Laula “Freshman” Hole.


It’s official … as of September I will be studying Illustration at Plymouth Uni. 

I am so, so unbelievably happy about this, my heart is singing. I had confirmation via UCAS today, after a bit of a hiccup with my application. Originally my application was declined and withdrawn automatically as the Uni hadn’t made a decision about my application by the deadline date. So after a bit of digging around and phoning the admissions people (a supremely helpful bunch, I might add) I found out that it’s because I hadn’t replied to an email asking to send in my portfolio (an email that I never received!) so I quickly put together a dropbox folder of all my show-off pieces and sent it to the course leader. After a bit more ringing around a week or so later the admissions team emailed to say they’d like to offer me a place but I had to go through clearing (check me out! No interview or anything …) so I sorted out my clearing choice but had to wait another week until UCAS was back up and running (something to do with Scottish results or something) before everything was made official. 

Which leads us to today, when I finally got proper UCAS approval. 

So now I have just less than seven weeks to sort money, childcare and my head out and actually try to get into a learning frame of mind. To tell the truth I’m actually bricking it. I’m nearly twenty-five, I feel like an old fogey compared to eighteen year olds and I’ve got two children. I feel like I’ll never fit in but I’m sure I’ll find a friend. I can be painfully shy in new situations and I stare at people a lot, which may not help my situation. To overcome this, I’ve joined the Illustration BA facebook group to try and get to know some of my fellow freshmen before I start. 

I’m also a bit worried about being bottom of the class. In school I was always “the arty one” and people would ask me to draw them, but now I’ll be hanging out with a load of other artists and I can only imagine how inferior I’m going to feel. Some of the students have posted their work on the facebook page and I’m already feeling a little intimidated. I guess I’ll just have to keep practising … I know I can draw but I lack ideas and I can only see that as a bad thing. 

Nevertheless, I am so totally overwhelmed and buzzing – the future feels exciting and scary in equal measures and I’m going to put every last ounce of effort and strength into Uni that I have. Having my girlies has given me a kick up the bum to get myself into a career where I can actually provide for them. It’s given me life experience and a drive and determination like nothing else can. I may not have gone to Uni straight after school but I’m glad I gave myself the time and the space to reflect on what I want and what I need from life and I feel pretty certain this is what I’m meant to be doing. 

Wish me luck! 

Some books I love … #9


Brace yourselves …



I don’t love Marmite but I did love this book despite the vulgarity and regardless of the vomit-inducing descriptions of bodily torture. It is totally unique (although from the same vein as Roche’s other book, Wrecked) and really pretty disgusting to read. Considering I usually pride myself on my incredibly strong stomach and my inability to be easily shocked, that was no mean feat.

At first I thought it was a bit of a feminist romp, a little gratuitous and most-definitely gross, but about halfway through I started to see the protagonist, Helen Memel, in a slightly different light. She’s an eighteen year old school student with a very colourful sex-life and is an unfortunate sufferer of haemorrhoids who has had to have an operation on her butt due to a shaving accident and the subsequent infected lesion on her piles. Her blatant disregard for hygiene makes for an interesting period spent on the hospital ward.

There were many threads to her story, which made her a very vivid character. Firstly, and possibly the most discussed, is her sex life. For an eighteen year old girl she has certainly been around the block. From the sounds of it she has copulated with a large percentage of the population (both male and female) which I found slightly gross, but who am I to judge? She is a fictional character, after all. Dotted throughout the novel are descriptions of various partners she has been with and their sexual preferences (I won’t go into details), a chance meeting with a stranger who wants to shave her all over and many, many period related incidents (tampon swapping with friends anyone? how about reusing homemade tampons? No? Thought not …) Then you have Helen’s obsession with bodily secretions – any finger-shaped orifice will inevitably have a finger inserted, and if it just so happens that said orifice produces any substance, it will inevitably get eaten or sucked from her finger. Dried smegma (ewww) gets chewed from under her fingernails, scabs get picked and eaten … you name it, she’ll eat it.

Then there’s her new-found love for her male nurse, Robin. He seems like a nice chap and he doesn’t seem that phased when Helen asks him to take photos of her post-op butt wound, nor does he bat an eyelid when she tells him some pretty shocking stories about her life. She is constantly finding reasons to press the buzzer to get his attention and he is always gentle and caring. I got the impression that this was something she’d never had from a man before, apart from her father, whom she has a happy, if slightly awkward, relationship with.

Her relationship with her mother is slightly more strained, due to her mother’s attempted suicide when she was younger and the many strange rules and ideals that mother dearest imposed on her. Despite all this, Helen spends a lot of her time in hospital trying to get her estranged parents back together. This struck a chord with me. Roche writes that what all children of divorced parents want most in the world is for their parents to be together, but I can’t say that’s true. Of course, there was a time in my life when that pretty much was all I wanted, but growing up with four parents who loved me and supported me was a million times better than growing up in an unhappy house with two people who love me but aren’t right for each other. I had the best of both worlds, and I have my parents divorce to thank for that.

But back to Helen. She has endured a lot of pain in her short life, and she is naive and childlike in her cries for attention. After a failed attempt at organising a meet between her parents she rips open her butt wound and endures a massive, almost-fatal bleed and an emergency operation, and it just goes to show how deeply this has affected her. Her promiscuity is just a way of dampening the pain and hiding her true feelings. It’s a cry for help, which no one hears.

Something that intrigues me about writing (and writers) is whether everything they write down is a secret fantasy, or a snippet of truth that they wouldn’t dare tell anyone. I wondered throughout the whole of this book whether Charlotte Roche has shagged her way around Germany or whether she inserts the shower head into her lady parts to get herself off. I got my answer in an interview published at the end of the book. The novel is semi-autobiographical, there are some scenes she has taken from her own teenage life, which I found surprising but also kind of cool.

We forget in all this hygiene hysteria that we’re actually pretty robust and our immune system is there for a reason. This book isn’t gratuitous at all – it’s an honest (if slightly exaggerated) account of human pain and suffering. Roche is unflinching and relentless in putting forth all the gory, dirty details of femininity and of humanity. When all we see is flawless, airbrushed, pornographic perfection it’s actually a breath of fresh air to view the female form in all its dirty, sweaty, hairy glory.

Shaun Tan


I’m going to try and describe my love for Shaun Tan. I anticipate this will be pretty hard. 

fighting a monster 2013_b 

When I look at his artwork, particularly on his blog, my stomach ties itself in knots. It’s a very peculiar feeling, and one that happens very rarely. It’s almost like a dulled version of the overwhelming love I felt when I met both of my daughters for the first time. I get this little lump in my throat, kind of feel like I want to cry because they are so utterly beautiful. I know, I know. It seems a bit of an extreme reaction to what is essentially just pencils on paper. But the shivers these images give me might be similar to how one might feel hearing their all-time favourite band playing their all-time favourite song. There just aren’t strong enough words to describe that feeling. 

I first came across his work while shelving stock in the children’s section at work (good old Waterstones) It was a gorgeous picture book called The Lost Thing and I took it over to the counter and just stared at it for a long time (don’t worry, I wasn’t ignoring customers – it was a particularly quiet day). I think I bought it more for me than my daughter. Of course I read it to her, but having just turned one she didn’t really show much enthusiasm for anything except In The Night Garden. Another of his books that I fell in love with was Eric. It’s so sweet and beautifully drawn. My colleague and I both adored his work so we put together a Shaun Tan display to show off just how awesome he is and if memory serves me well, we sold a fair few of his books. 

I just can’t get over his skill; the precision and sophistication of his hand-eye coordination is mind-boggling. His use of limited palettes with colours that wouldn’t necessarily go together in anyone else’s head is incredible. He pulls off these quirky colour schemes and I find myself irritatingly envious of his talent. But skill isn’t everything. What I’m really jealous of is his crazy, beautiful, surreal imagination and his ability to create exquisite, stunning work that is both confusing and lovely at the same time. There are many wonderful illustrators out there but not many that give me chills.

force evil 1_step behind_b

I find this piece particularly lovely. His ability to portray wet stuff is awesome – it’s something I really struggle with but he makes it look so simple and effortless. The symbolism in his work makes me happy – every image oozes meaning and the tiny details keep my eye and mind engaged for inordinate amounts of time. I could literally spend all day looking at a single image and still not fully understand all the many meanings it portrays. I would gladly paper my walls in his pictures and spend all day staring at them. 

Browsing his work on Pinterest earlier I came across a wonderful article by Tan giving advice to new illustrators, which I found very helpful (having just found out I’ve been accepted into Plymouth Uni to study Illustration). I just hope I can build myself up to something near this level, but I know it will take a heck of a lot of hard work and a lot of practice to get my standards anywhere close. 


Bird King cover

All artwork featured on this blog post is copyright (C) Shaun Tan.

Books I didn’t love but will write about anyway.


Life is too short to waste on books that aren’t floating my boat. I have a finite number of days left to live and selfishly I don’t want to spend any of them reading something that gives my synapses a sadface.

Lets say I have fifty years worth of reading ahead of me. It takes me roughly two weeks to read a book (I know, I’m slow, but I like to savour the words), maybe less than a week if it’s something extra special. That gives me twenty-six opportunities a year to colour in my grey matter with something explosive or charming. Altogether, twenty-six books a year for fifty years gives me a limit of roughly 1300 books, which may not sound like a lot but when you consider the vast multitude of books that have already been published that I haven’t sunk my teeth into, and then think about how many more books will have been published by the time I exit the building, there are just too many variables to compute. It is the job of the publisher, the marketing teams and the booksellers to make sure I find these gems that will shape my world and challenge my perceptions. 

I want each of these books to amaze me, build me up and break me back down. I want these books to enlighten me and enrich my life.

Maybe I’m just not in the right frame of mind to finish these particular books at this point in my life. I really hope that’s the case, because each of the books have been picked up for a good reason. I won’t name the books I didn’t enjoy because I wouldn’t want to influence anyone. As a bookseller it is not my place to un-recommend a book or show it in a negative light. That’s not to say they’re not good books that will excite and delight other readers – they are bestsellers because they have done exactly that, but for me, not so much. 

Thinking about it, maybe I’m guilty of book-lust. I love the feeling of the initial attraction, the hook that sinks itself into you, but I don’t have the stamina or the commitment to keep going, and perhaps that’s a massive flaw. I’d love to be able to make myself keep going, but when I’ve got finite days, months, years in which to cram the best, most intriguing, thought-provoking, spine-tingling books, then like a relationship that’s hanging on by a thread or a dead-end job, it’s just better to quit while you’re still alive.

I’m aware this is a bit of a non-bloggy-blog-post but it’s something that’s bothered me for a long time and I don’t know if I’m alone in this. Maybe I shouldn’t dwell on it so much. Maybe that in itself is a waste of life. 

“I fully support breastfeeding, but …” An Open Letter.


I’m going to take a sidestep away from books to write about something very important to me: breastfeeding. I’ve breastfed both of my daughters – my first self-weaned at 22 months, and my second still going strong at nearly 15 months. It is something I feel pretty passionately about, so please excuse me if I get ranty.

I am writing this because I am so sick of reading articles in the Daily Fail Mail (and other trashy outlets) about breastfeeding mothers being asked to leave whatever restaurant/shop/swimming pool they are nursing in. I am equally sick of the ignorant, snide comments left on said articles by apes giving their two cents. I am sick of hearing “I fully support breastfeeding, but …”. Let me start by saying this: if you say “I fully support breastfeeding, but …” you do not fully support breastfeeding. The presence of the “but” pretty much negates your first point. “But” is often followed by (but by no means limited to) one of the following:

  • the mother should use a cover…
  • it should be done in the bathroom/private room/feeding room …
  • it shouldn’t be done in a shop/restauruant/bus
  • the mother should be discreet and not draw attention to herself.
  • the mother should pump her milk and put it in a bottle for when she’s out in public.
  • not when the baby is over x age.
  • it shouldn’t be done in front of other children (breasts not for children? Go figure …)

I am also sick of people likening breastfeeding in public to defecating/urinating/sex in public. It is none of these. Breastfeeding is not a sex act (and if you think it is then you obviously have a screw loose); breastmilk is not a waste product. It is a food product, delivered via breast (shock, horror) directly into the mouth of a small human who has no way to feed itself.

If you’ve never breastfed, or done so in public, then you have absolutely no idea how nerve-wracking it is to pull what is normally a concealed part of your anatomy out in front of people who have never seen that part of your anatomy and attempt to attach a wriggly, crying baby to it. It is no mean feat. It involves some forethought about how you are positioned, how to position your baby, and if you’re in the early days and still learning how to do it it doesn’t always go according to plan. Add into the mix a blanket or muslin cloth or specially made breastfeeding cover and you’ve officially run out of hands. Most babies hate being covered anyway (would you like to eat with a blanket on your head? Thought not ..) On some occasions when the infant is a little older and fascinated with the world around them they may detach from the boob to look around, and its usually when the milk is freely flowing and yes, it does sometimes shoot across the room. It happens, it’s not a crime, the mother/baby partnership are not trying to annoy anyone, they’re just doing what is natural and normal to them. It just so happens that the milk-delivery-vehicle is experiencing a surge in oxytocin that makes the milk shoot out.

But it’s not just milk spraying that causes offence, apparently. It’s the sight of a small triangle (or sometimes a big triangle, depending on the size of breast in question) of flesh above the baby’s head that is so insulting. Seriously people, it’s not that big a deal. It doesn’t require a cover, it just requires you minding your own business and utilising that incredible eye function that allows you to move them in a different direction. Hell! you could even turn your neck if you fancy it. Whichever you choose to do, just remember you don’t have to look at it. It’s not hurting you, it’s not going to kill you to just move on and pretend you didn’t see. In fact, it’s beneficial to the whole fluffing human race (in many, many ways) to see women breastfeeding.

  1. Breastfeeding is beneficial to the environment.

Breastfeeding requires no secondary equipment, simply a breast and a baby. Each and every breastfeeding partnership saves oil, fuel, electricity in huge volumes. Oil is not used to manufacture bottles, fuel is not required to transport huge quantities of powdered artificial milk, electricity is not needed to boil kettles and power bottle warmers. It is a totally eco-friendly operation.

2.  Increased breastfeeding rates can save the NHS a heck of a lot of money.

£40 million as a rough estimate. It is widely accepted that the risks of many preventable illnesses and diseases to a non-breastfed infant are much higher than that of breastfed ones. The hospitalisation of babies with cases of necrotizing enterocolitis, otitis media, and many other illnesses are so high because of our mediocre breastfeeding rates. And not just babies. The risks of not breastfeeding can affect babies much later in life, too. Mothers who don’t breastfeed also have an increased likelihood of suffering illnesses such as osteoporosis, breast and ovarian cancers amongst others. The fact that UK breastfeeding rates are so crap are causing a big strain on NHS resources and it is so easily remedied.  See the Unicef Report for yourself.

3.  Breasts are not for sale.

The fact that we, as a society, are happier to see women posing almost nude in shop windows than sat down in Costa happily nursing her infant with virtually nothing on show says a lot about how horrendously crass we are. That we don’t mind a boob as long as it’s for advertising purposes and not to nurture the next generation really says it all. How about we stop thinking we own all the breasts just because we get to see them airbrushed in the windows of Ann Summers and La Senza and we teach our daughters that their bodies were not created for the sole purpose of pleasing the opposite sex? And while we’re at it, we can teach our sons that the world does not revolve around boobs, and even if it does, they do not belong to them, they belong to the owner of the boobs and are occasionally leased to babies. A bit of respect for our own bodies (and the bodies of others) would go a heck of a long way.

Those are the bigger issues. What I’m really trying to put across is: breastfeeding is not offensive. In any way, shape or form. At least it shouldn’t be. Leaving a breastfeeding mother in peace to get on with fulfilling her child’s needs is not a lot to ask. Even if, heaven forbid, you were offended by a gay couple sat holding hands or kissing on a bench, you wouldn’t go over and ask them to stop or move. If you saw a girl with her bum cheeks hanging out the bottom of her micro-shorts or her boobs spilling out of her top you wouldn’t tell her to put it away. So why do people think it’s okay to berate a woman for using her breasts for their designated purpose? If you just so happened to be disgusted by an obese person walking down the street you wouldn’t see it as your duty to tell that person they disgust you, would you? I personally don’t like to see pregnant women smoking in public, but I would never walk up to her and tell her she’s being selfish. It’s none of my business.

Believe it or not, the breastfeeding mother does not have to put your comfort before her own or her baby’s. She does not owe you anything. Believe it or not, you don’t need to vocalise every opinion or criticism that pops into your head. Some things can be, and are almost certainly better, kept inside your head. The breastfeeding mother does not even have to cover her baby or her breast up, nor should she feel like she does. The more we see mothers nursing in public, the less it will shock us. People used to find the idea of eating in public highly offensive, these days you can’t walk through any city centre without seeing someone chowing down on a burger or tucking into a pasty (or any other baked good). Times change, and we need to accept that, especially when it’s something as normal, natural, wonderful as breastfeeding.

Not only is it hurtful and insulting to be asked to move or stop breastfeeding, it is illegal.

So maybe next time you see a mother breastfeeding and you’re disgusted by it, just walk on.
Better still, give her a smile and say “well done”, goodness knows it would do her self-esteem some good.

And if you’re reading this as a mother who nurses in public – please keep doing it and don’t let others ignorance get you down. You never know, your nursing in public might give confidence and inspire other mothers to do the same.


NB: My writing about breastfeeding does not in any way mean that i hate bottle-feeding or that it is terrible. I fully respect every mother’s decision to feed their baby however they choose, I don’t need to know reasons why you did or didn’t breastfeed, I just accept it. In this blog post I am writing solely about breastfeeding.


Links to articles: <— please watch this video – it’s amazing :D

Some books I love … #8



One word: Zombies.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion was a cracking introduction to the genre, and one that will stay with me for a looooong time.

So beautifully crafted, so deftly plotted and intricately imagined, it is one of those novels that sneaks inside your subconscious and claims squatters rights. Nope, there’s no forgetting this one.

R is the undead protagonist who remembers very little about his life as a living human being, except that his name starts with “R”. He spends his days roaming around an abandoned airport with his zombie buddies, groaning and decaying. He’s built a little zombie nest for himself in a disused aeroplane and hoards little trinkets there that he’s collected on his (very slow) zombie travels.

We meet Julie on one of R’s brain-foraging excursions. I can think of more romantic settings to meet your true love, but this was R’s. Julie is out on a zombie-hunt with her boyfriend, Perry, and a few other friends when Perry is killed by R, who steals his brain and keeps it in his pocket. R notices a very frightened Julie hiding from the other zombies and he makes an absurd, un-zombie-like decision to save her. He smears her face with his own rotting blood to mask her delectable human scent and smuggles her home to his aeroplane.

Of course Julie is in a swamp of emotion, mostly cortisol-fuelled, and R does his best to communicate with her in his strained zombie-human language. His vocabulary grows throughout the course of the book, and I found myself urging him to try new words. I felt such fondness towards his character that I was willing him to speak, and was almost euphoric when he managed new words (almost like the joy of hearing my own little one stretching her vocab)

R had a profound effect on me. In most books you feel something towards a character, but I have never felt such genuine empathy, affinity and compassion towards a character than I have for R. It’s not that we’re not reminded often enough that he’s a zombie – we are, and grossly so – it’s the fact that he sees the humanity in Julie, the wonder of her living and breathing and wants that so badly for himself that makes him so tragic. I would have gladly swapped places with Julie so I could help him get his humanity back.

R’s pocketing of Perry’s brain is another genius plotline. He breaks off chunks of it and eats it every now and again, each time catching a glimpse of life through Perry’s eyes like a boy peeking through the keyhole of a brothel to see what delights are waiting on the other side. Every time he takes a nibble on Perry’s grey matter, bright, colourful, human life is dangled like a dream-carrot in front of him. He gets to see Julie how Perry did, and it only ignites his affection for her more.

It’s not all love and sweetness and gaiety, though. The boneys – zombies that are so mangled and decayed they are only really recognisable as skeletons – are a dangerous drone that creep in and out of the story and scare even the regular zombies.

Then there’s the prose itself. It reads more like literary fiction than gritty zombie horror, which was definitely unexpected. It’s poetic and beautiful, words arranged so perfectly on the page it almost hurt to read them. I would say it’s one of those novels I wish I’d written myself, but actually I don’t. I had the most wonderful time reading it, short-lived though it was at a dainty 240 pages long. Despite the colour and life of R’s Perry-visions, the language is quite grey and bleak – demonstrating the monotony of life as a corpse searching for his humanity. We take our lives, our breathing, our heartbeats for granted and all R wants is to have all that again. To be able to feel something other than his limbs falling off and his insides decomposing.

And you know the irony? This book about zombies, the undead, decay and hearts that don’t beat is the most life-affirming book I’ve had the pleasure to read. It’s wonderful.

I’ll leave you with these quotes and hope they whet your appetite:


“My friend “M” says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can’t smile, because your lips have rotted off.”

“I crush her against me. I want to be part of her. Not just inside her but all around her. I want our rib cages to crack open and our hearts to migrate and merge. I want our cells to braid together like living thread.”


{The film is also spectacular, well worth a watch (after you’ve read the book, of course)}

Some books I love … #7



Excrementum Sanctum! 

This is THE weirdest, most deliciously disgusting and at the same time awesomest book I’ve read in a very long time. It’s beyond comparison; there isn’t really any book I’ve read (or that even exists, maybe?) that is anything like this one. Andrew Smith either has a mind-boggling imagination or he’s high as a kite. Whatever it is, I want some.

The writing is wonderful – we follow Austin Szerba as he tells the history of the beginning of the end of the world in Ealing, Iowa.

The reader is warned about the contents of the book on the first page:

“There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.”

It should also mention that there’s a fair bit of swearing. (“- and shit” is the ending of quite a lot of sentences.) It’s aimed at young adults, but most of them know all these words anyway. And I think if you pick up a book about a sixteen year-old boy battling six foot tall praying mantises, you’d almost judge him if he didn’t swear on the odd occasion.

It’s definitely written from a sixteen year old boy’s perspective – there are lots of um‘s and uh‘s and quite a lot of the book is dedicated to Austin’s horniness or his balls, but I found it kind of endearing. It can’t be easy for a guy to have to constantly hide an erection (as Austin had to do on more than one occasion).

An equal share of the book focuses on Austin’s confusion over his sexuality. He has a girlfriend whom he loves very much, but he realises he is also in love with his best friend, Robby Brees. His confusion spans the entire book, something that never really gets resolved as it would in most other books (just another loose end to tie up) and I liked this too. Some loose ends never really get tied up in real life, and sometimes it’s one’s sexuality.

History, Austin’s family history in particular, is woven neatly into the plot. He demonstrates throughout the book how history is tied to everything, and everyone’s own personal histories mingle and intertwine. It’s an interesting thought, and one that I agreed more with throughout the novel. One aspect I really enjoyed was that everything was linked. Links between everything, on every single page. Nothing just is, everything has a reason, an explanation, and that I liked very much.

The point is also made that a lot of history is conjecture. Not everyone can know all the facts about everything. We must rely on others’ experiences and accounts of what happened, join it all together and fill in the blanks. This point was contradicted by the fact that Austin Szerba is the narrator and yet he has an omniscient knowledge of everything that is going on whilst he is otherwise occupied. We see not only what he sees directly in front of him but everything that he doesn’t see as well. This makes for a very complex and compelling account of the end of the world.

I love that the story is so multi-faceted. It is as much about the Austin-Robby-Shann love triangle as it is about teenage angst, as it is about massive unstoppable praying mantises whose only needs in life are to “fuck and eat”, as it is about history. It is not solely about any one of these things, but marries them all together in a fascinating way.

It is a truly unique, original, inspiring novel that is also repulsive and vulgar at the same time. But the vulgarity just made it even more awesome.