth to current day.  In Eva, Shriver has created a human being so full of empathetic fear, guilt, and retrospect that I couldn't escape its intense impact.  This book turned my thoughts on human life, love, and relationships upside down.  

It may have been a slow year for blogging, but the books of 2014 have taught me and changed me.  I hope that your reading continues to excite you.  Leave me a comment to share the books you loved from 2014 and let us know what you can't wait to read in the new year!

Monday, December 15

The Graveyard Book: a neat and tidy review

Children's cover illustration
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is one of the greatest books for children's bedtime reading.  The Graveyard Book is a spooky modern reimagining of The Jungle Book, telling the story of Nobody Owens, an orphan raised by the ghostly inhabitants of a graveyard.  As Bod explores the side-by-side worlds of the living and the dead, his safety is threatened by the man who murdered his family.  This is a classic coming-of-age story that will resonate with both young and older readers.

Bedtime reading gold?

What makes The Graveyard Book such a brilliant bedtime read is its structure.  Each chapter is an episode, containing a story with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end.  Enjoying the story one chapter at a time, children will be excited to continue following Bod's journey, but will sleep soundly at each chapter's end.  I think this would also make it a fantastic audio book.

Adult cover illustration
Double demographic?

Neil Gaiman has referred to The Graveyard Book as "a book for adults that children would like too".  It is for parents AND for their children.  In fact, the book has been published with several different front cover illustrations to highlight its different demographics.  

Two different narratives fit snugly side by side: one of a child's coming of age in a big and scary world; and another of parents struggling with the emotional conflict of letting go as their child outgrows their cotton-wool protection.  This double narrative makes The Graveyard Book a rewarding read that validates the experiences and emotions of both young AND older readers.  

Thursday, October 23

Youth and Children's Writing Prize and Uni Update

Shortlists and Prizes!

So a very quick and exciting update for you!  Firstly, my short story Eyes and Ears won the 2014 QUT Youth and Children's Writing Prize.  I might have dropped off the face of the blogging world the last few months, but believe me, I've been busy at work in the writing world.  

Secondly, my poem Getting Late has been shortlisted for the 2014 QUT Poetry Prize.  The winner is to be announced sometime this week.  I'm on tenterhooks.  

This sudden and overwhelming recognition for my work has taught me a real lesson.  Certainly true for me is the axiom that we're our own worst critic.  But it's time I stopped undervaluing my work and started believing in it.  

General Updates

It's been an amazing semester of learning and opportunity at uni: 

1.  I'm growing proficient and passionate about proofreading.
2.  I'm trying to freelance my way into publications.
3.  Poetry is definitely a medium my creative mind makes sense in.
4.  Career counsellors and teachers are helping me to get an idea of what I'll do after graduation.

I've been absent from Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils for a long while.  I'm in the process of rethinking my online presence and I'm not sure yet if this is the best platform for me.  You can expect some tweaks sometime in the future.  

Anyway, that's all for now.  Take care and I'll fill you in on the results of the Poetry Prize!

Tuesday, July 22

120 Years of Seven Little Australians

The opening lines of Seven Little Australians had me hooked.  In 1994, Ethel Turner's children's classic was the only book by an Australian author to have been continuously in print for 100 years!  That's an enormous feat to boast.  And for a kid's book too!

Having heard past students grumble "too old" over this book, I wasn't pumped to read it for uni.  Yet in the first lines, I found something homey and familiar I did not expect.

What do you think?

Before you fairly start this story I should like to give you just a word of warning.  If you imagine you are going to read of model children, with perhaps a naughtily inclined one to point a moral, you had better lay down the book immediately and betake yourself to Sandford and Merton, or similar juvenile works.  Not one of the seven is really good, for the very excellent reason that Australian children never are.  
Ethel Turner.  1894.  Seven Little Australians.  Ward, Lock & Co., Limited.  

Remind you of anything?  Let me throw around a couple of names...  E. Nesbit?  Lemony Snicket?  

This sort of writing is so familiar and comfy to me.  The first person narrator, addressing the reader in that sweet, motherly way is so full of warmth.  This style of storytelling, while boring or unfamiliar to some, gives me the same feelings of safety and ease as it did when I first read E. Nesbit as a child.  

And that "word of warning"...  Despite being 120 years old, this is so reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events novel.  It feels way too current for a book written two centuries back.  

It's amazing these storytelling styles are evident so far back in time, and are yet so fresh and friendly now too.  

Saturday, July 19

Short existential update...

How are you?  I haven't written in a while due to a muddle of busyness and boredom.  When my reading life isn't inspiring, I hit dry spells in blogging and writing.  

Daunting life changes and new responsibilities have me feeling even more existential than usual.  I'm wondering how I can reimagine my writing habits and goals to work better.  I'm tantalised by the idea of doing some music reviewing.  If you can suggest any favourite reviews as examples, I'd love to read them.  

Sadly uni semester two is about to start.  The next six months promise to be tough, but I hope that  exciting inspiration and new work comes out of it despite the stress.  

This has been a very brief touch-base sort of post before I get busy again.  In the meantime, I hope your reading lives are still fantastic!

Wednesday, June 11

Bookfest Haul June 2014

So I have yet another Bookfest haul for you to enjoy!  I had an eye out for books from my semester two reading list... 

My best friend Kate and I headed down to the June Lifeline Bookfest on its final day.  You might remember my January haul.  If not, you can catch up HERE.  

Check out what I got for $21!

  1. The Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
  2. The Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room by Lemony Snicket
  3. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
  4. The Golden Road by L.M. Montgomery
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  6. Deadly Unna? by Phillip Gwynne
  7. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
  8. Dirt Music by Tim Winton
  9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

I'm excited to be growing my Lemony Snicket and L.M. Montgomery collection, and then there are new authors to start collecting too.  Junot Díaz is a literary great that my writing tutors rave over.  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is his first novel so it'll be exciting to see how the voice I remember from his magnificent short story collection This is How You Lose Her translates to a long work.  

Anyway, a funny highlight of the Bookfest was having my picture taken beside way too many copies of Fifty Shades of Grey.  The whole length of the table was double-breasted with them!  Possibly a bit scary, but mostly hilarious.  

After sating our appetite at Bookfest, Kate and I went and filled our grumbling tummies at Grill'd.  Then we got a bit adventurous at the gourmet dessert lounge Cowch, which just opened in the delicious district of South Bank Grey Street.  My mouth is watering over the memory of turkish delight ice-cream with fresh strawberries and curls of chocolate.  We sat in front of the open fireplace and watched the far side of the street wibbling and wobbling through the heat haze.  

Braving the chill wind, we enjoyed the view from the bank of the Brisbane River until after dark.  

I hope you got a chance to duck down to the Bookfest, but if not there's always January 2015 to look forward to!  Expect to hear plenty about the books I bought as we get busy reading for semester two.