A Night at the Theatre | Theatrical Blog Tour

To imagine my life without the theatre in it would be very difficult. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time both in the seats and on the stage. When the lovely team at Usborne asked me to write a little about my love for the theatre in order to celebrate the release of Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt, I leaped at the chance.

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My earliest memories of the theatre all involve my tiny grandma, Betty Little. She would pick me up in her little red Mini, which had absolutely no suspension whatsoever, and we would head over to the Rhyl Pavillion, a theatre that literally had a waterpark known as The Sun Centre attached to it for most of my childhood (I’m always a little bit surprised that other lobbies don’t have a slight odour of chlorine). We would watch all manner of shows, with a bag of Werthers Originals between us — surreptitiously unwrapping each sweet without causing any sound was all part of the experience. I loved seeing stories unfold before me, the rush of excitement knowing that anything could happen.

Throughout primary school, I was regularly on the stage — I was Mary twice, a fox cub in Fantastic Mr Fox, the lead girl in this really strange musical that seemed to be a rip off of both Rocky Horror and Petshop of Horrors (I just played the sample of Looking for the Action, a song which has haunted my memory for 20 years), and one of the ugly sisters in Cinders, amongst others. I remember playing Mary Jones, a young Welsh girl who walked miles to get a bible from Bala, more than once; the scent of the plastic fish and bread I was supposed to mime eat so very vivid twenty years later. My childhood is punctuated by learning lines, being fitted for costumes made of impossibly shiny material, the drying sensation of the heavily painted lipstick and of Jonathan Fisher-Jones and I trying to box people in during the waltz part of Cinders, just to make it a little more fun.

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My parents absolutely pegged me for a theatre kid, but as my high school had no real drama program and we couldn’t afford the local theatre school, my thespian days were over and I focussed more on my voice. Our high school put on annual summer concerts at the very same theatre I spent my childhood, in which I would usually insist on singing at least two solo pieces. I belted out I Dreamed a Dream, the intonation entirely copied from Ruthie Henshall as I’d never heard another version sung. I bounced along to the achingly sweet Walking Back to Happiness, a song I was gifted by my music teacher due to my low rich voice. I performed a definitely-too-raunchy version of Fever while wearing a plunging dress and a feather boa in my final concert, aged seventeen. And in between these performances, we ran around the backstage and its corridors, walked by so many before us. We would find hallmarks of previous visitors, consigned to history like ghosts — a rogue lipstick, a song list, a sign designating whose dressing room was whose. Those memories are some of the happiest of my teenage years, the giddy rush of performance and the camaraderie of local showbiz.

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This year, I’ve been incredibly lucky to see some fantastic shows. My dear friend Ruth and I have made a pact to go see as much theatre in the next year or so as possible, and my musical obsessed friend Lauren has promised to show me all her favourite shows when I move to South London later this year. I howled with laughter at Verity Rushworth’s performance of History of Wrong Guys from Kinky Boots. I sobbed extensively through Hamilton, a musical that occupied every waking thought of mine in 2016. I marvelled at Laura Linney’s almost chameleonic ability to switch between the characters of Lucy Barton and her mother in the monologue adaptation of My Name is Lucy Barton. I marvelled at the dialogue and playfulness of Friel’s Translations at the National Theatre, all the time thinking of how colonialism scours the land.

Each experience so different but unforgettable to all my senses; the collective held gasp of the audience, the sooty vapour of stage smoke, the change in lighting to draw the eye. Theatre’s all-sensory nature amazes me, and even a bad play can still be an interesting night.

And this is what I think Harcourt’s novel Theatrical explores so effortlessly — not only the life behind the scenes, but that brought to the stage, the life in the seats. I was completely absorbed into Hope’s story, not only her swoony romance but her work managing the stage, which Harcourt has clearly researched extremely thoroughly.

Here’s the blurb for you:

Hope dreams of working backstage in a theatre, and she’s determined to make it without the help of her famous costume-designer mum. So when she lands an internship on a major production, she tells no one. But with a stroppy Hollywood star and his hot young understudy upstaging Hope’s focus, she’s soon struggling to keep her cool…and her secret.

Theatrical is the perfect summer novel, not only for theatre lovers, but for anyone who has ever wanted to follow their passions and dreams.

You can pick up your copy of Theatrical here:

Hive (UK) // Book Depository (International)

Why not go check out the other stops on the tour and learn about other people’s relationships with the theatre.

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Thank you kindly to Stevie Hopwood for inviting me to be on the tour and for sending me a reading copy of Theatrical, and to Maggie Harcourt for writing it.

Please note that Book Depository links from this site are affiliate links.

What I’ve learned in one year of being a puppy parent

 

I lie, it’s not really a year, not just yet, but today is Nerys’ first birthday! In light of this, I thought I’d take some time to impart some wisdom we’ve learned over the last 9 months that we’ve been sharing our home with a furry little terror, and recommend you the products we’ve found basically essential.

Note that Nerys is a border terrier so some of the products may not be suitable for bigger pups, but usually there are sized-up equivalents.

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this is nerys’ indoor treat blanket and her face at 11pm when we come home from working late and aren’t playing with her

Zac George is your new best friend

Before you bring home any dog, I strongly recommend you go watch a bunch of Zac George videos. Zac is a charming American dog trainer who is relentlessly enthusiastic and looks unsettlingly like one of my exes, but his explanations and insight into dog thinking and how to train them in line with that are top notch. We started out training Nerys with Zac’s instruction from day one which put us in good stead as we weren’t able to take her to a puppy class until she was 11 months due to a split first season. He uses positive reinforcement only —  keep clear of anyone who doesn’t, looking at you Caesar Millan, because negative reinforcement only teaches your pup to be afraid of you, while positive reinforcement builds a better bond between you.

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look at his adorable little face

Speaking of puppy school, if you are local to a centre then I strongly recommend Dog School at The Dog’s Trust. They have classes for puppies and adult dogs, both rescue and rehomed, and I have really enjoyed their tuition style. They are fairly affordable and the money goes back into the centres themselves, helping other dogs that need looking after. They also have a bunch of videos here that will help you teach your pup some tricks.

Crate training is a great way to go

Back in the beginning, we were quite skeptical about crate training as sticking a pup in a box seemed pretty mean. However, reading up a lot convinced us otherwise — Zac’s video helped a lot too! The extra upside is that on the first few nights your pup comes home, you can keep them in their crate in the bedroom so they don’t feel alone, and over the next few nights move it sequentially further out your bedroom into the place you want them to sleep. The only time we had puppy cries was the night she finally made it into the living room, and then it wasn’t for very long because her crate already smelled like her and us.

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The octopus in this crate lasted about 5 minutes and now resembles a mop, but she still loves him.

We got Nerys’ crate from Pets at Home, filled with cut-to-size Vet Bed from a roll we got online and also stuck it inside a Ellie-Bo Easy Up Pen, so she had her only little play space away from anything potentially chewable (we also stuck one of these in the garden to help with wee-time training!) The crate is basically fine, but now she’s older and less crushable she just sleeps in the bed with us, but will go have little naps in her crate in the day time and is useful for when we go stay somewhere new. Just a note — if you can get one that is adjustable in size, I would pick that as to start with a big crate can feel scary for such a little pupper. The one we got wasn’t adjustable in size, so we put a plastic box inside filled with blankets to make it appear smaller — weird but worked!

A few helpful teething tricks

Teething is miserable for them, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. However, one product made a world of difference — Vet IQ Teething gel. Essentially, bonjela for puppers. While the ice cubes, frozen towels, and Nylabone Teething toys got us so far, the gel made the experience much less painful for us. Once she’d stopped teething though, she did keep asking for it as it smelled pretty good so we had to take it away.

The greatest gift is amazon packaging

Or to be honest, any cardboard. Stockpile it if you don’t get regular supplies of boxes. It makes a mess but it will happily keep them occupied for a long time and will keep them away from your slippers/wires/belongings. Her particular favourite so far has been the Illumicrate book box cardboard, as its particularly sturdy stuff.

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Kong is the name to look for

First of all, investing in two or three puppy kongs are an extremely good idea. You can fill them with all sort of treats (and a quick google will find you lots of inspiration), and they can be frozen. We got three so we could have one in the freezer, one with the dog and one soaking in the sink at all times.

Secondly, their toys are brilliant and hardwearing. I particularly recommend the Wildknots bears — Nerys has a medium gray one for tug of war and a little tiny XS brown one she carries around in her gob. They have rope on the inside and a tiny squeaker over their heart.

Their wobble kongs are also a great idea for making kibble a bit more exciting, and we got Nerys the large one so she’d have to box it quite hard to get food out. It’s a bit like a big tasty punching bag.

Moving forward

Nerys is now a year old, so we’ve decided to change up where we get her food. Puppies always need to move their diet to adult food by the time they hit 12 months old, but we decided we’d give Tails.com a whizz as our friend Vanessa likes it so much. Tails.com designs your dog’s menu based on their age, breed, weight, activity levels. Our first bags are arriving this week, so I’ll follow up with how we’re finding it. If you want to try it out yourself, you can sign up here and get a month’s free trial.

Good luck new puppy parents, and send me all the pictures!

Happy birthday to me | Hux Tales

This week was my birthday.

Not my real birthday as in the day I emerged into the world, twenty three days late and pretty mardy about it; that’s back in September.

But this day is my real birthday in another way. On Monday was one year since I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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I’m sure it probably seems weird to celebrate a diagnosis, but hear me out.

I have spent my whole life knowing I was different, but not being able to put my finger on it. There were certainly parts of my personality and interests that were different from many of the other kids – nerdy, book obsessed, awkward, not remotely interested in fashion – and a regular target for bullying. I managed to get through school and university by surrounding myself with like-interested people, good kind people who didn’t mind that I was a bit odd, or even better, cherished it.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that a friend of mine was diagnosed with Asperger’s that I started realising this was probably the missing keystone. This friend and I have long joked that actually we must have the same genetics, as we both have non-epileptic seizures, wonky joints, an insensitivity to gluten, anxiety in all the same places… and it was only when I looked into Asperger’s* that I realised it was me.

That realisation was really freeing. I had a name for my differences, for how I saw the world, how I experienced it. And I immediately stopped beating myself up about it. Once I got the final stamp of approval pictured at the top, the last vestiges of attempting to remodel myself as a neurotypical person flew out the window. I’m autistic, I’m different, and that’s actually really cool.

I also looked extremely cute this week tbh

It is not a panacea, of course. Being autistic isn’t all super awesome, as it comes along with a bunch of comorbid conditions, both mental and physical health. I still have the hang ups, the trauma, but I genuinely care less.

I used to celebrate November because (and this is going to sound weird) it was when my seizures came back after my last trip to the Philippines. This marked a seriously dark time in my life where I realised I had to give up diving, but being the person I am, I refused to let myself slip into that place, got a job at a marine focused charity in London and carved out a new life. That is what I used to celebrate, the refusal to let my body get the best of me, remembering that each change to my life is an opportunity for something new.

I’ve now switched it over to my Autism Diagnosis, but essentially the reasoning is the same. I found something new out about myself. My life changed. But I still have control of it. It is still very much my life and I’m in the immensely privileged position to be able to live as I do.

What has changed in the last year?

I got Nerys! She’s my little daemon and also my emotional support dog. In the UK, this type of service dog has no legal recognition but they are a big deal in America, so I hope one day in the future they’ll be recognised. Basically, she goes everywhere with me, she helps me feel less anxious, she reminds me to look after myself by looking after her too. She’s helped me knock a big chunk of my anxiety about going outside out of the park (not literally) and means I go outside much more.

At 5 weeks old on the day we met and at 9 months old

I stopped being a booksellerMy health was making working in a bookshop very difficult and so it became unsustainable to continue working such a physically demanding job. I miss aspects of it every single day, which is why my social media has become so book intense.

I came out as nonbinary! This is something I have sort of known about myself forever, living in the space of not-girl and not-boy, but only having the word “tomboy” to describe it. In terms of the “I always knew” narratives of LGTBQ lives, while I didn’t know I was queer for a very long time, I have had what I now recognise as gender dysphoria for much of my life. But, it wasn’t until I started reading about autism, and how many of us are trans, the intersection of those two identities, that I realised that I was two for two.

I’ve been out-ish to some people in the past few years as I felt it out (admittedly, mostly only to other non binary people and Tim), but this year I started using the phrase more, talking about it more, told my sister and my parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns, and whether I ever want to masculinise my appearance to be a bit more in line with how I see myself. At the moment, I’m sticking as I am, feeling out my happiness in open about it. I’m considering buying a binder, though I’ve found that throwing out some clothes that would trigger my dysphoria has really helped. For now, sports bras do the trick and aren’t incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

I moved in with my inlaws! Tim and I realised that our rental situation was financially precarious and moved to the West London suburbs to live with his parents. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this, and they’ve been really caring and kind to us. We both miss our old flat a lot, but I was waking up overstimulated every single day due three building sites semi adjacent to our building. It was the right decision, not least because now I get to see fields from my window.

I helped start a independent publishing press! Literally I’m never going to stop mentioning 3 of Cups Press, go admire our website and preorder our first book On Anxiety which publishes in January!! We are launching our second book on Kickstarter in early 2018 and submissions for our future books shortly after that, so follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter and get ready for a 2018 of amazing new authors. I’ve got a bundle of other creative things that I can’t announce right now so I’m positively vibrating with secrets.

Writing it down… wow. A lot has happened. And you know what? I feel great about it. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself lately, so I say happy birthday to me.

 

* A little aside: in the UK, people who fit the Asperger’s criteria are now more likely to get an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, but my report made it clear that I also fit the Asperger’s profile. Asperger’s has been integrated into ASD along with a couple of other conditions.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them there or in a larger Q&A type post.

Escaping grief with words

All has been relatively quiet on here partly due to a busy work period, followed by the death of my wonderful uncle Quentin. He went peacefully, as an octogenarian, so I am thankful for that much. It has hit me very hard.

For those who know me in real life, or some other semblance of social media, you’ll know that I spent much of the last year in therapy to learn to cope with my mental health problems, and get myself back on track for being a functioning human. I’ve been doing relatively okay at this, with your usual ups and downs, thanks to skills from CBT, a heavy dosage of happy-making-medicine from my GP and a lot of love and patience from those around me.

One of my focusses was learning how to feel big emotions. I’m classically avoident when it comes to big emotions – something that surprised a lot of people and even myself because I’d gotten so good at kidding myself into thinking I’d ever processed anything in my life.

With my uncle’s passing, came the crushing wave of grief, something that I’d never let myself properly feel. This sounds ever so melodramatic, like I’m the only one whose lost someone, but stick with me, it ends up somewhere. Basically, I’m learning to grieve for the first time and to not dissociate away into my safe space of blurred non reality or bury my feelings. It’s been really hard, because my regimented care of my daily mental health has fallen a little by the wayside at the same time. I’ve basically been a bit of a blank, sad mess.

While not permitting myself to venture into a separate reality my brain escapes into when it gets a little freaked out, I permitted myself to escape into stories. Reading quietly, with a warm cup of tea, has always been a safe space for me. When things were hard when I was small, the library was my haven and my bunk bed. When I go home next week for the funeral, I promise to dig out some childhood photos of me with my nose in a book as proof of this.

So I suppose this blog was heading towards me telling you about the good things I’ve read, now that I’ve told you about the bad things that are around. While I usually read a lot, I’ve noticed my consumption has gone up a lot since the start of May. These books are some I finished and piled up in the same place in our house, so I could be sure they were read in May.

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Bring Up the Bodies is the superb follow up to Wolf Hall, a book that starts out slow (partly because it turns out I know nothing about how Henry Tudor dismantled the churches) but gets you hooked into Cromwell’s snarking, calculating mind. Brilliant stuff. The Secret History followed this up with a on-the-edge-of-your-seat story of how obsession can lead to darkness in a group of proto-hipsters at a small university; don’t let my poor explanation of it put you off. The Awakening is just fantastic, and upsettingly short, but basically a story about a woman in the late 1800s saying “well sod it, my husband’s a bit shit, I’m off” which I appreciate.

From there came the comforting stories of Tove Jansson – her wistful words are always there when I need them most, having read the Summer Book at another time of need. Not pictured is Tales from Moomin Valley because I’ve been reading bites of it in bed, and only commit them to photograph when I’ve finished.

I was lucky enough to see Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House this month with some wonderful people – that’s right, a ballet based on Virginia Woolf. The Lighthouse was the next book of hers on my list, but not one of the books performed – I look forward to trying to understand how Orlando the book links to the spangly in-and-out-of-light whirring dance on the stage. I love delving into Virginia’s stylistic tones, committing a full day to indulge myself. It feels indulgent. It’s what I needed.

Easily the most whimsical book I’ve read was the Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher, which is a beautiful little fable by Korean poet Anh Do-Hyeon. It is literally the story of a salmon migrating upriver, but it is also more than that. He speaks to the river, he falls in love, he questions life’s purpose. There is something a little Jansson about it, but that may be just because I’ve been filling my mind with philosophical Moomin tales. I recommend it, wholeheartedly.

In fact I recommend all these books.

In the middle of these comforting words was “Feynman”,  the graphic novel biography of Dr. Richard Feynman, eminent physicist and astounding mind. While it challenged my knowledge of physics (which has always been astonishingly poor) but it made me want to understand everything, which I feel is a key part of the process. Feynman, like other popular scientists like Dr. Oliver Sachs, had a fascinating colourful life, and it is really worth a read.

As I began to come out of the lowest lows, I treated myself to Supermutant Magic Academy because it seemed like it was going to be the thing I really needed at that time, and it was. Jillian Tamaki’s one page comics about a group of mutant students is breathstealingly funny – especially if you’ve played D&D a few times though this only applies to a couple of the comics. It’s also really touching, with the rawness of first loves and heartbreak. I’m already considering reading it again.

These books kept me going – just keep reading. A few more sentences.

Honourable mention goes to The Shepherd’s Life which rescued me from having a panic attack or worse on the Strand last week – I ducked into Waterstones repeating “just get the Shepherd” under my breath, bought it, and sat quietly in the upstairs cafe looking longingly at the hills of the Lake District that exist in my fondest childhood memories. I’ll write about that more when I’m done.

I’m not sure if this post was coherent or even had a point, but this is the end of it.