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I’m dreaming of a bookish Christmas

13 Dec

Everyone knows that books are the best Christmas gifts, whether giving or receiving. Well, imagine how awesome it would be to have your wrapped presents sitting happily under this awesome Christmas tree made out of books:

book christmas tree literature lit gifts awesome tree festive xmas

Imagine that little beauty nestling in the corner of your living room (or, if you’re living the dream, your library):I’m going to make it my goal to collect old books over the next year and make one for Christmas 2012.


At the mountains of madness

21 Oct

The other night, I drove home after going out for dinner with some friends over in South Yorkshire. As I drove back, I decided to take a route I don’t normally take, which involves driving through the countryside and a place called Marr, then getting on the A1.

I’d driven this route hundreds of times before when I worked in Bradford, but not for about a year. The countryside is pretty standard Yorkshire fields, hills and valleys and whilst being pretty, it wasn’t particularly breathtaking. Until the other night, that is.

I drove up through High Melton and then hooked a right, flipped full beam on and negotiated the narrow country road in the pitch dark. Trees on either side blocked out any potential moonlight and whilst there was a circle of clear sky above, there were clouds gathering on the horizon. As I rounded the bend which leads into a dip in the hills before you come to Marr, I was struck with a weird sense of awe and fright.

The moon hung fat and low in the sky, resting on its back amongst the clouds, honey tinged and dark. It cast its dull orange glow across the still fields, ushering its slow light towards me. As the light hit, my mouth fell open.

Looming up in front of me, out of nowhere, were two giagantic structures, silent, majestic and menacing. In the near-darkness, with an eerie amber halo around them, stood two monsters, tall and defensive. Silently warning me to not come any closer. Silently, their arms circled around their heads, gesturing to me that I should keep moving. And move I did. Struck by an initial panic then a sudden adrenaline surge, I pressed my foot down and hurtled forward, beyond these monsters from the unknown depths of outer space. As I pressed on, smaller monsters emerged, their whirling arms driving me out of their lair. A dip, a right turn, a roundabout then the bright lights of lorries and cars. I was back amongst my own kind. I was safe.

I sheepishly turned the radio up and cursed my overactive imagination.

wind turnbines at night sunset marr yorkshire fields A1 wind farm

The whole thing somehow reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness, and whilst this story is about an extremely different situation, I got that weird, momentary feeling of panic and awe that I was witnessing something completely new and unexpected and my brain couldn’t instantly process what was happening. A rare, instinctive feeling and an amazing sight.

I don’t think those wind turbines will ever look the same again, even if I go back to revisit them. It felt quite magical and I feel lucky to have seen it.

h. p. lovecraft at the mountains of madness HP lovecraft vinatge book cover

The above all happened in a matter of seconds, of course. But don’t those moments that change us forever always happen in the time it takes to breathe in and out?

The Guardian Bookswap

19 Sep

I took part in the Guardian Bookswap this weekend.

The Bookswap is a lovely little idea: you stick a note in a book saying ‘this book now belongs to you’ and then leave it somewhere to be found, uploading a picture of where you left the book to a Flickr map on the Guardian website:

guardian bookswap 2011 gemma critchley observer will self oscar wilde  guardian bookswap 2011 gemma critchley observer will self oscar wilde  guardian and observer book swap flickr gemma critchley oscar wild willself bookswap

The book I donated to the swap was The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, with a recommendation to try Dorian by Will Self. I couldn’t bear to give that one away.

I’m yet to find a book, so if you’ve left one somewhere, leave me a clue in the comments so I can go on a literary treasure hunt…

I’m a loner, Dottie, a rebel

18 Aug

I spend quite a bit of time rattling round this big old flat by myself in the week when el chappo is away with work and I’m not working/gymming/swanning around the town being fabulous.

I had quite a bit of practice at keeping myself occupied when I had my own flat and became a master of spending time wisely (although not always productively). I am a firm believer in the phrase ‘If you’re bored then you must be boring too’ (courtesy of the lovely Piebald) and I honestly think I’ve never got to a point where I’ve really been bored. There’s always something to do!

Anyway, I thought I’d compile my list of essentials for keeping oneself sane when living alone.

A good book or two (currently re-reading All my best friends are superheroes):

all my friends are superheroes andy kaufman a good book literary fiction

Awesome records (currently playing The Wedding Present):

the wedding present i'm from further north than you record cover art

Cups of tea (and sometimes, just sometimes, coffee. I’m not at work now):

helvetica coffee cup hipster designer mug tea

Something to write stories in (It’s coming along nicely):

moleskine notebook hipster write stories gemma critchley

Lots of internet (all the sixes, clickety click):

you have reached the end of the internet go back exploding dog web cartoon

A Labbit for company (rrrrrraow):

plush white stache labbit kozik kidrobot

Nice things to think about:

david shrigley photograph sunday adventure club lo fi indie photo

That’s about all you need.

It’s been a while…

31 Jul

… But I’m still here!

I haven’t just stopped blogging. I’m still writing, you just don’t see all of it on here. I’ve spent the last week getting serious about writing my book. I’m five chapters in and I’ve been plugging away at it. Last week, I went to an amazing event run by Marie Claire, as part of their ‘Inspire & Mentor’ series. The title of the event was ‘How to get published’ and was absolutely inspiring, perhaps the most inspiring night I’ve experienced.

marie claire how to get published 2011 tour lindsey kelk

I got to meet and chat with an amazing literary agent, Rowan Lawton from Peters Fraser Dunlop. I even got to meet and ask questions of Sarah Ritherdon, the publishing director at Harper Collins. But the best bit had to be meeting Lindsey Kelk, author of The Single Girl’s To Do List and the I heart series. She was not only absolutely lovely but she was inspiring in her story of how she got published.

So, that’s basically why I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front. I’m still reading the other one a day posts and I’ll keep writing in here. This project has been great in getting me into the habit of writing every day, and I intend to continue with that.

Achieving my life’s dreams by proxy

25 Jun

I’ve been reading books by a rather fabulous author, Lindsey Kelk for a while now. Anyway, she doesn’t just write stories, she also blogs quite a bit, about beauty, (good) music and her own adventures.

On her blog a while back, she asked her readers to submit their ‘to do’ lists as part of the launch of her latest novel, The Single Girl’s to do list. So I did. She posted it on her blog alongside the others and I was thrilled with that, but I never imagined it’d end up in the actual printed, published book.

But it did!

Gemma Critchley Lindsey Kelk the single girl's to do list book writing published chick lit i heart new york cover       Lindsey Kelk the single girl's to do list waterstones book offer cover

I hope no one was offended by anything in there (especially my lovely family or chap, I said I felt like the black sheep as I wasn’t married/had kids but we don’t actually have any kind of black sheep – and I’m not a single girl, but I do have a to do list – it just sounds good for dramtic effect. It was either that or ‘SHARK ATTACK’ and I don’t think that would cut it, judging by the odd looks given to the woman on the direct line advert when she suggests it).

I saw it today in Waterstone’s in all its papery glory and I was dizzy with happiness. Okay, so it’s one page in someone else’s book so I’m not a published writer in the proper official sense, but if you look at the technicalities, I can kind of say I’ve achieved a small part of a big dream. My name is on there, and even the link to my blog got published and it mentions the very wonderful One a Day Project, too (which you can donate money to for Cancer Research here if you’re feeling generous). I’m rather proud and can’t wait to get properly stuck into the rest of the story, too. You can buy it here if you want to read it.

This has all spurred me on to write even more – not just via this blog but to carry on with the stories as well.

All in all a great day. I also found out my amazing little sister passed a big part of her teacher training course and one of my best  friends got a first in his engineering degree. Hurrahs all round!

Without wanting to sound too much like Heather Small: What have you done lately that makes you feel proud?

Cathode Narcissus

19 Jun

I’ve just finished reading Dorian: an Imitation by Will Self.

As always, I was blown away by Self’s intricate and knowingly clever prose, and the fact that story was built on one of the best-loved books of my adolescence – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – just added to the mix to make it all the more enjoyable. Disturbing, heartfelt, evocative, provocative, saddening and terrifying in equal measures, the book serves to recreate Wilde’s dandies as a portrait of the Gay scene in London and New York in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s – the hedonism and cultural liberation of the fin-de-siecle art world swirling together in the grip of the emergence of AIDS. It’s a gripping read and splendidly told at the bedside of several of the characters, sucking you into a sordid underworld of drugs, sex and vanity; but at the same time having Self’s telltale wry sprinkling of humour. I absolutely loathed some of the characters but loved the book and on more than one occasion found myself stopping to re-read a particularly well-crafted sentence.

Will Self Dorian An Imitation post it notes wall ideas author cathode narcissus

Every book I read by Will Self inspires me to get my pen out, or put fingers to keyboard and create something. If you’ve read the book recently, or re-read it in the context of now and not of the ’80s/’90s, you might draw parallels with any of your own user-generated content and Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissus, which forms the centrepiece for the novel. The image below is as close as I could get, it’s Nam-june Paik’s video installation, ‘Moon is the Oldest TV’. No one seems to have made an actual Cathode Narcissus yet – I was sorely disappointed when I discovered that a) did not exist and b) did not even pretend to exist – maybe I should create it? Maybe I really shouldn’t – maybe that’s the point? I loved how one of my other favourite writers, Joe Stretch, intertwined both Friction and Wild Life with the real world and the virtual one, but then again I suppose Dorian was written in 2002, right before or even on the cusp of the explosion of mini-Cathode Narcissi sites like Facebook and Myspace, so it is perhaps to be expected.

Cathode Narcissus Dorian An imitation Will Self The picture of Dorian Gray Nam-june Paik’s video installation, “Moon is the Oldest TV

My interpretation of Dorian: an Imitation was made all the more resounding by an article I read in today’s Observer, by Aleks Krotoski, about the ever-blurring lines between online and offline identities. It talks about how online we have the power to create ourselves as we wish to be seen, rather than how we actually are; but due to the fact that technology and ‘real life’ are becoming more and more intertwined, that polished version of ourselves has inevitably become more real. Our Facebook pages, our Twitter feed and our blogs (yes, including this one) are increasingly brighter, shinier versions of our own lives. We can edit out the undesirable bits and amplify the good parts of ourselves. We can curate our interests, leaving out our guilty pleasures and instead tailoring our personalities to be the version of ourselves that we want the world to see. We are effectively leaving the digital world strewn with billions upon billions of our own versions of Baz Hallward’s Cathode Narcissi.

I’m not a morbid person – for the most part – but I do sometimes wonder what kind of eulogy I’m building for myself online.

Are these banks of links and pages of profiles really the only legacies that we want to leave in our wake?

#oneaday 73: One Day

14 Mar

I’ve just finished the book One Day by David Nicholls. I posted about how much I was enjoying reading the book here, and now I’ve finished I’m penning a few thoughts on it. Don’t read below the cut if you don’t want to know what happens!

exploding dog drawing when will you let go

Continue reading

#oneaday 72: Head in a book

13 Mar

Sometimes, I get my hands on a book that I simply can’t put down. I know people say that a lot, but I really mean it. It becomes an obsession, a drug, a compulsion that I have to cave in to. Real life goes on hold and I’m confined to my bed, or a chair, or the park and I must read, consume, devour the book until it’s done. It’s been a while since I’ve found a book like that. Notable mentions of past reads that did this to me are:

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Anyway, a very lovely lady at work gave me a copy of One Day by David Nicholls on Friday.

David Nicholls one day book review

I started reading it this morning and I’m already over half way through. It’s very much one of those ‘everyman’/me too books and is easy to identify with, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. The characters are so well drawn and the story so plausible and so real that I can’t help but get sucked in. Also, I hadn’t realised that David Nicholls is also the author of Starter For Ten, a brilliant, brilliant book about University Challenge. There’s something very Adrian Mole about Nicholls’ writing, something really humanistic and almost a bit cringey, but it’s warm, very witty, well-observed and compelling.

Which is why I’m drawing this post to a close here and getting back to it.

Highly recommended read. Have you read it? What did you think? No spoilers, please!

#oneaday 56: (late) Amazing bookshops around the world

27 Feb

This post is for Friday. I’ve had an exceptionally busy week, being the social butterfly that I am. Although social seagull is probably a better description of me. I’m not that graceful.

Andrea writes The Art of Staying up all night, one of my all-time favourite blogs. She’s doing a series at the moment of posts about amazing bookshops around the world and she kindly included my write-up about The Rude Shipyard Beneath My Window. You can read this by clicking here.

the rude shipyard book shop sheffield

This was taken from an old Biography of a Beatific Beatnik post, the original can be found here.


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