Taking Control Of Your Creative Clutter

Every three months or so I find myself overtaken by an almost uncontrollable sense of claustrophobia and clutter rage. I’m naturally quite a messy person and whilst I definitely find creativity in the organised chaos of my house, there is a tipping point where suddenly all I can think about is pulling out all of my books, reorganising my shelves and cupboards and having a good old throw out.

Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?

– Marie Kondō

But is my seasonal desire to clean up and make many piles of things really helping me to hone my creative focus or is it just another (relatively productive) form of procrastination?

Princeton University have recently published some research through their neuroscience department that suggests that physical clutter does in fact affect your ability to focus on tasks, to process information and be effective. Essentially, too much visual stimuli will begin to distract you. It can, therefore, be argued that taking the time to clear your workspace and organise yourself is a worthwhile use of your time.

workspace

But what about all those people who believe that a bit of creative clutter is what they need to spark that next great idea?

As well as needing a clear workspace, I’m also a big believer in being able to access things that I will suddenly, randomly need – an obscure textbook that I haven’t picked up since university, that old set of glasses inherited from Grandma that will be awesome in an bookstagram shoot… How do I reconcile these two seemingly opposite needs without having some form of Room of Requirement that pops up whenever I need to get a hold of something?

To make matters worse, a study by Yale University confirms what I could already have told you from witnessing my mother trying to throw out some of our old baby things that she had hoarded for 30 years, that we form strong emotional attachments to objects. So much so that it is actually painful to let them go – the same area of the brain is activated when we’re about to chuck that old teddy bear or journal as lights up as when smokers who are trying to quit crave a cigarette.

tidy desk

So why do it? Why put ourselves through all this unnecessary pain and suffering for the sake of a tidy desk or a few minutes avoiding the real task at hand?

Well clutter can become paralysing. Not only are you able to clear an actual physical space to do your writing or reading or crafting but the sense of accomplishment that comes with neatening everything up can actually motivate you to keep going with the next task. It also gives you thinking time. So much of developing creativity happens when we’re not actually ‘being creative’. Having time and space to ponder that difficult narrative problem or paragraph that’s been bugging you is a good thing. I often find that I’ve been mulling over a problem with my writing without really realising it and then when I come to sit down in the evening and thrash the words out, they start to flow much better.

creative mess

However, before you get carried away spending hours lining up your pens, it’s also important to remember that merely organising your space will not automatically bring about creative genius, but it will set you up to succeed if you follow through with the actual work…

5 THINGS THAT WORK FOR ME TO KEEP MY CREATIVE CLUTTER UNDER CONTROL

  1. Write a list and prioritise – I’ve been using my Passion Planner to help me do this and to help me focus on what will enable me to reach my goals most effectively. I can schedule in my chores and prep time but make sure they don’t take over my day.
  2. Set a timer – This can be either on my phone as a physical countdown or something like the duration of a particular podcast. I’ve been loving this one by Sara Tasker of Me and Orla, she’s a creative coach with plenty of brilliant advice.
  3. Set social media limits – Time spent and the number of people that I follow / interact with. That way I don’t feel overwhelmed by what can seem to be a never ending task…
  4. Limit storage space and schedule a clear out at the start of each season – This forces me to think about what I really need and what can go in the bin or to charity. If I’m unsure I will box stuff and put it up out of the way in an inaccessible cupboard and if I don’t use it for the rest of year then it goes.
  5. Meditate – I’m a firm believer in uncluttering your life as well as your workspace. Apps such as Headspace are a quick and effective way to bring a bit of calm into a busy day. Trying to do too much all the time leads to difficulties with filtering information, switching quickly between tasks, poor working memory and an inability to effectively prioritise.

 

How do you like to organise (or not..) your workspace? Have you got any tips for keeping creative clutter under control?

Review: “Fools And Mortals” by Bernard Cornwell

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Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Harper

Release Date: 9th January 2018

3 STARS

SET IN LONDON (1597)

 

 

The King of the historical fiction genre has returned with a stand-alone novel re-telling the first staging of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and I practically ran to the bookstore to buy it. How could I resist? I’m a massive Cornwell fan, he’s one of the few authors where I will actively go out and buy the hardback rather than wait for the paperback and this looked like it ticked all my boxes – Cornwell’s usual eye for detail with setting and description, theatre and adventure all rolled up together.

The Blurb: In the heart of Elizabethan England, Richard Shakespeare dreams of a glittering career in one of the London playhouses, a world dominated by his older brother, William. But he is a penniless actor, making ends meet through a combination of a beautiful face, petty theft and a silver tongue. As William’s star rises, Richard’s onetime gratitude is souring and he is sorely tempted to abandon family loyalty.

So when a priceless manuscript goes missing, suspicion falls upon Richard, forcing him onto a perilous path through a bawdy and frequently brutal London. Entangled in a high-stakes game of duplicity and betrayal which threatens not only his career and potential fortune, but also the lives of his fellow players, Richard has to call on all he has now learned from the brightest stages and the darkest alleyways of the city. To avoid the gallows, he must play the part of a lifetime . . . .

It hurts me to say this but… I didn’t love this book. I liked it. It was an enjoyable read but no fires were lit and I’m not sure I will remember anything about the characters in three months time.

Lord, what fools these mortals be…

This is Cornwell’s first foray into Elizabethan England and rather than his usual confident ease with the periods he explores, he’s succumbed to the author’s trap of trying to explain and describe every detail for a modern audience. It surprised me that he did this as it’s not a feature of this other novels – he never explains what Saxon terms are in The Saxon Chronicles and it feels a little heavy handed here, like he doesn’t trust us to be able to work out from context what things are.

His use of language and dialogue remains excellent though. Cornwell really goes to town with the rich bawdy insults that Shakespeare was famous for. In fact, these hilarious turns of phrase are probably the most entertaining part of the book. The characters never feel stilted in their dialogue and it flows well with plenty of witty to and fro. The problem is that you never really get past this to characters that you really care about.

Richard Shakespeare is William’s younger more annoying brother. This wouldn’t be an issue except that he narrates the entire story. It’s an interesting angle to present Shakespeare (the older) as a violent, difficult man but much of it is tainted by the petulant, bitter observations of the younger Shakespeare, although this does definitely improve as the narrative unfolds – the main action of the book takes off half way through and everything is on the up from there on out.

Overall, this is a good romp through a new era for Cornwell but doesn’t really hold a torch to his longer series. You won’t come away loving the characters or feeling particularly invested, which is a shame.

If you want classic Cornwell you’re better off sticking with The Saxon Chronicles or the Sharpe series.

The Power of a Fresh Start: Books That Require No Eating, Praying or Loving…

January is always such a weird month. On one hand it is full of eager optimism and well meaning resolutions to not wear active wear. every. day. and follow a grown up skincare regime and to make this year OUR YEAR and yet it is also so bleak, so dreich, so… well frankly depressing.

There is a reason it’s home to Blue Monday, that hideous slump post Christmas where you don’t fit into any of your clothes, summer is too far away to make holiday planning motivating and you’ve stuck the first couple of weeks back at work and realised that you still have the mother of all hangovers and are totally broke.

For what it’s worth, it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start over.

– F. Scott Fitzgerald

And despite this, or because of it, every year there is something about opening that new journal, throwing out those old clothes, picking up a new book that draws us in. Literature itself is obsessed with this trope of newness, of uprooting characters and dumping them somewhere else, exploring what happens when one is forced to alter, to start again, to survive elsewhere or as someone else.

It’s not just the classics,  Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde spring to mind and although they are brilliant and deal very literally with transformation and the creation of self, there is an abundance of modern novels that explore this same intoxicating idea in a new, subtle, global way.

From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah to Elizabeth Spencer’s Starting Over, there are so many wonderful novels to dive into if you want inspiration or consolation through the stories of those making another go of it and starting again, without reaching for the self help books…

  • Heroes Of The Frontier – Dave Eggers
  • Cascade – Maryanne O’Hara
  • A Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
  • Maya’s Notebook – Isabelle Allende
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff
  • The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
  • The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F*ck – Sarah Knight

Read some of these already? Let me know your thoughts… Got something that should be on the list? Share it!

The Madness Of Setting A GoodReads Reading Goal

Right off the bat – I’ve got a nine month old daughter. This is reason enough to steer clear of the GoodReads Challenge 2018, but like a weary glutton for punishment I stumble onto the website on January 3rd in a fog of wine, chocolate orange and stuffing and before I know what’s happening…. 100 books by the end of the year. This is complete insanity.

I have, however, bought myself a lovely new notebook with which to record my efforts (that was part of the problem last year, I stopped updating my profile for a few months and then, quite frankly, couldn’t be bothered catching up). I have also purchased a Passion Planner, within whose gorgeous folds I shall be planning my passions and scheduling my reading time.

It’s like school all over again. I can’t decide if this is good or a bad thing.

Even my mother comments on this.

I like the idea of completing the challenge – it’s the literary equivalent of doing a half marathon, only no one will sponsor you, tough, as books are expensive, but you also have zero chance of developing shin splints…

The issue is that I am a very competitive but essentially very lazy person. I will start with great gusto and then peter out as I realise that these ‘other people’ (you know who you are Tweeps) who are constantly crowing  about demolishing their yearly total by March (URGH) have left me for dust, by which point I just sort of slow down gradually until I grind to a complete halt.

But this year will be different! I have a notebook!

And I’m four books down already…

 

Review: “Notes On My Family” by Emily Critchley

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Paperback: 263 pages

Publisher: Everything With Words

Release Date: 20th November 2017

5 STARS

 

“Notes On My Family” is a wonderful, funny, heart breaking YA novel published at the end of last year by the very talented Emily Critchley. Portraying an autistic narrator has a very specific set of challenges for an author, not only do you need to tread the line between being candid and being sensitive, but you also need to avoid the massive pot hole of ‘basically Curious Incident’.

The Blurb: Enter the world of Louise Coulson through her notes on her family, school and friends. Lou is thirteen years old, a perceptive and observant outsider, somewhere on the autism spectrum. She takes notes as if she were holding a film camera silently fixed on a world that tends to ignore her. Meet her dad who is in a relationship with a sixth former, Sarah her moody sister, Mikey her gay brother, her mum who has a ‘brief psychotic episode’, her nan who goes to séances, her friend Faith who has six ‘parents’ (all gay) and Lou’s family (and dog) in her alternative universe. Told in the present tense so that you feel that you are right there and sprinkled with Lou’s inimitable asides.

Lou is taking notes as everything happens, interweaving comments and dialogue to create a narrative that’s fast, subtle and convincing.

This novel tackles a wide range of issues that are relevant to the target readers – younger teens. The fact that Lou is autistic is never explicitly stated, nor does it need to be. Her autism is not the issue at hand for the majority of the book and its portrayal never gets in the way of you understanding the delightfully funny and caring person that Lou is. What it does give us is a hilariously upfront and unsweetened view of Lou’s world and the chaos that often seems like it’ll engulf her.

There is nothing like fresh pyjamas to cheer one up and to help one face the world.

There are moments that are truly awful – the incident in the girls’ changing room for one, and Critchley does a fabulous job of pulling every one of your heart strings, but ultimately the story is an uplifting one. The characters are wonderfully drawn, flaws and all, but it is Lou that you just want to scoop up and protect (although she’d hate that, so probably just a fist bump instead…)

This is exactly the sort of book young readers should be accessing. It has a strong sense of embracing difference, without ever being worthy or patronising and it never ‘tries to be cool’ – the death knell of adult written teen dialogue…

Overall, this is a compassionate and witty look at family life through the eyes of a very unique and observant narrator. Definitely one for your kids’ bookshelves.

As a side note, Emily is also a wonderful photographer… check out her Instagram – emily.critchley

@EmilyMCritchley

www.emilycritchley.com

Review: “The Snowman” by Jo Nesbø

TheSnowman

Paperback: 576 pages

Publisher: Vintage

Release Date: 5th October 2017 (film tie in re-release)

5 STARS

SET IN OSLO AND BERGEN, NORWAY

 

It seems impossible to turn around in a book store or on Twitter without coming face to face with another Nordic Noir crime thriller. The genre seems to have taken on a rather sinister, life of its own. Since Stieg Larsson burst onto the wider literary scene and the BBC started showing “The Killing” and everyone lost their minds about Scandi woolly jumpers, there has been a veritable deluge of work from Scandinavia and Iceland evoking harsh landscapes, dark deeds and terrible weather, normally with a heavy dose of alcoholism thrown in for good measure.

Jo Nesbo used to be footballer. A very good one apparently, he played in the Norwegian national league. I don’t hold this against him, but he makes a better author.

“The Snowman,” whilst being the first Harry Hole novel I’ve read, is actually the seventh in the series. I don’t usually skip about in a series if I can help it – I don’t like spoilers – but this was a Christmas present from my mother-in-law (which made the detailed sex scene at the start rather excruciating to read…) and I’d seen plenty of Jo Nesbo being reviewed on one of my favourite blogs – Crime By The Book so I couldn’t wait to get started. It also seemed vitally important to read this before the new Michael Fassbender movie version came out and inevitably ruined all the characterisation in my head…

Harry Hole is our obligatory lone wolf hero. A man haunted by lost love and the ever present bottle. When a woman goes missing and there is nothing left behind to guide him but the remains of a sinister snowman in the garden, we are drawn into a dark world of affairs, paternity, revenge and a sadistic killer who seems intent on terrifying children everywhere by commandeering one of the most wonderful things about snow and turning it into a modern day boogeyman.

Whilst much of this novel indulges the familiar tropes of Nordic Noir writing, it doesn’t ever feel hackneyed. I even sat there and congratulated myself on ‘correctly’ guessing the murderer (not once, but twice… what a fool!) only to be flipped around and pointed in the other direction again. Nesbo is a master craftsman when it comes to weaving a gripping plot. The settings might be gloomy and the characters flawed and closed off, but this only adds to the atmosphere.

This is a brilliant piece of crime writing – pacey, dark and full of twists and turns. An absolute must for anyone who is a fan of thrillers, dime bars and hard liquor.

www.jonesbo.com

 

 

Blog Tour: “Disturbing Works Vol.1” by Jon Richter

 

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Kindle: 144 pages

Release Date: 12th August 2017

5 STARS

 

Thanks to Jon Richter and Jenny of Neverland Blog Tours for the review copy.

 

Jon Richter’s fabulous collection of unsettling and engrossing short stories sits squarely somewhere between Roald Dahl’s “Tales of the Unexpected” and Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror”. Neatly crafted and without exception skin crawlingly compulsive to read they whip through epic fantasy to sci-fi to horror without any chance to draw breath, and yet you never feel that you’ve been cheated on detail or that the characters and settings are anything other than deeply drawn.

The Blurb: The first volume of my Disturbing Works is a collection of twelve twisted tales perfect for people who like their stories dark, despicable, and deeply unsettling.  Containing fantasy, sci-fi, dark humour and a lot of deliciously nasty horror, it should have something for every reader that has a sinister side and nerves of steel…

I have a love hate relationship with short stories – particularly anthologies. Too often they are patchy in quality, or a series of interesting ideas that are never quite brought to fruition. It’s not the case with these.

Richter’s use of language is wonderful, verging on poetic at times, which just makes the cruel juxtaposition with the content all the more dark and delicious. Bizarre and gruesome at every turn, Richter is able to immerse us in a wide variety of places – including Japan, North London and Outer Space…(!) seamlessly. Right from the opening with “Vengeance” you realise what you’re in for – Richter pulls no punches. This is full of well crafted cliffhangers that don’t feel contrived but leave you wanting more and clever structures and humour that stop the stories from ever falling into repetition. I really want him to develop “Something Waits” into a full blown feudal fantasy novel!

Many of the stories deal with suitably dark themes – possession, the dark side of relationships, fear of the unknown, rage, violence and revenge, but often the most engaging stories focus on the characters and their choices. To shoot or not. To act or not. To open that door or not. And it’s the fall out of these choices that Richter delights in  – this man loves to torture his characters! If you love Netflix’s “Black Mirror” there is plenty for you here. In several stories we see the collision between modern technology and the darkness it could bring into our lives in the near future… terrifying.

This collection really does have something for everyone. There are diverse characters and settings, a range of exciting genres and each is just long enough to keep you happy on your tube commute.

You can buy “Disturbing Works Vol.1” now on Amazon for the ridiculously bargainous price of 99p.

 

@richterwrites

www.jon-richter.com

 

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Jon Richter lives in London and spends most of his time hiding in the guise of his sinister alter ego, an accountant called Dave.  When he isn’t counting beans, he is a self-confessed nerd who loves books, films and video games – basically any way to tell a good story.  Jon writes whenever he can and hopes to bring you more disturbing stories in the very near future.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: “The Silent Companions” by Laura Purcell

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Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: Raven Books

Release Date: 5th October 2017

5 STARS

SET IN ENGLAND (fictional Fayford)

 

So I’ve made a sneaky side step from the magical to the mysterious with this chilling Gothic tale that perfectly blends Henry James’s “The Turn Of The Screw” with Susan Hill’s “The Woman In Black”. If you like to give yourself the heebie-jeebies then this is the tale for you. Just make sure you keep the lights on…

The Blurb: Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate, The Bridge.

With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself.

I should admit here that I am terrible with scary. I have a wildly overactive imagination. Quelle surprise. So why on earth would I pick this up? The Twitter storm surrounding its release went some way to explain it… and then, to be honest… I was completely suckered by the beautiful, beautiful cover. How bad could it be? I thought. You’ve sat through The Woman In Black in the West End at least five times you complete wuss! Get a grip! Look at that gorgeous frontage – nothing bad could be contained within such a delightful facade… (Note to self: you’ve read Dorian Grey you complete chump – have you learnt nothing about the evil within) Yeah well I managed to spook myself out admirably. In fact, I had to send my husband upstairs to switch on all the lights before I went to bed, which is quite honestly pathetic and embarrassing for a grown woman. And yet I still LOVED it.

Laura Purcell’s novel taps into many of the Gothic genre’s requisite themes – the unreliable narrator, female power and hysteria, a suitably decrepit country pile on a lonely, muddy moor… but it always feels fresh and engrossing. Focusing on terror rather than horror, the book is a slow burner (the irony of this will be apparent when you read it…) in the first few chapters but my God does she pick up the pace. It was almost impossible to put down.

Purcell’s narrative moves effortlessly between 1865 and 1635. She deploys a clever change of voice between these sections and it immerses you fully in each era. The characters are perfect foils for each other, quirky without ever being caricatures and you grow to really invest in them which of course makes the unfolding plot all the more unnerving.

This novel is perfect for winter nights and for fans of classic, claustrophobic Gothic fiction. The whole thing is cleverly put together, never lags and never feels contrived – which for this genre is really saying something. I can’t wait for Purcell’s next offering – “The Corset”.

@spookypurcell

http://www.laurapurcell.com